Photographing on the road, a case study (Part 1)

Photographing on the road, a case study (Part 1)

During the following 2-3 weeks, I will be on the road, traveling and shooting in some great European destinations, including Amsterdam, Copenhagen and several cities in Sweden.

I thought of documenting this trip, which will, photographically speaking, include travel photography, street photography (hopefully some street portraits too), shooting at a wedding, possibly work with a model or two and whatever else may feel creative and interesting at any moment.

In that sense, I’m offering this as a case study of sorts, with the following precepts:

1. Light gear, following a minimalistic approach, but at the same time not missing anything important for day to day shooting in various circumstances

2. A full work environment which shall allow, all things considered, a daily routine similar to what I follow back home

This seems like a tall order and, to add insult to injury, the whole philosophy and planning may seem paranoid to some readers. The basic mentality is one of backups for any critical item, no single point of failure and calculated redundancy. All these cultivated from my many years in IT where I learned (the hard way) that, for example, data does not exist if it’s not stored in at least three different locations, two of which should be drastically separated in the physical sense.

Let me explain how we paranoid types differ from you care-free folk: boils down to (a) having all the facts and (b) having been (repeatedly) burned. On the other hand, let me emphasize that the whole plan calls for practicality and low volume and weight. This is a travel setup, not an attempt to include everything and the kitchen sink.

I should make it clear that I don’t endorse, or being endorsed by, any brand or product I mention in this series. It is merely what I happen to use and find useful and practical. It should be left to the discretion of the reader to make any substitutions one finds appropriate.

Let’s start with the basic choices, not including any actual photographic gear, which will be discussed in part 2.

0. Information

Being prepared is the hallmark of the professional (in any discipline) and probably the single most crucial element if any degree of success is desired. That includes knowing what to expect in the places one visits, forecasts for the weather, landmarks, places to eat, and generally everything needed so one doesn’t waste time or start to feel overwhelmed. Contact with locals beforehand is a great idea: one could contact local photographers he has met in social media, or even drop an email to some local photographer with interesting work in Flickr, 500px or similar. Photographers generally don’t shy away from helping out another fellow photographer in such cases.

Of course it would be even better if you have (as in my case) any local friends in the places you travel, which can facilitate even with the most mundane arrangements. And certainly nothing beats having a local along while on a photowalk.

1. Power!

Remembering for a moment the anarchic motto “our civilization collapses when electricity is cut”, we need to make sure we always have the means to power our devices. I’m not heading to some place in the middle of nowhere, so, in my case, this comes down to charging and some emergency power.

I need to be able to charge batteries for the X-Pro2, the X70 (which are the cameras I’ll be taking with me), AA batteries for flash/transceiver, smartphone and tablet. But having 4-5 different chargers is not the greatest idea.

So I will carry one Fuji charger for NP-W126 batteries for the X-Pro2 plus a universal charger. This is the Hahnel Unipal Plus, which can charge AA/AAA batteries as well as the batteries from both the X-Pro2 and X70. It can also provide USB power to other devices, so it will also charge the tablet battery (but not the smartphone, since, being an idiot, I didn’t remember to buy a USB-A to USB-C adapter). It will also provide juice to the two power banks I’m taking along. The Hahnel is a great, lightweight, Swiss-army type piece of kit.

While out shooting, I’m going to have 2 extra camera batteries (plus the one in the camera), while 2 more are back in the room charging. Upon return, empty batteries are immediately put for charging. This way, there are always at least 3 camera batteries available for shooting. Same goes for flash batteries, but flash usage will be specific, limited and planned, so no particular worries. All batteries will, of course be refreshed overnight if needed.

2. Data and storage

The plan is I can continue running the blog, using social media, doing email, writing, and also doing limited to moderate photo processing on the road. Also, being able to store all the images taken and to keep backups. 

My “computer” for the trip is my Lenovo MIIX 3 tablet: it has 2GB of memory, 32GB (+32GB on SD) of internal storage and runs Windows 10. This means I can continue to work in the same environment as back home. It has a complete, albeit somewhat flimsy, add on keyboard, so writing and editing will be rather effortless, and the touch interface is a timesaver. This is a 10” tablet, which doesn’t take a lot of space, esp. if the keyboard is left behind (which will be the norm, on the road, in most cases). 

For storage, I’m taking along a Silicon Power 1TB hard drive. This is a seriously robust external HD, in small size and weight. Other backup storage items include a couple of USB sticks and, of course, one needs all the necessary cables and a USB hub for connecting everything.

My (paranoid, remember) daily shooting/storage/backup plan is as follows:

Every time I’m back in my base (typically once or twice per day), all photos are copied from the SD cards to the external HD. This means both RAW and JPEGS, if applicable. The files are NOT deleted from the SD card. The next day, I simply use a different card and, since I expect to not exceed one SD card per day, this means that, with what I’ll have with me, the same card will be used again after 5-6 days (when it will also be formatted).

Until this point, photos are in two locations: the actual card and the HD. But, since I will typically have good internet speeds, I will also send a zip of the RAW files “back home” via WeTransfer every night, where a friend or colleague will download it. So there will be times where files are in four different locations. Remember, being paranoid about data safety and redundancy.

Some “picks” from each day will be edited in the tablet, using lightweight applications such as Photoshop Express; some of them will be uploaded in future blog posts in this series.

My backup computer will simply be my Nexus 5X smartphone, which can (and will) be used for on the fly uploads to Instagram, for example, and can, in a pinch, be used for editing also, through WiFi connectivity and Snapseed.

I think I have covered most of the essentials concerning the “support gear”. Please bear in mind that, although it may seem overkill in some cases, all of the above fit in the smallest of bags with huge space to spare. The potential is quite disproportional to the weight/volume or even the cost of these items. Having a smallish laptop would be preferable for some people, but, again, 1TB storage is not common with smaller laptops. And having something bigger than, say, 13” seems like defeating the purpose, unless heavy editing on the road is a prime need.

I’ll get back in this series with the part 2, concerning the actual photo gear, accessories and bags. Stay tuned.

Update: check part 2 here!

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On the road, part 2: the serious stuff

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