Backing up on the road
Many people tend to have the perception that shooting digitally is somehow more risky than using film. Certainly any digital file or digital media can become corrupted and rendered useless, but this overlooks what is one of the greatest advantages of digital images - that you can make any number of back-ups! With a proper and comprehensive back-up strategy your digital pictures can be far more secure than anything shot on film.
After all, with film you only get one copy of your pictures. If the film is lost or stolen then you will loose everything. Film is also susceptible to heat, humidity and x-rays - especially the stonger machines used to screen hold baggage.
Another advantage is that except possibly for a laptop (depending on the size of your laptop and the amount of film you would have shot) then any digital back-up strategy will take up less space and weigh less than the equivalent film.
The first thing to remember when working out a back-up strategy is that you need at least two copies. Many people carry a back-up drive or burn copies of their pictures and then erase and re-use the memory cards.
If you only have one copy of your pictures then if something happens to that copy, whether it be loss, theft, damage or corruption, you will loose everything.
Memory cards are so large, and so cheap these days that unless you are on a very long trip then you could easily buy enough so that you don’t need to reuse them. If you have enough memory cards then you only need worry about a single back-up. Then you will still have two copies - the minimum for a safe back-up.
You should also consider how you can keep the two back-up separate from each other. I use a laptop and a back-up drive. I keep the back-up drive with me so that all of my pictures are not in the same hotel room or at risk from theft.
There are a number of back-up strategies that you can employ, which mainly depend on whether you take a laptop with you or not.
Burning CDs and DVDs on the road
There are a number of internet cafes all over the world, where you can have CDs, or more usefully DVDs burnt for you.
Advantages: you don’t need any extra equipment to carry with you. DVDs are fairly stable once they have been written - certainly for relatively
Disadvantages: you can’t back-up until you get to an internet cafe! If you don’t have a full disc of images when this happens you can build up quite a collection of half empty discs!
Consider: getting two copies made and posting one of the home. Make sure that you check the discs in a different computer before trusting them and erasing the disc. If you use a 4GB card then you can back the whole card on one DVD. It is sometimes worth bringing high quality discs with you - these might be more reliable than cheaper ones, especially in the developing world!
Taking a back-up drive
A back-up drive is a standalone hard drive with a built in card reader and user interface so that it can be used independently of a computer. Typically these devices also have a screen so you can preview and edit your pictures. I use the Hyperdrive Colorspace UDMA, but there are a number of other models available.
Advantages: small and compact. Can store many GB of information in a small package that can be easily carried or locked in a hotel safe.
Disadvantages: they can be expensive, and also some suffer from poor battery performance. This can be an issue if you are in the wilds, and away from power.
Consider: Make sure that you always have two copies of your pictures. Don’t just back-up and delete your cards. Make sure that you have enough cards to see you to the next internet cafe, or a different back-up device.
Taking a laptop
This is my favoured option although carrying a laptop isn’t for everyone. The advantage is that you can edit and review pictures on a calibrated screen and check things like focus and look out for any damage to lenses, or even dust on your camera sensor. I use an Apple 13” Macbook, which is compact and fairly robust. Whatever you use, make sure that it is a small laptop, and be very aware of the risks of taking a laptop on the road. You should make sure that you don’t carry sensitive material on your laptop, and use encryption if possible. Back-up and remove all un-necessary documents before you travel.
Advantages: comprehensive storage and the ability to review, edit and even process your images. Can also allow you to check email and carry other documents whilst you travel. If you are serious about your photography, and even trying to sell pictures, then you can use your laptop as a mobile office. There are far more wireless networks around these days, even in developing countries, and good quality internet access is often not very far away. A laptop should also let you burn CDs and DVDs.
Disadvantages: relatively speaking, laptops are big, heavy and expensive. These are not good attributes for travel.
Consider: I also take a back-up drive, so that I can have two, completely independent back-ups as well as the unformatted cards. If you have a laptop and a decent internet connection (which seems to be available in more and more parts of the world) then you should consider some sort of remote back-up, at least for your best images.
So called cloud storage is a big thing at the moment, with a number of options for storing images on remote online servers. Whilst cloud storage is a great option, you should not rely on it. The back-up is only as good as the storage provider. Keep a separate back-up as well. You should also consider getting someone at home to copy off your pictures and check them whilst you are still on the road.
Advantages: your pictures are stored completely remotely. If all of your stuff is ripped off then they are still safe. Furthermore, if you are a professional then you can actually get your pictures out and working for you before you have even returned home.
Disadvantages: remote back-ups are really only possible if you have a laptop and a good internet connection. You could try to remotely back-up from an internet cafe, but this is not so convenient. The ideal is having your own laptop and a wireless connection in your hotel room. You can back-up your best pictures as you sleep!
Photo storage and display sites
There are a number of places where you can upload and even display your images. These can be a useful extra back-up, although it is not always possible to copy RAW files on to the system. There are a number of free sites, but as with many things, the safest options can be when you actually use a pay service.
This might sound like an unreasonable expense when you can get something for free, but most of the free services plague you with advertisements, and they also don’t always carry out such a robust back-up of your data. The premium pay services aim to be more secure and offer greater functionality. Some sites also allow you to order prints online.
Sites to consider are:
Photoshelter - a professional image storage and distribution site, with a wealth of features for the professional and semi-professional photographer. If you opt for one of the paid solutions, you sell images and power galleries from your account.
Smugmug - offer a comprehensive storage service with unlimited storage and bandwith. You and your friends and family can even order prints of your pictures. The cost starts at $40 a year. Their professional portfoli service costs $150 a year.
These are effectively network discs. You rent space on a remote server and can copy any type of file on and off the server. Sometimes this involves using a separate program, other times you can arrange for the remote discs to mount on your computer as if they were local discs. You can also use cloud storage to maintain an off-site back-ups of your whole computer - vital in case you local back-up is damaged by fire or flood! Note: you have to be connected to the internet to accessyour cloud storage, and copying files to you cloud storage can take some time!
If you are a subscriber to Apple’s iCloud service then you get up to 5GB of cloud storage included, although you can purchase more space. A 50GB upgrade costs $99 a year.
Drop Box is a great service which works on Mac, PC and even Linux platforms. You can either access it through a web interface, or through a destop application. This allows you to create a folder which is then synched online, and can be accessed from any computer. You caqn even create a public folder which you can use to share files and set up a public drop folder. You can get a free 2GB account, but have to pay $99 a year or $9.99 a month for a 100GB upgrade. This pricing information is tucked away in the FAQs section on the website which is a little hard to find, so I have included the direct link below.