Photographers Travel Setup

So in just under 4 weeks Liz and I will be heading to India ( via Hong Kong ) for a few weeks holiday** so at the moment I am looking at all the bits and pieces that we will be taking with us for the trip, including camera equipment and storage and backup systems for the photos we take.  I thought I would give you a quick overview of how we will store / backup / process photos while we are away, in the hope that it might help someone with a similar need.

** just to explain this a little bit: both Liz and I are photographers so when we plan a "trip" we need to decide if it is a photographic trip or a holiday: one is all about the photography whereas the other has us playing tourist as a main focus, and taking photos as and when possible.  This trip to India is not a photographic trip so we can try to do all the normal tourist things while we are there, but there will be photos!

What we need

So the basic needs of the setup we are taking is that we want to be able to capture, store, backup and process / post photos while we are away, without the need for online / cloud based storage systems ( we have been warned about India's poor wifi network so don't want to rely on that as an option ).  It also needs to be small / lightweight as we will be backpacking, and reliable.

On our 6 week trip to South East Asia last year we took a similar setup to what we are taking this time, and it worked well, but obviously it has been refined a little based on how things went on that trip.

What we are taking

So the tech gear for the trip is as follows:

  • camera systems: we both are shooting Fujifilm cameras ( an X-E3 for me and an X-E2 for Liz, with a spare X-E2 camera for a backup ) and taking a few lenses.  I will cover this lineup in a separate blog.
  • MacBook Air: I picked up a second hand 2011 11" Macbook Air before our last trip which serves multiple roles as a normal laptop would ( email, web browsing, processing photos etc ) but most importantly acts as the 'controller' for the storage and backing up of our photos
  • 2 x Seagate USB 3.0 1 TB HDD drives ( about NZ$100 each ) 
  • 2 x Transcend F5 UB3.0 SD card readers ( NZ$15 each ). These are cheap and compact SD card readers, that are also fast and reliable.
  • mBeat 4 port USB 3.0 hub ( NZ$40 )
  • various SD cards ( 8 x 64 GB and 16 x 32 GB cards between Liz and I, so a total of 1 TB between us ) 

It will come as no surprise to those that know me that I am super paranoid when it comes to any chance of loosing photos while we are away, either by tech failure or by some form of theft / lost luggage situation, so the aim of this setup is to have 3 copies of our photos with us at any time, but stored separately.  The key to this is the 2 portable HDD drives that we load our photos onto, routinely copying / backing up photos everyday and making sure that they are kept in separate locations when we travel.

So here is how it works.

After being out during the day the photos we take will get copied from their SD cards onto the HDDs every day ( even if there are only a couple of photos ), with one complete set of photos ( Liz's and mine ) being stored on each drive ( so the 2 drives contain identical sets of Liz's and my photos ).  One of these drives lives in my main backpack when we are travelling / stays at the hotel we are staying at, and the other drive is carried by Liz in her camera bag / day bag.  When our SD cards are full then I keep those in my camera bag for the rest of the trip.  We should have enough SD cards with us so we won't need to reuse any during the 3 weeks.

So at any given time we will have 3 copies of all our photos in 3 separate locations.  

While the MacBook Air is connected to the HDD's containing the photos to copy them I will also import all photos into Lightroom and put the photos into a collection within Lightroom that will sync through the cloud to the mobile versions of Lightroom that we have on our phones.  This allows us to start processing photos on our phones and finish any editing / publishing of photos on the MacBook.   The Lightroom catalogue will be stored on my HDD, and backed up to the other HDD; so again there is always duplicate copies of all of our edits ( as well as the cloud version ).

In terms of transfer times for this setup I have done a few tests and it will copy an entire 64GB SD card ( with about 2000 files ) onto a single HDD in 14 minutes.  To put this in perspective on our last trip we were typically shooting 300-400 photos per day, so at the end of each day it should take about 2-3 minutes to transfer 1 cards photos to one HDD.  With the need to copy 2 cards worth onto 2 HDD's ( so 4 transfer streams ) it will take 4 times as long, so it should take about 10-15 minutes to back the files up each day, which is fine.  There are probably faster setups out there but the key for me is getting something reliable, small and easy to setup, with reasonable speed for transferring files, and not too expensive.

The most costly part of the setup in the obviously the MacBook Air, but given that it is 7 years old and I picked it up second hand it wasn't too bad a cost for the functionality that it provides.  It is not much bigger than an iPad, but obviously with the capabilities of a laptop, and is small enough to carry in my messenger style camera bag on days when we are travelling between locations.  It runs Lightroom well and is a great little travel laptop.

I looked at other options instead of the MacBook when looking at a travel setup, but unfortunately even though an iPad or tablet setup would have worked fine for internet use and Lightroom they didn't have the ease of setup that the MacBook has with multiple connection ports which allow multiple files to be transferred to multiple drives. And the MacBook also has a keyboard which makes updating blogs etc on the road much easier.  There are more expensive options that would have worked ( like a Microsoft Surface ) but I was trying to keep the cost down as much as possible.

So that is the tech setup we are taking to India with us, feel free to ask questions / comment below if you have any thoughts.