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There is an oft-quoted line that goes something like this.
“If there’s a fire in the house, people will grab the kids, then the pets, then the photo albums.”
So what about if you’re traveling? Chances are your camera won’t catch on fire, but maybe a hooligan will try to cut you for it. How do you safeguard your digital memories without worrying about it 24/7?
My friends say I’m a bit of a photo bug, and I’m often asked how I manage it all. Here’s the solution that I have used for the past 3 years and how you can use it too.
I call it “The Doubles.”
What You Need
Camera (I hope)
Memory cards (more than a couple)
Laptop (and an external hard drive won’t hurt either)
Step 1: Don’t Erase Your Memory Cards
First off, every day be sure to copy whatever new photos you have taken to your laptop. Do not remove them from your memory card. Remember: memory cards are cheap and small, so have a few.
When the memory card is full, swap it out for a new one, but don’t format (delete the images) from the older memory card. Just keep it in a nice, safe, waterproof bag.
Now you have two copies. One on your laptop, one on the memory card. I typically have these memory cards in my day pack, and my laptop back at the guesthouse. Two separate locations nearly all the time.
Bonus points: Create a third copy onto an external hard drive if you travel with one.
Step 2A: Send a Copy Home
After I have filled up all of my memory cards (4x 32GB + 3x8GB = 152GB total, this takes me about 6-12 months), I buy an external hard drive ($50-$75) and copy my complete photo library from the computer onto it. I ship this “home” which takes about 2-3 weeks typically from just about anywhere in the world.
Once it arrives, have someone verify that the files are OK, and they copy them to a computer. This could be a friend’s computer, or anyone else for that matter. Once that’s copied, start reusing my memory cards one by one.
Still two copies, One on your laptop, one back “home”
Bonus points: Have the photos copied to a RAID-like backup device such as a Drobo (or in my case a home server) when they arrive home.
Step 2B: Backup to the Cloud
You may have a cloud backup solution already. Mozy, Crashplan, and Carbonite are all popular choices. Even Dropbox can work as a backup. If you don’t shoot much, or you’re using a smartphone / P&S camera, the cloud can be a great way to back up your photos.
Whenever you’ve found yourself some internet access, it will back up your photos online for you automatically.
If you’re like me though, you can shoot a couple GB worth of images in a day without a sweat. Even with the pay plans (some are even “unlimited” in storage) you may run into the bigger problem of finding internet access fast and reliable enough to get it up there as fast as you’re shooting.
Still two copies, one on your laptop, one online
Step 3: Don’t Stop at Home
Just because you’re not carrying around your camera shooting parades in Rio anymore, doesn’t mean you can slack on caring for your photos. Keep two copies here as well.
While you still have a copy on your laptop, make a second copy onto an external hard drive and take it out of the house. Give it to a family member or friend and have them stick it on a shelf or in a drawer. Failing that, even a safety deposit box will do fine. If something happens to your computer, or your home, you still have a safe backup offsite.
Still two copies, one on the computer, and one on an external hard drive offsite.
Bonus points: If you’re more serious with your photos, make another backup for the backup. In my case, it’s a home server w/RAID and desktop computer.
I shoot with a DSLR, and it takes big pictures, so I have big memory cards (4x 32GB + 3x8GB = 152GB total) and 2 external hard drives. I prefer Western Digital “My Passport” 1TB hard drives, and Sandisk Ultra 32GB SD Cards.
I know first hand about hardware failures and worst case scenarios from my years in the technology services industry. You don’t want a hard drive failure, fire, theft, or any sort of malware to leave your photos nothing but a fading memory.
Data recovery is expensive, and I’m sure you would rather spend $2000 on your next adventure instead of recovering some of your photos from a past trip.
Whether you shoot with a $100 point & shoot, or a $4000 DSLR, remember your photos are once-in-a-lifetime, so treat them right.