My Love/Hate Relationship with Digital Photography

I spent a couple of great days at the beach last week observing the annual Spring shorebird migration. Normally, I would have had some pictures up by last Thursday or Friday, but I ran into some serious problems with the pictures I’d taken on the first day — I “lost” them. More exactly, I accidentally deleted them and spent the greater part of two days trying to retrieve them, the kind of comedy-of-errors that haunts those of us who rely on digital cameras and computers to take photographs.

When I take shots while on a trip I always download them to my Macbook Air at the end of the day and review them on my computer, deleting the ones that obviously aren’t very good. Usually I do it when it begins to get dark and there’s not much else to do. It gives me a head start on editing, which takes longer than I’d like to admit. When I’m done, I delete the shots I’ve put in the trash. I thought I followed the same procedure I’ve followed over the last 5 years or so. Apparently I must have done something different, though, because when I went to download them from my Macbook Air to my Mac Pro there weren’t any photos in the folder.

After the first wave of panic, I realized that I had purchased two programs a few years ago that should have been able to recover the shots rather easily. When I tried to run the RescuePro app from SanDisk, though, I discovered that the program couldn’t recover photos on the main hard drive, only from secondary drives. Turns out that’s true of most, but not all, recovery programs.

So, I turned to a more expensive and more sophisticated program, Disk Doctor’s Photo Recovery app. Since I had the serial number from when I’d purchased it, I thought I’d just transfer it over to the Macbook Air and run it from there. Should have been easy, right. Nope. Didn’t work at all. When I tried to run it it ran a message stating that the program was configured to run on only one computer. Not sure if that means I have to buy a new program every time I buy a new computer, but I do know I wasn’t happy and probably would never buy or recommend the program to someone else.

Well, when you’re working with computers there’s usually more than one way to solve a problem. So I figured that I could just hook my MacBook Air up to my MacPro and run it in Target mode, which makes it act like a hard drive. Seemed easy enough. After all, I’d run my old iBook in Target mode. Should have known it wouldn’t be. And it wasn’t. After digging though a large box of old computer cords I discovered that I didn’t have the male-to-male USB cord needed to hook the two computers together. When Apple eliminated the Firewire connection on the MacBook error it made it harder to link two computers together. I had endless other male-to-male cords, but no USB cord. I was annoyed, but I thought I could just run over to Radio Shack and pick up one.

Needless to say, Radio Shack didn’t have that particular capable. In fact the very helpful clerk said that despite several requests for such a cord Radio Shack had never had one, and neither did any other local firm that he could recommend . He suggested I look online. Of course, I figured it could be found at Amazon but I didn’t really want to wait four days to get it (since it wouldn’t be here until Monday.)

I went home and ordered the cord anyway, but I still wasn’t ready to wait that long for a cord. So I duplicated my MacBook Air’s hard drive on to a portable drive and hooked the portable drive to my Pro. Success. Disk Doctor started chugging away finding deleted pictures on the hard drive, thousands of deleted pictures, pictures I must have deleted three or four years ago at least. I got the sick feeling that I wasn’t going to be willing to sort through all those pictures to find the ones I had deleted from last week. It “recovered” over 40,000 photos. It would take several days, if not a week to do so.

So, I reexamined the problem and took a new approach. I decided to try to recover photos from the Compact Disks I had reused on the second day, knowing that I’d only used a small amount of space on the cards on either day. Luckily, I didn’t shoot nearly as many shots on the second day as I had on the first day, and I was able to recover many, if not all, of the shots I had taken on the first day. Of course, I took so many shots both days that I have no idea if I lost some of the best shots or not.

Realistically, I probably have as good, if not better shots from the many previous shoots at the beach. I knew that I hadn’t gotten a “drop-dead great” shot on either day so, in the long run, it probably wouldn’t have made a bit of difference if I had lost all the shots from the first day. But that seems like a defeatist attitude to me. If I really believed that I’d probably never take my camera out birding again, but what little optimism I can still maintain in life tells me that the next shot I get is going to be the greatest ever. I wasn’t going to let the computer just delete my pictures like that and not make an attempt to get them back.

I’d like to say that at least I’ve learned my lesson and I’ll never delete photos again, but I’m not THAT much of an optimist. Shit happens! Despite trying to back up photos and avoid careless mistakes, I’m sure something like this will happen again. I just hope I’m better prepared to recover them without all the hassle.

It’s a good thing that I love digital photography so much, though, because for a few days I was ready for a divorce.