Backing Up Your Photos on the Road

PackingTravelling on assignment or for personal interest is typically a big part of most photographer’s lives.  The challenge of managing gear – taking enough, but not too much – is always top of mind.  But what about managing your images while you are on the road?

With a bit more travel in my future, I wasn’t happy with a strategy that worked well for day or weekend trips, but wouldn’t work for longer absences.  So, I started looking at alternatives.  Here’s what I found.

PuzzlementAs with all things related to travel, image backup strategies have to take into account several things:

  • the size and weight of any equipment needed
  • the security of both files and equipment should they be left in a hotel room for the day or (god forbid) stolen
  • the likelihood of being allowed on a plane or other restricted transport carrier with the equipment
  • the availability of power to recharge or run the equipment

In addition, there also have to be considerations for:

  • cost of backup options
  • amount of risk that’s acceptable and that might dictate how much redundancy is needed
  • needs beyond simple backup for culling and editing of images

The mode of travel is a big factor.  There is a lot more flexibility with driving than with flying, even if you are crossing borders.  So let’s confine this discussion to flying.

Carryon SizesMost airlines allow for one or two specifically sized carry-on items – one for the overhead compartment and one under your seat.  And of course there is checked baggage, which leaves your sight (with all the risk that entails).

It goes without saying that your camera gear and related gear should all go in the carry-ons, not in checked bags.  That limits the size and weight of what you might bring.  It also requires the ability to start it up quickly and demonstrate that it works, as part of passing through any security gate.

So what to do about backup if you have to limit size and weight?  There seem to be 3 main solutions for travelling, used either on their own or in combination.  Simply put, they are:

  • redundancy while shooting; writing the image to more than one storage card as you capture it
  • transferring the images to a bulk storage unit either daily or at the next stopping point
  • uploading images to the cloud when the opportunity to do so presents itself

Which of these works best is dependent on the length of the trip and access to both power and the Internet.

fujifilm-x-t2-and-x-pro2-digital-cameras-get-firmware-2-12-and-3-12-update-now-517915-2Some photographers will only use cameras with dual card slots, and will use duplicate cards.  They will switch out the cards each night and will mark or lock down the used cards and store them in a dedicated, but separate container from their blank cards.  A great, simple, portable strategy.  I like this because it works in any situation:  short trips, long trips, troublesome environments, long periods without access to power.  The more cards the better, not only for storage, but for spreading the risk of card failure over many different sources.  The drawback, of course, is the cost of the cards.  But risk aversion is your friend on that front too – smaller capacity cards cost far less per MB than larger capacity cards.  I’m definitely employing this approach in my plans.

But I personally want even more redundancy.  For now, I’m not intending on long visits to remote areas, so I will have access to power and the Internet.  So what else makes sense?

All solutions here require more gear.

340604-apple-macbook-pro-13-inch-2013If I carry a computer, the options are pretty straight forward.  Transfer the files to the computer, and/or through the computer to the cloud.  With this option, the extra gear would be problematic, especially if it needs to be left behind during the day.  And the cost and time to offload files in the evening might be a concern.  Most importantly for me, whatever process is used should be automatic and not require my attention beyond the time to launch it.  It would have to be launch, leave and go – to dinner or out to shoot more.

I’ve hauled a computer around with me for all my adult life, it seems.  The weight is now problematic.  I know I could buy a slimmed down, lightweight unit, and maybe that might happen someday, but not right now.

So what else is there?  I wondered if I could accomplish something similar to a computer-driven bulk transfer without a computer.  Well, it seems I can.  I’ve come across two options that appeal to me.

iPad 4th GenerationThe first involves using a tablet as a transfer mechanism to the cloud.  Apple includes the ability to upload photographs to its tablets, and additionally provides settings to then allow those to be seamlessly transferred to the cloud.  Sadly, it must be their cloud service for the seamless transfer to occur.  Sadly again, that storage is twice as costly as other bulk providers that I use.  Still, it may have its place.  Interestingly, iPad storage capacity is not a consideration if you have sufficient iCloud cloud storage.  Once turned on, transfer to the cloud will automatically change out full resolution images on the iPad to a simple thumbnail for each image, once full capacity has been reached.  It then will only download the full image if needed for editing or sharing.  I really like the seamless nature of this service.

The trade-off, of course, is cost, both for the iPad and the cloud storage.  But iPads today also serve as very capable file editing platforms, with many applications, including Adobe Lightroom, available in tablet versions.

Lacie DJI CopilotThe other alternative is a dedicated hard drive with the ability to offload images directly to the drive without a computer.  The product that intrigues me the most is the Lacie DJI Copilot, a strange name for a device that is intended to help more than drone operators offload their footage.  It includes a card slot for SD cards, various cables for connecting to cameras, as well as the ability to link to phones and tablets.  An app on the device permits viewing and culling of images once uploaded.  It is fairly expensive – about twice the cost of a similar capacity hard drive – but seems to offer a lot of flexibility along with portability.

I haven’t tried one yet.  I’d be interested in hearing your experience with this or any similar direct transfer hard drive – drop me a comment below.

In the coming days, as I embark on this year’s adventures, I’ll settle on a transfer and storage workflow that makes sense for me.  But rest assured, the left-brain risk-averse nature of my personality will make sure that there will be redundancy for the redundancy.  The right-brain fun part will be seeing how much I can do with it once I have it.