Jason Thompson Photography: Storytelling at 20,000 Feet

Photographer Jason Thompson works in both the editorial and commercial space, shooting breathtaking still images and videos of skiing and ice and rock climbing. He is a storyteller at heart, engaging the viewer with his travels, the people he meets along the way, and the amazing talent of the athletes he works with.

Thompson does everything that the mountain climbers and skiers he photographs do—only with a lot more gear on his back. Whether he’s shooting the first female free-ascent of Mt. Hooker, being a part of a remote ski expedition into the Caucasus mountains of the Republic of Georgia, or capturing rock climbers in Yosemite National park for an ad campaign, Thompson needs to be absolutely sure that he’s packed only the essentials. And over the years, Thompson has perfected a workflow that ensures his high-altitude images get home safely, no matter where his adventures take him.

Here are Thompson’s top tips for high-altitude photography:

#1 Maximize Space

“If I can shave six ounces off, I do it,” Thompson says. “I have the mindset of an Alpine climber: the more weight you’re carrying, the more energy it takes to climb. I’m always asking myself what’s the bare minimum I can take with me into the field to ensure that I’m backing everything up, and that I have complete reliability and redundancy?”

His field laptop is a MacBook Air, selected for its lightness and slim size. For external backup, Thompson uses LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt hard drives. Thompson often packs 1 TB drives, but when he’s shooting video or on an extended trip, he recommends carrying higher capacity drives—at least 2 TB—for a better storage-to-space ratio.

Thompson also uses 64 GB SanDisk SD cards for their speed and capacity. “If you’re using a 16 GB card, you risk running out of space right when you want to shoot that one, perfect picture,” he says. “I try not to shoot with less than 64 GB.”

#2 Power Up

Thompson relies on lightweight, portable solar panels for power. On a recent trip, he tested the Arc 20W Solar Charger Kit by Voltaic Systems, and was impressed by how slim and compact it was, and how well it pulled a charge, even in snowy conditions. The V72 external laptop battery was also very useful for storing energy.

#3 Backup. Backup. Backup.

“I’ve heard horror stories about lost data from a lot of my creative friends,” Thompson says. “It’s important to be diligent with your workflow and backup system because a crash could happen at any time.”

Thompson doesn’t do a lot of editing in the field, preferring to spend most of his time shooting. To back up his data in the field, he moves the contents of the SD card onto the MacBook Air, while simultaneously backing up to an external hard drive. In the field, he recommends using durable external hard drives with shock, drop, and water resistance, like the LaCie Rugged, for an extra level of data protection.

He then backs up the contents of the laptop onto a second external hard drive, so he has three identical copies of his data: one on the laptop, and one each on two separate hard drives. If possible, he also leaves the SD card unformatted for as long as he can, providing a temporary fourth backup.

#4 Divide the Backup

The next step in Thompson’s workflow involves a trusted friend and an airliner.

“When flying, I keep my external hard drives with me, but if I’m traveling with a friend on separate flights home, I’ll give them one of my duplicate drives for them to mail to me when they arrive,” he says. “That way, if my drive gets lost or stolen, I know that the other drive is safe.”

#5 Keep Backing up at Home

Once Thompson is back at home, he uses a LaCie 2big Thunderbolt 2 6TB RAID system to import his files into an Adobe Lightroom catalog on his desktop computer. He backs this system up twice a week to a remote drive, which he stores in a safe deposit box in a bank. With this series of redundancies and backups, Jason can rest easier knowing that his footage is safe and secure.

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