Digital Disasters

Since most photographers are now digital, all of us have had to learn to deal with regular digital disasters. It is now part of the daily life of modern photographers.


Stonington Harbour, ME


Photography is now almost completely digital.  All professional photographers are now shooting and editing and printing digitally.  At least I don't any who are not.  This is because digital photography is, hands down, far, far better than any photographic technology of the past.  Simply put, it means we are now capable of making photographs far more beautiful and far more faithful to the real world than we ever have before.

And as everyone who regularly deals with computers knows, it also means living with a bunch of very complex, temperamental  equipment that goes haywire pretty regularly.

Let me relate the digital disasters that have befallen me in the last month or so.  My very large mainstay computer, a Mac Pro, disintegrated last week: two quad processors and the main logic board suddenly gone.  I couldn't print on my Epson 9800 printer a couple of weeks ago because all of its printer drivers had suddenly and inexplicable disappeared.  Just yesterday the same printer was making a string of ugly marks all down the right side of prints.  Over the last several weeks the color calibration equipment that  I use to make sure the picture on my monitor is accurate began doing odd and inexplicable, and very bad things.  Today, the software program, Adobe DreamWeaver, that I use to build my website was producing pages that looked differently on my local website than online.

Portland head light

Sometimes it all makes you want to scream and go back to the old, simple world of film and optical enlargers and developing pans.  But I can't, the pictures I make today are so incredible much better.  And without the internet I could never make a living working at home or write a blog like this one.  And besides that, the old analog world of photography wasn't really all that simple: pictures often printed wrong due to faulty or old chemicals or because processing temperatures were somehow way off.  And cooling fans broke and prints caught on fire, bulbs blew out and were no longer available, processors chewed up pictures at a fantastic rate, film cameras captured pictures with all kinds of crazy color balances and even the best photographs were unbelievable dull.

So, I'm stuck with digital and all it's complications.  Over the years I have learned to deal with digital disasters and somehow remain reasonably sane.  Here are a few things that help.

In the first place digital disasters are usually not as bad as they seem; most often they can be solved much faster than it originally seemed.   One basic rule: don't fool around trying to fix it yourself,  go to the experts right away.  This usually means calling tech help.  When my computer blew up I called Apple Care support, they quickly referred me to my local Apple Store and I got my computer back in a week as good as new.  I had no idea Apple Stores did complete computer repairs, but they do.

Luckily I had what is called Apple Care on the computer.  I highly recommend this for any Apple product you buy.  It cost about $300.00 when I bought the computer but gave me complete protection no matter what happened to the computer, plus I get amazingly competent tech help for free which I use very often.  In my recent MacPro disaster, I got a $3000.00 repair job done absolutely free.  Macs are great computers and Apple's service is always the very best.  I love those guys.

The two problems with my Epson 9800 printer were fixed by two quick calls to the very competent Epson tech repair people.  I was up and running again in an hour in each case.  Again, Epson's people are the best. Cadillac Mountain in Acadia National Park

When you call tech help, they will usually give you a case number.  Be sure and save this; if the problem persists and you need to call tech help again, the new tech can quickly get up to speed on the problem by referring to the case number.  Also, having a case number usually insures that you get help quickly without waiting around in the help line forever.

In the case of Adobe Dream Weaver the situation was a bit more complicated.  Adobe's tech help is not, in my experience, nearly as good as it used to be.   It used to be wonderful but, in my experience, it is now pretty much worthless. It takes forever to get to the tech person who is supposed to help you and then they are not very helpful once you get there.  Nor do they seem to care much about your problem.

Adobe seems to realize they need to do something about their tech help department and just recently the wait to get help became shorter, but not much.  I've given up calling them and now email my problems to them; I emailed about my latest DreamWeaver problem three days ago and still haven't heard from them.   This lack of good service is quite disappointing since their programs, like Photoshop are so wonderful.  Maybe it's just me and I have had an unusual experience but I continue to be unhappy with Adobe Tech help.  I think I'm just going to have to forget getting help on my DreamWeaver problem and work it out myself.

One key to living with digital photography is backing up.  It's not that someday, you may have a problem and lose data, it's that you are definitely going to have all sorts of digital disasters on a continuing basis and you will lose data.  You absolutely have to back up all important data, especially image files, constantly and regularly.  All my digital files all the way from raw shooting data to finished pictures is always on at least two hard drives and also backed-up regularly to DVD.   I have lost only one image file in my entire career, and I'm still looking for that one; I know it's someplace.

The best external hard drives to use are raid arrays.  Raid arrays contain at least two separate hard drives that can be set up to either mirror (make two or more duplicate copies of all data) or else to work in tandem to transfer data at very high speeds.  I have had good luck with Iomega external hard drives.  I also just bought a 1.5 TB external drive from Costco for $140.00 which looks pretty good.  I'll tell you how it turns out.  

At some point in the near future I plan to buy a very large raid drive from Data Robotics.  Their Drobo raid setups are the state of the art and used by many photographers.  Here is their website.  Their large units can hold up to 16 TB of data.

So, when your digital systems falls apart, as it will, it really isn't the end of the world.  Call your tech guy and you'll probably be back in business before you know it.  It doesn't hurt to say an occasional prayer to the digital gods also.


All the pictures in this article were shot in New England in 2007.

Banks of the Swift River, New Hampshire