Photography, Technology

Power Outages and the Connected Home

Just one day after writing about powering the secure, automated, wireless workflow, I experienced the one thing that can throw the whole system into disarray. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we’re experiencing a strong seasonal storm, and this morning, a power outage hit our neighborhood. While my primary computer is backed by an uninterruptible power supply (UPS), my Mac Mini server is not (yet). So, when the power went out, access to my server from the outside world was also severed. Power was restored in a little over an hour, and the Mac Mini turned back on since I had the checkbox Start up automatically after a power failure checked in System Preferences > Energy Saver.

Ensure your Mac server starts up automatically after a power failure in Energy Saver settings.

Ensure your Mac server starts up automatically after a power failure in Energy Saver settings.

If for some reason, I needed to re-enable the secure, automated, wireless photography workflow  during an outage, I have some options. First, I would have to put both the Airport and the Mac Mini on backup power. Next, provided cell phone service has not been interrupted, I could tether my iPhone to the GL-ARM300M mini travel router and connect the router to the WAN port on the Airport Extreme base station. Now, instead of getting internet through Comcast Xfinity, my iPhone would be providing network access. On the Mac Mini, my dynamic DNS provider would update the server’s new (but temporary) IP address. The graphic below shows this alternate workflow in action:

An alternate way to get a home server back to being accessible on the internet during an extended power outage.

An alternate way to get a home server back to being accessible on the internet during an extended power outage.

Another option that I mentioned in my workflow article is to colocate the Mac Mini server  at a hosting provider like MacMiniColo. That would completely avoid the power problem and give my server access to a far faster network than what I have at home.

I would be remiss in mentioning an annoyance about power outages and the Internet of Things. Many IoT devices, like Philips Hue lights, require you to have them turned on at all times. Continuous power allows the lights to communicate with the Philips Hue Bridge, which controls whether they are on or off. Now, when the power comes back on after a power outage, all of the Hue lights in the house turn back on. This is fine if we’re at home when this happens, but if we’re traveling, I don’t currently have a way to be notified except via our neighbors. As a result, I’m going to have to write a script that:

  1. Detects the power outage (maybe via the UPS’ ability to send an email)
  2. Sends the All Off signal to the lights

Fortunately, we don’t get a lot of power service interruptions where we live. How are you prepared to handle them within your household? Is something like a Tesla Powerwall (coupled with solar panels on the roof) in your future?

When portability is paramount, this slim 2200mAh battery bank will power the Wi-Fi travel router for nearly 8 hours.
Photography, Technology

Powering and Charging the Secure, Automated, Wireless Photography Workflow

My secure, wireless, and automated photography workflow relies heavily on power-hungry devices, from a portable Wi-Fi travel router, a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV DSLR, and an iPhone 6S Plus. I have a definite need for supplemental power for each critical component in this workflow.


My wireless workflow back in 2009.

I’ve been down this path before. In 2009, months before the introduction of the first MiFi device from Novatel, I was using a USB EVDO modem attached to a Cradlepoint Router and an external battery pack to provide hotspot access while traveling to promote my documentary film Autumn Gem. Additionally, my Canon EOS 5D Mark II was equipped with a prototype CF-SD card adapter, which I tried to use with an Eyefi card (I recall having some connectivity and interference problems and it not working as well as I had hoped).

From 2002, a prototype solar powered battery charger for the Canon EOS 1D NP-E3 batteries.

From 2002, a prototype solar powered battery charger for the Canon EOS 1D NP-E3 battery pack.

In 2017, USB is the standard for powering portable devices, and there are battery banks and solar chargers that fit everyone’s needs. We’ve certainly come a long way since 2002 when I was testing a solar-powered battery charger for the original Canon EOS 1D DSLR. As you can see from the photo, that arrangement was not practical size-wise nor was it particularly speedy at charging the NP-E3 batteries.

Today, I have two battery setups. One handles casual use and the other covers a intensive day of photography.

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Marrying the quality of a DSLR with the sharing convenience of the smartphone, the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV represents what's possible with future cameras.
Photography, Software, Technology

Set It and Forget It – Automated, Secure, and Wireless Photography with the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

Imagine you’re at Disneyland with the family. You’ve decided to tote around your DSLR or mirrorless camera with you on the trip. You’re happily taking photos of your little ones as they experience their first time on Dumbo the Flying Elephant, It’s a Small World, Haunted House, Pirates of the Caribbean and other rides that you loved as a kid. You just captured this wonderful photo of your child and Tow Mater at Radiator Springs, and you absolutely have got to share this with your friends and family on Facebook.

Tow Mater at California AdventureDo you:

  1. Fumble around in your camera bag for a cable and dongle to connect your camera to your smartphone?
  2. Turn on Wi-Fi on your camera (if available), connect to it from your smartphone, launch the camera connect app, wait for the connection to be established, select the photo, and download it to your phone?
  3. Tap your smartphone to your camera if they both support NFC, wait for the connection to be established, select the photo, and download it to your phone?
  4. Hope your wireless SD card (Eyefi, FlashAir, etc.) is working properly and your phone is connected to it to receive photos?
  5. Wait until you get home before downloading the image (and let that social moment pass you by)?
  6. Take another photo with your smartphone and share that image on Facebook instead of the one from your bigger camera?
  7. Say forget it, and keep the photographic proof to yourself?

There’s no reason why getting a photo from a dedicated camera to the smartphone or tablet should take so many steps and be so cumbersome, yet that’s the reality many photographers face today. Some argue this is precisely why sales of point-and-shoot, mirrorless, and DSLR digital cameras have fallen so much in recent years. Smartphones’ ability to share good enough photos trumps the boost in image quality from a dedicated camera for many people.

For the past several weeks, I have been developing a workflow that addresses this problem for me. It currently requires a certain kind of camera, namely the new Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, and some additional hardware and software. This workflow transforms my camera into a fantastic tool that marries the sharing convenience of the smartphone with the impressive image quality of a DSLR. Photos taken with this setup are automatically, securely, and conveniently transferred to the smartphone and cloud photo services of my choosing, including iCloud Photo Library, Google Photos, and Dropbox.

My solution requires some initial setup, but once implemented, it’s awesome! Perhaps it can inspire camera manufacturers and software companies to provide a better experience for dedicated digital cameras in the future.

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