How to Back up your Travel Photos.


An elephant shows us his rear end by the edge of Chobe lake in Botswana
An elephant shows us his rear end by the edge of Chobe lake in Botswana

In the days of film, the only form of back up was to guard your film and slides as if you’re life depended on it. Nowadays with digital imaging there are many ways of backing up your photos. I touched on this in Planning and Preparation for Travel Photos.

So, follow me along as I give you some ideas on how to back up your travel photos.


History of Back up

The term back up only really became used when computers began to take over the world.

With paper you could make copies and file them off-site.

As we all switched from paper to digital, Business’s started to have tape, then floppy disks followed by CD’s for backups of the day’s work.

Now you have back up servers some of which are in the cloud.

Photography back up

Before digital, you were able to have extra copies made of photographic prints and file them somewhere else.

Not so with negatives and slides. Well that’s not strictly true, you could get copies, but it was expensive. It was not until digital came along that we began to realise that we had the option to back up all our precious photos.
We could even do it retrospectively, if we had plenty of time or money, by scanning film and slides.

In those early days the floppy disk and then later the CD or DVD were the main back up mediums.
But as with film and slides we all ended up with boxes of DVD’s. Whilst smaller than boxes of Slides and Negatives they still took up some room.

Let’s take a look at what options we have now.

Direct backup to a Laptop or Computer

The simplest and most convenient way is to connect directly to a Laptop or computer. This is done via the OEM cable that each camera manufacturer supplies to a laptop or computer. Once you have it on the computer you are free to copy it anywhere else.
All camera manufacturers give you that option. The main disadvantage is that the cable supplied is not usually off the shelf if you lose it. Additionally, the camera port tends to be non-standard or at best not common.

Memory Cards

When you take an image with a digital camera it sits on the memory card that you have in the camera.
With a smartphone that image will generally sit on the phone’s internal drive. However, you can change it to sit on a microSD, if that’s available.

Memory cards can also be used to back up your photos either via a computer or in some camera models.

How does that work?

Well you remove the memory card from the camera and insert into either a computer memory card port or a card reader that plugs into the computer.
Likewise, the same applies with a blank memory card. Once both cards are loaded you copy from one to the other.

Backing up in camera is usually confined to some of the more high-end cameras. These now come with two memory card slots that you can use to either extend the memory or use the second slot as back up. When the latter is set, each time you take an image, it not only sits on the first memory card but also on the second.

Another option is to transfer it in camera periodically but that can be dangerous if you forget to do it.

The system of using memory cards as a backup medium is not used that often unless you are looking to immediately back up and that’s your only option.

One recommendation I would make is to use something similar with a smartphone.

Smartphone backup

With a smartphone, the potential to lose it or drop it is much higher than a camera. I would suggest a microSD if that’s easily removable (otherwise you will lose it with the Smartphone!)

Another option is a small flash drive that can be attached, usually through the charging port.
Why would we need to do that when we all rely on the cloud to backup our photos on a smartphone?
Services like Google Photos, or iCloud work well when you have connectivity. But what about when you don’t have connectivity?

Last year I stayed a few days in a remote resort called Berkley River Lodge in the Kimberley region of Western Australia.

There was no phone signal at all and WIFI was limited to 50m from the reception hut. We were on a helicopter trip heading back to the resort. One of the other guests was taking pictures of the sunset with an iPhone when he lost it out of the window. I might add that the phone wasn’t his, it was his partners!
We had also all been warned not to take your phone too close to the window during the flight as, you’ve guessed it, it could get sucked out.
Anyway, apart from looking like a Kangaroo in headlights, he lost the phone.
All the photos that they had taken in the last few days were only on that phone.
And as they had no way of backing them up other than using iCloud they were lost with the phone.

Berkley River Lodge
Berkley River Lodge from the air

Lesson from that is not to rely on the cloud as back up for smartphones or indeed anything else.

If you have another device like a tablet, then you can set up a hotspot that will enable you to transfer or copy your files to the Tablet.
But if you are likely to be without the tablet and have no connectivity, then a Mobile flash drive is a no brainer.

WIFI SD cards

An option to standard Memory Cards are WIFI cards. Even if your camera has Wi-Fi capability this still allows you to back up your images to another device.

If you have a fairly new camera, then chances are it will have WIFI capability anyway, so you can backup via WIFI without a special WIFI Memory Card.

However, in both these instances the issue is space.
Most Smartphones or tablets are around 64GB and if you are shooting RAW over a 2-3-week period it doesn’t take long to max out. For example, last year at a African Game Park I shot around 64GB of RAW and JPEG images.

Physical back up devices

There are a lot of devices out there that you can use to back up your photos. Most of them are portable hard drives

There is the basic hard drive that you plug into a laptop or some tablets. You then copy the files to the hard drive via the Laptop or Tablet

Some hard drives have a SD Slot for your memory card. You insert the card and it automatically copies to the drive.
So, in theory you don’t need another device. Yet, unless you plug into another device you are not going to know whether it has backed up all your photos correctly.

Another option is the wireless Hard Drive. This is like a hybrid. They have SD slots as well as having the option to wirelessly copy images via the hotspot I mentioned before.
This has the same disadvantage of not being able to see what images have been copied across. Although some do allow you to view the contents of the drive from a smartphone or tablet as well as a computer.

Then there are hard drives that have a screen that lets you view the images even if they are RAW.

African Elephant in South Luangwa NP,
African Elephant in South Luangwa NP, Zambia.

Hard drive types

Lately hard drives come in two types, HDD mechanical Hard Disk Drives or SSD Solid State Drives.
The differences are basically that SSD’s are faster but more expensive.
In a computer or laptop then I would go to an SSD every time. With portable hard drives, where there is only data being stored, then it’s really a personal preference.

For more on the difference read this article on PCMag.

Cloud Backup

How many cloud services are there now? There’s Apple’s iCloud, Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, Crashplan, Backblaze, Carbonite and there are the Photo Sharing Sites (more on that below).

Of course, all cloud backup services depend on the internet. So if you are travelling, you are relying upon there being an internet connection. That is often beyond your control.

There is much better connectivity than there was 5 years ago and I’m sure that there it will improve even more.
But as I mentioned earlier there is always somewhere that the internet is not connected.

Even with an internet connection, the bandwidth or speed can be poor. Meaning that the time taken to upload your photos can be long and arduous, not to mention frustrating.

Using the cloud

Whether you use the cloud or not is dependent on a couple of things:

One is the Camera equipment.
For instance, a Smartphone has inbuilt cloud capability and relies heavily on there being an internet connection. That is either by the phone signal e.g. 4G or a wireless connection.
On the other hand, unless you have a 1-2-year-old camera, then there is every chance that the camera you have will not have Wi-Fi capability. Even a lot of the new ones only allow you to upload to a phone or tablet from which you then have upload to the cloud.

The other reason is the interface and ease of use. I haven’t tried all these services, but of the ones I’ve used, iCloud and Dropbox seem to me to have the best interface and ease of use.

Cloud cost and security

There is one further reason and that is price. Prices vary so much with specials and add-ons that comparing them is likely to be totally inaccurate by the time you might read this.

The other thing to consider is security. I hesitate to say it but using the likes of the big guns like Microsoft, Apple or Google does give a sense of security, compared with the smaller players.
That may well be false.
But it’s worth asking a few questions. I.E. where are their servers? What happens to the data if a server goes down or heaven forbid the company disappears?

What do I use? OneDrive. Why because Microsoft gives me 5TB with my Office 365 subscription.

Photo Sharing Sites

The other cloud-based storage systems are Photo Sharing sites. These are likes of Flickr, Smugmug, Google Photos, Pixbuf (a new one), Photobucket, 500PX, My Portfolio, Amazon Prime Photos plus a few others.
These add a bit more to the concept of back up.
Usually it’s a subscription service that allows you to view and share all your photos. Some even have their own social media interface meaning you can browse other user’s photos and comment or share.

Flickr was the first of these and now has been gobbled up by the expanding Smugmug.
As a user of both I have yet to establish what that will mean.

Take a look at my site on Smugmug to get an understanding.

Unlike the straight cloud backup services, some of these sites don’t support all file types.
So, if you are looking for a complete solution to house and view your RAW files for example, do your due diligence.

African Elephant in South Luangwa NP
African Elephant in South Luangwa NP, Zambia.

How to back up your travel photos – at home

We’ve covered a broad summary of what there is out there to back up your travel photos whilst you are on the move.

What about when you get home?
All of the above apply to your home base as well.

But you can also add in Desktop Drives

Desktop Hard drives

Desktop Drives used to be fixed to one certain location. But with the growth in portable hard drive storage, the fixed and portable are overlapping.

Most of us these days have Laptops instead of desktop computers which gives us freedom to work pretty much anywhere.
So, plugging in a portable hard drive as not only an expansion to the laptop storage, but also as a backup is easy.

For the fixed you have three main types.

Standard hard drives that connect via USB or Apple’s Lightning and have their own power supply.

Cloud based drives that connect into a network also called NAS (Network Attached Storage)
This is different to the cloud services mentioned earlier. These are hard drives that are physically in your space but can be accessed remotely via an internet connection.
They also come with a power plug for an independent power supply

The last type is called a RAID system (redundant array of inexpensive disks) that also have their own cloud. This is a trickier system to manage and install.
Basically, it is several hard drives usually in multiples of 2 that back each other up. Where it can be confusing is the many different set up combinations available.
It’s a way of ensuring that should one back up drive fail then there is always another one that has identical data, so that you can sleep easy.

What I use

Now I think it’s time for me to give you my system.

On the road

Depending on the duration and the reason for the trip, I will carry either one or two Wireless Hard Drives, my surface pro or iPad Pro. I also now carry, since seeing the guy at Berkeley River lose an iPhone, a portable flash drive that fits my Samsung S8.

How do I use them?

I am fortunate that my Olympus OMD1 MKII has dual memory card slots, so I use one of these memory cards as back up. Additionally, every evening or at least every couple of evenings, I back up one of the memory cards to both wireless hard drives. If I have been diligent enough to clear the hard drive on my surface before travelling, I back up to my surface as well.

I back up my Samsung S8 to my surface if I am confident that I have good internet for the cloud back up to my OneDrive service. If I ‘m unsure of the connectivity, then I will back that up to my portable flash drive and later the surface.

I have used the iPad Pro as back up in the past. But due to the number of apps it has, it only has a small amount of spare storage compared to the surface.

How to back up your travel photos – Summary

Back up is a relatively new concept in the photographic world. It has only been around since the advent of Digital photography

There are many forms of back up for the travel photographer

Memory cards can be used for short term back up

Smartphone Cameras rely on cloud services, which can be unreliable when travelling.

A flash drive or microSD is a more reliable medium

New cameras can upload photos via different WI-FI systems to the cloud but only via another device

There are many different hard drives that can be used as back up devices.

They can be like small computers with their own screens and flexible connectivity.

Speaking of Cloud back up, the number of services available is huge. So, you need to select carefully before using one of these to ensure it meets your needs and security

Photo sharing sites like Flickr and Smugmug can also provide a level of back up for your photos

Then we get into the heavy duty physical hard drives. These use sophisticated software and multiple drives that you can create your own cloud with.

What do you use?

I’ve come clean and told you what I use. What about you? Do you use something or have a system that’s totally different from what I’ve mentioned in this article? Give me your take on how to back up your travel photos
Leave your comments below

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How to back up your travel photos.
An elephant shows us his rear end by the edge of Chobe lake in Botswana
Categories: How to, Technical, travel photographyTags: , ,

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