How to Back up Photos While Traveling

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One of the biggest worries a photographer has during an extended trip is whether or not all of the digital files and photos they create will make it back with them. Everyone knows the best way to protect these precious documents and memories is to perform backups, just like you would if you were at home. However, there is the small problem that you aren’t at home with your RAID arrays and card readers and, in some cases, you may be stretching your devices’ batteries to the absolute limit. Here are some ways to make sure you are protected.

The best, but bulkiest

Xcellon DRD-401 24TB (4 x 6TB) Four-Bay HDD Enclosure with Drives

If you want the best available guarantee that your files are safe, the only way to do that is with a laptop, a proper RAID array, and cloud storage. If you are traveling and have the space (or assistants) to carry all of your important computer gear, an end-of-day backup to two drives or disks, followed by an upload to the cloud will ensure that everything is safe. This gives you the ideal hat trick of backup solutions, which includes two physical copies and one off-site.

Dragging everything along might be too much of a pain, or just impossible, in which case the easiest solution is a compact laptop or tablet that can be set up to hold your images. A laptop with a separate external hard drive will do best, but just keeping the images and files on the device’s internal storage, as well as the original memory card, will give you redundancy.

WD 2TB My Passport Ultra USB 3.0 Secure Portable Hard Drive

Specialized tools

Sanho HyperDrive ColorSpace UDMA 3 Wireless Storage Device (500GB)

While having a full-fledged computer and hard-drive kit is ideal, it is unlikely that you have the space, or desire, to drag a whole setup along. This is where dedicated backup tools can come in handy. A device such as the Sanho HyperDrive ColorSpace UDMA 3 Wireless Storage Device can accept both SD and CF cards and save all the files on internal storage so that you have a backup. Other options are available for various media in different capacities, so you should find one that works well for you. The huge advantage of these devices is that they don’t require a computer to work, meaning you can substantially cut down on the size of your kit.

Dual card setup

Nikon DSLR with dual memory card setup

If you are lucky, you may have a backup solution built right into your camera in the form of dual card slots. Many cameras with two slots, such as the D810 and 5DS R, can automatically write the images you take to multiple cards simultaneously. This is perhaps the best way to handle backups while traveling since the work can be done essentially without any additional steps. One should be careful however, because both cards are in the same place, meaning if you lose one you lose the other, which kind of defeats the purpose. Just be cautious while you are out traveling and make sure to swap out cards on a regular basis in order to make sure you have information spread out so you don’t lose it all in one accident.

One other option, while we are on the subject of memory cards, is to use extra SD and CF cards in your bag as another backup with your laptop. Memory cards are relatively cheap these days, and having a few on hand for making copies can only benefit you.

Tablets, laptops, phones, and the cloud

Eyefi 32GB Mobi Pro SDHC Wi-Fi Memory Card (Class 10)

As previously mentioned, the easiest choice for backup can be to simply transfer files to your laptop or tablet. Those devices, or even your phone, can then be treated as a separate storage option. Many of them can also be set up with a cellular connection that can be used to upload your files to the cloud, which creates a simple way to back up your photos both physically and digitally off-site. Some users with Wi-Fi built into their cameras may use that feature to quickly select and transmit photos to most smart devices, or you can pick up a Wi-Fi-enabled memory card, such as the ones from Eyefi, to transfer files.

11 Comments

Hi. If I own a Nikon Z7 and an Ipad Pro, could anyone pls tell me how to use the iPad for storage. I haven’t figured out a way to connect them except wirelessly. The new XQD card is annoying... thank you.

Hi Mila,

Unless you picked up the latest 2018 iPad Pro with USB-C, I think you are out of luck for transferring directly from the card. You may be able use the Lightning to USB Camera Adapter (https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/897273-REG/Apple_md821zm_a_LIGHTNING_TO_USB_CAMERA.html) to do the transfers if the Z7 is supported. However, to be honest, I think your best bet may be a devices like the GNARBOX or WD My Passport Wireless SSD, which offer USB ports and can perform backups and be accessed by an app on your iPad when needed. You also won't fill up your iPad with a ton of images.

Nice and clear article. Now XferMax X8 is the alternative solution to backup data. CFast/XQD/CF card slot built-in, no more external card reader required. LCD screen allows to preview JPG and raw format. Removable HDD/SSD and battery. High copying speed 140MB/s, 128GB copying takes about 20 minutes. 

Quite often when traveling cloud storage is not an option. Have been using a WD MyPassport, but now the battery seems to be going bad and it is non replaceable. Storing to a laptop is often not viable, as you run into storage limits, risk of theft, and an extra heavy/bulky item to carry around. Looking at this and other options, such as the Samsung SSD.

Hi Warren,

There are some recent releases that might be appealing to you and which should probably be added to this article to make it more current: the GNARBOX and the LaCie DJI Copilot. Both function in a similar manner to the WD MyPassport (which is still a great option barring the battery issue), but are newer and offer enhanced durability if that helps. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be anything out yet with a user-replaceable battery.

Nice article! Now you can add the Gnarbox to the list :)

Thanks Otavio! I actually did add the Gnarbox to a more recent article called <a href="https://bhphotovideo.com/explora/photography/buying-guide/guide-portable-hard-drives-travel-photographer">Guide to Portable Hard Drives for the Travel Photographer</a>, which you should check out if you liked this.

I have photographed in over 40 countries on five continents and always carry at least one 4TB LaCie Rugged RAIDS (depending on length of travel).  Compact and fast!

I agree with Neale’s procedure as it is the lightest and simplest.  Each night when travelling I copy all my images onto dated folders on my Samsung Galaxy 8” S2 tablet with a card reader and OTG cable, check them on it’s excellent IPS screen and then copy them from the tablet to one or more 64GB flash drives.  The original cards go into my check-in case, the tablet into my carry-on bag and the flash drive goes on a cord around my neck and stays there except for showers and bed time! I am thinking of using some micro-SD cards in its small case tied to a light cord as they are less conspicuous under my shirt.

Triple backup makes me feel a bit more secure especially after having had two cases opened when we were in a very safe Asian country. Both had TSA locks on them so who had a key? The other two cases has keyed padlocks on them and weren’t touched.  Only some papers were stolen from each case and these were easily replaced.  Very scary and now we don’t use TSA locks unless travelling to/from the USA. 

I did a lot of research a couple of years ago on finding a suitable 'light' solution to this.  I landed on a Western Digital Wireless hard drive with a built in SD card slot.  There are a number of options that can allow it to back up the inserted card automatically or you can do it manually.  With an accompanying table (IPad), I have total control of the hard drive and piece of mind that I have the photos, can configure, reconfigure and hence don't need to take a laptop.

We just returned from Africa where each night we made 2 copies of our original camera cards using a $49 7" Amazon Fire tablet, ES File Explorer, an OTG cable and MicroSD cards for backup media. It worked better than I imagined, plus the tablet was great for reviewing the day's photos and video. A poor man's HyperDrive, with the advantage of being useful for reading books and watching pre-downloaded movies, and checking Facebook, Tumblr, email, etc when we did occasionally find wifi

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