Digital Nomad; processing and backing up images on the road.

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Given that I aim to fund my travels as best I can by working from the road, I carry a relatively vast collection of electronic devices. It’s by far the heaviest part of my setup and somewhat at odds with the rest of my ultralight gear – but a necessary burden when I’m away for so long.

Here’s an overview of what I use, the programs I like, details on my travel work flow, and some advice on backing up images.

Apple’s Macbook Air’s packs a real punch for its weight. Battery life and build quality are excellent.

Hardware: 

Canon 6D, 24mm f/2.8, 40mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/4: Yes, it’s a heavy system, but the image quality is great, and I love the low light benefits of a full frame camera. If I was starting afresh, I’d look at weather resistant mirrorless cameras, like the Fuji XT-1, which seems to rule the roost in terms of the image quality/build quality/size ratio. Or for a smaller setup still, Olympus’ excellent OMD series.

Day to day, the camera lives in my Carradice saddlebag, which sits on a Nitto front rack, and hangs off the handlebars – for details of the setup, see here. The camera nestles in a minimal case, on top of a layer of clothing, with lenses to either side. When needed, a waterproof liner keeps everything dry. I tape up my camera and cover logos, to both protect if from scuffs and to help lend it an old and beaten-up look.

MacBook Air 11in: Very powerful for its weight (1kg). Slim. Its solid state drive is extremely robust. Mine is a couple of years old, and it’s survived both drops and being shaken around over the roughest of roads. And, it fits in my XL Pugsley/Krampus framebag (a perk of being tall). It’s stored in a homemade case, constructed from pieces of Thermarest Ridgerest for extra padding, inside a dry bag in my framebag. If I wasn’t writing so much, or I was heading out on a shorter trip, I’d probably downsize to a tablet. But as it is, it’s really useful to have a laptop.

1 x Western Digital My Passport Ultra 1TB: Short of being dropped, these hard drives seem very reliable, in as much as any non solid state hard drive can be. I’ve used several in the past, and never had any problems – they’re also cheap and readily available. The hard drive is stored in a padded case, in a dry bag within my seat pack.

Dropbox Pro 1TB storage: £79 ($99) for the year. A complete set of online backups will eventually supersede the need to carry a more fragile hard drive. £79 a year seems like good value for peace of mind. And, it saves weight! I’ve also set up Dropbox to automatically sync all my documents whenever I’m online, providing a backup, and allowing me to access them from other devices.

2 x San Disk Extreme 64GB USB 3 flash drives: Blazing fast, super reliable and tiny. I use these for a second round of backups, or to store other media. There are now 128GB and 256GB flash drives available too, which is crazy given the size.

When I have them, I place a bunch of silica gel packets amongst various electronic bags, to help keep dampness and humidity at bay.

Photos:

To get the most out of my images, I shoot in RAW – the difference in quality is worth the extra processing time, especially if you like to have more control over your images.

I use Lightroom 5 to process RAW images. It’s quick and easy to use. Setting up a series of processing presets helps give photos a ‘look’ and sense of continuity, and saves time in front of the computer screen. I’ve made up my own series of presets, based on VSCO’s excellent film emulation collections. Lightroom is an excellent program that has a bunch of useful tools, one of my favourites being the Spot Visualizer and Spot Remover, which are excellent for tidying images taken with a dusty sensor. I also carry one of Giottos’ Rocket Blasters, which helps dislodge most particles of dust from sensors.

If you’re happy writing on a tablet (which are becoming ever more powerful), Photo Mate R2 looks like a good RAW conversion option, and Snapseed is popular too. On an iPad, I’ve heard good things about Photogene.

I keep a backup of all the edited files on my hard drive. As I mentioned above, I’m slowly uploading all of these to Drop Box, with the eventual aim of having a full copy of images stored online, in both RAW and high res JPEGs – so I’m not reliant on carrying my computer all the time.

Editing:

After importing images into Lightroom, I set about culling those I’m not happy with to save on disc space. Then I process the images to taste, making sure the RAW files are piggybacked with the xtml file (you can set this up in Preferences). I then batch rename the images according to where they were taken or the set they’re in, always preceded by the Year/Month/Date. This makes tracking down images a lot easier later on; it’s well worth the initial effort.

eg: 150208_cotopaxiloop_01.

I convert one set to 1200px jpgs, compressed for web use (my Tumblr site’s default size is 1200px). These can be easily emailed or uploaded to the likes of Instagram. Being obsessed about backups, I also make a second high res version saved at 3MB in size, which I upload to Dropbox when I get the chance. Same goes with the RAW images – whenever I stay in a hostel with a good internet connection, I upload these overnight.


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