30 Years of Photography for the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre – Liu Cheng-hsiang Entrusts Priceless Performing Art to Seagate Hard Drives

“I’ll never call myself an expert in storage technology, but backup is a piece of cake even for a novice like me.” – Liu Cheng-hsiang, photographer for the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre

Outside of their cameras and lenses, storage devices such as memory cards and hard drives are without a doubt the most important equipment a photographer owns. Liu Cheng-hsiang has served as the photographer for the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre for 30 years. With countless timeless snapshots to his name, such as the striking film still of blue-headed monks for The Great Buddha+, or a moment in time of the Cloud Gate dancers’ elegant movements; Liu believes that it is necessary to immerse oneself in the performance. To approach every shot with creativity and imagination, in order to capture the essence of art through the camera lens.

▲Liu Cheng-hsiang believes in immersing oneself in the performance, expressing one’s creativity and imagination in order to capture the essence of art.

Capturing the Essence of Art Through the Camera Lens

▲Dance is a very abstract form of performance. The photographer must understand the essence of what the dancers’ movements are trying to express, and the perfect photo often occurs at the most natural instant.

“When I was 20 I got an opportunity to help out with the National Institute of the Arts (now Taipei National University of the Arts), photographing their annual performance. Little did I know that I would end up falling in love with theatrical performance. The head of the dance department, Lin Hwai-min, liked my photography, and invited me to photograph the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre’s 15th anniversary. Thirty years later, I’m still shooting photos for them.” To do something year after year for thirty uninterrupted years seems like an amazing achievement. “In addition to the Cloud Gate Dance Theatre, I also shoot photos of music and dance performances for the National Theater and Concert Hall [of Taiwan]. I do at least 50 shows a year. It’s great to be able to combine your work with your interests, and photography sessions typically happen during rehearsals, so it’s like the dancers are performing just for you. You feel like a VIP in that space (laughs).”

In addition to capturing performing arts, Liu is also a master of film stills. “Dance is a very abstract form of performance. The dancer’s movements are constantly shifting and changing, presenting a flowing performance. To capture the signature moment of a performance, you must fully immerse yourself in it, understand the abstract concept behind the movement, in order to capture the essence of whatever the dance is trying to express. Dance coaches often arrange set poses, worried that the cameraman won’t be able to capture a good shot. But such poses are inevitably imperfect, as they fail to capture muscle tension or the natural movement of the dancers’ clothing. A perfect photo is usually a natural instant, involving every detail of the limbs, muscle lines, and facial expression. You must be able to predict what’s going to happen the next moment, and press the shutter at exactly the right time.”

Among Liu’s recent works, the film still he captured for the box office hit The Great Buddha+ is without a doubt the most striking. Depicting rows afters rows of monks sitting together, the back of their heads an eerie shade of blue. “Taking film stills requires a thorough understanding of a story, completely immersing yourself in the plot. In my recent work with Sunshine [title translated from Chinese], we spent a week in a prison in order to understand how a prisoner felt. You also need creativity, in addition to experience, because while a film consists of a series of shots, in a still you have to tell a story with just a single photo. So you must have a deep understanding, an interpretation of the film, in order to create a still that’s going to make an impression on people.”

▲Liu’s most striking recent work is his film still for The Great Buddha+, with rows after rows of blue-headed monks, it leaves a profound impact on the viewer.

Archaic Methods, Backup Woes

With more than thirty years of experience in photography, how does Liu prepare his equipment for each shoot? “I had been shooting with film for close to twenty years and it wasn’t easy transitioning to digital, especially since the earliest digital cameras were inferior to film in both specs and quality. A roll of film could only hold thirty-six photos and I had to have an assistant replace them. I was concerned about the quality of digital cameras and took film cameras with me on shoots. It took a fair bit of time before I made the full transition to shooting digitally.”

▲Having spent close to 20 years shooting with film, Liu soon found himself wrestling with the issue of storage when he transitioned to the digital age.

Having gotten accustomed to the digital camera, Liu soon had another issue to wrestle with, storage. “Twenty years ago, the price of a 1GB memory card was in the region of $10,000 [NTD]. Even if you used optical storage, a burner drive cost tens of thousands [in NTD]. I had to invest a lot of money into storage devices. I would bring 4-5 SD/CF memory cards, plus a few mobile hard drives with me on a single shoot, and transfer the photos onto my computer hard drive when I got home. Back in the day mobile hard drives were at most 2-4TB in size and over the years I’ve accumulated close to a hundred drives.” Have you ever used cloud storage? “I’ve tried it, until one time I ran into some strange connection problems when trying to deliver a project. I’ve been leery of it ever since. I use free FTP from time to time, but there’s a size limit of 2GB, so large files have to be split up into several parts. On the whole, my backup method was pretty archaic.”

▲Liu Cheng-hsiang’s studio is equipped with an AkiTiO Thunder3 Quad X (Thunderbolt 3 hard drive enclosure) with 10TB Seagate IronWolf hard disks, making backups much more efficient.

▲Copying the contents of a 2TB external hard drive used to take as long as 10 hours. Now it takes just 2 hours, and browsing through photos is noticeably faster.

5-Times Faster Backup – Faster Browsing – Efficiency That You Can Feel

Finding external hard disks to be an inefficient backup method, Liu often asked students about storage solutions, not being familiar with them himself. Based on their advice, he decided to upgrade his storage equipment, outfitting his studio with an AkiTiO Thunder3 Quad X Thunderbolt 3 hard drive enclosure running 10TB Seagate IronWolf hard drives. “Film still files often start at 4TB, and it was a chore transferring them using multiple external hard drives, not to mention the disorganization caused by having files scattered across multiple drives. Ever since I upgraded my storage equipment, the biggest improvement I’ve felt has been transfer speeds, copying a 2TB external drive used to take as long as 10 hours; now it takes less than 2. Other than transferring files, I tend to spend a lot of time sifting through photos. A single session may have thousands of photos, totaling as much as 4TB, but I’ll only end up using about 100 of them. So it’s important to be able to sift through them quickly. One RAW file is about 40MB in size, and opening too many at the same time could cause the editing software to crash. However, read speeds have markedly improved with Seagate hard drives and high-speed Thunderbolt 3 file transfer. The difference is particularly noticeable when you open a folder and all the thumbnails are displayed instantly without delay.”

▲Seagate provides a Rescue Card service, with an expert data recovery experience, and a comprehensive inventory of parts. It boasts a data recovery success rate of 90%, which is one of the key reasons why Liu chose Seagate.

Data Recovery Service That Gives Peace of Mind

Seagate’s Rescue Card service was the key factor in Liu’s purchase decision. “Hard drive damage is a photographer’s worst nightmare. I remember sending a drive in for repair, and even though they were able to retrieve some of the RAW files, the files had become corrupted and ended up being useless. With a success rate of 90%, Seagate’s data recovery service provides a robust support system backed by manufacturer expertise, a comprehensive hard drive part inventory, and continuous improvement. I often discuss the latest tech with students and ask about their opinion on storage solutions. Many of them recommended Seagate, which is why I chose the brand.”

▲In addition to enjoying the increased work efficiency, Liu also backs up data from his old hard disks in his spare time, hoping to pass down the beauty that he captures with his work to the next generation.

The golden combination of a disk array and Seagate hard drives has made backup much easier for Liu. “Backups have evolved from internal to external. It used to be that you had to take apart tons of screws in order to change a hard drive. Now, with external enclosures, it’s just plug and play. I’ll never call myself an expert in storage technology, but backup is a piece of cake even for a novice like me. In addition to enjoying my increased work efficiency, I also back up my early photos onto Seagate hard drives in my spare time. They’re my life’s work and I hope that they can be passed down to the next generation, so that our children and grandchildren can enjoy the beauty of our generation. It’s the least I could do as a photographer.”


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