Detroit junk yard © Ian Spanier Photography
LA Photographer Sam Frost,(http://samfroststudio.com) recently asked me how I label my images, organize my storage, and what drives I use for my storage.
Although my desk generally looks like someone locked a rabid raccoon in my office and let them run wild, I do pride myself on an organized library of images and a good back up system.
When I was starting to make the slow transition from film to digital I began by having my film scanned at my labs. At the same time, I was shooting a bit of digital here and there, but ultimately waiting for Canon to come out with a full size sensor before buying a digital camera. My negs and chromes were stored in ph-balanced sleeves organized by job name, separated into clamshell boxes by client. Figuring out a good system for digital files had its share of failures, but ultimately I came up with a pretty good system.
Initially I used a program called iView to catalog the images. This allowed me to assign keywords, client names, subject names and pretty much any other markers that would allow me to look up images at any time, with little or a lot of information. Keeping all the files on a computer was not going to work, so I stored all the files in individual job folders that were copied onto CDs, (yes CDs). I would name the CDs is-00001… then copy the same amount of information to an external hard drive. The CDs were stored in a 3-ring binder and the hard drive I kept hooked up to the computer. I had a separate portable drive to bring with me to jobs and on the road. CDs were pushed aside for DVDs, and as external drives got less expensive, I would move on to larger drives. The downside here was there was a ton of time being spent on making the DVDs, and the drives were not well protected. I primarily worked off the drives, and then went to the DVDs or CDs if there were any problems.
Then Drobo came out. Drobo is a self-replicating hard drive system, essentially a RAID system, which can easily handle up to 16TB of data. This means that if one of the 4 (or now up to 8) drives crashed, the other drives would protect the data and you’d only loose the drive itself. I now have two Drobo units, one with data from 2008-2011, and the other with 2012-13. The Drobos use Western Digital Enterprise class internal drives. I purchased for about $25 a SATA dock that accepts the same drives, and using them, about every 3-6 months I backup my latest work, store those drives in static bags, placed inside a Tupperware case and stored in my storage unit in NYC. Seems a bit extreme, but what this essentially does is creates a system where my files are always backed up, and should there be any problems in my office, I have files on drives in a completely separate location. All the current jobs I am working on, (jobs that clients have yet to make final image orders), also live on 2 portable hard drives that travel with me to jobs. That way, the files are always accessible, and to be even more anal, the current jobs are in three separate locations at most times.
When I dropped the DVDs I realized that naming the job folders should change as well. The sheer volume made it just too difficult to use the same system. Instead, jobs became separated by the best unique naming convention I could figure out, the shoot date. I use this system for everything now, which you will read more about below.
This is my regular workflow that I use on every shoot, whether I am shooting to CF card, tethered to Adobe Lightroom or Capture One. I have to say first off that I owe a lot to Scott Kelby’s Lightroom book; he is worth following for all his tips and knowledge, @ScottKelby
I start by naming each shoot with the shoot date, like 041213 then a “_” and some abbreviation of the client/subject. This is arbitrary and is just an easy method for me. So if my client is Danskin the job folder would read, 041213_dsk. Images would be named the exact same unless the client needs the files to be named specifically something else- like in the case of a clothing catalog where the style number is preferred. Either way, the files are numbered sequentially, with either four or five digits.
On the shoot, files are shot into the Pictures folder on the laptop’s or tower’s hard drive. I label this folder RED to signify it’s the only folder and it needs to be backed up. During and after the shoot, the files are backed up to the portable drives. Once all the files are copied, I change the RED folder to ORANGE to signify that it has been backed up to an external drive. On the external drive I have a folder for new files which is labeled RED, one labeled BLUE for folders that I have moved to the Drobo, GREEN for lores files for clients, a second RED for files to retouch (as they are not backed up in that state), and finally a GREY folder for folders that are backed up to the Drobo and cataloged.
When I return to the office after the shoot, I copy the folder from the external drive to the Drobo, and change the folder to BLUE moving it into the BLUE folder then import it into my Lightroom catalog on my office desktop. Once I have finished, I change the folder on the Drobo to GREY.
I create a new Lightroom Catalog by calendar year to keep the catalog working efficiently.
Screen shot of my portable drive color coding system.
I keep these folders on the portable hard drive until the job is completely closed. I mirror that portable drive with my other portable drive- just to be safe when I am on the road.
I cannot stress the importance of metadata enough. When I am creating or my digital tech is created a new catalog or session, my information is immediately being embedded into the files. The job name and key wording are all being done on set. This includes the client’s name, subject’s name, gender, ethnicity, location and so on. Many of my clients take the RAW files right from set, or I send a drive with images to them soon after the shoot, so this is not only important for the client then has files with this same information, but also for myself the future.
Do you really think you will remember every subject’s name? What if you get a call and someone wants to buy an image from two years ago and you have to go through thousands of images to find the subject of the photo? Time will be drastically saved if you can filter more specifically to the images you need. Recently I was asked to pull three years of images from six separate countries that needed to be separated by specific locations. Thankfully because I had the embedded metadata I was able to do this in no time at all.
Nowadays you can pretty much get a bag for each and every situation you as a photographer may face, and you should. Although it would be perfectly acceptable to have just one camera bag, why not customize to your assignment and utilize the technology that’s available today?
I thought it would be interesting to show you five of the bags I use on a fairly regular basis alongside the images that were created using the bags to get where I needed to go. I use some of these bags more often than others, and yet each is undeniably a valuable asset.
Ultimately, the point here is that an organized and useful bag system is incredibly important in keeping your mind where it should be, on the assignment.
PRO ROLLER x200
Steven Tyler shot on location in Norwood, Mass. Rolling into a location with the Pro Roller is always smooth © Ian Spanier Photography 2012
This is probably my most used bag, whether it’s navigating airports, flights, city streets, taxis, rental cars, or just hotel lobbies, this bag has become a go-to piece of equipment for me.
This is typically how it’s packed. Not shown are my 15” MacBook, external battery and book of notes.
The Pro Roller packed for a job, 2 bodies, 4 lenses, batteries, memory cards, light meter, chargers, laptop, and all necessary cords © Ian Spanier Photography 2012
I use this bag for all my studio shoots, and any location shoot that I know I’ll be rolling into.
What really sold me on this bag was when I had injured my neck and at the time could not easily carry a backpack. This bag saved me, a few months of rehabbing was not stifled by assignments, and I healed quickly.
The summer I got the bag, was a particularly hot one, and I remember just before getting the bag, I had taken a backpack to a shoot at a law firm where I had to dress up, my shirt was soaked. This is easily avoided with the Roller. Even running for a flight is that much easier with up to 50lbs of gear rolling behind me as opposed to it on my back.
One of my favorite features is the built in lock, on the occasions I have no choice but to put the bag under a plane, I know it’s locked and secure.
The Dryzone in use while shooting a story on a sailboat, one less thing to worry about was that my gear would be dry inside the bag no matter what the conditions. Photo by Christopher Parker
When I got the assignment to shoot Fly Fishermen on the Margaree River in Nova Scotia I was told we’d be given all the waterproofing the fishermen would have, waders, and whatnot. We’d be walking regularly through chest deep water. Honestly, I don’t care if I get wet, but what was I going to do with my cameras and lenses? The Dryzone was NECESSARY. It’s kind of hard to trust any waterproof bag when you are about to walk into that river with $15k-20k worth of equipment inside.
Fly Fisherman Charles Gaines on the Margaree River, the rain kept us all wet, but everything inside the Dryzone remained clean and dry. © Ian Spanier Photography 2012
At the first deep crossing I had no choice but to go for it. I took a breath and stepped in. The water was just below my chin, (not saying much as I am only 5’5”), but the bag was totally solid. Not a drop of water entered the bag, and my gear was completely dry. I had no more fears when my gear was inside the bag, outside was another story; we had four solid days of rain on the shoot.
As I mentioned, for most of my shoots I use the Pro Roller to carry my gear. On shoots where I will not be tethered to a computer or standing in one place I’ll carry the SlingShot 200aw as my personal item on domestic flights, or internationally where you can’t always use a personal item, I’ll stow it in my checked luggage to use on location.
When I arrive to the hotel or location, I download what I need into the SlingShot and I am off.
A typical example of how I transport my gear in the Pro Roller x200 and download and repack what I need on set with the SlingShot 200aw at the hotel or in the trunk of the car. The Pro Roller also has a tripod mount when inspiration calls and your tripod isn’t accessible. © Ian Spanier Photography 2012
On location in Greenland’s polar ice cap.
I love the built in lens cloth, and the outer pockets really allow for storing the little items that help throughout a location shoot- mini flashlight, filters, hand-warmers, pens, batteries etc. – all accessible without taking off the bag. It’s also great when it’s slung around to the front to use it as additional support, giving me just a little more of a solid position when shooting hand-held in low-light conditions.
Rolling a case on this surface would never work, and I am sure a big pack would slow me down, the SlingShot had plenty of room for what I’d need for the time we had on the ice cap. This shot became the opener for the feature story. © Ian Spanier Photography 2012
The Pro Roller gets me there, and I’m more mobile with the SlingShot.
Just before the first flight. We had to run off the cliff to launch, so I’d put the camera in the Toploader and run. It was easy pull the camera out as soon as we took flight and put it away for landing. Even though I had cargo pants on, I felt more secure keeping memory cards in the Toploader. Having everything under my chin was far easier than digging into my pockets.
This is a specialty bag for sure, it’s actually great for everyday use, and I will switch it from chest harness to a regular shoulder strap when I am just carrying a camera, lens, batteries and some cards.
When I got an assignment to shoot paragliding in Switzerland and France it was a no-brainer to bring this bag. The top load style allows you to set the camera in the case as if it was sitting securely on a table.
I had never paraglided before, and the guide was quite impressed when after jumping off Mount Saleve I not only changed memory cards, but also changed lenses hundreds of feet in the air as the wind was whipping.
The last shot of the day, I joined one of the guides half way up Mont Blanc in France. It would have been impossible to do this job without the Toploader. © Ian Spanier Photography 2012
This is the truly the most modifiable bag system I have ever seen. There are so many combinations you can create for most any shoot. Last year I was given an assignment to shoot five Reality-TV stars for A&E’s Shipping Wars in five remote locations.
The budget wouldn’t allow us to travel with larger lights, and picking up rentals in the various cities would not work in each of the locations. We needed a consistent look, so we had to light it. I had just started using Photoflex’s Triton lights, and the small 300-watt monoblocks could do the trick, so long as we could carry them on the flights.
Fearing any lost luggage issues, we fit 2 heads, 2 batteries with backup batteries, pocket wizards, speed rings, an extension arm, modifiers and any additional accessories in the s&f duffle bag, combined with the Pro Roller, it was considered my “personal item.”
An entire light kit in one carry-on bag, organized so that the TSA didn’t question a thing. © Ian Spanier Photography 2012
We checked stands on the flights, and if they didn’t make it, we could hand hold. As it turned out in Colorado, a winter storm negated using our lightweight stands and my assistant became a sturdier stand.
On set with trucker Marc Singer from A&E’s Shipping Wars. My assistant Zach Bako served as light stand. We not only zipped through the shots, but had the ability to do three set-ups in less than 30 min. © Ian Spanier Photography 2012
On set, I also shot behind the scenes, and using the Pro Lens Exchange, and two accessory cases, I had all I needed attached to my belt and could work alongside the videographers without being limited in movement whatsoever.
Two added favorites, the cell phone case is amazing and my iPhone is easily accessible with one hand from whatever it’s attached to. The water bottle holder is with me on nearly all travel shoots, I’ve found freeing up my hands in the airport is fantastic, and on the shoot, having water bottles on me when I’m shooting documentary style allows me to keep working without a break…especially in cases where breaks are few and far between.
The final shot used by A&E to promote the show. © Ian Spanier Photography 2012
The result was, I hope you agree, a professional quality shoot packed into a carry-on bag.
Nearly 85% of my jobs I use my Lowepro Pro Roller x200. This has been my bag of choice for a while now, it allows me to carry everything I need and then some. Generally, here’s how it’s packed:
- Canon Mark III 1Ds
- Canon 5D Mark II
- Canon 50mm 1.2
- Canon 85mm 1.8
- Canon 24-105mm
- Canon 70-300mm
- 5 Gepe card cases
- SanDisk card reader
- 15’ tether cord
- 6’ tether cord
- Sekonic Flash Meter
- Canon cord lock
- Canon batteries for both cameras
- Canon battery chargers for both cameras
- Air Rocket blower -spare AAs
- Laptop power cords
- 3-Prong Power Splitter
- business cards, promo cards and band aids
- ColorMunki Monitor Calibrator
- portable hard drive
- Wacom Bamboo Tablet
When I have a shoot that requires me to be mobile and I’m not using my laptop on set, I’ll download to a Lowepro SlingShot 202aw. This has worked well for me for the most part, but I was looking for something in the middle. Sometimes I just don’t need all the above, and the SlingShot 202aw is a bit too small, and even if it manages my cameras, lenses and accessories, it doesn’t hold a laptop. I usually get a lot of work done on the plane, and other clients don’t walk away from their needs just because I’m in another city, so I need it with me.
ALWAYS keeping an eye on the new gear out there, I came across Lowepro’s Fastpack 350, and it is a great solution to this middle ground. Here it is packed for a typical assignment where I don’t need the full kit, and need to be mobile over any terrain.
It’s got enough room for all of this:
- Canon Mark III 1Ds
- Canon 5D Mark II
- Canon 50mm 1.2
- Canon 85mm 1.8
- Canon 24-105mm
- 5 Gepe card Cases
- SanDisk Card Reader
- Batteries for both cameras, chargers incl.
- Air Rocket Blower
- Portable hard drive
- Long Sleeve shirt or lightweight Rain Jacket
- Laptop and power cords
- Wacom Bamboo Tablet
- iPad (if desired)
- Spare batts, chargers, etc
- (I’d probably be able to get one or two more lenses in there as well if necessary, all depends on the needs of the job)
©Ian Spanier Photography 2012 for Danskin
A few weeks ago I shot another installment of the Danskin clothing line’s marketing images.. Despite shooting for Danskin now for two years, we’d not really shot much ballet, a few images here and there, but mostly we’ve shot their fashion and sport imagery. Then a few weeks ago, the Creative Director called and said we’d be shooting ballet only, and they had secured a stage in an old theater in NJ. Once I saw some of the inspiration shots from her, it brought me back to college, back when shooting was about art, and not about a product.
When I do my lecture on the business of photography, I discuss how crucial it is to recognize you are running a business not just being an artist. I cover the many aspects that allow one to be a business, from insurance, taxes, invoicing the right way and marketing oneself, and so on. I end the lecture with a role call of things we all should be doing as a part of running our businesses and discuss the inevitable question, how can you be an artist and a business person?
No doubt it’s hard to do that when you are bogged down with the boring “desk” tasks, chasing invoices, paying crew, filing, producing and on and on. My directive is that if we can run our businesses well, then we can be artists, and not just robots who set up lights and press a shutter when told. A good part of it is management, free up your mind of the crucial business aspects and you are available to think about the kinds of images you can really bring to the table.
Back to the shoot.
First shot of the day (above) was options on one to three dancers waiting to hit the stage. The creative inspiration came from an image of a dancer going through a doorway, but from it, I interpreted aspiration, eagerness, and poise alongside perhaps a little stage fright from the young dancer. I then recalled the image of the woman backstage that I’d shot so many years before, a caught moment as she took a deep breath before heading onto stage for her performance. I didn’t look at it till today, but here it is:
The Nutcracker, Schenectady, NY 1994
©Ian Spanier Photography 1994
Funny how when you have the control to create the image vs. just capture the image it’s a different mind set. Now I am directing and controlling the light, subject and even the position of the curtain. As well, I’m now in the business of selling a product, and I’d argue the commercial aspects are evident in my more recent shot. Back in ‘94 it was pure instinct, and the rawness I think it what ultimately made me make the images I made. There was no 128,000 iso with little noise, tethered shooting, no strobes I could modify to my liking, and certainly no fucking Instagram. You did what you could with what you had. At the time for me, it was a (one) camera, available light, a few lenses and Kodak P3200 film. Now I look at this image and think how I could have had a little fill behind her, a softer front light to get more detail out of the dress and not be stuck squeezing everything out of the film to expose for her face despite the 2-3 stop brighter dress. Get rid of that bench in front of her and the rope that was hanging in front partially blocking my frame. But I can appreciate it’s pureness, it was a moment, not about perfection, maybe more about the emotion.
©Ian Spanier Photography 2012 for Danskin
Another direction came from images of ballet students from the 40s and 50s, shot in places like Paris and New York, at dance studios with huge arched windows and beautiful diffused light.
To recreate that I wanted a big source, and soft, so we went with two large softboxes behind a 12x12 silk and a large Octabank along the side of it to give a sense of a large series of windows and perhaps a corner with another couple windows to wrap the light a bit. We kept the lights close to keep the light soft, and used bi-tube heads so we could freeze action better when needed. We shot much of this at 1/200” at f7.1. We metered at f8, but I always open up a bit OR purposely set the lights about 3/10ths more than my aperture setting. Off set, behind the curtain ropes is a bare reflector firing back at camera, something that helps with separation of the background since it was black back there. That was a last minute addition.
You can see the set-up from the first shot (1) as I sketched it out and (2) the large source set up. Then you can see a bts view here as we prepped for the final shot, an overhead view of the dancers:
overhead sketches I make for my scrapbook prior to the shoot. ©Ian Spanier Photography
behind the scenes, and the final shot:
©Ian Spanier Photography 2012 for Danskin
I was shooting the dance company in ‘94 for a project my junior year of college, and the Nutcracker shoot was actually an assignment for the company. Back then though I, like many photographers today, (young AND old), had no idea about how I was running Ian Spanier Photography. I shot from the hip, and was more pure. Assignment or not, I was there to make good images as an artist, and I didn’t think about how I’d be taking care of my invoice when I was hanging sideways off the catwalk to get that shot. Being naive, how would I know different? Sadly, that’s what I am seeing on many of these lecture trips. Photographers think they can just go out and make pictures as artists and the business will take care of itself because they can have a talent for taking pictures. They couldn’t be more wrong, talent will only get you so far. Take care of the business as a business person, so that you the photographer can be an artist.
special thanks to: Danskin, Lauren Gonzalez and Michelle Cicenia, and a great team: Cam Camarena, Lee Morgan, Laura Dee Shelley and Sacred Schneidmiller.
I got a call late last night from a friend that LeRoy Neiman passed away yesterday at age 91. For those of you that don’t know Neiman, look him up. He’s a legend.
I was fortunate to meet LeRoy while working on a cigar book for Playboy. Neiman had agreed to write the book’s foreword, and allow us to come photograph him at his NYC studio. A long-time contributor to Playboy as well as a long-time cigar smoker, no doubt was a good match for the book, which was a historic guide to cigar manufacturing as well as the history of cigars in the world of Playboy.
We had been told his health was not great, but his presence showed everything but, and he gladly lit up a cigar for our shot. We worked quickly, maybe shot for six minutes or so.
While we were breaking down the set, LeRoy noticed my sketch book on the table. Inside, I keep notes on the shoots I do, including birds-eye views of the sets, and often ideas I sketched out, something I do on all my shoots. I usually print out an image or five after the shoot to show the finished product and tape that into the book as well. LeRoy asked if he could look at it, and he literally looked at every page, asking me question after question not only about the images but my sketching. I don’t even know what I said, all I could think about was this great Artist was looking at my beat-up Moleskin book of notes, and talking about it like we were at a salon in Europe. I was honored to be able to just meet him, let alone photograph him, but this put things over the top. As photographers, we can do a ton of forgettable jobs, but every so often we get these beautiful moments that you treasure.
My friend, Aaron Sigmond, the author of that book, put it poignantly last night that he regrets he never got to have a last cigar with Neiman, I felt bad that I did, and will never forget it.