Congratulations. You have finally decided to make that big trip on your bucket list. It is natural to get excited in planning the details of the trip from booking the tickets to arranging for tours, excursions, special sites you want to see, hotels, transportation… the list can be exhausting. The one important thing that you, as a photographer, need to consider is how you are going to ensure that you get all of your precious photographs safely home.
We have all heard the horror stories of traveling photographers who have lost images due to a wide variety of reasons ranging from card failure to lost or stolen equipment. While not all circumstances can be avoided there are a number of strategies you can employ while traveling that can ensure you get all of your photos home safely.
Multiple Memory Cards
Multiple memory cards are a good strategy to have in your approach to travel photography. Purchasing a good quality case to store your CF or SD memory cards can allow you to keep them sorted by locale, or even which ones have been used. Adopting a strategy of changing out your memory cards at a location (similar to what a wedding photographer might do) can mitigate the possible, but unlikely event of a bad card and ensures that you at least walk away with some of your photos.
The difficulty with this strategy is book keeping. If you have a number of high capacity memory cards you may end up with a lot of empty space on them, so purchasing several, less expensive lower capacity cards might be a good idea to minimize the amount of wasted storage by swapping out a half used card. Re-inserting them for another venue is possible, but only adds to the risk of losing images from two places, unless you have made a backup of the previous days images.
Some higher end DSLR cameras have the ability to load multiple memory cards and write to both of them when an image is taken. The Nikon D300s, D3s, D7000, Canon EOS 1D Mark IV or Pentax 645D, to name a few, have dual memory card capability. With this feature you can write your images to both cards and simply store them in different places, minimizing the chance of losing all of your photographs should one of your bags go missing.
One of the simplest strategies to ensure a permanent record of your trip is preserved is to take your laptop computer along. While this can make it relatively painless for routinely getting the images off of your memory cards, it creates its own kinds of problems.
Laptop computers are not the lightest thing to cart around on a trip. Unless you have invested in a MacBook Air, or a Micro Notebook computer, that extra 5 lbs of computing power is going to start to feel like an extra suitcase once you are into the trip.
Added complications to the laptop solution revolve around security. Having a brand name DSLR can make you a robbery target, but computers are just as lucrative a target for thieves. Not all hotels or hostels will offer adequate security to ensure your peace of mind about leaving your computer behind for the day. Under the most unfortunate circumstances you could find yourself relieved of your camera, your computer and your photographs.
While insurance will replace the hardware, the photographs will be gone forever. So once again, it is wise to retain the photos on the original memory cards and store them in a separate place in you luggage.
If you have gone to the hassle of bringing your computer along, the internet might be a good backup alternative.
If your locale has reasonable internet capacity and upload speeds you have the option of backing up your images to your Flickr site or another online storage site like PhotoShelter, or SmugMug. The limitation of this strategy is the time it takes to make the transfers. Additionally, it might be best to convert your images to a lower jpeg resolution for the transfer if a large number of photos are involved. If you do end up losing the originals, at least some form of photograph will have been preserved and all not lost.
Portable Storage Drive Options
One backup strategy that does not require a computer nor internet access is one of several brands of portable memory card viewer/reader storage devices. Models like the Epson P-3000 or the HyperDrive Colorspace UDMA (pictured) have several gigabytes of storage and are capable of reading, storing and viewing most types of memory cards.
Additionally, these units are fully capable of reading and displaying RAW format from most camera manufacturers. Prices for these units range from $300 to over $1000 depending on make and storage capacity. Saving images to one and keeping the original images on the memory cards, stored in a separate location, is an effective strategy. If your hotel has a room safe as these units are small and easily stored in one.
An iPad (or other kind of tablet)
If you are one of the growing number of travellers eschewing a laptop computer in favour of a device like the iPad, you have a readily available storage and viewing device (assuming you did not fill the thing with your entire music library ;-D ) The nice thing about the iPad (in addition to giving you internet, email, music and all of your reading material in one place) is it can be used to store, view and edit photographs. A usb connection to your camera allows for the photos to be transferred to the iPad directly from your camera. Access wifi can allow you to backup the photographs online as well.
iCloud (or any other kind of cloud)
With the advent of cloud technology, upload your images from your iPad or other tablet device, or even your computer to virtual storage is almost automatic. Again, this assumes adequate wi-fi connectivity at your destination, but if available, it can provide a level of automated security for your images that can also allow you to share them almost immediately with others many thousands of miles away.
Many Choices for the Traveller
Regardless of the strategy you employ, with enough front end planning you will have a nice insurance policy in place allowing you to return home with all of your photographic memories.
Doug Pruden is a portrait and travel photographer from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He has guest blogged with Light Stalking and had his work appear on FlipPhotos. You can read Doug’s own blog on his site at http://prairielightimages.com or find him on Twitter or Instagram.