Pimp Your Pimped Laptop Case with Aperture

by Micah Walter

Back in March a photographer by the name of Chase Jarvis posted a how-to video on YouTube.com, where he showed off his customized laptop case for location assignments. In the video, Chase and his assistant explain an easy way to set up a Pelican 1490 laptop case along with a 15" MacBook Pro and two 160Gig LaCie Rugged external hard drives.

The end result is a pretty cool location rig, prefect for big production shoots where you might have to show off your work as you shoot to an art director or your client. Not only does the rig offer a nicely protected from the elements laptop solution, but it also offers the potential to have a mirrored onsite backup of your work as you go. This type of redundancy is essential on a big shoot like this, and it got me thinking. How could I set this up using Aperture?

So, take a look at the video above, read through his blog post, and be sure to check out Chase's amazing portrait photography. When you are finished, come back here and finish reading my thoughts pertaining to Aperture. Of course, I have yet to actually set something like this up myself, so any thoughts you might have would be greatly appreciated!

Here is the link to the post on Chase's blog. http://chasejarvis.com/blog/2007/03/photography-laptop-case-aka-pimp-your.html

One of the first things that came to mind when I watched this video was that Aperture really has no obvious means for importing a shoot to two different physical locations at the same time. However, there are a few ways around this.

First of all, you can use Aperture's Vault system to backup your shoot. While the vault wont give you an immediate duplicate copy on import, you can update your vault as you work, without much trouble. If you keep the vault updated as you shoot, there shouldn't be too much downtime while waiting for images to copy from one place to the next. Hopefully in the next version of Aperture, the vault will run entirely in the background, giving you the ability to continue working on your images while they import.

But lets, back up here a moment (no pun intended). How is our Aperture library going be set up in the first place? Well, for a big shoot like this, especially one where you might have a client leaning over your shoulder, it would make good sense to start with a fresh Aperture library. This has many advantages. Not only will your client only be able to view the images pertaining to the shoot at hand, but Aperture (especially on a MacBook Pro) will run a little faster.

If you set up your clean library on one of the external drives you will have plenty of room to work and when your assignment is finished, you can simply merge the shoot into your larger library back at your home or office, and then shelve the external drive as a permanent backup. Chase even mentions that he incorporates the drive as a line item on his invoice, and delivers the drive to the client for their own safe keeping off-site. Great idea!

So, with your Aperture library set up on drive A, you can easily use the Vault to create a mirror copy on drive B, so long as you are using a completely managed library. To me, this is the most elegant way to work. There may be a small amount of downtime while backing up your vault as you go, but I would think it would be pretty manageable. Just remember to keep an eye on the vault indicator and make sure it is "black" meaning backed up, at all times.

If the downtime IS an issue, here is a possible alternative. You can use another application such as Image Capture or PhotoMechanic to import your images to both hard drives at once. Once you have done this, you can have Aperture import the shots from one of the two locations as Referenced masters, leaving the original images in their current location. With this setup you can choose to keep your Aperture library on your laptop's internal hard drive, or one of the two external drives. Now you have a duplicate copy on import, and your images are referenced in Aperture's library.

The downside to this method is that it is sort of a two step process on import, and that could take extra time. Also, you will probably want to use the vault or some other backup application to backup the Aperture library in order to protect your metadata and any work you are doing on your images in the field. I also like the first method a little better because you end up with a single file containing all of your digital assets and metadata.

I had also thought about setting the two drives up as a RAID pair using Disk Utility, but this means that those two drives are paired together forever, and that would limit my ability to remove one for storage or delivery to a client. However, it would solve the immediate problem of backup on the fly. So, it is still something to investigate.

I would be really interested to hear if any of you have another solution, or have tried something similar in the field. I imagine there is someone out there who has a cool rsync command line figured out or a simple AppleScript or Automator workflow. Are there any other mods you might add to Chase's case?


Brad Immanuel
2007-05-22 12:44:33
Interesting dilemma. I don't have much to add, except that a mirrored RAID can be split apart with AppleRAID2. A great overview of what you can do is here:


In the mirrors section of the article it talks about splitting out a disk from a mirror as a backup. I have done this a few times and it works well. Ironically you should make a backup before doing this. ;-)

Scott Little
2007-05-25 07:26:04
I think that the RAID idea is the best and seemless, but you would need to alter the scenario a bit. If you kept the two drives that go in the pack as a standard working set that is part of the kit, then always just use a third drive for each of the shoots that you do and simply do an export to that third drive (when you have the time and power) that drive can be the one that serves as the backup or client delivery.
2007-05-26 23:46:04
I'm a sysadmin so I'll throw in another vote for RAID, though HW raid this time. If you grab yourself a couple of raid enclosures that will do the mirroring for you, you will improve your throughput (you're not writing the data twice, once to each drive), and if you need to take one of the drives out and use it somewhere else, there you go. Stuff it into another enclosure. Then you can't immediately just "use" the drive anywhere you need to (separate from its pair), but you gain the instant gratification of a little more flexibility in mirroring. It really isn't that expensive anymore.


2007-05-27 08:15:54
Would something like that fit in the case? Any links we can look at?
2007-05-28 22:53:03
Micah: Drrr .... I hadn't really associated Chase's tutorial with the whole bit about raiding drives together. After reviewing the video again, yeah, it's going to be tough to find an enclosure that does two drives laying flat (side-by-side). That said, it may exist :)

I was thinking more about what I'm using at home (and on the road currently). My oh-so-hot setup currently involves throwing the laptop, misc lighting equipment, the drive array and a camera into a backpack along with enough power cables and adapters to hang yourself with in 21 countries. That pelican case is looking better and better.


2007-05-28 23:01:29
Here's what I use, for reference. Using the somewhat more ruggedized drives from LaCie is another big plus for working in the field. Plus, with two actual enclosures, you have two of everything, and not just the hard drives themselves.