As a consequence of a number of unresolved problems with blogger I have moved this blog to tumblr. All existing posts have been transferred, and all future posts will appear there only. You can find me at photographybyolli.tumblr.com.
The inevitable happened, and once I managed to accept that I wasn't going to be able to retire and live off my pictures, I started uploading lots of images that were merely acceptable rather than good, ending up with a slightly incoherent mixed bag of galleries and images.
Meanwhile, about two years ago - 1 June 2011 to be exact - Smugmug's CEO Don MacAskill announced that a new redesigned Smugmug was coming. People got very excited - though still good, Smugmug was starting to show its visual age. Time passed, nothing happened, people got impatient, Smugmug provided no indication of when users could expect to see the new look, people got angry.
A little under a year ago Smugmug announced a new pricing structure, doubling the price for the Pro account to $300 a year. People got really angry. Lots of people left, or, at least, threatened to leave. I simply decided it was a good opportunity to save money and downgraded my account, which kept everything except the commerce option.
Having decided to stick with Smugmug I went back to my site with a view to reorganising it and ended up deleting everything and starting again, though I decided to hold off on any further customisation. I also spent more time uploading to my 500px portfolio which I felt at that point displayed images in a much more pleasing way.
Then, a week ago, an email popped up in my inbox announcing the arrival of the new Smugmug. As soon as it went live I had a look around, played with it a little bit, migrated my site and put it out there for the world to see and, I hope, enjoy. I like the new approach. It's very flexible and simple to use. I can tweak elements of the site that previously required knowledge of HTML and CSS (and for those who want to tweak even further, the option to add custom HTML and CSS is still available). My new site is visually very similar to my old site and it was relatively straightforward to retain the same broad look.
Inevitably a lot of fur has been flying on the Digital Grin forum. Some elements of the old Smugmug were not, or could not be, carried over to the new Smugmug. For some, the process of migration seems to have caused problems, none of which I encountered. These things are obviously frustrating, particularly if you rely on your website commercially.
What has been less understandable has been a general sense of people throwing their toys out of the pram just because there are a few things about the new approach they dislike. One big area of complaint is that customisations made on sites on the old Smugmug are not carried over in the new Smugmug. Clearly people put a lot of effort into developing and implementing these customisations, but it seems to me that if they can achieve the same effect with the new approach then that is something to be welcomed.
I've been particularly amused by two types of complainers. First, those who gave Smugmug grief for not delivering the new look quickly enough and who are now complaining that they are unable to make their new site look exactly like their old site. Second, those who stress how many hours they spent customising their old sites yet whose sites look terrible, like something from the 1990's, in a triumph of geekery over aesthetics.
Obviously everyone will have some issues with the new Smugmug. For me there are three things I've noticed that I hope will be addressed in time. First, and most important, there is no integrated blogging platform. There are a number of workarounds but those I have seen don't come close to providing a viable alternative to existing blogging platforms like Blogger and Wordpress. As someone who blogs regularly this is clearly a major failing. That said, Smugmug staff on the forum have indicated that an integrated blog is in their thinking for future development (though I can't find the particular comment). For the moment I will be sticking with Blogger, but I would love to be able to integrate a fully featured blog on my site in future.
Second, there is limited control over font settings. This is particularly noticeable on text based pages, such as the info/about page, and, obviously, any future blog pages. It is possible to manipulate text using the <span> tag, but this is hardly a solution in keeping with the goals of the makeover. Again, I have seen comment on the forum that some greater degree of flexibility in font handling is coming in the future.
Finally, the front page slideshow works nicely but it lacks flexibility. As far as I can tell there is no way to set this up so that the slideshow starts with a different image each time, nor, more generally, is it possible to generate a random sequence. The end result is that, unless you manually change the order of the images in the collection of images used for the slideshow, each visit to the site begins with the same image and proceeds through the same sequence.
Important as these issues are to me they don't detract from my generally positive take on the new Smugmug and I hope all will be addressed in due course. So instead of whingeing and complaining, I'd rather say a public thank you to all the folks at Smugmug who have, finally, delivered the goods.
Walking though the Smithsonian zoo you come upon a series of metal towers connected by ropes. This is the O Line, designed to allow the zoo's Orang Utans to move between two different exhibition spaces when they choose to do so. I was at the zoo on Monday with a friend who was visiting from Ireland and mentioned that in a year regular visits I had never yet seen an Orang Utan making the trip. Leaving the great ape house I noticed lots of people with cameras pointed skyward, and there was one of the zoo's Orang Utans making its way across the ropes. So now I've seen it.
Yesterday morning I went for my usual morning walk through the zoo. I happened to be there when the zoo's two new Andean bear cubs were making their daily appearance so I stopped to watch for a while. New arrivals always attract a crowd, not least a crowd of photographers, many of whom show up with big cameras, huge tripods and massive lenses more suited to an African safari than a walk round the zoo. Normally it's not a problem. The tripods can be a bit of an obstacle but for the most part the photographers try not to get in the way.
So yesterday I was watching the cubs and one photographer turned up. No tripod, and a run of the mill DSLR and zoom lens combination. Perhaps it was because there were only a few other people there and it was quite quiet, or perhaps I was just in an intolerant frame of mind, but I got really irritated. This was mostly because she insisted on shooting in burst mode - not that eight or ten frames per second whirr, but a two or three frames per second clunka-clunka-clunka, over and over again. I kept moving to get away from her; she kept reappearing behind me - clunka-clunka-clunka.
In my fifteen or twenty minutes of watching the bears she must have taken hundreds of shots and was still shooting when I left. What on earth is she planning to do with them all? I did consider suggesting that she turn odd her burst mode and practice some old fashioned photographic skills like observation, patience and anticipation, but then I realised I was in danger of turning into an old far, so I said nothing.
I will confess to having tried this approach once. I set my camera on burst mode (ten frames per second, since you ask, and no flappy mirror) and fired away. I ended up with more pictures than I had the patience to look through and ended up deleting the whole lot. Now I keep it on single shot and try to be in the right place at the right moment. I find that when it comes off its much more rewarding.
Here are Nicole and Curt, the Andean bear cubs, at play this morning. I've no idea which is which.
So here is the final post with my thoughts on cloud storage, this time focusing on the question of how to manage files spread across multiple sites.
One obvious way to ease the burden is to store certain files on certain sites. You might, for example, use a Google account to store all the files from a particular year, or shot with a particular camera. I tend to use some combination of these. All my files from my DSLR are on Skydrive. Since I no longer have that camera I know I will never have to look beyond Skydrive to access them. It goes without saying that, unless you have a very good memory, you should make a note of what is stored where.
For managing multiple files on multiple sites I have been using a couple services - Jolidrive and Cloudkafe. Both of these function almost like operating systems. (In fact, Joli does offer an OS that competes with the Chrome OS). You link your various cloud storage accounts to them and then access those accounts via the Jolicloud or Cloudkafe interface. Here, for example, is the interface on Jolidrive.
There are a number of weaknesses with these services. It is only possible to link to certain named cloud storage providers so some of the smaller, newer or less well known services may not yet be available. However, both Jolidrive and Cloudkafe continue to add new services and are open to requests. A second issue, specific to Jolidrive, is that only one account for each provider can be linked so if you have multiple Google accounts, as I do, only one can be linked. Cloudkafe does allow for multiple sign ins and Jolidrive has indicated that this is something that will come in the future. Finally, at the moment while Jolidrive had an Apple app, Cloudkafe doesn't and neither has an Android app. Though, again, both companies have indicated that they intend to provide apps in the future. So, not a perfect solution, but a good partial solution with potential.
It's also worth noting that both services offer organisation for more than just cloud storage. Both support video, imaging and note-taking sites while Jolidrive also supports music streaming sites like Soundcloud. At the moment Jolidrive supports more sites though both continue to add further support. Below is my Flickr account on Cloudkafe.
In the interests of completeness, I've also come across two other similar services, Primadesk and Otixo. Primadesk has both pay and free options though the latter restricts you to a total of ten accounts which is potentially too limiting. Otixo is pay only. While both offer a more fully evolved set of options, including both Apple and Android apps, my view is that if I'm going to pay, then I'm going to pay to have everything stored in the one place and at that point I don't need the service. So I've chosen to sign up with both Jolidrive and Cloudkafe and see how they develop while putting in requests for all my cloud providers.
So, I think that's quite enough about clouds and storage. Time to get outside and take some pictures otherwise I'll have nothing to store. I hope some of this is helpful.
Having your files stored across multiple cloud services raises the obvious question of how you keep everything secure. So here are some thoughts and suggestions that might help.
First, using multiple services does raise the question of their long term viability. Clearly the likes of Google, Microsoft and Amazon are going to be around for a while but in a growing and increasingly crowded market how many of the newer entrants will still be here long term?
My 'solution' to this is to ensure what is really important goes on those well established services. Less important images go on the newer or less 'reputable' services. Since I am not a prolific shooter and am an enthusiast for the 'delete' button, my combined Microsoft and Google accounts can easily take all my current RAW files with plenty of room to spare. This means that I can use the rest of my available storage as a second layer of cloud backup. I've been toying with the idea of converting all my ARW (and RW2) to DNG format and uploading these as my secondary cloud backup. (JPEG's are saved as full size OOC files on Flickr. With 1TB available free I don't see any reason to use up space putting these anywhere else.)
No doubt there will be a shake out over time of cloud service providers but I'm working on the assumption that the likeliest outcome is that some will be taken over by more successful rivals and others will give me the chance to recover my data before folding. I realise that there is a small risk that a service could crash in a catastrophic manner and I could lose data from that service but I approach that as part of an overall risk calculation linked to the existence of my multiple hard drive back ups of the relevant data.
If I were a commercial photographer, even this slight degree of risk might be too much, but since I'm not I'm happy to work on the assumption that if one of these services fails it will either be taken over or I will probably have some opportunity to recover my files.
Second, there is the question of how you go about securing all this data. Personally, I don't worry unduly about data security when it comes to back up image files. There's nothing there that I requires more that the basic encryption and security package that most providers offer. If you have files that are commercially significant, or documents related to your photographic business that you want to keep really secure, a number of the providers offer client-side encryption.
I know nothing about technology but as far as I understand the key difference between client-side and server-side encryption is that with the former encryption keys are never stored on the provider's servers so it is impossible for the provider to enable access to your encrypted data to government agencies and it is impossible for rogue employees to access your data. There are some downsides, the main one being that if you forget your password you've lost your data.
If you need that level of data protection you can get it with Wuala, Mega and - possibly - Bitcasa. I say possibly with regard to Bitcasa because there have been some questions about how the company implements client-side encryption. I should also mention one other provider here that I didn't mention in my previous post. SpiderOak offers client-side encryption providing what the company describes as their 'Zero- Knowledge privacy environment.'
If you want to use some of the more mainstream providers like Microsoft or Google you can make use of encryption programmes like Cloudfogger or Boxcryptor that encrypt your files before upload, so even though these providers have decryption keys for their layer of encryption they will still not be able to gain or give access to files encrypted with these tools on your computer.
Third, there is the question of how you manage multiple logins to all these sites. I already have far more usernames and passwords than I can remember so adding eight, nine or ten more seems crazy. You could effectively treat all of these services as a single service and use the same email, username and password for all of them (assuming that you can find a common password given that the criteria for what kind of characters can be often differ and bearing in mind that Google and Microsoft will require Google and Microsoft email addresses.) However, doing so means that all of your sites are only as secure as the least secure one.
You could also use a password manager like Dashlane or Lastpass. Or you could come up with your own passwords generated through coded links to something known only to you which also serve as your reminder when you inevitably forget them. I do this because while I'm happy to use the same email address for everything and the same username (where required) I don't like the idea of using the same password. At first it felt very James Bond, or perhaps more Sherlock Holmes; now it's just increasingly complicated so I'll probably be moving to a password manager soon.
That's enough for this post. I had intended to cover everything in two posts but it seems I had more to say than I thought. One more post will do it though, looking at, for want of a better phrase, cloud organisation services.
Following on from yesterday's post here are the cloud storage services I have signed up for and a few more I've looked at but haven't yet joined. Again, bear in mind that I'm looking at these purely in the context of image file storage so I'm not looking at the various bells and whistles that each service offers. These are in no particular order.
SkyDrive. SkyDrive is Microsoft's cloud storage offering. If you have a Microsoft account you're already signed up. I joined a while back when it came with 25GB free. That's now been reduced to 7GB for new accounts but I still have my 25GB. It's just a shame I didn't set up a couple more accounts at the time.
Google Drive. Google now offers 15GB storage across its various services for each account (though not everything counts towards your allowance). Since Google doesn't allow for the creation of email aliases. over the years I've ended up with six Google accounts (and possible a few more I've forgotten about). Each of these comes with 15GB free. So that's another 90GB.
Jottacloud. Jottacloud is a relatively new offering from Norwegian based company Jotta offering 5GB free. Like a number of non-US based providers in the light of recent revelations about the activities of US government agencies Jotta have been stressing data security.
Wuala. Wuala has been around since 2007. It started off a a Swiss business and was then taken over by LaCie, the French digital storage company. LaCie in turn is now majority owned by Seagate. Wuala offers 5GB fee storage. Wuala's particular marketing point is the use of client-side encryption which means that no-one at the company has any way of decrypting your data. Like Jotta, Wuala is playing the data security card.
MediaFire. MediaFire is a US based provider and has been around since 2006. You can get 10GB with the possibility of expanding that to 50GB through a referral programme and by using certain apps. Downloading the web app and the mobile app gets you 2GB each. Connecting to your Facebook and Twitter accounts will get you 1GB more each. Posting to each of these will get you the same. That's 8GB more for nothing.
Ubuntu One. As you would expect from the name this service is linked to the Ubuntu OS. It was "initially launched in May 2009 to provide revenue for Ubuntu...which is commercially backed by Canonical." It comes with 5GB free with the possibility of taking that up to 20GB via a referral programme.
Amazon. If you have an Amazon account you already have access to 5GB free storage through Amazon Cloud Drive.
Box. Another well known service that's been around for a while (2005) and another 5GB free.
Bitcasa. Bitcasa is a new US based service which only came out of Beta earlier this year. At the moment you can get 10GB free. Bitcasa also claims to use client-side encryption but the way it implements this has been questioned.
Copy. Copy is another recent arrival and offers 15GB to start, with a generous referral policy worth an extra 5GB to both the referrer and the person referred. There doesn't appear to be an upper limit at the moment so this is a good way to build up your free space.
Mega. Mega has received a mixed press since its launch, mostly because of the man behind it. Kim Schmitz aka Kim Dotcom was also the man behind the Megaupload site, closed down by the US Department of Justice, and is currently facing extradition proceedings from his new home in New Zealand. While Mega appears to have some credible backers, whether it will survive if Dotcom is extradited is unclear. However, you do get 50GB free so I consider it worth the risk. My plan is not to put anything important on here for the moment and see how things pan out in the longer term. Mega also uses client-side encryption.
That's 210GB in total that I have available and there are still more options that I haven't yet tried. Those that I know of include CX (10GB), iDrive (5GB), SugarSync (5GB), Asus WebStorage (5GB), Comodo Cloud Storage (5GB), Pogoplug (5GB) and MiMedia (7GB) as well as those that offer smaller amounts of storage and rely more on referral programmes.
Tomorrow in a final post I'll explain how I try to manage all of this.
When I bought my first digital camera I had never heard of RAW files. It was a little Canon A520 and it cranked out 4 MB jpegs. A couple of years later I picked up a 10MP DSLR and became a devotee of shooting RAW, or, since it was a Sony, ARW, files. I was also amazed to discover that there were generally close to 10MB in size. In the years since I have graduated to a Sony NEX-7 and a Sony RX100, so I'm still shooting ARW but generating even bigger files - up to 25MB from the NEX-7.
What to do with them all? I'm not a heavy shooter and I do plenty of deleting but I still have an awful lot of files. They still sit on my hard drive but having had two hard drive failures over the years I've never needed to be persuaded of the merits of having multiple backups. For a long time my strategy consisted of weekly backups to two external hard drives. This gave me three copies of each file which left me confident that I could cope with a hard drive failure in any one of them. Yet that still left the possibility, however remote, of burglary, fire, water damage or other unforeseen events. So, cloud storage seemed like a good idea.
I could have picked a service, paid up and uploaded everything to the one provider, but I'm cheap. Why pay, when I could potentially get it for free? As of this moment I have around 200GB of free online storage which is enough for more than 8,000 ARW files from my NEX-7, more than enough for the foreseeable future. If you're on the lookout for free online storage I'm sure you've already come across plenty of suggestions and recommendations, but I'm going to add mine.
A few general comments before getting into the specifics.
First, I should point out that my primary goal is to have an online backup for my images files but most online storage solutions offer a lot more: auto backup, multi-device synchronisation, file sharing and collaboration, multi-platform support. If you need any or all of these you should be aware that some cloud storage services restrict access to the full functionality of their products for free accounts, so you need to check this before you sign up.
Second, I use Windows, so I haven't looked at any Apple specific products and while I have assumed that all of the products I'm using support Apple I haven't specifically checked that, so Apple users need to check this as well.
Third, some service providers offer additional free storage as an incentive for you to sign up your friends. So, while the initial offer may seem small, you can build up quite a generous allowance if you can persuade friends and colleagues to join.
Fourth, some providers require regular activity on your free account in order to keep it live. The otherwise excellent CX require that you login every 15 days. Fail to do so and you will have a thirty day grace period to sign up for a paid account in order to retrieve your files. Too restrictive for me. MediaFire also requires regular account activity but they define 'regular' as accessing your account once every year. Much more realistic.
Fifth, different providers will offer different upload and download speeds as well as different monthly bandwith allowances. Finding the numbers can be a bit tricky; often the information comes from third parties rather than the providers directly and it's not always consistent. Again, this isn't a big issue for me. In effect, I'm putting files into cold storage so I'm happy to let things churn away while they upload and I'm not in any hurry to have them download. If you anticipate accessing and downloading your files on a regular basis you will want to check for any cap on download speeds. I've never yet had a problem with any monthly bandwith limitations but this might potentially be an issue if uploading lots of large video files.
Finally, speaking of video, I don't use video so I never have any really huge files to upload, but if you do you should also check the maximum upload size for files. Some providers allow for multi-GB uploads whereas others max out at 200 or 300 MB. This is something you might need to work around if you plan to upload video files.
In my next post I'll start naming names and tell you who I have signed up with. Perhaps more importantly, I'll tell you how I manage all of these multiple accounts.
A slideshow featuring a selection of winning images from the 2012 travel photographer of the year competition on the BBC website. (You'll have to click the link. The image below is a screen capture only.)