Last year I schlepped my 17″ Macbook Pro, power pack and accessories all the way from Australia to Iceland (along with 25+ kilograms of camera equipment). I learnt an important lesson from this exercise: I should not have purchased a 17″ laptop for field work (international or otherwise); a 15″ would have been more than sufficient and saved considerable weight and space. I will not make the same mistake again of selecting such a large laptop. I was seduced by the increased real estate of a 17″ screen and the proposition that I could actually do some image processing in the field. The reality however, is that laptop screens are a very poor substitute for my wide gamut 26″ professsional image editing monitor in my studio. Even calibrated with a high end colorimeter the colour on laptop screens just sucks – period.

Given the price of a fully loaded 17″ Macbook Pro with 8 gigabytes of RAM and a 256 Gigabyte Solid State Drive is a dime or two more than chump change I am resigned to living it with until it reaches the end of its useful life and is subsequently replaced with a 15″ (or smaller) model. Unfortunately, (or forutnately for my bank manager) my 17″ MacBook Pro is going to still be well within its useable life cycle when I leave for Antarctica in November this year and I cant justify ditching it early just to save a bit of travel discomfort.

Unlike Iceland, New Zealand or Tasmania (or pretty much any of the other trips I have done) this time I will be based on a ship with only short zodiac excursions and the occasional shore landing.  This means that once housed in my ship quarters I can pretty much set-up the laptop and leave it that way for the duration of the trip – a very appealing proposition instead of carting it from location to location.  Yes, I am going to have to haul it all the way from Melbourne Australia to Ushuaia South America; through quite a few airports with lots of security checks with all the annoyances that comes with the pleasures of airline travel these days. But, at least on boarding of the ship it will become a static operation.

So, armed with my 17″ laptop for the trip I will have several advantages over small back-up devices such as the Hyper Drive. Firstly, a much larger screen for reviewing files and second the power to run Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop on location. Since space is really not an issue on this trip there is little to no advantage to additional and somewhat expensive devices such as Hyper Drives. These kind of devices are really space and weight saving options and are ideal for hikes or trips where its just totally impractical to carry a full size laptop. I can do all of my key-wording in Lightroom on location at the end of each days shooting on my laptop and even some initial image selection (should I find enough time). I won’t be doing any actual processing of my RAW files since as I mentioned above I find the quality of the screen not up to scratch for this purpose.

In terms of back-up I plan to take a couple of Lacie external rugged  firewire drives; which I will use to back up my files on a daily basis. One drive lives permanently in my laptop bag and the second drive will stay with my person for the duration of the trip. In the unfortunate event (touch wood) that I loose one drive I still have the second back up plus my laptop. Its the belt, suspenders and a piece of string mentality.

I will be taking a large number of 8, 16 and 32 gigabyte compact flash and mini SD cards with me – more than enough for a couple of day’s heavy shooting (and I am envisaging major giggage on this trip!); and after backing up the cards at the end of each day will erase and re-use them. I don’t advocate taking enough cards to never have to erase and re-use; since I want to import and key-word my files at the end of the day in Lightroom anyway and back them up to multiple hard drives. Plus I find it too easy to forget which cards have been used and which have not.

This approach and methodology has worked well for me over the last few years. The only real downside is the size and weight of my 17″ Macbook Pro – a situation I will remedy when my laptop next comes up for refresh sometime next year. In the meantime, if anyone wants a pre loved, fully loaded 17″ Macbook Pro at a discount please drop me a line!


  1. My travel computer is the 15″ Macbook Pro fitted with a 100GB SSD drive which hosts the OSX + Applications, and a 1TB hard drive for the data. (I use the same computer at home, hooked to a 27″ NEC monitor.) What I really want in the field is a Macbook Air fitted with a 1TB SSD. But this creature does not exist as yet.


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