Image Management While Traveling
I’ve been asked several times how I deal with images when traveling. It seems that everyone has the same issues about photographing away from home and there doesn’t seem to be a standard answer. After all, what we really want when we travel is an unlimited amount of disk storage space, spread across at least two devices that can be carried separately from each other for protection, plus a device that will run both Lightroom and Photoshop, with access to our entire Lightroom catalog and our entire library of images, all of which will run on battery power for over 100 hrs without a re-charge and the whole kit and caboodle should weight less than 1 pound. While we’re at it, we’d also like to have waterproof inflatable pro quality camera bodies and lenses each one weighing less than 1 oz.
Well, I have yet to find a set up that meets my entire wish list. However, over the years I’ve tried several things. For many years I carried a standalone device that had a disk drive, small screen and card slots designed to back up memory cards. But it was painfully slow and never really worked reliably. I tried the tablet route but the iPad could not run Lightroom or Photoshop, had limited disk space, and did not have a USB port to attach an external drive.
But, it is possible to get a fair chunk of the wish list items and meet the most important goals.
So, with the idea to solve this problem I went looking for gear that would be the best trade off between cost, capability, safety, and weight.
- While on the road, each evening I want to replicate that days images so that I have 3 copies of each on separate devices that can be carried separately from each other.
- Not weigh too much
- Ability to run on battery power for at least 4 hours per charge
- Ability to run Photoshop and/or Lightroom
- Have one device that can process/manage photos, and can also be used for email, web browsing, Word, Excel, Quicken, Skype, play movies, play music, etc. rather than carrying multiple devices to cover the range of programs or applications needed while traveling
I first took a good look at tablets that have a USB port through which one can attach an external hard drive. The Tablets were light, have great battery life, can deal well with web browsing and email, but were weak on other office type applications like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc. Most seemed capable of running a version of Skype (for phone calls over hotel WiFi where roaming charges would kill you). However the tablets can not run LR or Photoshop (although there are other apps that can do editing). Maybe Windows/10 tablets can run LR & PS but probably not too well. I also looked at Ultrabooks (light laptops) which weigh more than tablets but less than laptops yet have full desktop capability. So here’s what I wound up with.
- I carry enough memory cards to last the entire trip without erasing images. These memory cards are the 1st of 3 copies of every image. While on the road I keep using the same card day after day until it fills up at which time I switch to the next card. I only delete images or format the cards between trips just before I leave on the next trip.
- I purchased an “Ultrabook” and am now on my 2nd ultra light laptop (PC’s answer to Macbook Air). This laptop style computer is a full blown computer running a full version of Windows. Unlike a tablet it has USB ports, can run normal computer SW like Lightroom, Photoshop, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Skype, Quicken, and all the Web Browsers (assuming you have a connection). My Ultrabook was a Lenovo model U310 with a 13.3” screen that weighed 3.9 Lbs, and can run for 6 hours on battery (they say – I’ve used it for up to 5 hrs). My current one is a Dell XPS15 with a 15” screen but with a small bezel so the overall dimensions of the computer are not much different than my old 13” Lenovo. iT WEIGHS about 4.5 lbs. The power adaptor is pretty small. This is my main “on the road” computing engine. I also have my Smart Phone and in an emergency I can connect my Laptop to the Internet through my Smart Phone using the phone’s “hot spot” feature – it’s not as fast as WiFi but when no WiFi is available it’s better than nothing.
- Each evening I use Windows Explorer (Finder on Mac) to copy that day’s shots from my memory card to the “C:” drive on the Laptop. I just connect the camera to the Laptop with a USB cable but you could also use a card reader or, if your Laptop has it, a card slot on the computer itself. This copy of my RAW files on the “C:” drive is my 2nd copy of each image. I put the images into separate folders for each camera for each day to avoid duplicate file names in a folder (same image number from 2 different cameras) which can happen.
- I also carry a 4TB portable external hard drive. Mine is a Western Digital “My Passport” model which draws its power through the USB cable (no line cord or brick). It’s about the size of 2 decks of cards (0.8” x 3.2” x 4.3”) and weighs 0.54 lbs. It is USB 3 capable as is my Laptop so data transfer to or from it is quite fast. This device contains my entire Lightroom Catalog (the master, not a copy) and my entire collection of images (master versions, not copies). When I’m home I have it plugged into my desktop computer. When I’m on the road I bring it with me. Of course, before I take it on the road I make sure I have a full back up of its contents safely stored on a backup drive at home and in the cloud. So, in terms of photography I have the same original, or master, stuff with me on the road as I have at home (not copies).
- Once I’ve copied my images from the memory card(s) to the “C:” drive each day as RAW files (step 3) I also copy them to the External Hard drive where they become the 3rd copy.
- At this point I’m happy to watch the hotel TV or go to sleep. However, if I wind up with spare time I use Lightroom on the Laptop with my master catalog on the external drive to import images from the folders on my external drive. I use the “Move” option in the import dialog and place the images in their final destination folders on the external drive. In the process I rename the image files to prevent the possibility of duplicate names for the trip which allows me to consolidate the images for the trip or event into a single folder.
- When I shut down Lightroom I have it make a backup of the catalog onto the Laptop’s “C:” drive (remember the catalog itself is on the external drive) so now my catalog is in two places on two separate devices as well as the images being in 3 places.
- When I get home, all I do is plug the external drive into my desktop and everything is ready to go. I don’t have to move or copy any images, nor do I have to copy/move/merge LR catalogs, and I don’t have to import or export anything. Remember the Catalog and images on my external drive are the master versions. Once I plug the external drive into my desktop computer, my normal BU software and tools start making backup copies of the updated catalog and new images to my desktop computer backup drive and to the cloud.
The only manual thing I do after arriving home, which is really not needed, is to copy the BU copies of the LR catalog from the Laptop “C:” drive to my BU drive on the desk top just so they are in the same folder that my desktop LR uses to back up the catalogs. Once I’m sure my catalog and new images have been backed up to both my desktop BU drive and to the cloud I am free to remove the RAW files from the Laptop and can re-format my memory cards.
So, for what it’s worth. That’s how I handle THE PROBLEM.