Photo Storage, Backup, and Workflow

Diving photographers and photographers in general take a lot of photos and videos and have different backup and long-term storage needs than the average person. This is especially true when you start recording 4K video.

I have lots of friends that have tragically lost photos over time, it’s usually because of the following reasons:

  • Laptop died.
  • External USB drive was dropped and doesn’t work anymore.
  • Ran out of space and had to delete files.
  • Accidentally deleted files.
  • Phone dropped in the ocean.

I’m also amazed how many professional and semi-professional photographers simply do not take care of their photos and have accidents where they lose years of their digital life.

But I’m an IT nerd and my life revolves around saving data and keeping computers from ruining my life (I know, it’s a cynical view of things).

So here is how I manage files, backups, and disks….


Macbook Air mid-2015, 500GB SSD. The laptop that goes everywhere with me.

2TB Samsung T5 solid-state USB external drive. Portable backup, it also goes everywhere with me.

Synology DS 1815+ 8-bay Network Attached Storage (NAS) and 8x8TB drives (NAS-specific Seagate Ironwolf drives) in a Synology Hybrid RAID with 2 redundant drives, and formatted for BTRFS. The big beast in my spare bedroom with 42TB of useable storage. I realize this is a huge setup for most of you, but a nice 2-drive with SHR/RAID 1 or a 4-drive unit with SHR/RAID 5 works swimmingly for the average home user.

1 external 8TB USB drive for backing up the NAS.

USB hub with USB gigabyte ethernet adapter for Macbook, Cat 5e/6 ethernet cables, and a couple gigabit switches. I do have a 24-port managed gigabit switch for the NAS so that it can bond 4 ethernet ports into one super-fast network port.

Custom-built monster Linux desktop with M2 drive for root and 2x8TB hard drives in RAID1 for /home.

Second Macbook Air for my wife.


All my cameras use SD cards. I have a reader built into the 2 Macbooks. I have a USB reader for my desktop. At some point in the future I’ll upgrade Macbook and have to figure out how to play this game with USB-C connectors.

I need a travel backup. SSD are the only USB/external drives that I have seen survive a busy travel schedule. Conventional spinning hard drives don’t take abuse and they’re heavy. I’ve killed even the “durable” hard drives.  I used to use a Samsung T3 250GB SSD but ran out of room because my Macbook has 500GB of storage. So I upgraded to the T5 2TB.

Time Machine Settings

No recent backup to NAS because I’ve been on the road since August 9th. I turned off “Back up Automatically” to make Time Machine Editor work.

MacOS uses a low priority for Time Machine backups so that it doesn’t slow down programs that are you are using. With photos and especially video, it takes a long time to make a backup. You can set the priority for Time Machine so that it works faster but possibly makes your computer seem slower and use an application to schedule backups for nighttime. This way, you get fast backups but only when you’re not using your Mac. Obviously, then you need to keep your Mac on overnight. =)

Time Machine Editor

Time Machine Editor Configuration. Only run at night when I’n not using my Mac.

At home, I need to share files across several computers. Network drives help with this. As a side benefit, it takes data off of my laptop or desktop hard drive and puts it somewhere more durable.

Synology NAS supports something called Synology Hybrid RAID (SHR). This allows you to upgrade the size of your storage by replacing the hard drives with larger drives (also as drives get cheaper over time). However, you have to do this one at a time and then allow the data to be synced to the new drive. For 8 drives, this could take a couple of weeks to fully replace all the drives. My NAS can also accept an expander unit of 5 drives.

Time Machine can backup to a NAS very easily. However, it’s slow over wifi. A USB to gigabyte ethernet dongle helps you a ton, and I have one of these at home permanently connected to a USB hub for my laptop.

You need some kind of naming scheme to let you find photos. I use “YYYY.MM Description” as folder names, so “2019.04 Malapascua” and “2019.07 Folly Cove” exist on my NAS.

My NAS has the Hyper Backup software that can backup to USB or another NAS. Think of it as Time Machine for NAS. I need this because when I transfer photos to NAS, the NAS becomes the single backup for everything. With the drive redundancy, I’m mostly OK, I’m making backups to protect against user error (oops, I deleted everything) and any kind of home disaster like fire, flood, etc. When I had 2 homes, I had a second NAS and would backup from NAS to NAS over a home-to-home (H2H) VPN. I like this approach but I only have one home nowadays. I looked at Synology C2 or Amazon Glacier as potentials for backing up my NAS and just set up Synology C2 while I was writing this.

My NAS also backs up photos and video from my phone and makes them available to any kind of laptop/desktop on the local network. It also makes photos on the NAS available to my phone via DS Photo software, so if I’m on the road and need to retrieve something from NAS I can.

Accessing NAS files via DS Photo.

I backup my Linux desktop and personal webserver using Synology Active Backup.


Shoot and Transfer. If I’m traveling, I take the SD card out of my camera, insert it into the Macbook’s reader, and transfer it into a new folder named “YYYY.MM Description” under “Pictures”. Yes, I’m gangster and put videos in this directory too even though I have a “Movies” directory. If it’s a long trip or if I have different cameras to store images from (for a long trip I might have my G9, TG5, my wife’s TG4, a Paralenz, a GoPro, a drone, and even a 360° camera), I’ll also use subdirectories with “DD Camera Name”, so something like “2019.04 Malapascua/08 G9”.

Backup! Immediately after I transfer photos to my laptop, I plug in my Samsung T5 and do a backup with Time Machine. I won’t format my SD card until this backup is complete because until then I would have photos on only one device: my laptop hard drive.

Speaking of formatting SD cards, I do a full format before every dive to avoid any kind of filesystem corruption. But of course, after that first backup.

I will edit photos on my laptop during the trip. I have recently switched from Lightroom to darktable because it works on Mac and Linux. More importantly, it writes changes to a file called a “sidecar” in the same directory as the original so that my changes stay with the file across computers. You just have to remember to also transfer across the .xmp files when you transfer photos.

I plug in my T5 every other night on the road or so and let Time Machine backup to it while I sleep. That way my edits and other things on the laptop get backed up too. Night backups while you sleep is an awesome thing.

When I get home, I connect my laptop to the USB hub with ethernet adapter. I remove all of my pictures from darktable. Don’t worry, the changes are still on hard drive in the sidecar file. Then I copy the directory with all of my trip pictures and videos to a “photos” directory on the NAS. I transfer the entire directory so that my “photos” directory has some kind of order inside of it. I check that all the files were transferred to NAS by counting the number and loading the last handful of files to make sure they can be accessed via NAS.

photos drive

My nicely-organized photos directory.

I plug my T5 drive into the laptop and leave it there while my laptop is at home. That way, the laptop backs up to both the NAS and the T5 at night. I think Time Machine backs up first to the drive with the oldest backup, so overnight with both available it alternates backup drives.

If I dont need to use my laptop right away, I run Time Machine as soon as I transfer files to NAS to backup to either NAS or T5. It’s better if I let the laptop run overnight so that it does a backup to both locations. After I have verified that I have backups to both locations (usually the next day), I can safely delete the photos and videos from my laptop hard drive.

I can access photos and videos on the NAS from any computer as a network drive. On my Macbook, I mount the directory as a Windows share. On my Linux desktop, I mount via NFS with cache. In darktable, you can create a local copy of files that you are working on and then the local copy will be deleted when you remove the file from darktable. This saves you a lot of headache where NAS connections time out.

For using Lightroom on a network drive, you have 2 options:

  • Load the files into your Lightroom catalog when they’re on the laptop. That way, it’s faster reading off the local drive. Then you can do one of two things: #1 use Lightroom to transfer the directory to NAS; #2 transfer the files to NAS then have Lightroom “find lost files” on the NAS.
  • Transfer the files to NAS and then load them into the Lightroom catalog via the network share. This is slower but then you don’t have to worry about getting Lightroom to find them on NAS later.

I have a USB drive connected to the NAS to make a backup of the unique files that live on the NAS. Ie, photos and videos. I don’t make a backup of backups on the NAS like in the Time Machine directory… I already have 2 backups plus the original. One huge tip on Hyperbackup is that you need to unclick the “sleep USB drive after backup is complete” option because otherwise you won’t be able to make recurring backups to the USB unless you unplug/replug it.


USB drives can get diver gear tags, too. =) =) =)

See you Underwater!!


Video: TG-5 Manual Focus Assist

Today we’ll be going over 2 manual focus assists built into the TG5: focus peeking and manual focus magnification.

Focus peeking is when the camera shows a color on the LCD for parts of the photo that are in focus.  You can set it in Big Menu => Gear Icon => A => MF Assist => Focus Peaking and then set the color of the peaking in Big Menu => Gear Icon => B1 => Peaking Color.

Focus magnification is when the camera magnifies the center of the screen while you adjust focus so that you can see the focus better.  You can set it in Big Menu => Gear Icon => A => MF Assist => Magnification.

TG-5: Adding a Light Ring

As I wrote about already, I got a TG-5 and the Nauticam housing for it specifically for the light ring so that I could have a more compact (pun partially intended) camera setup. This article is a compilation of everything that I know about using the light ring.

Screws Onto the Housing and Over The Lens

The light ring screws into the 52mm threads on the housing itself. This requires that you take off the adapter that fits over the camera flash and holds fibre optic cables for strobes. There are 2 hex screws that hold the adapter in place. Then you place the light ring over the lens glass and over the glass where the adapter previously was. The center of the light ring screws into the housing with a special wrench.

Remove this with a hex wrench:

And screw this onto the center of the lens port:

One of the downsides to the light ring is that you lose the ability to add any diopter or other “fun stuff” like a magic tube, magic ball, etc. That’s OK, using the toy adapters is fairly infrequent, and with the macro mode on the TG-5 and manual focus set very close to the lens, in my opinion you don’t really need to use magnification diopters unless you’re looking for subjects that are <5mm in size.

Uses The On-Camera Flash

The light ring is a fairly simple thing. It’s just a channel for the flash from the camera. The one bad thing about this design is that the camera has to put out more light than normal–water “eats” normal flash–so that the subject is well-lit. I’ve had to mess around with camera settings to get this to work at longer distances, but the general rule is to get closer to your subject. But this also applies to normal macro anyway, since if you get closer to the subject, you can also fill the shot with it. That is, use manual focus, push the focal point as close to the lens as you can, and gently slide the camera in close to the subject.

However, some camera settings….

Full-Strength. From the quick menu, use “Full” flash mode. Then change the flash exposure compensation (EC) to +2. This is because water “eats” flash, and the further away the subject is, the more flash gets eaten. I use this setting maybe 95% of the time when I use the light ring.

Slow Flash. For shots at a longer distance, you can use the “Slow” flash setting. This fires the flash early on in the exposure so that the flash has time to reflect off the background. this setting is made for use inside a room where you want to use a fill-in on some of the darker areas of the room. What this does for me underwater is that it gives more time for the flash to reflect off the subject. (sidenote: I should try using this full-time for the light ring.)

Can Still Use a Strobe

One of the nice things about the light ring is that it still has a hole for a fibre optic cable. So one of the setups that I’ve used pretty well is to add a single Sea and Sea YS-03 mounted on the top of the housing. That gives me the reach out further for larger subjects like fish. But most of the time if I’m shooting true supermacro subjects like nudies, little shrimp, little crabs, etc, then all that I need to light up the subject is the light ring and I leave the strobe turned off.

Hole for fibre optic cable:

However, when I use a strobe, I change the flash mode to “RC” which turns on the optical TTL setting of the camera. At that point, the strobe does most of the work and the light ring acts as a “fill-in”.

One problem with using a strobe is that the light ring still works. That does create up-close backscatter when you do wide-angle photography. IE, the light ring does its job and lights up any objects near to it which means sand and dirt in the water.

I Sometimes Use My Focus Torch

Using a light ring with the housing means that I can use my torch in a couple of different ways.

In one mode, I can use it for UV light for the black light effect combined with the light ring that does the job of making the right exposure. I don’t think it’s a secret anymore… I love using the UV feature of my focus torch to make white subjects pop out.

Or I can use the torch as supplemental lighting when the light ring needs a little bit of help. Or as the prime light and then

One thing that I haven’t tried is using the torch in red light mode with the light ring as flash for shrimp and crabs–they hate white lights but strobe is OK.

Or I don’t have to use my focus torch at all if I have enough ambient light to frame and focus. Just let the light ring do its job.

Uses Battery Faster

One thing that I’ve noticed is that running the on-camera strobe “very hot” means that I use the camera battery a lot more than I normally would. So I can get 2 long (60-minute) dives out of it and I’m done… have to change the camera battery for the third dive. So I take every effort that I can do to not use battery power. Shut off the camera when I’m hunting for subjects, don’t look at photos on the boat, etc.

Less Shadows

Since the light ring creates a flash all around the lens, it does have a tendency to “flatten” subjects by reducing the amount of shadows that are created. The answer is to add a strobe or torch from the top and/or increase contrast in post-production.

Strange Effects

I do get some strange effects where the light ring doesn’t travel far. And by that, I mean that while the subject is well-lit, the background keeps an unlighted white balance. And where I add in other lights like UV or red from my torch, far subjects keep that coloring instead of reflecting the light ring light which normally happens for strobes.

The bad thing is that it’s hard to see if this is happening unless you do some serious pixel-peeping during your dive.


Weefine makes 2 light rings that screw into a 67mm mount. You’ll need a 52-to-67mm step-up ring to use them. They work well–one is a strobe triggered by fibre optic, the other has a simple on-off button like a torch–and have more light than the housing light ring. They hold their own battery, which solves some of the problems about light ring power. They also are bigger, which creates new problems in getting close to the subject. Alas, everything in photography is a tradeoff….

See You Underwater!!


Working with a Macro Guide

A couple of weeks ago, I spent the weekend at Anilao Photo Academy in the Philippines.  It’s a great experience and I very much recommend it to anybody who wants to dive and shoot.  It was my second trip there and it reminded me my love of their guides and why a dive guide is a good thing to have.  I’ve dived with both Jason and Doodz there.

I’ve also used a couple of macro guides in Tulamben (Darmada and Yansu and at times some of their friends) and have a ton of respect and love for them also.

I’ve also guided my friends in Pulau Tioman, Singapore, Japan, and even a little bit in Massachusetts.  Since I can find some creatures, I’m reasonably decent at taking the “swim fast, scare fish” crowd and turning them into “go slow and see things” macro photography divers.  And some of them are getting really good.

Guides are officially Dive Masters and as such they are there to keep you safe and get you back to the boat alive.  However, a good macro photography guide does a whole lot more:

  • Finds you subjects quickly
  • Finds a subject while you are busy taking photographs so that you have less time hunting
  • Knows where to find the rare and unique subjects

Working with a Guide

There are several things that you can do to work with a guide better.

Tell Them What You Want.  Before you dive with your guide, have a quick conversation with them about your skill level in diving and what kind of macro experience you want to have.  If you want to find a specific creature, tell them that and they will usually find it for you.

Show Them Your Pictures.  They usually like photos, or are at least too polite to tell you that you suck.  =)  But really, show them some photos off your phone so that they understand what kinds of photos you are capable of taking.  It will help them understand a little bit more about how you think and what kind of shots they can set up for you.  If you have decent skill, they will show you some of the harder subjects.

Learn How To Hunt.  At the beginning of the dive and when you finish with a subject and the guide is busy, you still have to hunt and find your own subjects.  While it’s great when you’re working with guides, you still have to have your own capabilities.

Know When to Leave a Subject.  If you’re working a very common subject or one that you have lots of photos already, the guide will probably find something better while you’re busy.  If you’re still taking pictures of that common subject, you’re losing time that you could be working something awesome, and dive time is always limited.  So get a couple of good shots then move on.  This could be clown fish, hermit crabs, skeleton shrimp, or even Pikachu when you’ve shot a lot of them on that trip.

Be Responsible for Yourself.  Get better at diving.  Monitor your gas consumption.  Retreat to shallower areas when you are running low on NDL or gas.  Learn the frog kick and don’t kick up sand and nudies when you move.  What this does is let the guide worry less about your survival and worry more about finding good macro subjects.

Take Good Photos.  This one is fairly obvious, but not in the way that you would think.  Guides want you to take good pictures, that’s how you tell your friends what an awesome time you had.  It also leads to referrals and tips.  However, the important thing is that you learn how to take good underwater macro photos before you book the guide.  Attend a workshop.  Do some dry macro photography.  Do macro dives at home.

Show Them Your Camera Setup and Techniques.  By this, I mean This has 2 main benefits.  The first is that if they know what the capabilities of your photography setup are, they can help you find the right subjects and angles.  For instance, they will know what size of subject can you shoot: how small can you go.  Or how close you have to get to the subject to be able to focus on it.  The second is that it helps the guide to know how to help other photographers with similar gear and techniques.

Be a Good Customer.  Give them tips at the end of your trip and don’t be cheap.  These guys usually grew up in the area and pay money back into the local economy.  Common tip for 2-4 days is $50USD and a week’s worth of diving is $100USD.  Credit and tag them in your photos so they can build a sort of online portfolio.  And most importantly, when you talk to your dive photographer friends and they like your photos, give them contact info for the guide so that they can get the business.

See You Underwater!!!


On Batteries

ABC: Always Be Charging


Batteries are my personal nemesis that I’ve learned to work with over time, and I think that most underwater photographers also have a love-hate relationship with them.

My problems with most batteries:

  • Chargers take up space in your bags
  • Different types of devices have different batteries
  • Battery chargers usually come with a power cube of some kind
  • Some chargers have “fixed” plugs that don’t let them pack nicely
  • Batteries are heavy
  • Batteries have to be in your carry-on baggage
  • Batteries usually can’t be seen through on x-ray because they contain metal
  • Batteries heat up when they charge
  • Hot batteries in a sealed device create vacuum and offgas issues
  • Batteries will last for 2.5 dives on average and that third dive might run out
  • You can’t take photos with a camera that has dead batteries
  • You can take photos if one or two of your 4 light sources dies

Out of all these considerations, I have this strategy for batteries:

  • Have enough batteries for 1.5 days of photography
  • Minimize the amount of chargers that I have to take with me by standardizing on just a couple of battery types
  • Whenever possible, have chargers that plug into USB
  • Always Be Charging: batteries on the charger are one of the first things that I do after every dive
  • Take an extra set of batteries on the dive boat
  • Have 2 containers next to the charging table: one for empty batteries and one for full batteries
  • Whenever I’m not taking photos (hunting for subjects or waiting or on the boat), I shut off my camera, strobes, and focus light
  • I try to resist the urge to look at photos on the boat unless we’re headed back to the dock although sometimes I fail at resisting
  • I carry 2 spot-beam dive torches for tech-diver redundancy and to use as a macro torch
  • I have redundancy between my strobes, focus/video torch, and handheld dive torch so I don’t really need a full set of extras for strobes
  • If you’re diving with a guide, you will take more photos and will use batteries faster
  • If you’re doing 3 dives plus an early morning or night dive, you’ll need more batteries because they won’t charge fast enough
  • Chargers can go in checked baggage

And finally, my dive trip packing list:

  • 4x 18650 (2 handheld dive torches plus maybe the ScubaLamp MS-30 snoot torch)
  • 2x 26650 (1 focus torch)
  • 1x 14500 (dive computer)
  • Nitecore 4-bay charger for 18650, 26650, 14500 (it has a straight cord with no power cube) (in checked bag)
  • 12x Eneloop Pro (2 strobes and each holds 4 batteries, I don’t take a full set for 2 days because it’s just too many to carry) [See Note Below]
  • 2 Eneloop 4-bay chargers with folding US plug (in checked bag)
  • 2x Camera Battery (either TG5/LI92B or G9/DMW-BLF19)
  • USB-powered single-bay charger for camera battery
  • 2-bay USB charger for phone, tablet, batteries
  • Waterproof bag or box for the boat: I have a dive mask box that seals and is the perfect size for batteries and my phone
  • Extra bag for batteries in my carry-on so I can can just put them into an x-ray tray at airport security



See You Underwater



[1] You’re maybe not supposed to put Eneloop batteries into a sealed device: opinions vary on this.  You can read more at WetPixel.  I hedge my bets by never ever using batteries right off the charger that are warm.  This is why I get them on the charger early so that they have time to cool.