Whether you’re a professional photographer shooting a destination wedding, or you simply enjoy taking photos while traveling, figuring out how to handle your image workflow in the field can be a bit daunting. Not only are your photos super vulnerable when you’re moving around, but everything in your system needs to be smaller, lighter, and more efficient as well.
Developing a great mobile workflow is certainly more of an art than a science. But with a bit of preparation and thought, you can create an efficient system that ensures your awesome photos are safe and sound.
In this post we’re going to walk you through all the steps it takes to get your photos from your camera, onto your computer, and safely backed up. Mobile style.
Lets start with the computer. If you want to be serious about taking photos on a trip, and want to be sure you won’t lose all your work, you’ll need a computer.
For this trip we’re using an 11 inch MacBook Air. It’s certainly not very powerful, but what you gain is an ultra light computer thats easy to carry around and an absolute pleasure to use. When you travel, size and weight become extremely important. The less you have to lug around, the more you enjoy yourself.
Now, a MacBook Air isn’t great for doing lots of editing of your photos. It just doesn’t have enough processor power. But when you spend so much money to get yourself across the world, your time is much better spent enjoying your trip; save the processing for when you get home.
Of course, you might absolutely need to have a serious workstation when you travel. In that case, check out the new MacBook Pro.
We have Compact Flash and SD card readers that are super compact and easy to carry around. They’re far easier and quicker to use than plugging the camera itself in to the computer.
For hard drive storage we’re using three Western Digital 1 TB My Passport drives. These drives are great: super portable, bus powered (no external power needed, just plug right into the computer) and fairly affordable.
If you can, try to pick up some kind of neoprene case to put them in. We had a few that came from older drives that we use to give additional protection (it’s easy for drives to get bumped around in your gear bag, which is really not good for them).
Each drive is individually labeled with a number, the size of the drive, and our email address. If a drive should get lost, at least there is the possibility of recovering it!
In a nutshell:
- Download cards into Lightroom catalog on Drive 1
- Convert to DNG on import
- Back up images and Lightroom catalog to Drive 2 and Drive 3
- Bring Drive 1 with you at all times
After a day of shooting we head back to our hotel and start downloading our memory cards. We use Lightroom to import the photos and automatically convert our raw files into the DNG file format.
Converting to DNG is something new for us, as we formerly just imported the original raw files. The reason we’re converting to DNG is that much of our travel work is material we want to be able to easily access for the rest of our lives. Raw file formats are proprietary and are not open source like DNG, which means that there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to easily view/edit raw files in the future.
Note: For our wedding and portrait work we usually turn things over so quickly (Raw to JPEG/TIFF) that, in our opinion, it’s not absolutely necessary to convert to DNG. (I should mention that converting to DNG does take a bit of extra time.)
Because we’re using a MacBook Air (which has a relatively small solid state hard drive) we import the images directly to one of the Western Digital passport drives. We also have the Lightroom catalog that we’re using stored on the same drive.
Once the images are downloaded and converted we backup the newly downloaded images and the Lightroom catalog folder to the other two hard drives. You can use a program like Super Duper to “Smart Backup” drives so that only the newest data is transferred. It’s fairly quick to back things up – it probably takes a couple minutes on average to transfer about 5gb.
The reason we use three separate hard drives is for backup and redundancy. Drive 1 acts as the main drive that we actually work off of. It contains the Lightroom catalog and all our DNG files. This is the drive that we take with us when we’re out shooting during the day. If something should happen to our apartment or hotel we still have all our images.
Drives 2 and 3 are identical copies of Drive 1. Having one backup is useful just in case something happens to Drive 1 (lost/stolen) or if one drive stops working. But if you’re shooting something super important (commercial assignment, wedding, months worth of travel photos), having that 3rd extra backup is great. You can send that drive home by mail so that in case anything happens to your other two drives while in transit, you still have another one headed home to the studio. The cost in terms of money and time is nothing compared to the savings in peace of mind.
This may all seem like a bit of overkill. At any one time, there are 3 copies of our images, in two locations (if we’re out of our room).
But here’s the thing. Travel is unpredictable. You could have your bag stolen in an instant, or your room broken into while you’re out all day. You could leave something behind (like the two hard drives we left with our laundry bags), or get caught in a rainstorm and have your gear damaged by water.
You put so much effort into your images, they deserve a great system to keep them safe.
And, as you can see, it’s possible to make that really great system with a small amount of gear and an efficient workflow!
Do you have a great way you keep your images safe while traveling? Any tips to share? Hit up the comments and let us know!