With more than 10 major storage producing vendors, choosing the right storage that exactly fits your workflow and production needs can become a major problem, and if not done properly a realistic liability.

So, how should one approach the problem of storage selection? Especially when you are shooting for a high profile client on a super tight deadline?

What I am describing in this article is an outcome of trial and error attempts born out of 2 last years of working as a media maker for high impact commercial clients, including the latest and truly secretive shoot for Jeep and Fiat Auto Group.

Before we jump into technicalities, let me explain and emphasize: 80% of my time is spent on preparation. The actual shoot takes perhaps 20% of the assignment time. Hence, an integral part of the preparation process is asking yourself a set of questions, and trying to answer them in a pragmatic way:

  • Are you insured against the data loss?

This is probably the most important question you need to ask yourself before heading on a shoot. It is a very good practice to have a business liability insurance to cover data loss, however, always study in detail the section concerning the data-loss. Some insurance companies will not pay you back if data loss was an outcome of an accident involving water-damage. There are also companies that ask you to store and handle your data with specific storage solutions with e.g. at least RAID1 protection scheme. Reading contracts can be boring, but better be safe than sorry!

  • Which is the realistic operational budget of the production?

The more my client is willing to pay, the bigger the liability of the whole data-transfer operation. Hence, I want to keep things easy and limit the data transfer and manipulation steps to bare minimum. If the operational budget of my production is big enough, I usually prepare a separate, labeled drive for my client as a delivery medium. The benefit of this type of handling is threefold: first of all I save a lot of time by not uploading files online, secondly, I minimize the risk of data leak ( this was especially important for the recent Jeep shoot and few other projects for which I needed to sign an NDA), finally, there is a positive psychological impact on my clients, who usually don’t expect to be given a dedicated hard drive with the material.

  • What is the deadline for the data delivery?

Backing up a days-worth work can easily become a nightmare, especially if you were shooting photographs and video. Even the most efficient workflow will take valuable time! Think of it before heading out for a shoot and confront projected backup time with delivery deadline!

  • How many people will need a copy of my data?

Big clients always work with marketing agencies! Very often they do have their own marketing department that handles the communication and basic processing. It is always smart to think ahead, and prepare an extra medium for the purposes of these agencies. Moreover, although most of the time your personal selection of photographs gets picked up by the client, there are assignments on which marketing agencies ask you to give them literally everything you have produced that day. At the end of the day, being a media maker for big brand means, collaborating with a team of creatives, who’s ideas evolve very dynamically.

  • Am I going to edit straight from this storage solution or use it just for backup purposes?

Before I loudly and proudly shout “it is a wrap!”, I always inspect the photographs and video material at the end of the shooting day. It takes extra time and effort, but at the end of the day can save you lots of trouble, not to mention good reputation. The other factor, which comes into play is a fact that more than 90% of my assignments involve multi-hour, if not multi-day excursions to relatively remote locations, including mountain areas. The core disadvantage of working under such conditions is a lack of access to power grid. This is why most of the time the choice of my storage solutions is pretty much determined based on their bus/port ( USB 2.0 / USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt).

As you can see, answering the aforementioned questions should give you a rough idea about how many drives you need and most likely how should they be powered.

Let’s proceed to a real-life scenario. I am currently working on a long-term personal project which has evolved over time and finally has been contracted by EpicTV. The production ‘Get Your Stars Right’ (you can see some behind the scenes materials on our blog by clicking this link), could be described as a multi-episode micro-documentary about long exposure night photography, especially in the mountains. Abstracting from shooting in relatively remote and elevated places, like alpine glaciers, the core part of the footage has been acquired in the astronomy observatory of Aosta Valley. This scientific facility served us as an excellent shooting location. However, it is a place full of super-expensive equipment, operated round the clock by specialized personnel. This is why we were allowed to film during very precisely designated and short periods of time.

Let’s first of all try to answer the presented ‘helper’ questions in the context of my ‘Get Your Stars Right’ production.

Q1: Yes, my insurance would cover all liability should the production fail.

Q2: Operational budget is relatively normal, however, given internet issues in my work area I would rather drive extra 45 min. to Chamonix, the headquarters of EpicTV and drop a HDD with the complete production and extras at the editor’s desk. It would definitely save my time and lots of frustration related to unreliable internet connection. An estimated 200 EUR of extra production costs.

Q3: The deadline of data delivery is not very tight, hence I have time to make all necessary backup and data manipulation operations.

Q4: The data will be passed to a single, designated person at EpicTV.

Q5: Most of my drives will be used for offline backup. However, shooting long time-lapse passages will require more elaborate data-handling scheme, as we will collaborate with an external production company that should handle post processing. Please check one of the behind the scenes videos from filming in the Aosta Valley Observatory, to learn about the production workflow.

However, we have not touched yet the topic of the storage needs as a function of capacity and bandwidth. Just have a look at the breakdown below. I have broken down the exact production needs as a function of camera parameters, expected footage length, frame rates and finally associated capacity and bandwidth requirements.

  • RED Epic – Redcode 8:1 4K RAW – 200min. – 25 fps
  • RED Epic – Redcode 10:1 4K RAW – 15 min. – 120 fps
  • Canon 5D MkIII – RAW Timelapse – 5min. (7500 photos) – 25 fps
  • Total 860 GB

Based on our very simple and pragmatic capacity analysis we have gauged we need at least 860 GB of data space to store all the relevant footage for our production. However, since we will be interested in the real-time playback of the video footage straight from the storage device, we also need to consider the storage needs as a function of bandwidth.

  • RED Epic – Redcode 8:1 4K RAW – 25 fps – 35 MB/s
  • RED Epic – Redcode 10:1 4K RAW – 120 fps – 135 MB/s
  • Canon 5D MkIII – RAW Timelapse – 25 fps – 100 MB/s
  • Minimal Required Bandwidth 135 MB/s

Once again our very down-to-earth analysis reveals the minimum required bandwidth in order to achieve a realtime playback of acquired 4K Raw footage is 135MB/s.

With all the information at hand we can pretty quickly construct a simple storage need-list for my upcoming production:

  • A single USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt (at least 135MB/s of bandwidth), port-powered 1TB (at least 860 GB of capacity) drive for data storage and realtime playback.

  • Two, physically independent, USB 2.0 or USB 3.0, self-powered 1TB drives for data-backup. One of the drives designated for EpicTV editors.

As there is not a single camera, nor lens that could cover all possible assignment scenarios, there is not a single universal type of storage solution!

Being successful in very rapidly evolving media business is not only about creativity, but also very stringent and pragmatic planning and production cost-benefit analysis.

I hope the presented micro-guide will help you in the assessment of your storage needs. If you do have your own workflow ideas, please share it with us using the comment button.