When I completed Strobist as a project in 2021, I promised to check back in when I had something worth sharing. Today, I’m announcing my new book, The Traveling Photographer’s Manifesto, which seeks to do for traveling photographers what Strobist always tried to do for lighting photographers.

Thanks for giving it a look—and for your comments and feedback.

On the Road? Backup Without the Bulk-Up

I seldom review gadgets these days, but sometimes something is so useful that it's worth telling people about. Such is the case with the SD card-enabled Western Digital My Passport Wireless hard drive.

My dad always used to tell me that every possession is a burden. And nowhere is that more true than when you are traveling with gear. If your name is McNally and you have a couple of C-Stand Sherpas and enough accumulated miles to sail past excess baggage fees, it's not an issue. But for us mere mortals, the more tightly you can pare down your gear bag the better.

Consider my history:

2009, Costa Rica

Okay, this physically hurts my back to even look at. And I would tell you at the time that I was traveling light. What you are really looking at here is a Domke F2 bag filled to the brim with my insecurity. I really don't even wanna talk about it.

2013, Cuba

Four years later, and waaay better. I did not need to bring lighting for this trip, so this was a pretty tight pack. As it happened, my laptop went belly-up (bad power control board) and I was relegated to using my phone for 'net and buddy breathing with my companions' laptops for backup storage.

Having switched to Fuji that year, my pack had gotten so much smaller already. But the laptop was still a thing. Having been burned by SD cards before, I am pretty paranoid about full backup in the field. And a laptop, chunk that it is, was seen as a necessity.

Fast forward to 2015, on a recent trip to mainland China. I was shooting there for an upcoming project, and carrying a bare-bones setup for shooting and lighting people: 2 Fuji X's, 2 lenses and a single-speedlight umbrella kit.

To be honest, I was a little worried about taking my primary laptop to China. And increasingly, I was also nervous about bringing it back into the US.

Fun fact: There is no 4th Amendment outside of customs control. They can sieze/image/keep indefinitely your laptop if they want, for any reason—or none at all.

It kinda grinds at my craw a little. And while I have nothing nefarious on my Macbook, I also rather need it on a day-to-day basis. So for those two reasons I was hellbent on finding a good, laptopless backup solution.

My Passport Wireless

The Western Digital My Passport Wireless USB 3.0 hard drive comes in a 1TB ($165) and a 2TB ($179) size. It is a little more expensive than a typical hard drive, but then this thing is no typical hard drive.

First, it's self-powered. Boots up at the touch of a button with a stated 6 hours of internal battery run time, if for some reason you just leave it running full-time. Recharge is via standard USB.

Second, it'll support up to 8 devices as a wireless storage hub. You can also stream music/movies/pics to your mobile device. But I don't really care about any of that.

Here's what I love about it: it has a built-in SD slot and will sync/back up all of your SD cards at the press of a button. And it has (so far) been rock solid reliable for me.

One caveat: it's no speed demon. Stick your card in, let it mount, press the button and go take a shower. But it will back up, and it will give you an LED status light to tell you it has done so.

This one feature (mass backup) makes it worth it's small weight in gold to me. It is a godsend on the road, and frees me from needing a laptop. From now on (most of the time) I'll be traveling without my MacBook, and just using my iPhone to surf and stay in touch. It's far more portable. And being unlocked, I can just swap SIMs when I get to my destination.

Between my SD cards (which I do not erase, as they are both tiny and cheap) and this HD, I feel very good about my full-shoot backup situation. But for my edits and selects, I do like to employ a couple of other layers. Fortunately, these backups do not have to add any weight to my pack.

Typically, I'll use the Fuji app to wirelessly move a ~50-photo "fat" edit to my phone at full-res. If you shoot any wi-fi-enabled Fuji X, that app is wonderful for another layer of safety. So that's three separate locations now, for that level of edited photos.

Finally, I'll email to myself what I consider (at first glance at least) to be my likely final selects. Figure a dozen photos or so, usually. The ones I can't live without? They live in the cloud.

So if my plane goes down it'll be like, "Yes, yes, it was very sad. But did you see that one last tight horizontal portrait he made? Sublime. He had emailed it to himself..."

A Couple of Other Doohickeys

And speaking of travel gear, if you look at the photo at top you'll see a two other pocket-sized gadgets that are invaluable to me on the road.

At far right, an Innogie USB power bank ($12) that'll give me a full charge (and then some) on my iPhone 6.

UPDATE: Since this post was written, USB batteries have evolved quickly. Rather than the one mentioned above, I now suggest this $15 marvel. Several full iPhone 6/6s charges, 2-amp charging speed for quick top-ups. A much better deal, IMO.

Next to that is an Anker 5-port, high-power, auto-sensing USB charging hub. (Current version here: $24). This thing rocks. Not only will it juice up my iPhone, FitBit, wireless drive and battery bank all at once, but it is fast. It'll charge my phone twice as fast as the factory-supplied nub. For $24, a no-brainer.

In this post:

Western Digital My Passport Wireless HD
Innogie USB battery bank ($12)
Anker 5-port USB charging hub ($15)


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