Photography Workflow: Backups

I'm dedicating a separate section to backups because quite frankly, it's the most important piece of the workflow. It doesn't matter how great a photo is or what you do with it, if in the end you lose it. Since we were going to be traveling for several months being able to effectively backup photos was a big concern. At home I currently backup all of our computers to a central location (an Apple Time Capsule) and important documents are also are backed up online (Mobile Me iDisk). The important thing is that files are backed up and backed up regularly. On the road I knew backing up would be a little more of a challenge, ideally it would have been nice to just upload all the photos online, but that's not really possible with currently over 280 GB of photos and some internet connections so slow that you want to pull your hair out just checking email.

So we went with a 500 GB external hard drive (a LaCie Rugged Hard Disk to be exact) that would allow for a complete backup of everything on the laptop. I also thought the 'rugged' aspect would also help since our bags would be getting thrown around. Anyway, once photos are downloaded to the computer and processed we plug in the external hard drive and take a backup. As an extra measure of protection we travel with the hard drive and the laptop separately, meaning if I have the laptop, Abby has the hard drive. That way if a bag is lost, stolen or destroyed we should hopefully have another copy. However, if all else fails we have a copy of our favorite photos online at Flickr, but we hope we don't have to resort to that.

I urge everyone please, please backup your important data at home. If we can backup data while we're living out of a backpack, surely you can do it. If you have a Mac and later versions of Mac OS X, the easiest way is with an external hard drive and Time Machine and if you are on Windows Vista/7 you have the ability to set up backups to an external hard drive as well, but I can't speak to that process as much.

With that I've wrapped up my current photography workflow (and wouldn't you know my backup just completed). From taking a photo to backing it up and some of the stuff in between. If you have any questions please let me know. And don't worry, I'm sure I'll think up another nerdy/boring topic to write about soon.

For more info on the other aspects of my workflow, check the main post for links: Photography Workflow


Chinese Christmas

Merry Christmas to everyone from Beijing. Today was a rather eventful day, but we'll post more about it later. We did however have an awesome hike along the Great Wall of China. We hiked about 10k and had some amazing views (and hopefully some amazing photos). We just wanted to say Merry Christmas!


Shanghai, Our First Taste of China

We arrived in Shanghai a few days ago after a 21-hour train ride. 21 hours on a train actually sounds a lot worse than it is. For us, traveling by train seems less inconvenient than by plane. For starters you typically arrive 30 minutes before your train, not 1-2 hours. Then there are no security lines, checking of baggage and the stressful feeling people seem to get by just being in an airport. You just show up and hop on. For this trip we were in a 4 berth soft sleeper. That's 4 beds, with padding, hence the soft. We shared our berth with a nice Chinese woman, I'm assuming she was chinese because we were heading to Shanghai and she spoke Mandarin, I'm assuming it was Mandarin, because we couldn't really verbally communicate. That being said she, as well as everyone else we have met on our train travels, was very friendly and helpful. You'd be surprised how well you can communicate without words; just body language, hand signs and a few grunts.

So the seemingly long train ride went pretty fast. We spent a couple hours watching a movie on the laptop, a few hours reading and actually managed to get a decent night's sleep. Unfortunately, and part of why I'm typing this sitting on a plane and not another train, although the trains are nonsmoking, that really just seems to mean, well, absolutely nothing (and luckily it was also about the same price to fly). People smoked at the end of the train cars, without windows it doesn't really help, especially with the ventilation system circulating the smoke throughout the train. I can't imagine what it would have been like when they allowed smoking on airplanes. It's interesting, Abby and I have managed to overcome not taking hot showers, using toilets that are "a little scary" and wearing the same few outfits day after day, but I'm not sure we'll ever be ok with cigarette smoke. But again, as we seem to say when are in less than ideal situations on this trip, "hey, it could be a lot worse", so I'm not really complaining, just describing.

I digress, Shanghai was our first experience being in mainland China (Hong Kong seems more like NYC than anything we've seen in or around China) and it took some work. The metro system, thankfully, is quite extensive and is in both English and Chinese, it and a few restaurants are about the only places you will see things not solely in Chinese characters. That brings us to our first dinner. We were staying a little out of the main tourist areas so as we were staring at our menu, completely in Chinese with only a few pictures, we knew we were in for a treat. After some pointing, some head shaking from our waitress and the small circle of other waitstaff trying to help she managed to find a gentleman, who I think was just passing by, who spoke enough english to help us order. We dined on boiled fish that made our lips tingle. Something was lost in translation. Leaving the restaurant Abby and I couldn't help but to laugh at the situation, as well as realizing we'd have to be a little more prepared for future dining outings, luckily things have continued to improve.

The next morning we slept in (now that the highs are in the teens, 40* F, there isn't a need to get out early to beat the heat) and headed to the famous area along the Huangpu River called 'The Bund'. We spent a few hours walking along the river and taking in the sights of central Shanghai. One thing you can't help but notice is the sheer amount of people. It started in Hong Kong, but you seem to overlook it since it's such a small area. However in Shanghai everywhere you walk it's just a mass of people. Walking down the street is an experience and cramming all those people (including us) into a subway car is truly a sight. Abby and I realized that the country of China, roughly the same area as the US, has 1 billion more people than the US, it's unreal.

Abby and Me in Shanghai

Across the Huangpu

The following day we headed back into the central area and visited the Shanghai Museum, an amazing building in the middle of People's Square full of all types of art from calligraphy to furniture and covering much of China's history. After touring the museum we wondered through People's Square actually enjoying the winter-like weather. Walking around Shanghai Abby and I were a little surprised how modern it felt, we weren't expecting dirt roads with wooden buildings, but I'm not sure we thought we would be surrounded by stunning new architecture and a state-of-art metro system, even though we saw a man with a live chicken in the subway terminal (how's that for east meets west?).

For our last full day in Shanghai we decided to get in a much needed run. It had been a few too many days since our last so we decided to head to Shanghai's Century Park. It's a large beautiful park right in the heart of the city. I got plenty of stares and at least one camera phone photo as I rode the metro in my running shorts, with everyone else in their down jackets. The weather was actually great for a run and Abby and I really enjoyed running through the almost empty park. They charge 10 Yuan (about $1.50) to enter, so it's very well maintained and that as well as the chilly weather probably explains why it wasn't crowded. Either way, it was perfect for us.

Then thanks to our hostel writing out some menu items in chinese and some pointing we managed to have a successful dinner at a local dumpling and noodle place and got up the following morning bound for Beijing.


Photography Workflow: Publishing

It's taken me a little while to get this post up, mainly because I think it's the weakest part of the workflow (which I'm trying my best to improve) and a little because of continued issues with China's censoring of Blogger (I don't think I'm going to stop complaining about this until I'm out of the country).  Anyway, here it is:

Once I have completed the processing of my photos, including keywords and titles/descriptions I post them to Flickr.  Currently I am using Lightroom's Publishing feature that allows uploading directly to Flickr within Lightroom.  I am also working with Jeffrey's "Export to Flickr" Lightroom Plugin, an enhanced Publishing plugin that provides a little more flexibility, but still not enough for me to be completely satisfied with publishing to the internet.

I have chosen Flickr due to it's strong market share in the online photo world.  I think Picasa Web (also blocked in China, see I can't help myself) is an excellent and free alternative (you can get a free Flickr account, but you can only display 200 photos and a few other limitations), but I think the Flickr community is larger and more established.

The Flickr and Lightroom integration allows for the publishing of photos along with their metadata (specifically keywords and location/GPS data).  I've really enjoyed being able to view the photos on a map as a way of tracking our travels.  A few of the shortcomings with the built in Flickr publisher are the inability to have a photo in more than one photo set (or group) without having to upload the photo multiple times, this is remedied with the Jeffrey's plugin thankfully.  However the largest drawback is anytime a photo is modified, even metadata updates like keywords, the photo must be re-uploaded, this has become the bane of my workflow.  Once I have tagged a photo and posted it to our blog I cannot make any keyword changes or else it will break the photo on the blog, you may have seen some photos disappear from the blog occasionally, I think they are all correctly displaying now.

Once the photos have been uploaded to Flickr they are hosted there and then displayed on our blog.  Flickr doesn't provide an easy way of posting multiple photos to a blog so we use an online app called Includr, which allows us to easily select multiple photos.  The nice thing about using Flickr as the host rather than publishing them to Picasa Web (Blogger's default image host) too is that clicking on an image in the blog takes you directly to the image on Flickr, allowing you to view the photo's title and description as well as any other metadata about the photo.

So getting the photos online is handled solely in Lightroom.  However the process to get a photo onto the blog involves Lightroom, Flickr, Includr and Blogger as well as some manual copying and pasting, definitely not my style.  There you have it, the publishing workflow.  Overall it's rather cumbersome and time consuming, but without it you wouldn't have any pictures to look at when you should be working.

For more info on the other aspects of my workflow, check the main post for links: Photography Workflow


Delightful Days in Hong Kong

After returning from Halong Bay we spent a quick overnight in Hanoi and left on a flight the following morning for Hong Kong. Love it or hate it, Hong Kong is impressive. The most vertical city in the world is an amazing sight. The skyline is truly unbelievable and the luxury cars cruising the streets kept Ross in awe (something like 2 Lamborginis, a handful of Bentleys and countless high-end germans, according to Ross).

After checking into our matchbox hotel room we made our way down to the Avenue of The Stars on our first night in the city to watch the skyline light up with the nightly light show that is put on.

Spotlessly clean Hong Kong hosts a very impressive MTR (mass transit railway) and we were able to cruise around the city easily, although a bit crammed at times. You can't forget you are in one of the most densely populated areas of the world when riding the subway at rush hour. We stayed in the Kowloon area, across from Hong Kong Island and on our first full day in the city we took the MTR over to HK Island and then took the Peak Tram up to catch the vistas from Victoria Peak. After checking out the views from the Peak we enjoyed a traditional lunch of hot noodle wanton soup and milk tea and then took a hike on the Peak Trail that circles the mountain. One of the greatest things we found about Hong Kong was that although it has the big city feel, the outdoors and hiking trails are all close by.

Back down from the Peak we took a walk through Hong Kong Park and the bird aviary there, cruised around Central and then hit up the Hong Kong Brewery for a beer and some peanuts. Rounding off a great day we made are way north in Kowloon so Ross could find a part for his tripod (I think he was as excited just wandering through the electronics and camera shops as when he actually found what he was looking for) and stumbled upon a delicious Chinese dinner of dumplings, fried rice, and cup after cup of hot tea. It was truly a delightful day!


Hong Kong really has the East meets West feel and we enjoyed a few luxuries, clean drinking water, great coffee shops, and every kind of restaurant you can imagine. We have been staying in mostly guesthouses that prepare food for you so I was very excited to go grocery shopping and get a few staples we have been missing, mostly oatmeal and peanut butter.

On our second full day we decided to head out of the city to Lantau Island by ferry and hike up some of those hiking trails I mentioned earlier. We were planning on doing two stages of the Lantau trail and hiking up both Sunset and Lantau Peak but the weather had something else in mind for us. We got to the trailhead early and started walking with a little fog, but after about an hour of climbing the fog got so thick you couldn't see more than a few feet in front of you. We got to the top of Sunset Peak and then with the rain starting to fall made the decision to turn back. We ended up hiking back to the ferry pier and cruised back to Kowloon. Without a view it was still a nice walk and gives Hong Kong extra points in my book as a city. Just a stones throw away it seems hard to imagine that you could find trails like we were on in such a big city. Cold and tired we made it back to our room to shower up and then hit up a great little coffee shop famous for their lattes (see the swan below) and enjoyed an afternoon of catching up on the computer and reading. In an attempt to repeat our delicious meal the night before we found a great dumpling noodle restaurant and dined on more steamed dumplings and noodles. I think I am going to like eating out in China.

Lantau Pano


Chili Dumplings, Bok Choy, Chow Mein

We had a great stay, but short since we were bound for mainland China. We booked an overnight train to Shanghai. Enjoying the Western amenities I even had a Starbucks (in their Christmas cups) at the HK train station since our train was delayed for a few hours. It felt quite luxurious and it's one of the most Christmas like things I have done.

Christmas Cup

I am sitting now on board our Shanghai bound train and I am excited to say that snow is on the ground and we have officially reached a winter climate, looks like we will get a white Christmas in China!



We got our first taste of communist censorship in China.  It seems the Chinese government blocks several websites, including Blogger, our blog host, so we are having to post by email.  Our posts might be a little light for the next few weeks until we leave (or I find a way to thwart their plans to keep us from blogging).


Hanoi & Halong Cruising

We left Hue, taking our first plane flight in awhile, which felt quite luxurious, and headed north to spend a few days in the capitol of Vietnam, Hanoi. We arrived to cooler temperatures, yippee, and enjoyed a couple days of sightseeing around Hanoi while we arranged our tour of Halong Bay. Back to the hustle and bustle of scooters and loads of traffic in Hanoi we enjoyed the local specialty Bun Cha for lunch everyday, an amazing cold noodle dish served with papaya, fresh herbs, and pork meatballs marinated in fish sauce with a huge bowl of fresh garlic and red peppers to add.

We visited 'Uncle Ho' at the national mausoleum, a very interesting experience that leaves no question that you are in a communist country. They take the viewing of their past leader very seriously, no cameras allowed inside, no standing on the grass, and guards at every turn. They line people up in rows of two, ask people to remove hats and sunglasses and quiet people if they talk. We happened to be behind a group of vietnamese tourists while visiting and you could tell that it was special for them to be there and that they had a lot of respect for Ho Chi Minh. It feels a little strange to view a dead person, even if he is well preserved and kept under glass, he looked very small and a little orange, but an experience nonetheless.

While touring Hanoi we arranged for a two night excursion out to Halong Bay, the bay features thousands of limestone karsts and isles in various sizes and shapes. One day of cursing on a "junk boat" with a night on board, and one day of hiking on Cat Ba Island (the largest island in the bay) followed by overnight at a hotel was on the agenda. Halong Bay looks like something out of a sci-fi movie, and with the cloudy gray skies we had on our visit it really had an mystical feel to it. I will let the pictures tell the story, but it is a beautiful place to visit and we enjoyed our night on the boat chatting with fellow travelers and having some fresh seafood. We visited a cave, went kayaking, Ross did some flips off the boat, and we slept peacefully out on the water. The following day we hiked up to a lookout in Cat Ba National Park and spent a quiet day walking around sleepy Cat Ba Island.

Our visit was fun and definitely something cool to see, but the downside of Halong Bay is that it is filled with people doing exactly what you are. Junk boats abound and throngs of tourists visit so it is hard to feel like it is an authentic experience. That aside it is beautiful and I would say visit, just be prepared for a very touristy experience.

More Sights from Hue, Vietnam

Dragon Boat Cruise