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Originally published Friday, October 11, 2013 at 7:24 PM

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Nature plus technology can focus on improving our lives

The iPhone is now the camera of choice for impromptu moments and shots we want to share quickly on Facebook, Twitter or email.

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Practical Mac

As I write this, I’m attending a photography workshop in Oregon, waking up early to capture fall color at sunrise. In addition to being focused on photography, this trip is also an interesting microcosm of technology, humanity and the areas where the two overlap.

First, there’s the camera technology. The 11 participants carry midlevel DSLRs (like my trusty Nikon D90) as well as professional cameras and a wide range of interchangeable lenses. (My gear envy is definitely high.) There’s also a smattering of smaller cameras, GoPro video cameras and, of course, iPhones.

I’ve been taking lots of photos with my iPhone 5s, partly to record my location. When I import my photos into Adobe Photoshop Lightroom each evening, I copy the GPS location data from the iPhone shots and paste it onto corresponding images captured by the DSLR. (See “Tagging your summer photos with GPS” column, Aug 17, 2013.)

I’m also taking advantage of the excellent quality and features of the iPhone 5s camera. The burst mode, which captures 10 frames per second, is faster than the expensive DSLRs. The iPhone evaluates the shots and picks the best one, with the option for me to pick out other favorites from the burst. And I’ve been having fun with the Slo-Mo mode, recording waterfalls in gorgeous high-definition (720p) slow motion.

You’d think a band of roaming photographers would go everywhere with cameras in hand, but the big gear mostly stays stowed during the intervals between shooting locations. The iPhone is now the camera of choice for impromptu moments and shots we want to share quickly on Facebook, Twitter or email.

The iPhone has also been invaluable for checking the weather, especially using the app Dark Sky to see when the stormy clouds that are often above us will open up with rain. The app TPE (The Photographer’s Ephemeris) identifies the position of the sun at any location and at any time. On the iPad, I’m using ShutterSnitch often to import photos wirelessly from an Eye-Fi Mobi card in my DSLR for viewing on the iPads large Retina display.

We’re also using the iPhone for getting directions, texting family back home and all the other things that people do every day with a smartphone. It still amazes me that the iPhone (and other smartphones) has become such an essential all-around device. It’s no longer novel to quickly check Yelp to find a good burger restaurant in an unfamiliar town.

Another important consideration on a trip like this — and every excursion where you’re away form your normal computer setup — is backing up the gigabytes of photos we’re capturing and other data. I was stunned when one of my companions turned and asked if I thought he should have a backup hard disk. Yes! Fortunately, an electronics retailer was nearby and I convinced him to buy a pair of inexpensive 1 terabyte (TB) drives: one for use with Time Machine and one to create a duplicate of his laptop drive using SuperDuper or Carbon Copy Cloner .

For my part, when I import my photos into Lightroom on my MacBook Pro, I also copy them to an external SeagateWireless Plus drive and update a duplicate of my laptop’s data onto a Seagate Backups Plus 1 TB drive overnight. (The two drives are packed into different bags.) If I were traveling only with my iPad, I’d copy photos to it first and then transfer them to the Wireless Plus via the Wi-Fi network it creates and the free Seagate Media app.

Despite the technical nature of photography, I’m not surrounded by computer experts, which is at it should be. Some folks have laptops; a couple are using only iPads. And all of them are less interested in knowing everything about their hardware than in accomplishing meaningful tasks.

As one participant said while we were discussing the changes in the iPhone 5s camera (I’ve become the resident tech expert while we travel among destinations), “Companies keep telling me how I can do my work better. I don’t want ways to do my work better. I want things that improve my life.”

That sentiment applies to the iPhone’s camera, which performs a dizzying amount of calculations and adjustments to deliver great photos without requiring someone fiddling with controls, as well as FaceTime video chatting that gives me the opportunity to say good night to my daughter back home.

I love the nitty-gritty of technology and sharing it with others, but what’s important continues to be how it can often improve people’s lives, whether they understand or even care about how it’s done. The best devices and software accomplishes that.

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About Practical Mac | Jeff Carlson

Mac owners, this is for you. Practical Mac explores Apple's new software offerings, hardware upgrades and more. Appears every other Saturday.

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