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Your future life… now

HIGH-TECH IS EASIER, AND CHEAPER, THAN YOU THINK

IMAGINE A DAY WHEN everything we shoot will be automatically backed up and offloaded without our help, when all our images will automatically contain all the metadata we need to identify them, and we will have access to all our photos, all the time, from anywhere. Think it’s far off? You’re wrong. That day is here, and it’s cheaper and easier to set up than you ever would have imagined.

I wanted to know what it was like to live as much in the future as possible. So I rounded up some gear, all of it readily available and not one item costing more than $300. Then I tried it out.

The biggest surprise? How different it felt. Without the need to label, keyword, and-most important-offload and upload, I found myself freer than ever simply to shoot. My Eye-Fi card and my Buffalo LinkStation Pro, especially, quickly became indispensable. Now I can’t imagine my life as a photographer without them.

Here’s what I used, how I used it, and some extra ideas for living in the future-right now.

IMMEDIATE SHARING

When the original Eye-Fi card came out a few years back, there was plenty to get excited about: I loved the concept of automatically uploading my images to a photo-sharing site such as Flickr, but I didn’t see what the big deal was about having them autodumped to my computer. I shoot primarily in RAW, and those original cards could only upload JPEGs. And I also didn’t like that the card couldn’t discriminate-everything you shot would be uploaded. Wien I goof up, I don’t want the world viewing and critiquing my outtakes.

The recent introduction of the Eye-Fi Pro ($150, list) changed mv mind. The number-one reason: It can now record and transfer RAW images. And, almost as important, I can control exactly which photos are uploaded.

Before you use the card, you plug it into your computer using the proprietary USB card reader that comes with it. Configure it as you wish-choose your Wi-Fi network and enter your password, and pick which online service and folder on your home computer you’ll upload to. The whole setup is ridiculously simple, and would be even for someone who’s not a software expert.

Then start shooting. If your computer and your camera are on, uploading happens simultaneously. There are many ways to configure the card, and it will upload to most of the major sharing sites.

I have a Flickr Pro account, and since the Eye-Fi Pro will upload both photos and video, I picked that as my upload destination. The Eye-Fi sent the JPEGs there (Flickr doesn’t accept RAW), and I chose a folder on my Buffalo LinkStation Pro desktop hard drive (more on that later) to accept the RAW files and JPEGs. I’d love it if I could send all my RAWs to my home drive and upload only selected JPEGs to Flickr, but the current version of the Eye-Fi can’t follow different rules for RAW and JPEG. So, I ended up sending all the JPEGs to Flickr, but keeping my account settings on private-I did a batch edit later to make the best ones public.

The Eye-Fi card can connect to any Wayport Wi-Fi (now AT&T Wi-Fi services) hotspot, so if you’re on vacation, your photos can be uploaded automatically before you even get home. And if you leave your computer on, or have your housesitter turn it on every couple of days while you’re on vacation, your pictures will be automatically dropped to your hard drive from Eye-Fi’s servers. When you’re within reach of most U.S. Wi-Fi networks, you can turn on geotagging and the card will figure out your location and add it to your photos’ metadata.

I never would have thought that removing the need to connect my card to my computer would streamline my process so much. But my friends and family have seen more photos sooner than they ever have in the past, because sharing them is just that much simpler. And I can rest easy in my travels knowing that all my favorites are backed up before I even reach home.

ALL-ACCESS PASS Part of the promise of the future is total accessibility to all of our images all the time. We always hear talk about “cloud storage,” but until it becomes practical to store everything on servers far, far away, it makes a lot of sense to set up a serverlike system at home. And doing so is fairly simple, though it takes a bit more geek}’ patience than anything else I tried.

Buffalo’s LinkStation Pro LS-XHL ($270, street, for 1TB) looks like your standard desktop hard drive. The only difference? It has an ethernet port on the back so you can hook it into your home network’s Wi-Fi router. You can configure the drive using your web browser, renaming the server something more charming or reasonable than the string of letters and numbers it defaults to.

Any computer on your home network can connect and store files on the LinkStation, as well as access and stream media stored on it. My favorite feature? Everything you put on the drive can be accessed from anywhere, via the web. I set up my Eye-Fi card to drop all the photos and videos it uploaded straight onto the LinkStation, thus rendering all of my files, RAW and JPEG alike, automatically accessible from anywhere I could get online.

MAPPING YOUR TRAVELS

Sure, the Eye-Fi can usually geotag photos taken in the U.S. based on a Wi-Fi signal, but you won’t always be near one. And often enough the best photo locations are those unreached by civilization.

I was tlying out my new high-tech-photographer life using the Nikon D90, so the Nikon’s GP-1 GPS unit ($210, street) was a natural fit. A device just about the size of a box of Tic-Tacs, the GP-1 fits into your camera’s hot-shoe and connects to your camera with a short cable. Once it finds a signal, it starts recording GPS data such as latitude and longitude, time of day, altitude, and even-when in motion, say in a car-your velocity into the metadata of your images.

Adding the GP-1 to my camera was incredibly simple. I made sure I had the right cord, plugged it in, went for a walk, and started shooting. It took a few minutes to get the signal while indoors on a fairly densely populated city block, but I found one.

The one issue with such accurate GPS is privacy. In the end, I felt more comfortable using it when I was out on the town; I thought it might be wise to unplug for the pictures I took inside my house, especially since I was uploading everything and leaving many images for public consumption. I can’t wait to take it with me when I travel, and let my software make a map of everywhere I’ve been.

MY NEW FUTURE LIFE

New technology is famously trick}’ at the outset-the first versions of the stuff that’s supposed to make your life easier tend to make it worse until the technology matures.

What did I learn from my experiment? We are just about past the headache phase. On their own, each of the items I tried will smooth out some of the kinks in your workflow, but it was putting them all together that began to change the way I photograph.

Augmenting my kit with gear that streamlined all the stuff besides photography-uploading, labeling, sharing-had me picking up my camera more frequently. And why not shoot more if dealing with the images isn’t going to be a pain? By the time I returned home from my shoot, all my pictures were already shared, stored, and backed up. It turns out that, by removing a good chunk of the process that didn’t involve taking pictures, I removed an unconscious block I didn’t know I had.

Nothing improves a photographer like practice. So maybe in the future we’ll all be better photographers, simply because we’ll have so much more time to shoot.

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