Why shooting in RAW saved my bacon. Also backup.

Digital data makes for a massive headache

In a world where all your data is on a small microchip or a spinning metal disk it’s inevitable that eventually something is going to fail on you or you’re going to accidentally forget that you’re photo collection folder isn’t backed up right before you reformat your machine. It’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of when.

The good lord says to save every 5 minutes and backup every 10

Recently, it happened to me, again, and I ended up sat staring at the screen, screaming in fact, at myself, for being so stupid. I’d lost just over 200GB of photos in the blink of an eye and I had no idea what I was going to do.

Luckily, I’d been reasonably smart and had a copy of the folder from just over a year ago sitting on another hard drive at the bottom of a draw. Not all is lost then. But I was still sat there with just over a year of my life missing. 4000 photos.

So what do you do? You panic for an hour and continue to search every data storage device you have ever used.

All is never truly lost until it is lost

When the inevitable dawned on me that I had actually lost a years worth of memories I decided to do the only reasonably smart thing, begin to recover any data I could find on my hard drive.

There are many ways of doing this, I personally chose ‘Data Rescue 3’* for my Mac and set it running a deep scan.

Now depending on the size and speed of your hard drive, this can take a while. For me, I have a 750GB disk which runs at 7200rpm. This means I was in for a 51 hour wait before the news would break what had survived.

Find that photo

Skipping ahead 51 hours and I’m staring at a folder full of just over 20k RAW files. Just over half my collection. The program failed to recover the folder structure, so it just dumped then all into one folder. However, a quick date order proved it was the earliest part of my collection. So the last few years, meaning, my last year was saved, or so I thought.

Upon closer inspection, and although Finder was happy to show the full photos, all the RAW files that were recovered were actually slightly damaged. Only a couple had been fully recovered to a useable condition. Adobe Lightroom was refusing to open or even detect them at all.

So, as my heart sank into the abyss once more, my mind switched to full focus on how Finder was managing to show this missing data.

RAW files are amazing. They are only a container. They bundle all the data of a photograph into a format which is easier for your system to understand and keep all together, much like a briefcase. Now imagining this as a briefcase, if you accidentally opened it up on a windy day, papers would go flying and you would scurry all the pieces together you can find. Some might end up lost, but most would be found. That’s basically what had happened to me. So although the briefcase was found, not everything inside was.

The power of RAW

This article does have a happy ending. You see, inside each RAW file is something to cherish. A single, glorious JPG. In full resolution with lossless compression if your camera supports it.

This is how Finder was displaying the missing information.

Finder uses the preview JPG to display the information. So all was not lost, I new there was a JPG hidden within each of these files. Using a simple to use tool in the command line called ‘ExifTool’, I was able to run a simple script to exact all these JPGs from there RAW counterpart, along with all the meta data available and any other key information it can find.

This made me realise not just how important it is to make regular, up to date backups, but also how important it can be to always shoot in RAW.

It can save your bacon one day.

Signing off

that sdmix guy Matt Allen

*note: I was in a hurry, and did not try any other recovery programs. This isn’t a review on the program, but I did find it simple and straightforward, and it got the job done.
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