Are You an Off-the-Grid Ready Photographer? - TDS Photo Podcast

This is The Digital Story Podcast #955, July 9, 2024. Today's theme is "Are You an Off-the-Grid Ready Photographer?" I'm Derrick Story.

Opening Monologue

Some of the most important images in my personal library were captured during the Tubbs Fire of 2017. I documented the events the best I could during our 10-day evacuation flee. But I could have done better, much better, had I been prepared. And I wasn't. Whether it's in time of emergency, or fulfilling a desire to just get away, off-the-grid readiness is sure to pay dividends at some point in the near future. In this week's podcast, I share what I've learned over the last seven years. I hope you enjoy the show.

Digital Photography Podcast 955

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Are You an Off-the-Grid Ready Photographer?


On Monday, July 8, 2024, the Texas Tribune reports: "Hurricane Beryl has knocked out power for more than 2.7 million Texas customers, as of 12:59 p.m. Monday, based on estimates from and CenterPoint Energy.

At 3:08 p.m., reported that more than 2.1 million of CenterPoint's 2.6 million Texas customers lacked electricity. CenterPoint has not yet provided an estimate of when millions of its customers will regain electricity.

"As soon as safe to do so, you'll see our crews headed out to start assessing damage and developing restoration plans," CenterPoint said on social media platform X.

Outages are most extensive in the Houston area and coastal counties including Matagorda, where Beryl landed as a Category 1 hurricane at approximately 4 a.m., Monday. Significant outages are also in Galveston County, Calhoun County and Jackson County. As the morning progressed, outages extended further inland and into Deep East Texas to areas including Polk, San Jacinto, Montgomery, Grimes and Washington Counties.

As we all know, reports like this are commonplace. Now, this show isn't about doom and gloom. But, what if we could combine emergency preparedness with outdoor adventure and photography? In other words, doing what we like helps prepare us for an event that we don't want, but need to be ready for?

I have a camping trip coming up in a few weeks that I'm so looking forward to. These outings have evolved a lot over the last few years, becoming more enjoyable than ever.

In part, that's because camping gear has improved - many of those new items I will talk about today. Additionally, getting away from early morning leaf blowers, cranky commuters, and the steady stream of discouraging news has its advantages as well.

I also view my solo camping trips as dry runs for disaster preparedness. In a most enjoyable way, I test my evacuation system for our family, including cooking options, sleeping accommodations, power supply, and more.

One new example that I'll be writing about later next month is an item called TentBox. It's a tent that mounts to the top of the car and can sleep 2 people. It collapses to only 18" tall while driving, but is a full-fledged living space when erected. One of the many advantages is that it can be set up in just a minute or two, and I don't have to unload anything out of the car to get some shuteye. Stay tuned for that review in mid-August.

In addition to these dry runs helping me improve my preparedness, this type of exercise will allow me to be a better storyteller. I will spend less time dealing with the elements, and will have more time for documenting with my photography and writing.

Sounds efficient, doesn't it? Let's dig into some of the specifics.

The Shortlist of Considerations

So I'm going to start with the basics for car camping and emergency preparedness, then get into our photography and computer gear after that.

  • Food - Food is important, obviously, but my experience has been there isn't a lot of time, or the facility, for cooking meals. That's why I like having dehydrated backpacking meals in the mix. If you haven't had one for a while, I think you'll be surprised at how good they taste, and they are satisfying. My camping trips allow me to rotate stock, using up the older ones and replacing with new meals.
  • Water is more difficult because it's bulky. We can only store and transport so much. I prefer 1-gallon containers that are easier to stash in odd places than bigger containers that are heavy and bulky.
  • Sleeping - Unless you have a Rec Van, you're most likely looking at some sort of tent for shelter. Personally, I like tents. Sometimes I even feel like a kid in a fort with them. But I don't like pitching them. And they take up room in the back of the SUV where I'd rather be storing other supplies. So, I'm hoping that my top-of-car mounted tentbox is the answer that I've been looking for. Be sure to have an inflatable mattress and a good sleeping bag for each person in your party.
  • Power - This is where things have really changed for me over the last couple years. I once looked at power as a luxury. It's nice to have camp lighting, laptops, and air compressors. I now look at these items as necessities. If I'm going to be able to do my thing in any location, I need power.

    USB-C Power Delivery (PD) has improved charging my electronic devices substantially by sending up to 100 watts through the USB-C cable. Because the Power Station monitors the charging, devices such as my laptop are refueled quickly and efficiently. All you need is the cable.

    So now I'm more interested in higher-capacity Power Stations, such as the Bluetti AC70 1,000 Watt Power Station (768Wh Capacity for $429) and the Jackery Explorer 600 Plus (632Wh capacity for $399). Not only can the keep my cameras and computers running, but they can also power portable refrigerators, lighting, compressors, hot water kettles, and more. And they are compatible with portable solar panels.

  • Clothing - I know this category isn't as sexy as electronics, but it makes a world of difference when it comes to comfort. Hats, gloves, boots, jackets, and both short and long pants are worth testing on your camping trips. Keep the good stuff. Move along the rest.

Once you've tested (and enjoyed) your outdoor equipment on a camping trip, pack it in an organized way back home. I like stackable plastic containers that are efficient in both the garage and in the car. If you need to make a quick get-away, everything is already organized and ready to go.

The Bluetti AC70 Power Station Review

One thing I've learned while testing portable power stations is the importance of finding the right balance between ample energy storage in a unit that's still light enough to carry around. That's why I've come to appreciate 1,000-watt models, which walk that line between capacity and mobility, and most recently in that category, the Bluetti AC70.

This 22.5-pound unit measures 12.4" x 8.2" x 10.1". I can pick it up with one hand, carry it to the car, and it doesn't take up much room in the boot. Its LFP (Lithium Iron Phosphate) batteries have a total capacity of 768Wh with two AC outlets (1,000W Rated Power/ 2,000W Lifting Power), two USB-C ports (100 watts), a pair of USB-A ports (12 watts), and a 12V DC car accessory outlet. If needed, surge power can go up to 2,000 watts.

During testing, the AC70 powered a mini fridge, hot water kettle, room fan, laptop, stereo system, LCD television, and living room lamps. It's beefy enough to serve as a backup power source at home and mobile enough to run an entire campsite on the road. This type of versatility means that the AC70 will provide a return on its modest investment regardless if you're a road-tripping photographer or someone who wants to trim energy costs at home with portable solar.

Things I Like (and what also could be improved)

What I liked

  • Bright, informative LCD screen
  • Dedicated standard DC input for solar panels
  • Excellent mobile app for monitoring the unit and adjusting its settings
  • Fast recharging via AC outlet, solar, car accessory port, or gas generator
  • Simultaneous input/output capability
  • Customizable configuration
  • Robust design
  • Excellent value for 1,000-watt unit (currently available for $429)

What could be improved

  • Lacks built-in emergency light
  • Bluetooth only, no WiFi to extend range of mobile app

You can read the entire, comprehensive review here.

Amazon Prime Day Sale

The Bluetti AC70 Portable Power Station is on sale for $399 as part of Amazon Prime Day, until July 15, 2024.

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Virtual Camera Club News

The Nimble Photographer Newsletter is now publishing every Thursday. Readers will enjoy a variety of content spanning from short photo essays, to commentary on weekly events, to reviews of the latest and coolest photo gear.

Inner Circle Members: A big thanks to those who support our podcast and our efforts! We are having a blast at our new Inner Circle hangout, the private group I've set up at DerrickStoryOnline. We'd love it if you join us. You can become an Inner Circle Member by signing up at our Patreon site. You will automatically be added to the new hangout.

Great Photography Articles on Live View - If you check out our publication and appreciate what you see, be sure to follow us and clap for those authors. You can find us at

If you're interested in writing for Live View, drop me a line at

The New Donation Kit for Carefree Shipping of Found Film Cameras - If you've discovered a film camera that's no longer being used, our new Donation Kit makes it easy to pack and ship. Just visit the Contact Form on, click the box next to Donating a Film Camera, and let me know what you have. In your note, be sure to include your shipping address.

Affiliate Links - The links to some products in this podcast contain an affiliate code that credits The Digital Story for any purchases made from B&H Photo and Amazon via that click-through. Depending on the purchase, we may receive some financial compensation.

Red River Paper - And finally, be sure to visit our friends at Red River Paper for all of your inkjet supply needs.

See you next week!

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