The Challenge:

We were approached by a start-up that was going to house two companies under one roof.  Their first business was the design and reselling of furniture. A cost analysis of using an outside studio for the marketing photography of their wares lead them to their secondary business plan: building their own in-house photography studio to rent out as a separate profit center when they weren’t utilizing it.

The challenge here was how to establish an efficient workflow when shooting hundreds—sometimes thousands—of photographs within a few hours’ time. Specifically, two factors we had to take into consideration was the size of the studio, which was set up in a 5,000 square foot warehouse with four different sectioned backdrops/rooms, as well as how to keep the Mac Pro workstation close enough to the cameras for the tethered shooting.

The Solution:

We worked with the staff photographers and studio manager to pinpoint eight optimum locations for the Mac Pro workstation, keeping it top of mind that a photographer would need to be able to move freely around the room during a shoot. In order to allow the cameras to capture and write to the drives as quickly as possible (and thus not hinder the photographer and/or the shoot), we had previously decided to configure the Mac Pros with internal hi-speed RAIDs.¹ Additionally, we gave the photo assistants the ability to move the data onto a protected network server and storage during the day, so that should a hard drive die, or a drink get spilled on a computer (yes, we all know that can happen!), that day’s worth of shots would be completely safe.²

Retractable Cord Reel

We used reels similar to this one.

The tough part was figuring out how to achieve all of this, given that the photographer wasn’t going to be stationary and that we didn’t want to loose any time to shutting down the system and resetting it again when it was time for the photographer to move to another area of the studio. The resolution? We used heavy-duty mobile carts, outfitted them with brackets to strap down the Mac Pro, used VESA mounts for the displays, and wheels durable enough to accommodate all of the weight.  We also included additional straps to secure extended run UPS battery systems. Since we were brought in during the conception phase, we were able work directly with the contractors when it came time to build the studio to hang heavy-duty power cords and network jacks on retractable pulley systems suspended from the ceiling.³

This workflow allowed the photo assistants to set up the cart for tethered shooting at any of the eight predetermined locations, with easily accessible power and network connectivity dropped from the ceiling.4 When the photographer was ready to move to a new location within the studio, the assistant would simply disconnect from the server, unplug the network and power cords, and roll the cart over to the next desired location. During this process, the computer continued to batch process the images just shot by relying on the UPS battery for power. Once settled in the next space, the assistant would merely pull down the closest power and network jacks, plug back in, and get right back to work.

The End Result:

By creating a hybrid of a mobile, yet fixed workflow, photographers, whether on staff or renting the studio for the day, were provided the best of both worlds. They had the freedom to move around in order to find the best perspective for shooting, but were also able to retain the speed of a gigabit Ethernet network, and the built-in safety of backing up their data, as they continued to work.

 

Additional Notes for the Geekishly Inclined

1. Specifically, we used hardware RAID cards and stripped 10,000 RPM SATA drives into a RAID 0 configuration. This gave our clients the best possible speed for capturing from their cameras as well as batch processing the RAW files.
2. This was accomplished by scripts that were set up to synchronize the local storage within the Mac Pro shooting station, across the network, and over to a RAID 5 protected and temporary staging location on the file server.  From there it was moved into a digital asset management system.
3. Another protective measure we made to the Mac Pro shooting station was to use FireWire expansion cards. The amount of power that is present in a FireWire buss can actually burn out the ports if it is hot-plugged repeatedly.  By using an expansion card (that costs less than $100), we protected the main motherboard from damage.
4. Solid Core, the kind of network cable used for in-wall runs, was not chosen as it is far too stiff to use in a retractable solution such as this, and the repeated stress would eventually mean the cable would need to be replaced. Therefore, the jacks were mounted to the ceiling and long patch cables—which use stranded core wire and are far more flexible—were used inside the reel. Obviously, due to normal wear and tear over time, the strands inside the patch cord would break. However, this system design meant the patch cords could easily be replaced and the stress on the actual jack in the ceiling was negligible.