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.
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.