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Photo backups in the field

Backups are always a difficult subject. Everyone knows to do them, but it takes time and effort. We’re going to look at this from a photography standpoint first and the followup article will examine computer backups in general.

My current opinion is that all backups should be governed by 2 rules:

  1. Duplicate
  2. Protect

These concepts are easy to understand, but technology limits the ease of implementation.


When you’re out in the field (vacation, job site, etc), the first order of business is make a copy of the photos on your camera(s) ASAP. Memory cards in cameras are subject to corruption, damage (think rain), and theft. Now, for example, if you copy your photos to your laptop and then delete them off the camera because your memory card is too small, you haven’t accomplished anything. You’ve just moved the risk from memory card corruption to hard drive corruption. Memory cards are so cheap you should be able to fit your entire vacation on one card. You can routinely buy SanDisk Ultra cards for about USD $0.50/GB. There are many ways to go about this. Try to pick a method that works with as little as new hardware as possible. The last thing you want to do is carry about a bunch of cables, adapters, and power cords.

Instant Wireless

For instant, partial protection, you’ll need an Eye-Fi card. My understanding is that these cards wirelessly transmit photos instantly to your phone. You likely already have a smartphone with you, so you are set, as long as your phone has lots of space. If you can put your own memory card in it, all the better. The limitation here is that Eye-Fi cards are currently limited to 16 GB. Cameras are frequently coming with wireless built-in, but I don’t know if they offer the same functionality. Either option will increase battery drain. You have now protected against the camera’s memory card being corrupted, damaged, or stolen. However damage and theft are still risks, as it’s very possible that if something happens to your camera, it may happen to your phone too (theft, hit by an expected wave).

Daily Transfer

The other option is what I am currently doing. At the end of the day, copy new photos on the camera to another storage device. Again, the trick is to do this with whatever you are already carrying, when possible. If you have a laptop, use it’s built-in card reader or one you brought with you to transfer new photos over. If you have a tablet you can wireless, as mentioned above. Some tablets offer a built-in SD card reader and sometimes you can connect using a cable. Either way you will need a tablet with lots of space or better, the ability to put in your own SD card. It’s much cheaper to buy your own 64 GB card than to buy a tablet with 64 GB of memory. Another option is bring along a dedicated camera backup device, but these are typically not cheap.


Now you have at least 2 sets of photos, so you are halfway there. The next step is protect both sets. Wherever one set is, the other should be inaccessible. If your lodging has a safe, you can store something there. Memory cards, tablets, hard drives, etc. If not, you can take a memory card with you when leave for dinner, for example. Remember, they’re tiny and storable anywhere.

The ideal solution is upload your photos to somewhere offsite. You may already have access to a photo web site. However if you use RAW files, check that they are allowed. Some providers charge extra for RAW or simply don’t allow them. My current recommended backup service would be to use Mozy. While I have limited experience with them, Mozy does protect against “impersonation” threats. If someone steals your laptop and they are particulary malicious, they could try to delete your online backup. Mozy does not provide a shortcut for deleting your online backup. Anything deleted will still be available for at least 30 days. The problem with online backups on the road is that you are unlikely to have a fast enough internet connection to make this feasible, especially if you have RAW photos.

An alternative to the online solution is the old fashioned snail-mail. Mail yourself a memory card with your photo backups before you travel home. The truly paranoid can do daily mail runs!

Same concept when traveling back home. If you are flying don’t keep both sets of photos in the same place. Put one in your carry-on and one in your checked bag. If you don’t have a checked bag and are traveling with others, give somebody else a copy of your photos.


There are many ways to perform backups. My hope with this post is that you now have the right mindset to choose the solution that is best for you. Don’t try to memorize this. Just stick to the 2 rules and use common sense to Duplicate and Protect your photos.

Categories: Electronics, Photography
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