Everything old is new again: website relaunch

As you undoubtedly have noticed, there have been very big changes on the website front, and pretty much everything has been upgraded and improved. Though I liked my old website, built from scratch over a few months in 2011, time had come for an overhaul: scalable images, html5 and mobile-friendly versions are really needed for photo editors and art directors, nowadays.

Concretely, we have gone from this:

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to that:

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The galleries have also been re-edited and aren’t grouped by sports anymore, which should make more sense to people who are not hardcore climbers. I was helped in this by the awesome Peter Dennen from Pedro and Jackie and it was a great experience to get an external point of view on all these images, especially from somebody as experienced as Peter.

This blog is also brand new, and switched platform from the ageing Dotclear into ever-young WordPress. I managed to import most of the old content, but some galleries were lost in the process, and there will probably be a few broken links. If you find something missing or just not working, I would greatly appreciate it if you could send me a quick email or leave a comment on this post to let me know, and I’ll fix it ASAP.

You might also have noticed that the domain name changed. I used alexandrebuisse.org for years but this website update was the perfect opportunity to switch to alexbuisse.com. There are two reasons: Alexandre is a French first name which looks really weird to English speakers, and is also very difficult to pronounce. I have everybody call me Alex anyway, so it was time to make the switch official. As for the .ORG, I thought it was a good idea many many years ago, when I used to be heavily involved in open source software, but it doesn’t really make sense anymore for a professional photography website, and is more confusing than anything else at the moment. It’s worth noting that the email addresses are aliases, so emailing ab@alexbuisse.com and ab@alexandrebuisse.org will arrive in the same mailbox.

Finally, what about the very popular Intro to Photography Class (also known as reddit photoclass), previously hosted in the Resources section? Well, it was about time it got its own dedicated website, and you can now enjoy it on www.r-photoclass.com (a play on reddit’s original url, reddit.com/r/photoclass).

 

Any questions, any feedback, anything broken: please let me know. I hope you enjoy this new web experience, it was really fun to build and I am super proud of the final result!

My full backup strategy

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There are few things more important in digital photography than having a serious backup system, as our image files are our most precious treasures. As the saying goes, the question is not whether you will ever lose data but when it is going to happen. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy to design a backup strategy that is robust, scalable and not too time-consuming, and many people end up procrastinating this daunting task, copying a bunch of files to a random hard drive every now and then but never really protecting their whole image collection.

In the hopes of helping you design your own system, here’s what I’ve come up with over the years. It comes from my latest ebook, the Workflow Book, which discusses backup (and a lot of other things) in much more detail, but this should be a good starting point.

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  • The initial backup happens during import, either in Photo Mechanic or Lightroom, using their “make a second copy” feature. The second copy is to a 2.5” 1TB USB external drive. It is the only use I have for it, and it gets stored in a cupboard at home. I don’t ever delete from it, just swap it with a new one when it’s full. Once the import is complete, cards are formatted since there are now two copies of the files. The primary files are copied to a RAID 5 NAS with 5TB of storage, my main working drive.
  • Once I am done editing, processing and captioning, all finished images (labeled green in Lightroom) are exported to two special folders on the NAS, called respectively “raw backup” and “finished backup”. DNG files go in the first, and TIFF to the second. Those folders are watched by the Crashplan daemon, which starts backing them up to the cloud in the background, when I am not using my connection for something else. It should be noted that this doesn’t have anything to do with the “Published” folders we discussed in the previous chapters: this is purely for backup.

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Crashplan’s interface, showing what I chose to backup over the cloud: “bmc” is a full copy of my webserver, Dropbox contains all my business documents, “pub” has all my published images since 2005, both in low and high resolution, “high-res backup” is a secondary copy of the published high-res on the NAS and “raw backup” contains the raw files for all my selects.

  • The Lightroom catalog lives on the hard drive of my iMac and is backed up weekly to the NAS via a shell script (for less geeky photographers, you can achieve the same result with Automator and iCal). My Dropbox folder, which contains all my business documents, is copied at the same time. And the target folders on the NAS are also watched by Crashplan, which means there are always three to four copies in existence (iMac hard drive, NAS, Crashplan servers, possibly Dropbox folders), never more than a week old.
  • Every time I visit my family in Lyon, a few hundred kilometers apart, or every time a family member comes here to ski or hike, I have them swap two 2TB drives with my images from the previous 12 months. I have a copy at home that I write all my files to, and as soon as I receive the old drive, I update it with the latest images. This is my main offsite backup, and given how popular trips to Chamonix are, it is rare to go more than a couple of months without updating the offsite drive.
  • Every year, usually around Christmas, when visiting in Lyon, I retire one of the swapping drives to contain my files for that year and buy a new drive for the dance to continue. I also do a quick check of all the old drives to see that they are still in good shape, and when the first one reaches five years of age, I plan on copying its contents to a new drive as well. This means that old images are at least in two locations, the NAS and the off-site drives in Lyon, with high value images in a third: the cloud.

You can read more about file management, workflow and backup in my latest ebook by Craft and Vision, The Workflow Book.

Back from Greenland

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I’ve been back from our expedition to Greenland for over a week now (and the big new project is recovering from knee surgery). Overall, the trip was a big success: with Tony, we managed to climb three virgin mountains, Mt Thistle, Mt Hulya and a small nunatak, “3pm Attack”. We also attempted an ambitious traverse of a seven summits ridge line, which we wanted to call the Seven Dwarves, but turned around due to loose rock. The last five days saw us endure a big storm, mostly tent-bound but for the occasional and mandatory digging out camp from all the freshly fallen snow.

It was really a beautiful experience to be all alone in such a vast place, going to places where nobody had ever set foot before. One of my best adventures yet! Thanks very much to our sponsors for the trip, Dynastar, Edelrid and Montane.

 

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Packing for a Greenland expedition

In just a few hours, I will be leaving for a two weeks expedition to North-Eastern Greenland (more specifically North Liverpool Land). I am going with friend and awesome photographer Tony Hoare and some other Alpine Club members, and our goal is to ski and climb some hopefully new summits in this relatively unexplored part of the world. We are very lucky to be sponsored by three awesome brands for this trip, Edelrid for technical gear, Montane for clothing and Dynastar for skis. Thanks to all three of them!

Since I am in the middle of packing way too many big duffel bags, I thought it would be cool to give a complete list of what I am bringing (and why).

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Climbing

  • Edelrid Riot axes: mildly curved shafts that make them a perfect compromise for the PD-AD terrain we are likely to encounter, yet still straight enough to self-arrest efficiently. One with adze and one with hammer.
  • Edelrid Beast crampons: dual vertical front points, anti-balling plates, lightweight. I am using the full auto variant.
  • La Sportiva Spantik boots: since I often have cold feet, these are really great. They climb really well considering the warmth they offer, too.
  • BD Camalots, full set (0.2 to 2): still the gold standard for cams.
  • Assorted nuts and pitons: if nothing else fits, they are often a great last resort, and can also be left behind as needed for abseils.
  • Edelrid Mega-Jul: works like a regular belay device but also auto-locks in case of a fall!
  • Assorted Edelrid carabiners, quickdraws and slings: some of the best out there!

Photo

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  • Nikon D4: my workhorse, and I know it can take everything I’ll throw at it.
  • Nikon D800: backup body, and for landscapes from camp, as its image quality is still unparalleled.
  • Nikkor 50 f/1.8 AF-D: so cheap and light I take it without thinking and don’t mind (too much) losing or destroying it. Good for quick portraits.
  • Lots of Lexar memory cards (32GB in XQD, 192GB in CF, 64GB in SD) as I won’t have a laptop or hard drive to download images to.
  • 3 batteries for the D4, 3 batteries for the D800
  • wet sensor cleaning kit, microfiber cloth to wipe snow from lenses
  • Carbon fiber tripod: probably won’t leave camp, but good to have for the sunrise/sunset shots

Clothing

  • Montane Alpha Guide Jacket: a breathable insulated mid-layer, this one uses that other new Polartec fabric, the Alpha. Great for high output effort in cold temps.
  • Montane Primino base layer and long underwear: I refuse to use non-merino base layers anymore, especially on showerless expeditions. The fact they keep their warmth when wet is also crucial.
  • Montane gloves: Resolute Mitt (heavy duty, very cold weather mitts), Thermostretch (for warmth), Tigertooth Pro (my go to ice climbing gloves, warm yet dexterous enough to wield tools and manipulate equipment or camera) and Power Stretch Pro (light and not waterproof, for camp and ski touring).
  • Socks: many many socks, all merino, varying weights.
  • Civilian clothing and shoes: for the trip there and the stop-overs in Reykjavik.
  • Swimming trunks and towel: I am hoping to hit the Blue Lagoon on the way back!

Ski

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  • 2015 Cham 107 High Mountain 184cm with Look Alti 12 bindings: serious freeride chops, yet still light enough for the 800-1000m of D+ we are likely to find. The giant rockered tip makes them fairly easy to turn in any condition (especially deep powder) but they are built for carving wide turns at high speed. A delight to ski.
  • Dynastar glueless skins: we shouldn’t have to worry too much about glue not sticking anymore after two weeks of heavy use
  • Dynastar Alti 8 poles: carbon fiber, telescopic, sturdy.
  • Mammut Element Barryvox beacon, shovel, probe: even more important out there where self-rescue is the name of the game
  • La Sportiva Spectre boots: those are simply magic. Lightest 4-buckles on the market, great to ski with and with a great walk mode. I intend to do much of the easy climbing with them.
  • Scott photochromatic goggles: simply better for skiing

Camping

A lot of it is provided by the expedition manager, but I am still bringing the following:

  • Vaude Norrsken inflatable mat: a solid 4 seasons mat which uses primaloft for extra insulation. And still twice as small and light as my old three-seasons mat…
  • Edelrid and Sea-to-Summit eating and cooking ustensils.
  • 1L Nalgene + insulation, 0.8L thermos bottle for tea.
  • Julbo Cameleon sunglasses: photochromatic glasses are amazing, and these go to a strong cat.4, great for camping on a glacier.
  • Toiletries: SPF 50+ sunscreen, lipbalm, wet wipes, toothpaste, toothbrush, tissues.
  • First Aid Kit, including compresses, band-aids, compeed, ibuprofen and paracetamol.

Misc

  • SPOT beacon: lightweight and able to use satellites to relay SOS information, though we of course shouldn’t await rescue anytime soon…
  • 2-man bothy bag: in case we have to take emergency shelter.
  • Repair kit: duct tape, wire, cord, extra screws for the bindings.
  • Knife and multitool
  • Ski wax on spray: one or two reapplications during the trip for optimal gliding.
  • Kindle Paperwhite: with low weight and low power consumption, this is a no brainer for in camp entertainment.
  • Passport, driver’s licence, wallet, phone: all safely tucked in a waterproof container.

And that’s it, everything is packed away and a grand new adventure begins. See you in a couple of weeks with plenty of new photos of a unique place.

New ebook out: The Workflow Book – Organize and Protect your Digital Photographs

The Workflow Book

Just a few months after Montagnes Extrêmes, I am proud to announce the release today of a new book, published by Craft And Vision and titled “The Workflow Book – Organize and Protect your Digital Photographs“. The two couldn’t be more different: Montagnes Extrêmes is a beautiful coffee table physical book, in French, and is all about enjoying nice mountain photography. The Workflow Book, on the other hand, is a large PDF ebook (over 70 spreads), written in English, and is by design very technical. There are of course many mountain images but they are mere illustrations, and what you will really find interesting (I hope) is the text.

What I have attempted with this book is to talk about all the boring parts of digital photography, all the chores one has to deal with, from designing a file naming scheme to choosing the right computer equipment, importing files with Lightroom or Photo Mechanic, editing a shoot down, entering metadata, exporting finished files and, most importantly, how to design a good backup strategy. I don’t discuss how to take pictures, which camera to choose or what to do in Photoshop or Lightroom, as those are vast topics on which many great books have already been written, but instead deal with the lot less sexy tasks that we all have to contend with, whether we like it or not.

Reading this book will absolutely not make you a better photographer, but it might make a you a more efficient one. You will hopefully find ways to streamline your workflow, save some time and energy, and will be able to focus more on what truly matters: creating meaningful photographs!

The Workflow Book

The Workflow Book

The Workflow Book retails for the bargain price of $7 (with 20% off for the first week with the code WFLOW20) and you can find it on the Craft and Vision website. There is also a great “bundle” offer at the moment, which pairs the book with other C&V titles on Lightroom and Photoshop at discounted prices.

You can also find more information on the dedicated page.

The Workflow Book

The Workflow Book

Injury

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Two weeks ago, I was busy shooting some freeride images with awesome Norwegian skier Bård Øymar, out in Courmayeur. The day was perfect: blue skies, tons of fresh snow, mostly untracked, and Bård knew exactly where to go to get the best snow and the best light. I got so many good images and great powder turns that I remember thinking I would have to pay for it later…

On our last run of the day, Bård’s fluff triggered a small slab in a couloir, which I failed to notice at first. I was caught by it and ended up riding it down for 15-20m until I came to a natural stop (just before I could trigger my ABS backpack). Unfortunately, because it was moving relatively slow and it caught me while I was stopped, my binding did not release, and I suffered a left knee injury. I tried to ski out, but a single turn nearly resulted in a dislocated knee and convinced me that rescue was the only reasonable option. 45 minutes later, I was winched off by the Courmayeur rescue helicopter, and flown to the Aosta hospital.

Since then, I’ve had a MRI to confirm the initial diagnostic, and consulted with orthopaedic surgeon, with the conclusion that my left ACL has been cleanly severed and that surgery will be required. Thankfully, there is very little pain and I can walk almost normally, I just don’t have any lateral stability.

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My ambitious plans for the spring and summer have obviously been greatly affected. The good news, though, is that I’ll still manage to go to Greenland in late April as initially planned, using a special splint as a substitute for my injured ACL. And as soon as I come back from the expedition, around May 15th, I’ll be having surgery. Rehab is forecast to take about 6 months, which means I probably won’t be able to climb at all during the summer season.

This is obviously a very big bummer, as there were so many things I wanted to do this spring and summer, but injury is a common occurrence for people who spend a lot of time in the mountains, and I am trying to take it in stride. It also means I get a chance to focus on other projects I wouldn’t otherwise spend so much time on (or instance promoting my next book on workflow, which is coming out later this month ;-D).

Winter 2014/2015 better be damn good!

Swimming in Scottish snow

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Back in 2010, I lived in the UK for half a year, as part of my PhD program. Though I was based in London, I made frequent trips to all the great climbing locations in the country, but probably enjoyed none more than my Scottish winter expeditions, always true adventures when done over the weekend with 10 hours drive each way! This is also where I learned how to climb proper mixed terrain, and a good learning ground it was.

In 2014, with a few Chamonix seasons under my belt, I was keen to come back, and a talk at the Telegraph Outdoor Show gave me the perfect opportunity. I had the pleasure to spend a week near Glencoe with my friend and climbing partner Jean-Baptiste. We based ourselves at the absolutely amazing Strath Lodge in Glencoe (I can’t imagine a friendlier, more welcoming place in all of the UK), on the recommendation of expedition leader, Montane athlete and photoshoot model Jon Gupta.

It being Scotland, we expected the conditions to be challenging. It is, after all, half the fun. What we hadn’t planned for was a ridiculous snowpack, with pretty much all the routes buried deep and high avalanche danger. In the end, we only succeeded on a single route, the very fun North Buttress of Buachaille Etive Mor, and bailed on the Douglas Boulder in hurricane conditions, as well as on the avalanche-threatened approach to Stob Coire nan Lochan, but we had some serious adventures, a lot of type II fun and I got some cool images to boot. Not a bad trip by any measure.

Crochues – Bérard – Buet for the start of the ski touring season

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Though the season began very late due to high avalanche risks, it was great fun to finally go ski touring last Friday. Along with Elsie, we chose to tag the summit of Mont Buet from refuge de Bérard, after skiing from Index up to Col des Crochues and Col de Bérard, a fun, 1800m of D+ day. Along with the gorgeous views of most of the Mont Blanc range, we were rewarded with sunshine and nearly untracked amazing powder.

Here are a few images from the day.

My 10 favourite images of 2013

Just like in 2011 and 2012, here come the 10 favourite images I have shot this year (assuming I don’t get something absolutely amazing in the next 4 days, that is). My only criterion was that I needed to personally love the shots, even though they may not have been the most popular.

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A racer crosses the massive Southern Patagonian Icecap on day 1 of the 2013 Patagonian Expedition Race.

As in 2012, I headed to Chilean Patagonia to cover the insane Patagonian Expedition Race (which sadly seems to not be running anymore, at least in 2014). It was a very different year, with even less resources than the previous year, but the highlight definitely was crossing and shooting on the insanely huge Hielo Continental Sur. I singled out this shot for its very strong graphic elements and its simple story.

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Ulrik Hasemann reaches the last hard pitch of the Comesaña-Fonrouge route on Aguja Guillaumet, Patagonia.

After shooting the race, I headed over to El Chaltén with my friend and colleague Ulrik Hasemann to do some alpine climbings. Though the West Face of Cerro Torre was in amazing condition, it was not to be this time, and we settled for a much easier option, the classic route on Aguja Guillaumet, during a decent weather window. I shot this a short way to the summit, and loved the combination of action and scenery so much that it’s on the cover of my latest book.

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Jimmy Sesana skis hard crust on the Vallée Noire, Chamonix.

Back in Cham and with one of the best snow years ever, the mood was very much on skiing. I shot this for fun with friend and steep skier Jimmy Sesana, and the snow was actually some of the most horrible I have ever skied, a layer of hard crust over deep powder that was extremely treacherous. I ended up falling something like five times, but I’m allowed, I’m the photographer…

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Francis Kelsey and Elsie Lemordant on a snowy Entrèves traverse, Vaude photoshoot, Chamonix.

This was my second shoot for Vaude and I love how much freedom they let me have: the brief is simply to go alpine climb something and bring back cool images of their latest gear. The tricky part was that it had to look like summer in a ridiculously snowy early April, but we found the classic Entrèves traverse on the Italian side of Mont Blanc to provide us with great light and no ski tracks in the background.

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Armin Holzer serenades Mich Kemeter on a highline, 300m above the Verdon river.

Verdon is becoming a bi-annual pilgrimage for me, as it is one of the most drop-dead-gorgeous places I’ve ever been to, the climbing is world class and there is always a ton of crazy athletes pulling off fun stunts. This hammock highline improvised concert definitely took the palm that year, and Patagonia among other clients used it on their website.

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Mich Kemeter freesolo on the last pitch of Les Marches du Temps (6a), Verdon.

Though of course, the craziest of all is freesolo climbing, with no ropes or any other safety equipment. Just like last year, Mich performed and climbed the really impressive last pitch of Marches du Temps, while I shot suspended from a highline. This particular image got the attention of EpicTV and led to the summer video project, Freesolo.

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Mika Reignier and Tristan Shu transition from Dents de Lanfon to Roc des Boeufs above the Annecy lake.

Though I didn’t fly much during the winter, late spring saw big developments in my paragliding: I did some great little cross-country flights (Petit Tour du Lac in Annecy and Planpraz-Varan), did a bunch of high altitude flights, especially from Dôme du Goûter, Mont Blanc du Tacul and Dôme des Écrins, and perhaps most importantly, started carrying a serious camera up there. This shot, following Mika, the wing designer for ITV, and very talented colleague Tristan Shu across the Annecy lake was my favourite from the flying season.

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A Russian BASE jumper exits from Monte Brento, Italy.

Early July saw me on an insane road trip through the Alps (Chamonix-Münich-Arco-Zillertal-Graz-Arco-Innsbrück-Grindelwald-Friedrichshafen-Chamonix), to shoot stills and video on a number of projects. I happened to spend the best part of a week with BASE jumpers from the really impressive Monte Brento exit, one of the best spots to jump in Europe. Having a lot of jumpers doing multiple rotations left me with a lot of opportunities to experiment, and this shot of an (unfortunately unnamed) Russian jumper was the one that resonated the most with me.

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Dave MacLeod on the crux 8a pitch of Paciencia, during the third ascent of what is currently the hardest route on the north face of the Eiger.

Out of the blue, I received an email in mid-August from Welsh wunderkind Calum Muskett asking me if I wanted to shoot him and Dave MacLeod attempting to repeat the hardest route on the infamous Eiger Nordwand, two days later. A short drive later and I arrived in Grindelwald, only to discover that instead of being allowed through the Stollenloch, the railway window a third up the face, we would have to climb up from the bottom, unroped, on wet slabs, with big packs. Halfway up, I broke a hold and nearly fell all the way to the bottom of the face !

The resulting images, though, were incredible, as this is a truly unique location, and rarely does one get the opportunity to shoot such difficult climbing in such an unaccessible place. The wall was so overhanging that I took a big pendulum when I unclipped from the last directional quickdraw on the fixed line, letting me shoot Dave on the upper section of the crux pitch. One of the hardest I’ve ever worked to create an image, and worth it.

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Elsie Lemordant on the super classic “Incredible Hand Crack” (5.10+), Indian Creek, UT.

Finally, the fall was dedicated to a mostly personal road trip through the Western USA, (re)visiting such locations as Yosemite, Bishop, Red Rock, Zion and Indian Creek with the girlfriend. I ended up shooting a little at the very end, as we randomly met with a French elite group from FFME, which included Elsie, model on the Vaude shoot the previous spring. This image is not so much about the crazy moves as it is about what goes through a climber’s head before he or she launches through a difficult section. More thoughtful and honest portraits are definitely a direction where I see my photography going in the next few years.