Photography Laptop Case (aka Pimp Your Laptop Case)

PROBLEM: As a pro photographer specializing in ‘location-based’ advertising images (which is photo-speak for shooting in-the-field instead of in-studio), I often face the challenge of shooting under conditions that do not allow for the comforts of Mac Pros and Cinema Displays to review images, download cards, or shoot direct to the hard drive. (We often have to helicopter into locations, are out in the remote without option at generator, or find ourselves in places where speed and efficiency are key.)

SOLUTION: As a solution to this problem–and in the theme of ‘do-it-yourself’–my team and I recently developed a cool, custom laptop case for addressing these needs using simple, durable, and readily-available materials. Today, we end up using this setup a fair bit and I thought that many in our community might benefit from a quick instructional video (above) highlighting how to put their own one case together for cheap. Hopefully, pro shooters find this a nice compromise for those times when you can’t get your big-boy computers on location, and amateurs find this a great solution for taking their laptop along for the ride.

Below you’ll see a couple snapshots of Scott, my pal and Digital Assitant whiz, using our case on location in Jackson Hole/Grand Targhee, WY, at an REI shoot last week…

…As well as a couple images from the shoot we were downloading and reviewing at the time.

Anyway, this thing is pretty slick and really easy to make. If you have questions, post a comment or drop a note and I’ll holler back when I have a minute. Thanks!

RSS readers click here to see the video.

169 Responses to Photography Laptop Case (aka Pimp Your Laptop Case)

  1. Tyler Maddox March 28, 2007 at 7:40 am #

    Great Job! I have had a design rolling around in my head for the same thing. Spare drives, battery’s and shade. I went to the car battery place and picked up a battery from a golf cart. It’s about a third of the size of a car battery. A couple of alligator clips that run to a female cig lighter and then a cheap inverter and you’ve got all day power! also makes an adapter for laptops that would be smaller and might look a little better in front of a client. I would love to hear more about how you pack all your equipment. I am constantly changing how I pack all my location gear and can’t seem to find that perfect fit. Great blog Chase!!

  2. delphaio March 28, 2007 at 9:25 am #

    Chase, this is sweet. I actually dropped my motorcycle once with my pelican attached to the back. My bike was trashed (as was my wrist and collar bone) but I’ll be damned the Powerbook inside was FINE, even though it went 40 yards down the street.

  3. Chase Jarvis March 28, 2007 at 7:41 pm #

    Tyler: Thanks for the props. Great idea on your part for “all day power” as you put it. Curious, is that more efficient (price, weight, etc) than, say, three spare computer batteries (say at approx 3 hours each)? I visited but couldn’t get much info, $, etc. We typically don’t do too any image manipulation on the computer in the field (power suck). Battery power (and the computer in general) is mostly used to review a handful of images and download lots of cards, so we don’t really need as much power as you might think. (although golf cart battery is genius!)

    Also, great idea for another blog entry here: How We Pack Our Gear. We do pack it often and ship it all over the place. I’ve been asked about it a bunch of times. Consider that one “coming soon”. If you email me off list here at and send me your address, I’ll have the office mail you a Chase T-shirt (see for the great idea! Many thanks.

  4. Chase Jarvis March 28, 2007 at 7:45 pm #

    Hey Delphaio. Great point about Pelican cases. I should have done more in the vid clip to highlight how freaking durable those things are. I have already received a lot of email about the case and some other details, so I’ll probably need to do a follow up entry with some more specifics. Suffice it to say that the Pelican cases are burly, waterproof, and the one we use in the vid, the 1490, even has built in locks. Way cool. Sorry about your broken moto, wrist and collar bone, but I’m glad that at least the Powerbook t was fine, even after tumbling a hundred feet down the street! Thanks for the note.

  5. Tyler Maddox March 28, 2007 at 9:52 pm #

    SWEET!! Chase merch, I love it. I’ve had a Chase Jarvis magnet on my fridge for several years.

    I see your point on the price, and portability of the batteries, but running 2 external drives that get their power from the laptop and running it in the snow on full brightness do you really get 3 hours? I also like to shoot tethered and would have to stop the shoot right when things are getting good for a quick reboot (which isn’t very quick on my machine). The golf cart battery is certainly less than ideal, but the guy at the store gave it to me for free, and I’ve used it a few times and it worked like a charm. I’ve always thought that the digital camera battery would be the best for this sort of thing because it is so universal. Guys are using them instead of Quantums for flash power and you can charge just about anything with the right adapter. Can’t wait for the gear post.

  6. JT March 28, 2007 at 11:20 pm #

    How do you daisy chain the Lacie drives? Is that something they do automatically or did you mod ‘em? Thanks.

  7. Scott Piner March 29, 2007 at 9:30 am #

    Wow! Very slick setup. There does not seem to be much air flow for the two hard drives or the laptop. How do you keep the gear cool?

  8. Jacob March 29, 2007 at 12:11 pm #


    This is way cool. I’ve always wondered who did shoots for things like the REI catalog shots, as I admire the work (that, and I’m always trying to reverse-engineer the lighting). Now I know!

    What fantastic business to be in. I’ll see you in 10 years when I make a name for myself….

  9. Chase Jarvis March 29, 2007 at 1:35 pm #

    JT asked about daisy chaining drives…

    There are two bus-powered firewire 400 ports on each drive. We just connect the two drives to each other using one firewire port on each; and then we connect one of the drives using it’s second firewire port to the MacBook Pro’s firewire port and both show up on the Desktop. No modification necessary, just a couple of firewire cables cleverly strung through/under/behind the foamy rubber laptop tray.

  10. Chase Jarvis March 29, 2007 at 1:43 pm #

    scott pliner asked about drives and computer getting hot…

    Great question, Scott. Typically, our challenge when working in the out of doors on location isn’t keeping things cool, it is keeping things warm enough (hence the Little Hotties adhesive warmers for maximizing charge on batteries). For the record, we ARE aware of potential overheat issues, and we keep an eye on it, but have as of now (after about 8 months using this setup) not had ANY issues with this. Just yesterday while riding in a car downloading cards (for 2 hours straight) the fan in the MacBook Pro came on for the first time ever, but nothing approached notable heat levels. In that instance, and when we work in warm conditions, we’d just tweak the computer off the the side a little for air flow. I think the fact that there’s a fair bit of space around each drive, coupled with NOT an airtight seal and rubber to displace the heat keeps things in a relatively happy state.

  11. Chase Jarvis March 29, 2007 at 1:55 pm #

    A few people have emailed asking what equipment I use. Currently for commercial applications, I’m all digital. I use the Nikon D2x platform for non-strobed action stuff and the Hasselblad H2D/H3D for strobed stuff. I use Profoto lighting (7b when on remote location and 7a and Acute when in studio or near a plug). Oh, and tons of Apple computing power.

    I still occasionally shoot a Hassie 503cm system for cruising around Paris or to shoot fine art stuff…

  12. Carson Blume March 29, 2007 at 9:03 pm #

    I am f*ing building this in my studio right now for production!

  13. Carson Blume March 29, 2007 at 9:42 pm #

    Let me rephrase, I have been working on this product development for 6 weeks now!

  14. Carson Blume March 30, 2007 at 7:30 pm #

    You should take a look at what I have going on, it is a whole line of nifty stuff for the Professional Photographer, things we really need! Shoot me an eMail if you are interested.

  15. Pamela April 12, 2007 at 6:29 am #

    This is just what I need… but I have the 17″ MBPro, is there a case for it?

    Thanks for sharing!

    Hoof Pix Sport Horse Photography

  16. Chase Jarvis April 15, 2007 at 12:00 pm #

    Pamela: Yes, apparently there is a version of the Pelican 1490 that works with the 17″ MacBook (Pro). Although I haven’t personally tested it, this link: seems to do the trick with the pluckable foam. It might compromise the CF card storage slots we use on the right side of the computer tray, but maybe it doesn’t. If you pick one up, please post your results here so we can keep this updated, as I’m sure lots of people are in your shoes. Thanks!

  17. Chase Jarvis April 19, 2007 at 2:04 pm #

    If you linked direct to this post from somewhere else, you might want to check out the follow up post with more detailed information, shopping lists, FAQs, etc. It’s posted at:

  18. Paul April 19, 2007 at 2:08 pm #

    Excellent idea!!!

  19. Anonymous May 23, 2007 at 11:26 pm #

    hey man, love the idea – i’m poaching it.
    i heard recently of someone mounting a tri-pod mount to the bottom of the pelly case creating a stand up work station for rough terrain.
    Have you ever seen/done this?
    just wondering what might be the best way to affix the adapter.
    also…. can you charge while the comp is in the case?
    might have to drill out a slot for the plug?

  20. Chase Jarvis May 29, 2007 at 10:03 pm #

    Anonymous – please poach away! That’s why we posted it.

    Affixing a tripod mount to the case would be cool if you could rely on it being sturdy. I can conceive of mouting something to the inside of the case and drilling thru the bottom to attach to the tripod for better stability. The case looses it’s waterproofness unless you putty/melt/caulk the hole, but it could be worth it and a nice addition. We’re typically on the move so it makes less sense for me, but I can see it being the cat’s meow for some folks.

    We don’t currently charge the MBP in the case, but prop it up to do so… If you figure a sweet mod to accomplish an in-the-case charge, lemme know!

  21. tommysdad May 31, 2007 at 4:39 pm #

    Hi,I found your site via,I’m glad I did this case is just what I’m looking for.I’ve sourced all the gear here in the U.K. and will be puttin it all together when I get paid from my next job.What do you do when the Lacie drives are full?, just swap them out?.I picture a storage room full of Lacie rugged drives:).Thanks for the inspiration Chase,I like your style.

  22. Chase Jarvis June 2, 2007 at 10:08 am #

    hey there tommysdad: The 160 GB Lacie drives (mirrored) are only to get us thru one day of shooting out in the field. Nightly, when we return to our hotel, we always download days onto another set of larger backup drives (I’ve shot a lot of images, but haven’t to date shot more than 160gb in a day…) . In a pinch we can use these drives for more than a day, but we’re backup nazis – they are really just intended to get us thru short spells on location. If you’re not familar with my posts on “Backing up your images” you should check them out – I think there are some under “popular posts” in the sidebar to my blog…

    Best, cj

  23. tommysdad June 2, 2007 at 10:47 am #

    Back up nazi’s , I know what you mean Chase.After a shoot I back up to my home PC ,MBP and onto DVD.The guys & gals at the design studio that I work for then back up to a 1T+ network drive, so there’s always RAW files somewhere if anything fails.I read your post on backup, it wasn’t “under popular” for me,,back up,back up and back up somemore!! ,I lost important files once,never again!!.


  24. Blair June 15, 2007 at 1:45 pm #

    Just saw this come up on my RSS reader and I instantly thought about this project. Basis for version 2.0? I think so.

  25. Chase Jarvis June 18, 2007 at 9:18 am #

    Blair: OK, that is saweeet. Looks really nice for locations demanding less toughness, although we’d have to hold out for a deeper version to get our hard drives, extra batts, card reader in there (totally core components to our design). I’ll drop those guys a line and see if they have seen the vid and might have something in the works – or if not, we’ll ask them to get one started.

  26. Blair June 20, 2007 at 10:28 am #

    Glad you thought it was as cool as I did. Be sure and post some pictures of what you come up with.

  27. Wyatt July 20, 2007 at 10:04 pm #

    your system is excellent. i think i’m going to get one too now. but i came across this case and thought you might appreciate it and be able to use it.;_id=12400

    crazy huh?


  28. Hugh Macdonald August 15, 2007 at 4:59 am #

    This looks fantastic – I’m in the process of slowly getting bits and pieces together to do this kind of thing…. (I’m occasionally on location doing band or film-set photography)

    I bought a couple of Lacie Rugged drives recently, and I suspect they’ve changed the design recently… The ones I got ( only have a single FW 400 port on the back… They do also have a FW 800 (which my laptop doesn’t have) and USB… I’m thinking that I could get away with having one plugged into FW and one into USB, but don’t yet know if they’ll mirror happily like that.

    I’m also a sucker for data security…. My desk hard drives are a pair of mirrored Lacie 600Gb drives…

    Anyway, thanks for all the interesting articles…. Being a bit of a geek, I’m particularly interested in the new tech series….

  29. Chase Jarvis August 15, 2007 at 10:54 am #

    Hugh: thanks for posting! Given your dilemma with the different Lacie’s, I suggest just FW 400 to your computer and daisy chaining the two drives together with the FW 800.

    Keep coming back -and glad you’re a geek (us too ;) we’ve got more Chase Jarvis TECH stuff lined up….

  30. Hugh Macdonald August 16, 2007 at 12:33 am #

    Ooooh – I didn’t think of that one – good call….

    I just tried it, and it appears that the bus power doesn’t make it through to the second drive…. But if I use the USB -> power cable that came with the drives for the second one, they both appear….

    It still means that I’ve got two things plugged into my laptop, but at least the data is all going down the same FW connection….

  31. Ty August 17, 2007 at 11:28 am #

    Wow, excellent! Just one quick question, though. I have always heard (and could be wrong) that heat is what destroys battery life. Are you just using the warmers in cold locations, or is the old theory of heat null and void nowadays?

    Can’t wait to see more from you!


  32. Chase Jarvis August 18, 2007 at 4:17 pm #

    Hugh: you should get power thru your fw 800… we do it all the time around here. Something must be amuck…

  33. Chase Jarvis August 18, 2007 at 4:18 pm #

    Ty: hmmm. good question. I’m no electrical engineer, so I’d always default to those guys to answer a question like that. That said, we have not experienced battery degradation to a degree beyond normal…

  34. Erik Clineschmidt September 7, 2007 at 12:49 pm #

    Thank you for the tips here and for taking the time, Chase.

    Appreciate the link on where to get a Pelican case for my 17″ Powerbook (earlier post this string). Ordered one and with 2 rugged LaCie’s already in hand…will soon have one nice and durable set up.

    Bainbridge Isl, WA

  35. Dave September 18, 2007 at 10:22 am #


    Do you bring this set up with you on a plane?
    What about checking it?

  36. Chase Jarvis September 18, 2007 at 7:36 pm #

    Erik: LInk for 17″ case…

  37. Chase Jarvis September 18, 2007 at 7:37 pm #

    Dave: my assitant often carries it on the plane OR we check it not on it’s own, but inside larger cargo, bags, boxes, etc. (but always split up the hard drives if they’re loaded with data!!)

  38. MacGyver September 29, 2007 at 4:58 am #

    Chase – are the two firewire drives setup as a mirrored RAID or two separate drives?

    Any update from Erik or whoever else has the 17″ MBPro and the Pelican 1495? How has it worked out setting it up like the one Chase has? Been thinking of doing a similar setup for my on-location model shoots and I use a 17″ Powerbook.

  39. Chase Jarvis September 29, 2007 at 12:18 pm #

    MacGyver: we mirror the drives manually so as to take any potential softward glitches out of the system.

    Scott let’s the OS count the file numbers in each folder or directory to ensure each time that the right number of files get xfered btwn drives.

    Nothing yet on the 17″ other than people are doing it….

  40. Erik Clineschmidt October 30, 2007 at 11:02 am #

    My 1495 just arrived (have to give MacYummies a plug for their great customer service) and I cut the foam last night.

    Just big enough for the power cord to stick out one side, with your firewire cord out the other. It does seem to be a little warm, so I might cut some air flow holes.

    This is the bomb! Have a club shoot Halloween night so it’ll come in handy.


  41. Wayne Rainey November 2, 2007 at 3:41 pm #

    Just ordered the 1490 and will be curious how the cuts for heat work out since I am based in Phoenix. I may start packing extra blu ice. Let me know and or post a pic if you can.

  42. Anonymous December 28, 2007 at 2:10 pm #

    Any update from Erik or whoever else has the 17″ MBPro and the Pelican 1495? How has it worked out setting it up like the one Chase has? Been thinking of doing a similar setup for my on-location model shoots and I use a 17″ Powerbook. link :mp3 indir

  43. Shaun Krisher January 4, 2008 at 9:19 pm #

    Hi Chase,

    I am writing a post on my blog about setting up your camera and laptop for client review. However, I haven’t found a software solution that I feel is particularly elegant. I am a canon shooter. Right now, I am using the canon software to download the images to a folder, and then having Bridge with the same folder open, and clients push forward through the frames manually.

    What do you use, software-wise and what do you like about it?


    oh, and check out my blog for new photographers:

  44. diziler January 13, 2008 at 8:55 am #

    Thanks for Work, good achievement

  45. Robert January 13, 2008 at 9:12 pm #

    Chase, nice work on this. I’ve been using the 1490 myself for a while but haven’t taken the time to “hardwire” anything. I would love a photo or two of the wire routing that you’ve done just to save myself trial and error of cutting and not liking :-) The video does a good job of showing the tidiness but I’m curious about the routing under/behind the tray.

    To others considering the case it really is the best protection if you’re moving you laptop from point a to b.

    FYI to all – I use the SanDisk Extreme Firewire card reader and it fits in that same pocket as the USB version in the video.

    Thanks for an excellent blog.

  46. Chris McEniry February 4, 2008 at 4:47 pm #


    I am shooter and one my assistants sent me to your site to check out your tech stuff as we are getting ready to be on a month long job shooting the Top 40 pro tennis players in the world and will be mixing studio and location. Like you, I shoot with a Hasselblad system for strobe (P45+ back) and Profoto, we use Canon and the new Mark III rips. Anyway your info has been super helpful so I thought I might try to give back and I think it is important to have pros willing to share tech ideas.

    We shoot on location quite a bit and just finished working with a top British photographer who had the most amazing Pelican case for field photography I have yet seen. Your system rocks for down and dirty card dumping and file backup in the field. Your system is also quite cheaper. The system I am referring to is called the location station and is made by Tidy Pixels in England, They have pictures and pricing on the site, and you can customize to your needs. What they don’t show and you have to see in person, is that underneath the Wacom tablet are 2 flat, roughly 8×10″ super thin 5+ hour long life batteries, with room for a third if you want to add it. I wrote down the Manufacturer of the batteries name, and searched for them on the internet to see if I could go around Tidy pixels to get one and make it go in a 1490 case, making a CJ Inc/Tidy Pixels hybrid. No such luck. Based on the response I get from this post I will post the name of the battery maker. Let’s just say I work and travel alot and always look for the best, much like yourself and this was bomb (just way $$$ through Tidy Pixels). Anyway, they also have GTech drives rather than Lacie Rugged’s. I have been using the rugged’s in the field and love them, but the Brits are swearing by the Gtechs and I won’t lie and say Lacie has never crashed on me. Also they shot tethered with P45+ and never slowed down and shot for hours, the hood on the case is incredible and the case can be put on adapter from Mathews that movie guys use to hold monitors. Lastly, everything was properly routed and bused together in special cut foam that was great and these guys were making comps in the field in minutes with the Wacom tablet. Really cool and I really want one, just don’t want to spend the chedda. Just want to make a bastard version of yours and theirs.
    Thanks for making a blog for people that actually work in this field.

  47. Chris McEniry February 4, 2008 at 5:15 pm #

    I am

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  49. Tian May 24, 2008 at 3:06 am #

    Solid list you’re building here! I run a photography blog out of Cincinnati, OH. My posts cover a variety of things ranging from recent shoots to photoshop tips. Feel free to add it to the list if it fits…

  50. Blake B June 7, 2008 at 4:34 am #


    Are you using standard 2.5″ drives in your set up, or have you moved up to the new SSDs (solid state drives)?

    Just recently upgraded to SSD on my laptop, and the boost in battery life is unreal. Battery life aside, the boost in application performance alone was worth the extra cost. CS3 and Lightroom are both running about 50-60% faster.

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  55. Scott R. July 4, 2008 at 9:44 pm #

    Blake, this is Scott from Chase’s studio. I’d love to hear more about the setup you’re running with the solid state drives. Chase has a Mac Book Air for his travel/email machine with SSDs, which has been a great success, but it would be insufficient as the photo workhorse for a lack of ports. What computer are you using with what SS Drives? Thanks!

  56. blake August 2, 2008 at 5:41 am #

    @Scott. Using a E-systems 3090 running XP with a 40gb IDE ssd in it, with 2 external 36gb usb SATA2 ssd’s for dumping cards onto out in the field. The drives are pretty much bomb proof (already managed to drop 1 20′ from a parking garage onto asphalt, still ticking), so just a couple of cheap enclosures off E bay do the trick for the externals.

  57. Anonymous September 2, 2008 at 5:50 pm #

    Nice case. Chase, you should check out They have external batteries that last up to 8 hours for macbook pro’s. You should throw one of those bad boys in with your case.

  58. Cine September 19, 2008 at 6:39 am #


    ok jarvis, i'm lovin your videos and the work, so here is my way of showing my respect and appreciation towards your "2.0" attitude..

    since there are always more ways to pimp-up your equipment (and you seem to pay attention to details), consider this: replacing your regular macbook pro (the one you use on location) mechanical HDs with SSDs. the reasons? – improved laptop battery life (no HD spin), much higher read/write speeds vs. a 7,200rpm hard drive (up to 175MB/s read & 100MB/s sequential write), and most importantly – higher reliability (these babys have no moving parts, they are FLASH based and thus have a rating of 1500G's which basically means that no impact can ever damage your data! plus they have a rating of 1,500,000 hours MTBF which is more than any enterprise-level server drive like a WD velociraptor) the only cons are their cost and volume. the largest drives sold on as of now are 128GB and they go for… $389 after a $50 mail-in rebate ( ex. )
    for most people this is expensive, but its getting more affordable and having in mind your pro-status i dont think it will be a cash problem.

    the procedure is real simple (well, for any tech guy anyway) and since we all love video i conclude this post with a couple of clips that i hope you all find helpful, fresh, and inspiring..

    1. fastest yet macbook pro SSD boot – &

    2. a nice comprehensive DIY hard drive replacement procedure – .. there are more related links on youtube.

    3. and some HOPE for all the regural folks out there.. prices are going down!

    ok, heads up now!


    ps. i'm interested feedback so feel free to reply. take care.

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    Pimped, for $23 less!

  62. Chris Benny January 27, 2009 at 2:31 am #

    Hi Chase,

    Just wanted to say thanks for the awesome idea! I just finished building up mine today;

    I also put an external battery under the laptop to give me some more run time.

    Thanks again. All the way from Australia,


  63. Ryan E. Walters March 6, 2009 at 12:16 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this idea Chase- it was very inspiring. :)

    I have come up with a solution for 17″ Macbook Pro and two 320GB eSATA drive that also allows for external power. You can check out all of the details on my blog:

  64. Anonymous May 12, 2009 at 12:11 pm #

    Wow, I really need to build one of these for myself. Just one question though: When you said laptop tray for the case, does that come with the case or do you have to order it seperatly? Great Setup Chase.

  65. Scott R. May 12, 2009 at 12:54 pm #

    @Anon: The tray comes with the case when you buy the Pelican 1490 CC1 Case.

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    Well, we mirror the drives manually so as to take any potential softward glitches out of the system.

    Scott let’s the OS count the file numbers in each folder or directory to ensure each time that the right number of files get xfered btwn drives.

    Nothing yet on the 17″ other than people are doing it….en

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  77. Dendy P. October 7, 2010 at 8:48 pm #

    hi, chase
    i’ve been following your numerous sharing for quite a while now. it’s really great having a pro as humble as you are who shares what you did for the sake of better photography. I also wanna build my laptop case with the 1490 series. The thing is my laptop are 13″ macbookpro. which is suitable for the ‘pimp’ thing? 1490CC1 or 1490CC2 ?
    and another thing is, all the port in my MBP are in the left side, while most of the display in the pelican case are on the right side. could it be modified to the other side?
    Since i’m currently living far away from US (in south east asia), i just wanna be specific about these before i decide to buy one. looking forward for your and your team reply on this one chase, thank’s a lot. really appreciate it. (sorry for any bad english words). :)

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