Storage for Photographers (Part 2)
How a 12TB Synology NAS changed my digital life
Used on my 16" MacBook Pro
I purchased a 16" MacBook Pro to power my Apple Pro Display XDR and began migrating my daily computing usage to it. It's a powerful machine and serves all of my computing needs right now, but I will eventually need to get my desktop PC to work with the XDR for heavier media work.
Files: Google Backup and Sync, Backblaze (for computer backup), Tarsnap
Security: 1Password, Yubico Authenticator (for TOTP codes), Malwarebytes
Linux: Oracle VM VirtualBox running Ubuntu 19.10 (for various tinkering and using some Linux-only software)
Music: Spotify, Apple Music, Sonos Controller
Media: Adobe Lightroom Classic with PFixer CORE, Adobe Premiere Pro, XnConvert (for image resizing, compression and conversion needs), GIF Brewery (for making GIFs easily)
Misc: SwitchResX for better control over resolution, NetNewsWire for RSS subcriptions, Transmission (simple BitTorrent client when I need to grab a new Ubuntu ISO)
Used on my small form factor 5GHz desktop PC
My Window desktop is primarily used for photo/video editing and web development, along with some casual gaming with its beefy RTX 2080 Ti graphics card. However, since getting my Pro Display XDR and 16-inch MacBook Pro, the desktop PC is going unused until I get around to modifying it (will need a new Thunderbolt card and different motherboard) to use with the XDR display.
Gaming: Steam, Battle.net, Origin
Files: Google Backup and Sync, Backblaze (for computer backup), Tarsnap (command line in WSL Ubuntu)
Security: 1Password, Yubico Authenticator (for TOTP codes)
Linux: Ubuntu via Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL), Oracle VM VirtualBox (so I can tinker with various Linux distros like ElementaryOS)
Media: Adobe Lightroom Classic with VSCO Keys, Adobe Premiere Pro, XnConvert (for image resizing, compression and conversion needs)
Web development: CloudBerry Explorer (for S3 access), Chrome, Atom text editor, Hyper (terminal), Windows Terminal (the new, customizable terminal that is in preview now), Bulk Rename Utility (for misc advanced image renaming needs), KeyTweak (for customizing the keyboard layout), GitHub Desktop, QuickLook (for easy file previews) and XMeters (for keeping an eye on system usage and resources).
Apps I frequently use on my iOS devices
I try to have my iPhone 11 Pro home page entirely empty with my apps living in folders entirely on the second page. My dock has always consisted of these four apps: Chrome, Gmail, Camera and Twitter.
Email: Gmail app, with displaying external images disabled (recently added setting)
Health: Strava, Health Mate (Withings Scale), One Medical and the native Health and Activity apps.
Files and media: Google Photos, Google Drive, Darkroom
Writing and tasks: iOS/macOS Reminders, Google Tasks, Notion, Ulysses
News and social media: Apple News, Reddit, Twitter (employee internal dogfood build), Instagram
Networking, privacy and security: Termius, NextDNS, DuckDuckGo browser, NordVPN, Eero, Google Smart Lock, Yubico Authenticator
Transportation: Curb, Uber, Lyft, Google Maps, Transit, Citymapper and various New York MTA apps for things like LIRR and Metro North tickets.
Work: Slack, Figma Mirror, Framer, Duo Mobile, Concur, Google Drive, Docs & Slides
Favorite: Dark Sky weather app. Essential in New York when it can rain in an instant and Dark Sky provides extremely accurate rain notifications.
I usually rely on Siri app suggestions (via the pull-down interaction on the home screen) to access recently used and relevant apps, so I figured I would lean into it. I only use one page and just the four spaces in the dock. As for how I deal with only having one badge on for over a hundred apps in the one folder: you can long-press to see a list of which apps have badges.
There are dozens more mundane apps that I didn't bother mentioning like food delivery services, investing/bank apps and miscellaneous smart home apps (Casper Glow, Alexa, Sonos, Insteon, Wemo, Blink, Dyson..).
When on my iPad Pro, I don't use nearly as many apps. It's primarily just web browsing and writing. I usually use Chrome but I switch to Safari when I'm working on my site with code-server as works better in Safari. Writing is usually done directly in that text editor but if I'm just starting a project it may be in Ulysses or Notion.
I don't rely on too many Chrome extensions but the ones I use are typically in the privacy, ad blocking and convenience realm:
1Password X: The newer, more modern 1Password Chrome extension for those using the hosted service. I like how it can provide suggested random passwords directly inline.
uBlock Origin: One of the most popular ad blockers for Chrome, with over 10M users. It's an extremely robust tool with lots of customization options if you need them. However, it's a bit redundant for me as I also do a lot of this ad/tracker blocking at the DNS level on my network.
Password Alert and Password Checkup: Two no-brainer security extensions provided by Google themselves to help with phishing attempts and passwords affected by data breaches. Though these extensions are not super necessary if you are an active user of 1Password (1P Watchtower can alert you to vulnerable passwords and 1P won't autofill credentials if not on the correct website).
WhatFont: Because sometimes I'm curious what typeface a website is using.
Adobe Lightroom is my photo management and post-processing tool of choice. VSCO Keys lets me easily copy and paste develop settings between photos as well as enable other keyboard shortcuts that make Lightroom faster for me. Unfortunately, VSCO Keys has not been actively maintained in years—though it is open source now—and tends to break between OS versions. The Windows version seems to have fewer issues than the macOS version which requires some installation hurdles with Catalina.
I ended up looking for a better solution when editing on my Mac and I found PFixer CORE. PFixer CORE is not free (about $30 as of this writing) but works well and is highly customizable. It runs as its own dedicated menubar Mac app.
I don't get too crazy with add-on filter presets or plugins, I often just tinker manually. I go into detail about my editing flow in my Lightroom PC article. While I used to process bracketed photos to generate HDR images with Aurora HDR, I now prefer more realistic and natural HDR edits. As such, I think the basic HDR merging functionality inside Lightroom does the job just fine.
After I'm done editing my photos and have exported the ones I wanted to use, I move the RAWs to my Synology NAS, which is also backed up to the cloud. Read more about this setup in detail in Storage for Photographers (Part 2).
When it comes to day-to-day productivity and task management I rely on a few things. For email, I primarily use the paid Google Suite with GMail for a few domains. For other email addresses on domains I use left often, I pay for Fastmail. I have been using it for many years and while it’s not as polished as GMail, they always actively improve it and provide a number of security options.
I use Google Tasks for basic to do lists—the iOS app is nice and simple while the integration on desktop GMail is super convenient. I have, however, begun supplementing that with the regular Apple Reminders app as I tend to prefer having a dedicated app when on my computer and it's easier to switch between different lists on it. I use Notion for just about everything else: longer term to-do items, general notes, gathering design inspiration, blog post outlines and extended thoughts. I like that Notion is web-based so I can use it from any device, which is important to me as I often use Windows PCs and Macs as well as iOS devices and my Android phone.
Notion is nowhere near as polished as Bear app for iOS/macOS (frankly, Notion is annoying to use on mobile with numerous usability issues) but I prefer Notion’s enhanced organization style and customization and a web version is a requirement for me.
And finally, sometimes if I'm working on a very large blog post, I'll use Ulysses on iPad to help me organize it while writing. But I usually just use it to flesh out an outline and prefer working directly in markup to see the article in context of my website design and layout.
How I do my work
While there’s a plethora of new design tools constantly emerging, I rely on a few main ones: Google Docs, JIRA, Confluence, Slack, Figma and Framer.
It might sound weird to list things like Google Docs and JIRA as design tools, but I strongly feel that product design is not comprised of the pixels you see or interact with in a finished product. A lot of product design being a collaborative member on a larger Engineering, Product, Design and Research (EPDR) team. That involves planning workstreams, validating concepts with research and data science, formulating and presenting potential strategy and vision for a product area, helping plan usability research sessions, working with engineering on new builds in addition to the regular visual design and prototyping. There’s a lot that goes into each product, especially when working at scale like Twitter.
I do the majority of my high-fidelity visual design work in Figma and I often use the Figma Mirror mobile app. I like to preview my mobile designs in the context of the actual device so I use Figma Mirror for a live preview to refer to while designing. Figma has a bunch of great extensions but I don’t rely on too many just yet: mainly Archiver to help clean up my pages.
I'm also a huge fan of xScope for quickly aligning and measuring things anywhere on my screens. I also like a small menubar app called Chars to aid in find and insert obscure entities like middots when needed. And finally, when it comes time to develop interactive prototypes of my designs, I always turn to Framer. It's a vital part of my design process, especially when paired with the Framer iOS app where I can locally save prototypes and pass my phone along to coworkers and watch them use it.
I have used the newer React-based Framer X for a few projects. While I find it to be more performant, extensible and capable—especially for larger prototypes—I find that it often has a bit more setup cost and I'm so much faster in Framer Classic to quickly validate concepts that I keep turning to it. At least for now. I do enjoy learning and building in React but I often don't have the luxury of spending more time on that when project deadlines loom.
When it comes to inspecting builds or documenting and sharing designs with my team, I often record screencasts (of a build on iPhone or Android, or of a Framer prototype of mine). I will often use GIF Brewery to create GIFs of parts of the interactions or design details to help communicate concepts.
And finally, when it comes to tinkering on new parts of my own website, I play around in Chrome Dev Tools a lot. I have also used the Concepts drawing app along with my Apple Pencil on my iPad Pro to help create or edit some maps for photosets that I turn into SVGs.
Adobe Creative Cloud: I use Lightroom Classic a ton and Photoshop a bit, so I pay for the Creative Cloud Photography Plan to get both for $10 a month. And occasionally I'll need to do a lot of video editing over a month or two (like when working on a large photoset where I shot a lot of 4K video clips) and will subscribe to Adobe Premiere Pro.
Entertainment: Spotify (use this daily. absolutely love the automatically generated playlists like New Music Friday and Discover Weekly), Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, HBO Now, Apple Music (most often used for playing Apple Music radio on my Apple TV) along with some occasional iTunes TV show purchases and movie rentals.
Home: Jetty (NY apartment renter's insurance), State Farm (insurance for my condo in San Francisco) as well as fees for a property management company to manage the condo. And finally: Amazon Prime. It's just so convenient to order just about anything and get it in two days or less. Especially in New York.
Email services: Google Suite and Fastmail
ISPs: Verizon Fios for gigabit Internet at home, Google Fi for voice and LTE service across my 2 phones and LTE-enabled laptop.
Physical mail: I also use VirtualPostMail to receive and scan my physical mail (great for traveling or moving between houses).
Cloud storage and utilities: Google Drive, Google Photos, Google Cloud Storage (Nearline), AWS S3, AWS Glacier, AWS Route 53, Tarsnap, Backblaze and Backblaze B2 (for the NAS), NextDNS for home DNS
Website services: AWS Route 53 for DNS, Amazon SES for sending emails (along with Sendy license), Typography.com Cloud for webfonts, Fathom (site analytics)
Servers: While the website itself is hosted on AWS S3 and Cloudfront, I have two AWS Lightsail servers for various purposes from running my code-server remote development environment to hosting Sendy, my website's newsletter tool. Lightsail is Amazon's easy to use VPS option. It's a breeze compared to EC2. I also pay for an ssh tunneling service called ngrok to simplify some of the setup process.
Domain name registrars: I like AWS Route 53 and Google Domains. I primarily use AWS Route 53 for domains I'm actively using with various AWS hosting services. I tend to use Google Domains for ease of purchasing new domains and tinkering with basic configurations (like forwarding). I trust these more than I would trust any other registrar from a security standpoint too, especially when you can lock down your Google account with Advanced Protection.
Gaming: Aside from a game here and there for my Switch or desktop PC, the only gaming-related subscription I pay for is Nintendo Switch Online so I can play Mario Kart online with my nephew. However, I have been interested in game streaming services like Google Stadia, Shadow and GeForce NOW.
VPN: I pay for a VPN provider that I often use when on untrusted connections, such as at airports, coffee shops and hotels. It's important to note that VPNs don't instantly make you safe online—you are merely choosing to trust the VPN provider instead of the ISP. You won't always have the best information on hand to determine which is more safe and secure.
I ended up getting a NordVPN subscription during a big sale (3 years for $100) and I found it had pretty good speeds. However, I'm a bit uneasy about the choice now that NordVPN had some recent security issues that I don't feel they handled well.
Using a VPN at home is not necessary for most... you're already in a good place with a strong Wi-Fi password and HTTPS. However, your DNS queries will leak so your ISP could see what domains you are accessing until more support for DNS-over-HTTPs emerges. Here's a sobering view on the topic, though it ignores that many folks use VPNs to access otherwise region restricted sites and services: Don't use a VPN.