Why I Won't Travel With a Laptop Anymore

Why I Won't Travel With a Laptop Anymore

For years, whenever I’ve traveled, I’ve gone through the trouble of dragging a MacBook Pro, charger, and cables along with me. I tried something different on my most recent trip, and I don’t think I can go back.

After a day of shooting, I’d get back to the hotel and begin the process of importing images, typically to a temporary Lightroom catalog, anxious to start editing my favorite shots from the day. Each night, however, I was disappointed by the experience: between being tired from a day of hiking and sightseeing and frustration with Lightroom’s annoyingly slow experience on a laptop, I was never happy with the results.

I was using a top of the line MacBook Pro, with the images natively stored on the fast SSD. Despite having some of the best portable hardware, I was still facing a five-second delay just moving between images. Nothing saps enthusiasm like a five-second wait for every image just to load when culling through 500 shots. Rendering 1:1 previews was also torturously slow and would push any opportunity for image review even later into the night.

After I’d skipped through the images, too impatient to actually check each one, I’d hone in on a few favorites and actually start to edit. A trackpad, even one as good as the MacBook’s, is not enjoyable to use for the small sliders or finicky brush tool in Lightroom. Stitching any panoramas or merging to HDR would also trigger a minute or more of blasting cooling fans and an unusable laptop.

Frustrated with the whole process, I’d usually settle for just having my images imported and quickly put the laptop away. I tried different hardware, different versions of Lightroom, and even tried to adjust my expectations, but over the years, I’ve never been happy with my on-the-road edits. None made it into my portfolio, and anything posted to Instagram was just as likely to have come from my phone.

Editing in the field is crucial if I were shooting something for quick delivery, but when shooting for my personal portfolio or enjoyment, it is just easier to wait. I save bag space by bringing a small laptop, tablet, or nothing more than my phone. I’ve looked at some alternative products for backing up images without a laptop; I find the Gnarbox to be an interesting, if expensive, option. On shorter trips, I’ve just shot to both cards in my camera and split them between my carryon bags.

Gnarbox is an option for backing up your images in the field, no laptop required.

Looking at it now, I actually think it is for the best to delay the editing process until I got home. Having a bit of distance between the excitement of taking the shot and actually culling the images helps the winners stand on their own merits and prevents me from getting too attached to a shot that isn’t as strong. It has even saved superfluous steps in my workflow: no temporary Lightroom catalog that lives on my laptop and less dealing with duplicates between different drives.

At home, I’ve got large, color-calibrated monitors, a Wacom tablet, and much greater processing power. Images render quickly, and I can work with my entire library at my fingertips. The entire experience is better, and I believe that when I’m out shooting, I can better focus on the process. Ordinarily, leaving my gear behind would be a disaster when traveling, but in this case, I might be forgetting my laptop more often.

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97 Comments

Alex Cooke's picture

You should try one of these for in-the-field backup; they're about half the price per GB of the Gnarbox (I love mine): https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/search?Ntt=wd%20my%20passport%20wireless%...

Alex, off topic, but what is your favourite photography travel bag(s)?

Oliver Kmia's picture

Alex carries all his gears on a horse that follows him 24/7

Brian Matiash's picture

I need to comp a still from Red Dead Redemption 2 to bring this mental image to life.

Jeff McCollough's picture

I thought it was a donkey.

What is your problem? Look how you have attracted the jerks out of their holes.

Brian Matiash's picture

Yup. I've got the 2TB SSD version and love it.

As for not bringing a laptop, I'm on board with that. Not that I'm looking to convince anyone, but I've fallen in love with using my iPad Pro (2018 12.9") with Lightroom CC. And once Photoshop ships for it, I expect it to be even more powerful.

Terrence Taylor's picture

Same here. The MBP stays home unless I need to do some power editing on the road.

Nichole Vild's picture

Same here. I can’t wait for the PS.

Richard Hart's picture

I am tempted by an iPad pro, but I cant see it being that effective at editing and exporting several hundred images. Do the images have to stored on the iPad or can you have them on a wifi hard drive? Is it really much lighter and smaller than a MacBook pro? I think apple need to work on a better iOS to really compete with the surface. I take my laptop and leave the iPad when I travel!

I agree, I dont go through shoots for several days afterwards so I have a fresh mind. Plus some of my shoots are exhausting! Lightroom is actually much faster than it was a year ago. You could always shoot in jpeg and raw or export the images from raw at a lower resolution as a way to speed up making selections.

Brian Matiash's picture

Admittedly, it’s a bit of a convoluted process but, to be fair, that’s more on Apple than Adobe. You’ll first need to import the RAW files from the SD card to your iPad’s camera roll via a USB-C SD card adapter. So right there, you’ve got the files stored locally. From there, you’l be able to import the raw files into LRCC, which will begin uploading them to Adobe Cloud. You can choose to store smart previews only, which is what I do. Still, you have to go back to the camera roll to delete those raw files because they’ll be sitting there, taking up space.

All apple needs to do is allow two things to make this ideal: 1. Allow the iPad to detect external drives via USB-C and 2. Allow apps, like LRCC, import directly into its catalog instead of forcing you to copy the raw files to the camera roll first.

Now, once you get through that first hurdle, you’re on easy street... for the most part. Editing in LRCC is an absolute pleasure. I have 6.2 TB of raw files synced up to Adobe Cloud and it is so nice to pick a random folder with a shoot that I may have forgotten to review, find a photo, edit it, and prep it for sharing. I do it all the time. Waiting in line. Sitting in front of the tv. You get it.

I say that you’ll be on easy street for the most part because LRCC is still missing some clutch features, namely HDR/Pano merge. This is true for the desktop and mobile, although I’m very confident that both platforms will eventually get these features.

And if Photoshop and LRCC play well together on the iPad, as in being able to easily send and receive photos between the two apps, it’s going to be a powerhouse workflow.

I hope all of this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions about this workflow. I’ve been a bit obsessed about it.

Joe Schmitt's picture

Great response, Brian. I also have the new 12.9 Pro and have finally dug into using the iPad with LR CC for my editing on the go. It works very, very well. I don’t normally use the HDR/pano features so it’s doing much of what I’d do in the desktop which is great. It does seem to be a bit quirky that I have to import to the camera roll first but I use that opportunity to review my images and delete the rejects. This makes the import into LR a bit easier. I wish they had the create virtual copy option too. I use that a lot for additional crops and styles.

I do have a question for you on your workflow. When the images are uploaded to the Adobe Cloud and then to your LR desktop, are you leaving those in place so that they’re still syncing with LR Mobile? Or do you edit on the iPad, sync them to the desktop, and the iPad piece is done? For example, once they’re synced, are you moving them to a new shoot folder? Just looking for additional workflow examples. I suppose that once you’re done with the iPad edit, you don’t need those to be there anymore. Of course, you could always move some images into a Collection, sync it with LR Mobile and you’ll be able to continue editing. Thank you.

Joe Schmitt's picture

I wanted to add that I see that photos imported into LR Mobile and then synced to my desktop appear in my iPad Pro import folder. From there, I can move them into a shoot folder for organization and any changes I make on that photo in LR Mobile will sync to whichever folder I moved the photos to...which is really cool.

Brian Matiash's picture

Virtual copies is a HUGE feature request and I am confident that it’s on their road map. I’m also hoping for a few additional items like GPX support for geotagging photos, allowing me to send Photoshop a PSD file instead of a TIF, PSB file support, and a more robust export function. I use JPEGMini Pro, which hooks into Classic’s export module. It’s brilliant and I miss it that a lot. I also miss my export presets.

What the LRCC team is doing is identifying all of the feature disparities between CC and Classic and determining which make sense to migrate over.

Regarding my workflow, if I ingest raw files into LRCC while in the field, whether it’s on my laptop or iPad, those raw files are sent up and I retain smart previews locally because neither device has enough storage. As those raw files sync up to Adobe cloud, my primary iMac at home begins downloading and storing every original file locally onto twin G-Technolgy 24 TB RAID containers. The result is that when I get home from a trip, I already have all of my files backed up along with any edits I may have made along the way. This includes title, description and keyword metadata, which are very important because I upload a lot to stock and it’s nice to take care of that mundane stuff while I’m farting around.

I recorded this video a little while ago and I think it may give you even more insight into my workflow. Don’t hesitate to ask any additional questions about it. I 100% believe this is the future of how we’re going to work with our photos, so you may as well get comfortable.

https://youtu.be/pKBl3Rlr5fg

Joe Schmitt's picture

Excellent video, Brian. Lots of great points in there along with considerations on your Pros and Cons list. I’m not ready to completely use the Adobe cloud just yet but the syncing feature in getting the files to my desktop seems to be really handy. And having those edits sync across my MacBook Pro, iPad Pro, and iPhone are great. And great tip about setting your cellular options on the iPad/iPhone. I had to turn off my cellular option for LR but already had it off for Photos.

For my workflow, one thing I need to test is the import function. For example, if I have say 200 photos from a shoot but only want to import a few select photos into my iPad to edit and share quickly, I know those few photos will sync to the cloud and land in LR on my MacBook Pro. Then I’ll move those photos into a shoot folder for organization. If I then run a standard import of the 200 original images directly into that shoot folder on my Mac, I’m wondering if the images I’ve already imported would be viewed as duplicates so my edits wouldn’t be overwritten. I’ll be testing that this weekend. That would be great if it detected the duplicates and didn’t overwrite them...I’m just not sure if any of the file names would change during import or the iPad and then into LR. My point is that I don’t want to have to worry about mixing my edited images with the original RAW files and then have to find out which ones might be duplicates.

And as you said, no option for virtual copies is a bummer. A workaround could importing the same image again since the original RAW file would still exist in the iPad Camera Roll and then doing a copy/paste on the settings. Virtual copies are great for taking the same image and making different crops, B&W, or other effects. The workaround wouldn’t be ideal but is possible on the iPad.

Not being able to sync settings on a number of files or having an import preset is another bummer. Not a completely dealbreaker for me but it’s definitely something that’ll slow down the overall workflow. I consider it give and take situation since my iPad is SO much more portable and light compared to my Mac. Also, if I happened to have my iPad stolen, it’s a lot cheaper than my Mac.

And finally, presets which is a big item I picked up on in your video. Presets are pretty much limited to the Mac and those don’t sync to the mobile platforms. For me, it’s not a huge dealbreaker but it’s something I hope they fill for LR soon. They’ve really come a long way since LR was released on iOS but, with the full version of Photoshop coming in 2019, I’m hoping that LR gets some love and they beef up its offerings. Hopefully they’re listening to guys like you driving some change in the market.

Thanks again!!

I don't know why any of you NEED such editing. A little Lighter/Darker/Contrast, Levels and Color/Saturation is all I ever need. Try using a simpler Pgm like Elements. You all think you are writing about a problem but you are mixing needs.
Pick the 2-3 most important and forget about the rest.

Photo Mechanic. I've just cut your objections in half. Fast rendering and easy navigation.

Jonathan Castner's picture

Bang on. PhotoMechanic is still the king of ingest/selection tools. Been using it for 17 years.

Spy Black's picture

That still requires lugging a laptop around in the field. Unless you're obscessed with editing in the wild, bringing a compact backup storage makes more sense.

Michael Dougherty's picture

I just use a cheap 10.5 inch Microsoft Surface with Photo Mechanic loaded and it works perfect, especially for selecting files and transferring to other devices. Only weighs about a pound.

Spy Black's picture

Unless it has a good sized drive, you may still want to consider an external drive, unless you've amassed enough memory cards to use them as backup for the day's shooting.

I usually use Ext. drives. Why load up my computer? And, how many shots are the most you have ever shot in a day/week... Then just buy the cards you need plus 16Gs. How many is that? Also, what does the size of the HD on your laptop matter when they are usually over 500G. I always move all of my photos to two separate 500-700 HDs and keep my Lap Top HD as empty as possible. I also think about what I can lose if it is lost/stolen/damaged.

A laptop weighs how much? Are you under 5.7 and 140Lbs, then it is your problem.
Also, an external drive costs nothing. I have two 500G HDs, less than $50 each and back-up on both drives. I also delete the "Bad shots" and keep the best on one or both of the SDs (I have a camera with 2SDs), depending on the situation.

Spy Black's picture

Less is definitely more when you're out in bumfuck, especially for long periods of time. How long is your laptop battery going to last? Are you going to bring extra batteries for it? A solar charger? It adds up.

Although you seem to imply you're willing brunt the weight, not everyone shares that mindset.

Pat McEntee's picture

Why do you take a laptop into the field unless you are spending the night in the bush? When I'm out of town my laptop stays in the hotel room or in my car. After the day's shoot is done, I'll go through the raw shots to see if there is something I could keep my eye on the next day or if I'm in the mood, work on a few.

If you need to do more than some light adjusting or cropping then you might want to be rethink how you're taking your photos.

Spy Black's picture

I'm talking exactly about being in back country, where there's not going to be a hotel room to return to.

Douglas Turney's picture

Yep Photo Mechanic is the king. Would love to see an iOS version.

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