The photography industry is moving forward at an astonishing speed. Technology constantly changes the way we take, edit, share and publish photos.
In the last years, my photography workflow has completely changed. Since I switched to mirrorless, it feels like I have a computer in my hands instead of a camera. It will not be long before a camera won’t be any different from a smartphone and more like a mini computer whose primary function is to take photos.
The way camera sensors keep improving is also amazing. The dynamic range, the pixel count, the sensitivity—all of it—is absolutely astonishing.
But, there is one area of photography that has not changed much in the last five to seven years and that is digital file management for travel photographers. Or, to put it simply, bringing your precious photos back home and safely storing them.
The Fact: Two main factors heavily contribute to our challenges. First, we shoot RAW and we shoot a lot. Second, we travel mostly to places with poor or no internet connection. We cannot safely back up our images to cloud servers immediately after the shoot, which means that we have to carry the images around for days or, sometimes, even weeks.
This is when careful planning makes a difference.
When I break down my backup routine, you can see two distinct areas:
Even though both strategies are very different, they have one thing in common: the heavy use of external hard drives. I even recently put together an article outlining the best external hard drive models that suit travel photography ( Best External Hard Drives for Photographers ).
Backup Strategy While Traveling
When I am on the road, the biggest change that happened in my backup photography workflow came with the release of a new device by Western Digital, the WD My Passport Wireless.
It is an external hard drive that has one unique feature—a dedicated SD memory card reader that automatically backs up the contents of the inserted SD card without the need of a computer.
The dedicated SD card reader has been a game changer in my travels. For years, my laptop computer was the center of my photography workflow on the road. Now, the WD My Passport Wireless has ultimately replaced it, making my laptop an optional piece of equipment.
Currently, I have three variations of backup strategies that cover different scenarios of my photography when I travel.
Long Photography Trips
I define “long trips” as anything that lasts longer than a week.
Although I previously said that my laptop is an optional piece of equipment in my travel photography, I do prefer to have one for long trips. However, my laptop is no longer part of my backup strategy. Instead, when I need to produce photos for publishing, I use my laptop for Lightroom Editing.
Equipment I bring:
When shooting during the day, I set my camera to the RAW+JPEG shooting mode. This allows me to connect my camera to a smartphone or tablet during the day and grab the JPEG versions of the photos to quickly edit them in Snapseed and then publish them on social media.
During the day, I constantly back up the contents of my memory card to one of the WD My Passport Wireless drives. For example, when I am finished shooting at one location and start traveling to the next, I always insert my SD card into the drive and let it back up while I’m driving. By the time I reach my next location, all my photos are safely copied to the external drive.
When I arrive at my hotel or camping site each evening, I automatically back up all the new photos I took during the day to a second WD My Passport Wireless drive.
I also keep a temporary travel Lightroom Catalog on one of my drives. In case I decide to edit some of my photos during the trip, I connect my drive to the laptop and launch the Lightroom Catalog from the drive.
I use this setup for photography trips that last less than a week and when I prefer not to bring a laptop with me.
For example, when I drive to New York for a three-day trip, I always bring a laptop regardless of whether I need it or not. But, if I know that I plan to spend a week at a campground in the middle of nowhere without an internet connection, I prefer to leave my laptop at home.
Equipment I bring:
I incrementally back up my new images multiple times throughout the day. By the time I reach the campground at the end of the day, I already have all my images on two devices.
Although I do not have a laptop, I can always connect to the drive with my tablet and grab any photos (JPEGS only) to edit in Snapseed.
This approach makes sense for shorter but very demanding trips when every gram counts—like multi-day hiking trips, for example.
In these situations, I only bring one wireless drive and always keep copies of my photos on the memory cards. With this setup, the memory cards serve as backup devices.
Equipment I bring:
This approach is not 100% bulletproof, but the risk of losing images from both devices is not very high.
As you can see, I managed to achieve redundancy with my backup strategy on almost every step of my travel photography workflow.
I said “almost” because, at this point, I am not yet able to achieve redundancy at the time of shooting. This requires a camera with dual memory card slots that would allow me to record images to two cards simultaneously while shooting.
My Sony a6000 does not have dual memory card slots but what is even more surprising is that the latest Sony a6500 model, which cost $1,400, does not have this feature either.
I might need to look beyond the Sony realm when I choose my next camera.
Backup Strategy When Back Home
I am not going to spend too much time explaining my backup strategy at home because it is not specific to travel photography and the number of different setups and variations is almost infinite.
I use a three-level backup strategy.
Level 1 – Desktop Computer
I have a 4TB internal hard drive dedicated only to my photos. When I am back from a trip, I import all new photos to my Lightroom catalog and copy them from the external drives to an internal 4TB drive.
At this point, I do not rush to empty my external travel drives and, instead, keep them filled with photos from the latest trip until I am ready to leave on another one. This is just to be safe.
Level 2 – External Hard Drive
I have a 4TB external WD hard drive connected to my desktop computer.
Plus, I use 2-Bay Hard Drive Docking Station from Inateck with 2x4TB internal hard drives which extends my local backup volume to a whopping 12TB.
Every night the incremental backup process is triggered and copies all new and modified files to the external drive.
Level 3 – Cloud Backup
I use a service known as BackBlaze to back up the contents of my desktop computer to the cloud. I tested a number of different Cloud Backup and Cloud Storage solutions and found that BackBlaze is the one that best meets my needs.
I especially like my setup because after I import the photos to Lightroom (Level 1), the rest of the process is fully automated.
Important: It does not matter what system you use the goal should be the same. You need to have at least 3 copies of your images stored in not less than 2 different locations.
I achieve this goal by having my digital images stored on the internal hard drive, external hard drives, and cloud storage. 3 copies, 2 locations.
The process of bringing your photos home and storing them safely after you are back is not always straightforward. It takes research, planning and discipline. But, when you have a plan in place it becomes second nature and a habit.
I hope my backup strategy will inspire you to develop and implement a system of your own.