Travel photography is one of the most fun and rewarding things to do while away from home. But whether you’re a hobbyist or pro, it’s important to have a solid backup plan for your photos. After all, it’s all fun and games until someone loses a memory card; or has a camera stolen; or accidentally formats a card. Catch my drift? There are countless ways to lose your images while traveling. In some cases, there’s a chance for data recovery, and in other cases, it’s pretty much hopeless. So it’s best to plan ahead for the worst case scenario with a backup plan.
Having just returned from several international trips that involved both travel photography and videography, I have a workflow that has kept my data safe. In this post, I’ll share how to store photos with my travel photography workflow.
It’s worth noting that I was traveling for a paid job that lasted three weeks, and I used four different cameras, so my workflow may seem like overkill to some.
However, consider this: there are a plethora of camera devices out there, such as drones, smartphones, mirrorless cameras, and waterproof point-and-shoots. Thus, I don’t think it’s unreasonable that some of you might also travel with multiple recording devices, even if just for a vacation.
What I bring with me
You can never have too many memory cards. Some photographers advocate for bringing one memory card for each day that you are traveling, but that can be tough if you’re away for more than 2 weeks. My rule of thumb, especially if I’m recording 4K video, is to bring enough cards to fill my memory card wallet. In my case, I use a Pelican 0915 case that holds a total of 12 SD cards, so I bring 12. When one card is filled, I have the label facing inwards so I know not to use it. If I can help it, I never format or delete a memory card when I’m on the road. Thus, my memory cards are one layer of data protection.
Two portable hard drives
I also bring at least two portable hard drives with me. One is a 1TB Samsung SSD hard drive, which I consider my secondary backup. It’s a bit pricey as far as hard drives go, but considering that it is a compact SSD hard drive, it is fantastic for doing photo and video editing on. I also bring a 4TB LaCie rugged hard drive. Its high capacity storage means I should never run out of space while on a trip. Also, in the case of both the SSD and rugged drives, they can take a bit of a beating, which is also important for travel. Don’t skimp on quality and bring a non-rugged hard drive with you. All it takes is a light blow to destroy them.
Try as I may, I can’t find a viable travel photography workflow that doesn’t involve bringing a laptop computer, especially if I’m shooting for a client. It’s too important to be able to carefully review all of my work each night and sometimes churn out quick edits on the go. However, if you’re dealing with smaller files or simply lower volumes of media, an iPad could work for you, as long as you can connect your hard drives and memory cards.
Why multiple hard drives?
The thing about hard drives is that they will inevitably crash on you. Sometimes, it’s for an obvious reason (ie. dropping it), and other times it will happen for seemingly no reason at all. Plus, there’s also the danger of losing a hard drive or having it stolen from you. Thus, you want to have at least two hard drives, each with a copy of your photos and videos on it. When traveling, put the hard drives in different bags. That way, you’ll still have a copy if a bag goes missing.
My travel photography backup workflow
I almost always use multiple cameras these days including my primary Fujifilm X-T3, DJI Osmo Pocket, GoPro Hero 7 Black, and Samsung Galaxy S10. All four of these devices are capable of capturing high-resolution photos and videos, which is both a blessing and a curse. They all take the same type of memory card (SD card, or microSD with SD card adapter), so the first thing I do is label each memory card with a silver sharpie. I write my last name and a number so I can tell each memory card apart.
I also go into each camera device and make sure the date and time are accurate and synced across all devices. This is especially important if you are on a long trip and are shooting with multiple cameras. If my camera allows for it, I also customize the folder name where the media is recorded to. This helps for distinguishing what media comes from which camera at the end of the day.
At the end of each day, I sit down with my laptop and review the day’s media from each camera. I create folders on both hard drives and name the folders based on the date of the shoot, what camera the media is coming from, and how many total items there are (ie. 30 May_Fujifilm XT3_130 Items). Folder name structure is again very important if you’re shooting with multiple cameras on multiple days. It helps you keep your media organized and easy to find.
Going over this process is helpful not only for feeling more inspired to keep shooting, but also to ensure that my gear is clean and working properly. You can only see so much detail from a camera’s LCD preview screen. I make sure that if one memory card is full, I place it label facing down in my memory card wallet so I don’t delete it.
What about cloud backups?
I know some of you will wonder about backing up your photos to a cloud service, and this is certainly a possibility. However, this is highly dependent on two things: 1) what format are you shooting in and how large your files are, and 2) how fast is your Internet upload speed? Personally, cloud backups are not reliable for me mainly because I shoot RAW photos and 4K video. Each is too large to upload to the cloud unless I happen to have ultra-fast Internet speed. However, in a perfect world (i.e., my Gigabit Internet that I have at home), I do cloud backups of my photos and videos on both Google Photos and SmugMug.
The key to the best photography workflow is to have one in place and do what works for you. Mine is based on my particular needs and shooting style, but it doesn’t have to be what you choose. What’s most important is to recognize that things do go wrong and it’s incredibly easy to lose your photos or videos.
So make sure you have a backup plan in place both on the road and when at home.
What does your photography workflow look like? Let me know in the comments below!