The Photo/Video Travel Drive: Dartanyon’s Essential Gear

G-Tech Mini SSD that I use as a travel driveHey there y’all, Dartanyon here making a guest post appearance… In this installment of [my] Essential Gear, I’d like to talk about something I don’t leave home without: my travel drive.

 A travel drive is an external hard drive filled to the brim with the software, tools, and settings, that are so often overlooked as part of location computer setups. There are several scenarios where you may need to carry one of these, perhaps you’re traveling without a backup computer, or even without a computer at all, maybe you’re renting one on location.  I would advocate always carrying one of these drives:  A tech’s first responsibility is to be prepared, a digital eagle scout, if you will.  When things start going sideways with the computers [and they always do], everyone on set is going to be looking to you to fix it, fast, and with grace.  Want to be the hero? Hit ‘continue reading below’…

Setting up your travel drive:  For my travel drive I chose a G-Tech Mini SSD, because it’s bomb-proof, fast, offers a wide variety of connections, and is bus powered.  You have a few different ways of going about getting your drive set up:

  • Option A: You could install the software directly to the drive [via your studio computer]
  • Option B: You might place an entire cloned copy of your existing studio or travel laptop on it.
  • Option C: You may place just the installers [with their associated serial numbers] on it.

My experiences:  I have often tried to install software to an external drive [option A], some software goes for it, others don’t, some seem like they are fine with it, but once you get them out in the field they fail.  I’ve also gone the clone route on a few iterations of my travel drive [option B], but even with today’s fastest SSDs they just don’t run quickly enough, when having to access the entire OS via USB.  I’ve used this technique, it is a painfully slow process, but I should say it’s gotten the job done.  The third option [option C] is a trade off between the time to load the software to the “foreign” machine, and the fact that it will be properly installed, with all of the application support files where they need to be.

Reconciling these pros and cons, I have finally come to my perfect solution, a hybrid drive.  Two partitions, the first a clone of our Road Warrior, the second filled to the brim with custom made disk images that have the installers as well as the serial numbers.  This allows me to properly install the software if I have the time, or go into emergency mode [the cloned partition – option C] if I don’t.

What all is on the drive:

     Photo / Video Editing Essentials:

  • Aperture
  • Photoshop
  • Final Cut
  • InDesign [As a tech you have the chance to be a true hero, if you have this, and your Art Director’s computer has some sort of problem]

     Additional Requirements:

  • Coda [or some other coding app]
  • Transmit [or your favorite FTP client]
  • Compressor [or something to transcode video]
  • Motion & Color [or something to dress up video]
  • Data Rescue [or something else to help recover corrupt cards]
  • DiskWarrior 
  • iWork [or some other word processor]
  • LogMeIn [or some other backup way of getting to your studio computer]

     All the other goodies:
Part of what makes these tools so useful to us is the way that they are set up.  So you might get to a rental computer that has the software you need, but it’s laid out all wrong … making your workflow slow and clumsy.  These things have taken me a lot of smacking my hand to my head to learn.

  • Aperture presets
  • An empty Aperture library, so I can have everything laid out the way I work most effectively
  • Photohop settings/presets/brushes/workspaces
  • FinalCut preferences/export presets
  • Compressor codecs 
  • Transmit favorites
  • A fonts folder
  • A not to be underestimated my current 1000 or so, favorite tracks from iTunes.

There are other approaches and you may not need to have all of these on your drive, you may not even need a drive at all, maybe you can manage to get all of your necessary–but often forgotten widgets–via Dropbox.  [If that’s your thing I wrote up a handy little post on that a while back], or some similar cloud service, just remember you may not always have fast internet access.

Now, certainly this is a lot to keep maintained, but often I have coming out looking like the hero because I carry this with me. Take it from me, it is totally worth it. The bottom line, digital tech, a team, or just a one-man, one-woman photography powerhouse, you should always be prepared for things on your computer to go south, and hopefully you’ll have the exact solution with you to come out smelling like roses.

Your “digital” Eagle Scout – Dartanyon

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Thanks for the clear post and all, though am wondering whether you have implemented some matter of encryption of sorts in case you lose the laptop (or other drives) when travelling? Or do you think it hinders the fact having a backup drive?

Cheers, Eddo

Chip says:


These posts are really helpful. Thank you for the detail you provide.

I have a question about the libraries or catalogs. When you move the images from the field drive to the G-RAID in the hotel and then to your servers back at your office how do you manage the Aperture libraries? I use Lightroom, so I imagine the catalogs work in a similar fashion.


David says:

Apature … really???
I’m not at all surprised by anything in this post other than the mention of aperture … not knocking it, just wondering what criteria you selected Aperture over Lightroom?

Jeremy says:

Any interest in using a backup image (not a clone) of your road warrior that can be used to restore on the existing laptop drive or a replacement drive? No issues with serial numbers or installation files etc. you are back100% instead of limping along on a USB connection.

J Rainey says:

Thanks for taking the time to write up this post and reply to many of the comments! I really liked the post/comments referring to Super Duper!/Carbon Clone as that is something i am currently using. While i’m not traveling in the field with my mac, knowing that i can be fully booted and running in a matter of minutes should my internal HD fail is of the greatest peace of mind since Michael Jackson passed (much, much too far? :) )

Last time i had checked i didn’t think G-Tech offered the travel SSD’s with FireWire 800 (looks like they do, but only up to 256gb’s). Would having FW800 on a larger drive change how you use a travel drive, or would the speed still not be up to par to boot off a clone?

Dartanyon says:

J, I have access to a host of drive, for the purpose of the travel drive the 256GB suits me just fine. I wouldn’t [personally] want to mix uses with this drive, and would prefer to keep, for example, data separate.

J Rainey says:

Thanks much for explaining!

Andrew says:

great post. can you explain how to find and re-locate the application preferences? I am particularly interested in Aperture and FCP. Thanks!

Ronan says:

These are €1000 each and solid state.

Are they 100% equally compatible to a PC system?

Would two cheaper standard 2.5 inch drives still offer a reasonable solution to a less cash rich photographer if they were kept sychronised ( Like Raid 1)


Dartanyon says:


I have mentioned it in a couple of other comments, but the SSD is what I have access to that best fits the needs. You could certainly go with any external drive, but I’d make sure that it is a] reliable, and b] has as many connection types as you can get. I don’t see the advantage for a RAID in this instance, simply because this is already a backup solution, on it’s own.

Dartanyon says:

Andrew not to confuse things between the idea of a travel drive, and Dropbox, I’ll answer this over on the other post.

Andrew says:

D, thanks for your generous tutorial and sharing your professional methods. For those of us not yet working in person with a digital tech guru such as yourself, it is a great gift.

I am wondering which other post you are referring to above; as I did not see any more info/specifics on the dropbox post. if you just haven’t got to it, no worries and sorry to bug you. but if you have posted some more info on safely moving prefs to DropBox, please send the link.


Dartanyon says:


The post that I talk about using dropbox can be found here:

Andrew says:

Thanks, I found the post but not How to find and safely re-locate prefs. also I couldn’t see how to comment over there. Do you just make copies of certain preference files and drag them to dropbox? (as backup) or are you running the apps with the primary pref files in dropbox so they are always synced between your machines? (as primary and backup)

Thanks Dartanyon. As they say – a stitch in time saves nine.

Good Post. It will get very interesting now that a lot of us are purchasing Apps/Software form the Mac App Store. While our core software will be box, a lot of it will be direct download. How will that be dealt with when creating a travel drive.

Joe Pennant says:

Good stuff, with a few things I did/do differently. I preferred just putting installers & serials, for simplicity’s sake, along with prefs & presets for Photoshop and other apps . I also formatted everything as FAT32 (NOT HPFS or NTFS). I would also make sure there are installers for both Mac & PC (the whole world aint Apple-centric) and its easier to borrow a PC (or buy one if the budget allows) on remote locations. And he doesnt mention Lightroom, which most Pro’s use over Aperture, with all due respect.

Otherwise, pretty good.

Andy Mills says:

A handy post, but I am possibly going to point out a possible downside…

You will need to read and check software license(s) as many software vendors forbid the use of their associated software on more than computer at the same time, so by installing on another computer out in the field you can be in breach of the license.

And with computers you do not own, remember to uninstall the software before you give it back or the owners will be able to read any serial numbers, etc,.and copy for their own use. If this happens and the vendor finds out, your serial number can become invalidated and you may have to buy another copy.

It would be worth running something like Revo Uninstaller (windows) to uninstall software as it removes registry entries and other files and folders that are often left behind during a normal uninstall process. And if you are really paranoid, you can use a file shredder like “Eraser” (Windows, again) to wipe free space and to delete files (when you delete a file, it’s still there but its space is freed off for use by other files. As a result, if it’s not been overwritten, it can be easily recovered).

Dartanyon says:

Andy, most licenses I’ve come across will allow for 2 installations. The point of uninstalling or deleting the softwares should not be glossed over. It is an important last step and probably something I should have mentioned.

It is probably worth mentioning that most reliable rental houses will reformat the drive with a clone of their own up you returning it, they don’t want all of your silly softwares on their machines as much as you don’t.

Eliano says:

Hi Dartanyon,

how do you create a clone of our Road Warrior (I know it’s a MacBook Pro!)? I’ve a 500GB Lacie rugged: how I can do the clone of my MacBook Pro?

Thank you!

Jim says:

Eliano – I can’t speak for Dartanyon, but the best app I’ve found for creating bootable clones is Carbon Copy Cloner…

Eliano says:

Jim – thank you for your answer. But I’d like to know which kind of clone Dartanyon do on his Travel Drive.

Dartanyon says:

Eliano, actually as Jim mentioned, the software I use is Carbon Copy Cloner, you could also use Super Duper, or other such softwares.

Simon says:

Great advice Dartanyon – thanks. It is always interesting to hear what other people have as their Plan B’s & C’s… and D’s. You always pick up something you can use or hadn’t thought of.

Luke says:

Great idea. I am a long way behind you on all the backup, but some of your previous posts have prompted me to at least buy a portable drive to bring with me when I am taking pictures. I’m still a long way from using the extensive backup systems you use, but thanks for the inspiration and ideas.

DanielKphoto says:

Thanks for the tips Dartanyon!

Keri says:

Great post very informative, i’ve never thought of carrying installers with me before, i will be sorting that out tomorrow!
I always carry my 2.5″ backup drive with me if i’m leaving my laptop in a hotel, i even do it when i’m at home if my latest shots haven’t been backed up off site and i’m not a pro, not even close !

Keri – very paranoid about losing data!

niko says:

I use dropbox for that!
When i got internet, I got everything with me as well.
When I don’t have internet, I still have everything on my Mac Pro.

Tony T. says:

Great post. Quick question. Would you get the same functionality with using TimeMachine to mirror your laptop drive to a small external? You would essentially have all your applications, settings and everything. Can you boot to a drive that was mirrored with Time Machine?

Looking for a good option for someone that isn’t terribly tech savy

Dartanyon says:

@Tony Time machine creates a backup of data and settings but does not copy the OS files and to the best of my knowledge is there for not bootable. Software applications like Carbon Copy Cloner & Super Duper can make 1 step clones that are über easy to create.

DanFigPhoto says:

No guts no glory! Thanks for this Dartanyon, it reminds me to update my traveling drive/usb…speaking of usb’s, since they are so easy to lose and others to access, I encrypt my usb’s which carry valuable data…quick and easy so no matter what terminal I find my self at, I have my tools at the ready.
keep up the good work!

hs says:

Also, if I may — you wrote about your DROPBOX workflow, that “I actually set the preferences on my Studio Mac of Transmit, Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture, InDesign, and Coda [a bomb coding app] to write to the dropbox folder on that mac.”
Is that done through the Dropbox interface or some other wizardry?


Great find, will have to get myself one of these soon!

Dartanyon says:

@hs, no Dropbox wizardry, just setting the appropriate preferences to point to dropbox, via the application. It’s mostly to keep my home and office computers in sync, but work well for the travelling computers too.

hs says:

Thanks, Dartanyon. Must be nice to have digital genius such as yourself on staff. JEALOUS!

So the first partition is a CLONE — do you use SuperDuper, or what?

And the second partition is the software in case the clone doesn’t load? I’m a bit confused, as you can tell… and I’ve just spilled yogurt all over my sweater while typing this Q at my desk on the east coast :-\

Dartanyon says:

@hs Sorry about the yogurt, mate. I could use SuperDuper, but I use Carbon Copy Cloner [just always have, no particular reason]

So the reasoning is thus: Running an entire bootable operating system from an external drive, is slower than it running from inside you computer. So the clone is actually the backup in my scenario. My preference would be to have the time to use the installers to install the missing software or setting to the computer I am using …. but in an emergency I can “option-boot” the computer to the external drive, essentially bypassing the hard drive that is installed in the computer.

Ernie Pena says:

oops, just realized Dartanyon posted this, not Chase… Thanks Dartanyon!

Scott Brown says:

Great post Dartanyon! Backing up your files is crucial, but so many people forget to take backups of their apps when they travel!

eburn says:

Can you have updates as part of the installers, or do you carry only the original releases? To update after installation might not always be possible with restriction on internet connections and or speed.

Dartanyon says:

I grab either the latest full installers for things like transmit and the like, or the update disk images as they are loaded on to my desktop machine [as an example adobe downloads all those updates to a directory, before installing them]

Dave Parker says:

I like this concept and SSD drives are the way to go in the field. Price shouldn’t matter when you think about the cost if all the images go south.
Perhaps this is a silly questions but what is your “Road Warrior”? Is this a software program or is it your collection of must have programs?

Dartanyon says:

The “Road Warrior” is our name for our primary travel laptop. It’s a 17″ MBP, and it’s assorted goodies that we’ve done a couple of case videos about.

craig says:

Hey Dartanyon, with all the storm surrounding the FCP X release, I was wondering if you and your shop would be looking into a different NLE? Adobe etc…..

Do you have a page/blog of your own?


Stefan dumbleton says:

Nice article. Being a techy as well as a photog, it’s great to hear how you support the team with the right tools on the move.

Allen says:

All really great advice, definitely going to give it a go!

Only thing I would have to do different is a Much cheaper drive. Any thoughts on something like the LaCie portable drives with firewire? Really any advice on a HD that comes in Well under a grand would be sweet. S*!t, thats a good deposit on a nice lens man!

Dartanyon says:

@Allen I chose that drive because it was the most versatile of what I had available to me. Certainly it’s pricey, but the reasons I chose it are still what you want to be looking for in a drive: multiple connections, reliability, and speed. I think you will find that there are many drives out there that will fit the bill.

Allen says:

Thanks for your response!

Ernie Pena says:

Hahaha… Great advice Chase!! We did something very similar when I was working at Conde Nast in LA.

We would take a portable HD that had FW 800/400 and split it up into 3 partitions. First was a bootable clone of our standard desktop image with Adobe CS3 (at the time), FCP, Cleaner, iView Media Pro, and all the standard utility apps, and disk images of all the installers. The second was a Fat32 formatted partition for transferring files with Windows PCs. The third was a clean, blank OS X partition reserved only for data.

We found that it is imperative to separate the OS and apps from the user data. In case the drive conked out or the OS crashed, we’d almost always have access still to the partition with the user data on it. And we wouldn’t have to worry about file permissions.

Thanks again!

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Vijay says:

Your “digital” Eagle Scout – LOL nice one.. I am a s/w engg and I truly understand the feeling when your system goes south.. Nice Post Darto :)

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