Tag Archives: safety

Secure Your Gear

Combination padlocks are extremely practical. Attached to a Think Tank Photo Urban Disguise shoulder bag. Photo: Edmond Terakopian

Photography equipment is expensive; everything from cameras to lenses to computers, is expensive. We often spend months or even years saving to get a particular piece of equipment and once we have it, we stop looking after our investment once at work, instead focusing on the assignment. Thankfully there are certain products and practices to help us safeguard our equipment whilst working. After all, we need to concentrate on our assignments and not on the safety of our gear. Most theft is opportunistic; these measures will stop the opportunist thief.

Out On The Street

I have known of press photographers having their backpacks containing laptops and spare camera equipment swiped off the street whilst they concentrate whilst working long doorstep type jobs (at courts, hospitals, politicians homes and so on).
It’s easy to put our bags down as fatigue sets in. A very simple precaution is to make sure that all the zips have padlocks on them. I personally use combination locks which means that there is no need for keys. This is good practice as it will stop a thief from opening your bag in crowded places like the tube.
To stop the bag from being stolen fully, I also make sure that my bags have cables with combination padlocks on them. These are available from most good outdoor shops, luggage shops or bicycle shops. All that remains is to find street furniture (fencing, posts and so on) or a tree to lock the bag too. Worse case scenario, you can also lock several bags together, making it impossible for someone to do a runner with them.


Showing my travel set-up for an assignment in Canada using ThinkTank Photo's Airport International 2, padlocked to a bath tub handle in my hotel. Photo: Edmond Terakopian

Whilst on foreign assignments, it’s often the way that equipment is transported using roller type cases and then use either pouches or a shoulder bag to work from whilst on the ground. The roller bag then being left behind in the hotel room. We also leave the roller bag fully kitted out when popping out to eat. Again, we are taking huge risks, leaving essential gear at the mercy of anyone who has or gains access to the room.
Thankfully Think Tank Photo roller bags have built in security measures with padlock zips and importantly a security cable attached to the bag’s chassis. It’s then a matter of finding something solid in the room to padlock our cable to. My personal favourite are bathtub handles.
These same security precautions should be carried out at press conferences, fashion weeks and so on.


Cafes have turned out to be favourite wiring places for photographers; they provide essential coffee and broadband. I was in a situation where a colleague sat in front of me in a Starbucks had his Canon 1D MkII with 70-200mm f2.8L stolen from under his chair. The thief was so gentle and swift that neither of us noticed until long afterwards. My general precaution is to make sure that I put my leg through camera and bag straps when placing items on the floor.

The Car

PacSafe Exomesh secures two bags to luggage hooks in the boot of a car. Photo: Edmond Terakopian

Our cars are another place where we leave lots of kit. Firstly, make sure that your doors are locked; this will stop the opportunist if they see a bag or camera on your seat when stopped at a red light or parked up in a street. Naturally, never leave any of your equipment in view, making sure that everything is in the boot, if you are parking the car and away from it. This also ensures that your insurance company will pay out if there’s a theft from an unattended vehicle.

One of the ways we are targeted by thieves is if someone observes us taking equipment from our boot; if possible, it’s always better to take away gear in a shoulder bag, or make sure no one is watching if you’re just grabbing a couple of cameras. The other is purely opportunists hoping to find a laptop; estate cars are especially at risk as the rear covers are easily ripped open after the rear window is smashed.

The cheapest way to secure your gear, especially if you have a Think Tank Photo bag is to lock it’s security cable to a luggage hook; this will stop the opportunist especially if they set off your car alarm. The next best and more secure way is to use a PacSafe Exomesh which covers your bag and allows you to attach it’s cable to a luggage hook in the car. The advantage with system is that it’s mobile so you can take a PacSafe Exomesh with you when abroad and use it in hire cars. They are also useful for hotel rooms.

ATHAG Guardsman custom made security cage. Photo: Edmond Terakopian

Next comes the more secure metal cage approach. These are custom made for your needs and for your car. Anything from small hatchbacks to large estate cars and 4x4s are catered for. These are then secured to luggage hooks or even to the car’s chassis making them extremely secure. To top things off, they have multi point locks making the opening solid and secure. The two leaders in this field are Athag (my personal choice) with their Guardsman range and Barjo.

Look after your gear so you can get the job done.

Storage For Photographers

Your Hard Drive Will Fail;

It’s Just A Question Of When

A yawn is the typical reaction from my colleagues when the topic of digital storage, archiving and backing up is talked about. That is, until one of them loses their work, because they weren’t paying attention to the need for a reliable back-up strategy. The yawns are then replaced by much shouting of obscenities and tears.

In this day and age of digital photography, the obsession of ever increasing megapixels, the need to shoot video and record audio, one thing is for certain; we need somewhere to store it all. The lazy and stupid will leave it all on their laptop until the disk’s full and then drag it off in a hurry, onto an external drive, usually losing stuff. Sometimes they’ll even be stuck on a job with no choice but to delete older stuff just so they can download the latest job and process it. I’ve even seen colleagues work straight of a CF card when in a hurry send a low res jpeg, forget to download the card and then format it. Disaster.

Sonnet Tech Fusion D800 RAID Sata 8 drive external box. Photo: Edmond Terakopian

Although it’s a pain, at the end of a long day, it still pays to have a system. My personal way is to never format my CF cards until I have the same work on at least two hard drives. If it’s just on my MacBook Pro, then the CFs remain in my belt pouch until this has been backed up at home. I have a ThinkTank Photo Pixel Pocket Rocket which is always full of CF cards. I make it a point to have more than enough cards with me. I always have one small external hard drive with me too, so I might back up onto this. When on foreign assignments, I carry two external drives and back up onto these (these portable drives are never stored with my laptop. I’ll leave one in my luggage and have the other with me if leaving the laptop in a hotel or car). Once home, after a typical day in town or a trip, I’ll back up the assignment onto my Mac Pro’s Aperture Library.

I’m a big fan of Aperture and have it on all my machines. Apart from RAW processing, Aperture also acts as a fully searchable image database. At the moment I have more than 385,000 images in my Aperture library, and this number is constantly growing. RAW images are stored on an internal drive, in separate Project folders which are derived from the assignment. These are titled using a date and a name. An example would be “2009-09-28 Gordon Brown”. These Projects (with consolidated masters) are then backed up onto a Sonnet Technologies external SATA RAID box (more on which later). The same Project is also backed up onto an external hard drive which is kept off-site. It’s important to have off-site storage to secure the safety of data in the event of fire or theft. Lastly, important images, documents, video and audio are backed up to “The Cloud” (more on which later).

What’s New?

The old ways to back up were CDs and then DVDs. Blu-Ray doesn’t seem to have caught on, even though a double sided disc offers 50Gb of storage. The problem with optical storage, apart from the slow speed of writing, is that they don’t seem to have the longevity needed. I’ve had top brand CDs, kept upright in their cases and stored in cool, dark and dry conditions become unreadable after a few years. There is a 500Gb optical disc that’s being talked about, but again, how long is any media stored on that going to last? I for one certainly hope that it has proper archival stability, as it really would be useful to have.

My thoughts are that using several hard drives which are swapped out every three to four years, is the best method available. This provides speed and security. It also offers value for money, as drive prices continue to fall, with speed and capacities rising.                 

External Seagate hard drives, with Western Digital drives in background. Photo: Edmond Terakopian

If you’re wondering why I seem to have an obsession with several hard drives, and a golden rule that everything is kept on three drives at least, it’s because hard drives fail. It’s an absolute given. Anyone in IT will tell you that hard drives fail, it’s just a question of when. I’ve personally had a major brand name drive fail after 3 months of use whilst sat on a desk, but had others which have worked solidly for many years. It’s always a gamble, and you should be well prepared.

At the moment, I have 12 external drives in my office and all the associated cabling and power bricks cluttering up the floor area. After some research, I recently decided to go for a Sonnet D800 Fusion RAID ( www.sonnettech.com ). This is an external SATA RAID box with eight drive bays. This means that it will hold eight hard drives, connect to my MacPro (its multi platform) using eSATA cables (connecting to its own controller card which installs inside your computer) which means that it’s blisteringly fast, and has only three cables; two eSATA cables and one power cable. To say that it’s a neat and tidy solution would be an understatement. I’ve recently finished moving my archive over to this system and will do away with most of the external drives. This also makes the office more quite and power-efficient.

I have the drives in the D800 set up in pairs of RAID 1 (also known as Mirror RAID). This basically means that everything that is saved on the drive (and you will only see one of the drives on your computer), is automatically copied onto its partnered drive. This is transparent, automatic and at the same speed. This protects the data from a hardware failure. I then manually back up data from this unit onto an external drive via FW800. This ensures that if by accident I erase an image, or an image gets corrupted, I can get it back from this back-up. These back-up drives are then stored off-site.

In use the system is amazing. Accessing images or video on the unit is blisteringly fast as it’s working over SATA, which is much quicker than even FW800. I’ve had the unit running for weeks without powering down and it’s been absolutely stable on the Mac Pro running Leopard.

The other new term you may have heard is “The Cloud”. This is virtual storage that’s kept on servers, somewhere in the internet, sometimes even in different countries. The Cloud’s not such a new thing, but with faster broadband, it’s now becoming more usable. Apple has had “.Mac” (now called “Mobile Me” www.me.com ) for years. Part of this service has been the iDisk which has been a virtual drive, available for use by Mac and PC users. I’ve been using this system for many years, and although a little slow, it’s been solid and stable.

The other Cloud system I’ve been using for around a year is Amazon’s S3 via Jungle Disk ( www.jungledisk.com ). This mounts a virtual drive onto your desktop (it’s multi platform) and allows you to use it like any other drive. It’s a faster system than iDisk and allows you to pay for the storage you use. At the time of writing, this is $0.15 per Gb per month. Your data is then saved on Amazon’s servers either in the USA or in Europe at locations which are not disclosed.

I’ve been using the Cloud in two ways. When on assignment, if I’ve shot a particularly important image, I’ve been saving them immediately to my iDisk. This has been for back-up purposes. Also, if I’ve got documents to which I need access, as well as having copies with me, I’ve also got them on my iDisk. This also includes email and FTP account details, which means if my laptop gets stolen, I can still function by accessing this information from another machine.                                                                                              

Screenshot from an Apple Mac running OS X showing Jungle Disk which is used for accessing Amazon S3’s Cloud service.

As my working year continues, every few weeks, I upload the edited pictures from assignments to my Amazon S3 drive. At the end of the year, like most photographers, I look through that year’s work and select my best work for competitions. Once I have this edit sorted, and the images processed to perfection, I take the contents of this folder and also upload it to Amazon S3. This gives me an off-site back-up of the year’s de facto most important and best work.

Lastly, a word on automated back-ups. I use Apple’s Time Machine to back up everything apart from my work images. This includes emails, invoices, letters, music, family snaps and so on. It’s saved me twice so far after I accidentally deleted important information. You can get back-up software for any platform, and I urge you to also have this system in place. For me, I use a separate FW800 drive for this purpose.

One thing’s for sure; as prices tumble for memory cards and hard drives, there’s no excuse not to have a solid and dependable back-up strategy. A little time spent planning and executing this strategy will save much stress and tears; trust me, I’ve seen enough colleagues suffer.

This article was originally published in the BJP on October 07, 2009.