As a photographer, it is nothing worse than losing your hard pictures, whether it comes from hard drive failure, theft or something else. With a good backup strategy, keeping your photos safe at home is easy, but what about when you're still shooting? What if you go out of the net and away from your laptop for a few days, or even a few weeks? Let's take a look.
While out on site, the biggest risks to your photos are theft, loss and data loss. The solution to all three risks is mostly the same: Make sure you never have just one copy of your pictures on a single SD card or a hard drive or all your copies in a single place. It's a little more than that, so read on.
Use the right card
To minimize the risk of data loss from a faulty SD card ̵
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If your SD cards have been in a box that collects dust for a while, it is worth looking at them. Make sure they are not dipped, scratched or otherwise damaged. You should also format them before each shot.
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If you have dual card slots, use them
Dual card slots are professional and if your camera supports them, them absolutely. If you don't shoot a lot, push RAW on both cards. This way you automatically get a backup of each image you shoot. The odds of a failed card are small; The odds for two cards that fail at the same time before you can back up your photos elsewhere are basically zero.
Even if you shoot at double cards, it is a bad idea to walk them both in your camera. If someone steals your camera or falls off a cliff, which may also happen, you do not want both cards to go with it. When you don't shoot, take one out and store it on your person, with someone else in your group or in your bag.
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Use multiple SD cards
The risk of something happening to your SD cards goes up longer when you use them. Because SD cards are so cheap, it makes sense to use many of them. For several days of travel I use two cards every day: a main card and a backup card. At the end of each day I store them separately – usually one in my backpack and one in my hotel room or AirBnB – and put two fresh cards in my camera. In this way, if something happens, I only lose one day's worth of host images instead of a whole trip worth. It doesn't matter if the cards are full or not.
If you go this way, it is a good idea to number your cards, so you know which pictures are on each one. My camera shoots to both CF and SD cards, so I number the CF cards as 1.1, 2.1, 3.1 etc. and the SD cards as 1.2, 2.2, 3.2 and so on. A numbering system that works for you will do.
If you can, back up while shooting
An increased number of portable hard drives, such as GNARBOX or Western Digital My Passport Wireless Pro, have a built-in card reader. If you travel without your laptop it is worth investing in one. You then have a way to back up your photos every night, or even out in place. It is especially important if you only shoot a single SD card.
One thing to note is that some cameras, like the Nikon Z6 and Z7, shoot at different card formats: make sure what is difficult to drive you buy supports the card format or has a USB port and supports one ordinary card reader.
With backups no one and two are one so even after you have taken back your pictures up to a hard drive, it is a good idea to leave the pictures on the storage cards until you know your photos are stored securely in multiple locations – or yet better, in the cloud.
Importing and backing up as soon as you can
When you are at home or back where you live on a longer journey – your first task, before you shower or drink, should be to start importing and backing up your photos. If you don't do it first, it's too easy to get distracted and speed up.
Import your photos to Lightroom or any other file management app you use, upload them to Dropbox or another cloud storage provider. If you have shots more than a handful of pictures, the whole process must remain for at least a few minutes. longer if you are in hotel wifi. Only when you are sure your pictures are stored in at least two separate locations, it is safe to reformat your SD cards and use them again.
If all this sounds a bit paranoid, you were right. But data loss happens. The camera equipment is stolen. And if you're not ready, you can lose hundreds or thousands of images you've spent time, money and effort creating.
Image Credit: Eddie Yip on Flickr.