Bengt Beier - travels and photography

My best travel photography workflow yet

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Over the last years, I put quite some effort into cutting down on weight and complexity for my travels. This also meant making my travel photography as lightweight as possible and the same is true for my editing equipment and workflow. At the same time, I’ve constantly been wondering what’s the best way to edit travel photos while on the go.

I’m quite happy with my current photography workflow and travel photography backup workflow and I think it might also be a helpful inspiration for you:

The photographic device

I currently take most of my photos with my Panasonic Lumix LX 7. The LX 7 might not be the newest and fanciest toy around (it was introduced in 2012 and has since been superseded by the LX 15). But it sports a f/1.4 zoom lens, exposure times between 1/4000s of a second and 250 seconds, a slightly larger sensor than other compacts, complete manual controls, ND filter, a hot shoe, …. and it fits into a trouser pocket no problem. And it is just a joy to hold and use. When travelling, I always have a spare battery and some kind of tripod, like this small Gorillapod.

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The tablet(s)

Sometimes when you travel, things go wrong. For me, one of those moments was a few years ago on a trip to Poland. Halfway through the trip, I dropped my camera. On first sight, it looked fine and I just got on the bus to our next stop. Only half an hour later, I noticed that the SD card was missing. Two weeks of photos were gone. Obviously, I had no backup.

It was a lesson hard learned. Nowadays, one of the first things I tell people who wonder how to get started in travel photography is: back up your photos while traveling!

Before the trip to Indonesia in 2017, I therefore searched for the best way to back up photos while traveling without a computer (something affordable, compact and reliable)… and surprisingly found nothing that made me happy. All these hard drive for photographers were either too bulky, unreliable or too expensive. Until it dawned on me that the best solution was, again, to keep it simple. Instead of any specialised travel photo backup device I ended up getting a used “Linx” 7-inch Windows 10 tablet and a 128GB Micro SD Card (I personally prefer to use Windows devices, but a small Android tablet or iPad Mini would work just as well).

Together with a sleeve, a touch pen and an SD card reader, this contraption cost me less than 100€, so even if it got lost it would not be a huge financial damage. And the best thing about it: the tablet weighs only 275 grams.

2018-08-07-2

Since then, I added a SanDisk Connect Stick to the mix, a USB stick that also has built in WiFi, so it can create a local WiFi network if needed (more on that later).

The 7 inch tablet works fine for backing up photos and some really basic culling and editing tasks. Admittedly, it is sometimes a painfully slow experience and the screen is bad – but it is reliable. Since then, I also got a Lenovo YogaBook with Windows 10 (also used), which has a a 10-inch screen and lot more computing power and battery (but is also twice as big and heavy). The YogaBook also has the added advantage that it runs all the same software as my computer at home, so that I can in principle do exactly the same editing on the go as I can at home, without compromises. In the end, it comes down to what I need to do while I’m away. If I need to get any proper work done, I will generally take the YogaBook. If I want to travel light, I’ll bring along the “Linx” 7 inch tablet.

And about travelling light: if I only pack the basics mentioned above, I end up with a full set of photography gear weighing significantly less than one kilo. See:

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Yes, I know it limits the scope of pictures I can take and it sometimes takes a toll in overall picture quality (i.e. ISO noise….) but for me, packing light is one of my key goals when travelling, even if I want to take some nice photos. And I found that limiting yourself can be a good learning experience as it forces you to find creative solutions.

The magic that binds it all together: Mylio

The key part in my workflow is the software that runs it, and that particular app has probably become my favourite app of all: Mylio. Mylio is a DAM / photo organizer with some basic built-in photo editing tools (non-destructive). But its most powerful feature is that it automatically syncs and backups all photos in my photo collection between all my devices. It’s installed on my PC, both tablets (all Windows) and my phone (Android).

The sync function is truly magical. It does not use a cloud but it only syncs photos over the local WiFi. So it does not need internet access nor cloud storage to work, I just switch on my devices, start Mylio on all of them and wait for it to send the full resolution pics or previews to all my devices. It even automatically creates a backup on my NAS at the same time. Think of it like a basic Lightroom but with a proper sync function that syncs all my photos to all my devices. And I get the same set of editing tools on my PC, my tablets and my phone.

Go with the (work)flow

Now, when I am out and about, my camera is equipped with a 64GB SD card. As I shot about 50% of my photos in JPG and 50% in RAW, that is generally enough space for a multi-week trip and I never delete the originals from the camera until I am back home and know that all pictures are backed up.

About once a day, I pop the SD Card into the reader and import the photos into Mylio. Within Mylio, my photos are saved in folders by Year > (Month) Trip. So for example, for the trip to South Korea, the folder structure is just 2018 > (07) Korea. Once I come home, Mylio actually faithfully reproduces this folder structure on my PC and NAS so I always know where the photos end up.

Once the photos are imported, I use Mylio on the tablet to cull them, flagging those shaky ones or those with bad exposure (even in Mylio I never touch the delete button until I am back home). On the other hand, I often already give a 4-star rating to those pics where I can see potential right away.

For me, Mylio is also the answer to the question how to edit travel photos for Instagram or friends while on the go. If I want to show some pictures of the trip before I am back home, I tend to make a preliminary collection of photos (often by labelling them red) and make some quick edits using Mylio’s inbuilt tools before exporting them to this blog, to Instagram or sending them to friends.

Also, I found that in general, editing travel photos works much better if combined with coffee, like here in a fancy café in Kraków last year.

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Once the photos are imported into Mylio on the tablet and culled, a large part of the work is done. Once I come back home, all I need to do is fire up the computer at home and the tablet, open Mylio on both, wait for the photos to be synced (which might take an hour or two – time for another coffee 😉 ) and delete the flagged ones.

How to backup photos when travelling

Common wisdom tells us to backup and to have at least three copies of the files we want to keep. Now as described above, I keep the originals on the camera until I am back home. After importing the photos on the tablet, I have a second copy. And to get a third copy, I use the above-mentioned SanDisk Connect stick. Since Mylio can also create backups to connected USB sticks, all I need to do is plug the USB stick in on the tablet and let it create a third backup of the files. Obviously, camera, tablet and USB stick should then be transported separately from each other to make sure not all three can get lost together.

In addition, the SanDisk connect stick has another trick up its sleeve: it can create a WiFi network that can be used by Mylio to sync photos between my tablet and my phone. This way, I can use my phone as an additional backup location – or just to post them to Instagram. Admittedly, this is not what the WiFi on the Connect stick was designed to do, but it works just fine.

The final touches: Mylio + Affinity Photo

Once I am back home and all photos have been synced to my computer and NAS there, I will review them properly on a big screen within Mylio, use the star-ratings to filter out the best ones and post-process them where necessary. I generally try to limit my final collection of photos of a trip to no more than 200, but will keep other good ones. About half of my best photos receive some kind of post-editing treatment, mostly just some cropping, exposure and colour correction using Mylio’s inbuilt tools, like on this picture from Dageu in South Korea.

Mylio-beforeafter

For those pictures that just need that extra punch (about 5-10% of my edits), my go-to software has become Affinity Photo. It works a lot like Photoshop, but has some amazing non-destructive editing tools. I particularly like its image-stacking HDR tools and its different repair brushes and filling tools. My main uses for it are creating HDR combinations (like that one in Busan in Korea below), removing unwanted pedestrians who stumbled into long-time exposures and some more artsy edits. The nice thing is that Affinity photo can be opened from within Mylio and edits baked into the JPG land back in the photo collection right away, so in many cases it feels just like a single workflow.

Affinity-beforeafter

Because Affinity Photo also works on my YogaBook tablet (running Windows), I can even have the exact same photo editing tools on the go like at home if I take that machine with me. It really allows for a fully mobile photo editing workflow without compromises. Even on the plane, like here on the way back from Portugal (using the YogaBook).

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So, what is your photography storage workflow when travelling? Tell me in the comments below!

– Bengt

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