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15 Tips for Protecting Your Images While Traveling

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You have saved and saved and spent a large investment to go on a trip, on your photography gear, to photograph what matters to you, and to create lasting memories and images. Losing your images is not an option. Have you thought about the precautions to help make sure your images are safe after the shutter is pressed?

Many people cringe at the thought of losing their images while traveling or any other time for that matter, and rarely do they think it will happen to them. Yet, unfortunately the reality is that people lose their precious images.

Clearly mark all memory laptops gear 600px

Has your memory card ever suddenly decided to give you the dreaded “error” notice? Maybe your new back-up hard drive failed or maybe you simply lost your camera bag by leaving it in the over-head bin of the airplane? Sound familiar? Maybe one of these situations has happened to you, or one of the many other possibilities that can occur to ruin all of your dream trip photography has taken place.

No you say? It hasn’t happened to you yet? GREAT! This means up until this point you have been fortunate or hopefully properly prepared. The saying “Those that back-up and those that will” comes to mind. Having lead photographic tours all around the world, the amount of times images I have seen lost by photographers, is truly staggering. Don’t let it happen to you! After all, some would argue that the most important part of their trip is their images. So why do people not take more time to properly protect the fruit of all their investment and labor, their images?

Here are some helpful tips and hints to keep your most precious commodity of your travels, your images, safe.

#1 Get into a system

Create an organized system and do not waiver from it! Follow the hints below, set up a system, and be consistent.

Consistent system 600px

#2 Keep non-downloaded cards unique

In your card carrier case, keep all non-downloaded memory cards upside down. In this way, you know the card is not ready for use. When you have downloaded AND backed up, at that time place the card right side up again. It is now ready to use.

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#3 Format your memory cards

Before each use, format and make sure your card is clean before using. This makes sure the card is completely ready to go. Of course, only do this if all of your current images on the card are downloaded AND backed up!

#4 Don’t put all your eggs(images) in one basket

Simply put, do not buy the largest memory card money can buy and shoot your entire trip on one card. Buy smaller ones, then if you lose a card or one goes bad, you at least have a portion of your trip images still.

#5 Bring PLENTY of high quality memory cards

Memory cards have come down in price drastically. In order to have all your images on many different cards, invest in plenty of memory. It makes no sense to spend thousands of dollars on a trip, gear, and more only to skimp a few dollars on what holds the memories!

Diversify your shootng on several cards

#6 Download and backup every day

Once you return to the hotel room, you may be tired, but your images are worth the little extra effort to download immediately and then backup to a secondary device.

#7 Always carry an external hard drive

As soon as you download to your laptop, be sure to immediately backup to an external hard drive as well. The price of memory is so inexpensive; there is absolutely no reason to not be carrying a lightweight external hard drive.

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#8 Carry your used memory cards on you physically

This reduces this risk of loss due to theft of your gear, leaving your gear accidentally, or in case you must check your gear for any reason either on a flight or gate check.

#9 Don’t erase your images

Unless you are out of cards to use and it is absolutely needed, do not erase the images. If you are downloading and backing up, now you have them in three locations. If you follow the hint about having plenty of memory, this should not be a problem.

#10 Use the dual card slot on your camera

Some cameras have dual card slots. The Canon 5d Mk3 as an example allows you to use a CF card in one and an SD in the other. When you shoot, the system can be set to automatically write to both cards. This is great, yet it does take longer to save as it requires longer write time. This is no excuse for NOT following the other hints.

#11 Shoot RAW and large Jpeg files

Recovery software available cannot recover RAW data as easily as a Jpeg. For this reason, if you shoot with both RAW and Jpeg, you have a higher likelihood of being able to recover images if a card goes bad. You may not have the best image if you lost your RAW data, but at the very least you will have a high quality Jpeg which as we all know, is still great quality. This of course requires more usage of memory, so once again, see #5 above and carry plenty of cards!

Shoot RAW PLUS Large Jpeg

#12 Partner up

If traveling with another person or group, buddy up with a partner to carry your external hard drive of backup images and you carry theirs. In this way, your images are on you physically on your memory cards and laptop, and then in case something happens, another set is with another person.

#13 Contact info

Be sure to write your phone number and email address on all your memory cards, hard drives, laptop, card carrying case, and camera bag.

Clearly mark all memory laptops gear 600px

#14 Store a backup of your images from home

Answer this question: If you were away and your home had a fire, would you possibly lose your images? If the answer is yes, you have some work to do. Carry a back-up of your home computer hard drive with you or have one at another location. Also, keep hard drives in fire-proof safes.

#15 Use online storage

Many companies such as Dropbox, Carbonite, Amazon, and more offer excellent, inexpensive online storage solutions. The issue is that while traveling, you may not have good internet connections and it can take forever to load your RAW images or large files.

Do you have any other methods or tips for keeping your images safe when you travel? Please share in the comments below.

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David McKay along with his wife Ally, own and operate McKay Photography Academy and McKay Photography Inc. The academy leads tours, classes, and workshops throughout the world. Their studio is known for high-end artistic portraiture. David holds the degrees of Master of Photography, Craftsman, and Certified from Professional Photographers of America. David lives in El Dorado Hills, CA just east of Sacramento and has been a professional photographer for over 27 years. Visit the Academy website or his studio website for more info.

  • David McKay

    So glad you were able to recover some images!

  • longshadow

    I upload to the laptop each day when traveling, leaving the images on the chips. (Two places is better than one.) When I get home, I copy to the desktop, which is backed up by Carbonite. After Carbonite does it’s thing, only then do I remove the images from the chips. I still have them easily acessible in two places plus off-site backup. Offsite backup is an extra safety measure, JUST in case.

  • David McKay

    Thanks for commenting! I had two HDs go bad the other day!! My external and one on my home PC… Yep thank goodness for 3rd and 4th. Crazy never had that happen and that is after the article was written!

  • landshark123

    At least we no longer have to worry about digital cards getting cooked by airport X-ray machines.

  • landshark123

    .txt is pretty universal as well.

  • David McKay

    Amen to that!

  • landshark123

    When I used to work in the biz (OK Ritz Camera) whenever I was selling to a customer and they mentioned they were going on vacation (esp overseas). I’d jump all over them to get an X-ray safe bag for their film. (And stress the importance of carrying it with them and not putting it in their luggage, Baggage machine were notorious for being far more powerful then ones you had to walk through. If they were resistant, my favorite horror story to bring up was the one when David Atenborough got several weeks of underwater footage turned to 18% grey by the machines at the airport in Fiji.

    While digital cards are immune from X-rays, they are still twitchy around metal detectors. Thankfully smartmedia cards are no longer used. They were notorious for that. Once had a floppy disk murdered by a metal detector in the US Capitol.

  • landshark123

    Two in one day? I’d have your gear exorcised!

  • longshadow

    I would not imagine. Formatting is just data in the memory cells. I worked with all kinds of memory chips in the past in a components group. No one ever heard of them being “used up” from over-use. They would just die normally at the end of the bathtub curve.

  • longshadow

    Your memory cards are treated as if they were a “disk drive” by the software, ergo the need for formatting. “Memory” is just addressable storage locations, which require specific information to use, or access the cells (specific code). Utilizing the chip as a “disk” allows multiple operating systems to use them in a common, portable fashion. Sometimes the [static] memory locations MAY loose their information, but it takes a while, and is normally uncommon. BTW – NEVER pick up a chip if there is a chance of static electricity zapping them. You most likely WILL kill it.

  • Melissa Buss

    I write my name and phone number on my batteries with a Sharpie marker, if someone found my camera and wanted to return it, they’d eventually come across the information there if nothing else.

  • Maria R

    I dont delete pics while taking pics. I don’t want to accidentally erase “all” by mistake.

    When i make a backup, i write protect the sd card. Again, this ensures I don’t delete the sd card without verifying that all pics are in the external drive. Once verified, i can delete/reformat the sd card.

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