Picture Perfect

The nice thing about scaling back on my posting commitments for a couple months is that I’ve been able to comb through the site I’ve built this past year and tweak what’s here, refine how it’s displayed or add completely new things.

Most of this is “under the hood” so to speak, but regular readers may notice a few minor changes I’ve made to castironguy.ca over the last week or so.

One of the big things is photo galleries.

I hastily added a photo gallery plugin at the end of June as a means to do some light updates to the site in between my sporadic summer posting schedule. If you haven’t seen that I’ve been updating a Summer 2021 gallery of random photos a few times per week.

I’ve been fascinated by online photo sharing for a long time now. Fascinated? Well, intrigued and captured by the potential of sharing a medium that I love in a fluid and barrier-free way, I guess would be the better explanation.

For years, in fact, I maintained an online gallery that had thousands of photos grouped into hundreds of albums, ranging the gamut from kid-pics to be shared with the family, all the way through to a kind of semi-professional portfolio of my better, high quality images. The effort got dated, of course, content and software-wise. It was lightly hacked. I took it down, archived it and never tried to replace it.

I did replace it with social media, I guess. Over the last couple years I’ve been active on Instagram sharing photos to various curated accounts, one private for people I know IRL and a couple public themed accounts for everyone else. Yet, social media has lately become something of a tangled mess of paywalls and advertising and fake content and frustrations, so I’ve leaned away from that and other platforms in recent months and chosen to put more effort into private website content like this site.

So having added that gallery plugin I’ve been getting some photos into it, deciding how I want it to look and act, and posting some updated collections. It makes me excited to have a place to post more photos again. Stay tuned.

Backyard: Macro Photography

In recognition of yet-another-local-lockdown due to the ongoing pandemic, I'm doing a week of feature blog posts about living in the backyard. From May 10th through 16th, my posts will be themed around life outdoors but as close to home as possible, a few steps out the back door.

Being all-but-stuck in my own backyard for the better part of two weeks during a health crisis has provided me with ample time to enjoy my own small bit of nature.

It has also reminded me —what with the bumble bees, wasps, ants, ladybugs, butterflies, spiders, flies, and so on — that there is a lot of critter life to be found in a couple hundred square meters of suburban backyard.

Photographing backyard bugs was one of the big — ahem, small — reasons I bought myself a macro lens a decade back and really got into taking pictures of little fauna crawling around the variety of flora I’d nurtured.

As of this afternoon the blossoms are just appearing on the trees and the population of dandelions seems to be doubling daily. The sky might be a bit cloudy, but that doesn’t seem to have much sway on the action of the various insects crawling and flying around me little backyard workspace.

Capturing photos of those critters takes a particular set of skills.

Right Gear

Macro photography is more than a purpose-built lens. A macro lens is a great addition to any photographer’s kit bag, but that alone won’t get you awesome insect snaps. Setting up a shot that is in focus in in the narrow confines of a shallow depth of field on a subject that is measured in millimeters means the stability that comes from a tripod and the light enhanced by a source or reflector will do wonders for the final results.

Good Timing

Back in University I took a laundry list of coursework in both botany and entomology. All that study of plants and bugs certainly didn’t hurt my backyard photography skills, but I’d be hard pressed to say how it helped. Figuring out when the flower are open at their peak and picking the right moment on the right day to encounter the kinds of insects worth photographing is still as much luck as it is skill. It’s a good idea to keep your camera charged up as spring warms up and summer approaches, though.

Long Patience

Anyone who has ever said photographing puppies and babies is the hardest gig obviously has never tried to get a really nice photo of a butterfly. I’ve found that there are really just two approaches to taking macro photo of an insect in the wild: chase, click and hope for the best, or set up your gear, focus, and wait. I’ve lucked out with the first method, but I’ve taken some amazing pics with the latter. It does mean sitting in the grass with your finger on the shutter for the better part of an afternoon, but I’m sure the instagram likes were worth it.

Tech Help: Fixing a Photographer’s Nightmare

I turned on my computer this meta Monday morning and was greeted with the following message in the black and white boot screen:

WARNING: Please back-up your data and replace your hard disk drive. A failure may be imminent and cause unpredictable fail.

It seems that my life never fails to present me with timely topics to write about.

But you ask, why am I writing about computer tech problems on a cast iron blog?

If you are an outdoors guy like me or just love to take photos and video of your travel adventures, chances are you too have gigabytes of media stored in fragile spaces.

Yet, all of this epic computer fail wasn’t necessarily a surprise.

When I built myself a new computer a few years ago I had salvaged my data backup drive from my old machine. It was a two terabyte drive that also happened to be where I stored all my photos and my music library. I popped it out of the old and dropped it into the new, and voila… all my media were on the new computer. Yet over the last couple weeks, working from home from this machine, some odd noises have been emitting from the big black box and I’ve been a terrible techie and basically ignored the early warning signs.

Imminent hard drive failure warnings are something like a stage four cancer diagnosis for your computer. You don’t deal with that stuff tomorrow… you act. Today.

Now, to be clear, I do have a cloud backup of all those photos in case of an epic emergency like a fire or a flood, and local backups scattered across old hard drives and such, but my core library is… well, was this drive.

I write “was” because as of this morning that first action step was to immediately start to move all that data to a newer drive…. all seven hundred plus gigabytes of what I hadn’t copied already. (The music files are up next and that’s also nearly a terabyte of data I need to contend with!) All in all, I’m looking at about six hours of data migration today in a race against the ticking timebomb of my hard drive giving up and deciding not to work anymore. A race against a fragile piece of equipment which I need to push to its very limits by copying every last byte of data it has stored inside it. A recipe for a technical nightmare.

Cue the epic action movie soundtrack:

Hard Drives are not Cast Iron…

They are the exact opposite actually… temporary, fragile, and mysterious in their operation. Even so, I use the former every day to share my love of the latter.

So, if you got here by Googling and are mid-panic and wondering how to deal with this kind of error yourself, here’s my advice:

First, stop whatever else you are doing and get that data off the failing hard drive. Put it on another hard disk in your machine. Put it on an external drive. Drag it onto another computer. Move it to memory cards. Push it to USB sticks. Write it onto recordable media like DVDs or even CDs if that’s what you have handy. Whatever you can do to save all those precious files, particularly files you don’t have other copies of, cannot replace, or would be time consuming or expensive to restore. Save as much data as you can first.

Second, figure out a backup solution (or two). Backup external hard drives are fairly inexpensive these days and even a hundred bucks to store a decade worth of photos and video is a relatively small investment to protect your memories and work. Free cloud storage products are hard to find anymore, but if you don’t mind paying a hundred bucks a year you can store a lot of data with Apple or Google or Dropbox or any of a dozen reputable companies who will keep your data safe in their datacentres. Watch for fees for things often called “data egress” which means you pay extra to download those files when you need them back.

Third, don’t mess around with broken drives. Get that old hard drive out of your system and replace it. There are lots of software programs that claim to fix or restore failing drives, but too often these are temporary fixes at best, fixes that give you time to nab your data before it’s done for good.

Doubled Down. Do You Carry Multiple Cameras, too?

I have a habit that I have not completely decided if it is a problem… yet.

It results in lots of great photos, hours of video footage, heaps of social-media ready content, and nary a missed moment.

It also results in a sore back, full hands, and often being the guy standing back recording the action rather than fully participating.

The maybe-a-problem is that I usually carry multiple cameras on vacation.

Actually, while these days I’m often lugging a dSLR with multiple lens, an action camera (like a GoPro) with a video stabilizer, and a smartphone (for snapshots or panoramas, and because it’s a phone), I only occasionally doubt the practicality of this approach.

After all there are some pros to having more than one camera:

The Pros.

  • I usually have the “right” camera or lens for the scene.
  • I’ve taken some amazing pictures over the years and often this comes down to having appropriate equipment.
  • All the tech I’ve invested in gets a turn.

On the flip side, I have been known to just bring a single camera somewhere so I can focus (no pun intended) on a single style of picture-taking.

This makes me think of some of the cons of carrying too much equipment, such as:

The Cons.

  • I only have two hands, and spend a lot of time switching or juggling gear.
  • It’s tough to travel light when you’ve got so much technology and an extra bag for it all.
  • I’m likely a higher target for crime or theft.
  • As a photographer I’m not growing as I’m taking the easy way out of switching to the easier equipment for the scene, rather than getting better with what I have in my hand at the moment.

And to be honest, it’s probably writing down that last one that hits me the hardest, the idea that I’m becoming creatively stagnant because I’ve shifted my focus to gear over improving my technique. Learning happens, after all, because we challenge ourselves to solve a problem that we haven’t encountered before.

I don’t want to make any grand gestures or statements here claiming to forever shift to one way of doing things, but I do wonder if I’m in good company with the multi-camera approach to photography… or if I’ve instead shifted to a kind of photographic FOMO: fear of missing out on some perfect shot.

It’s something to pause and think about next time I set out on a photogenic adventure: should I take just one camera, or a whole bag worth?