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Five sure-fire tips for keeping your travel photos safe on the road

Internationally acclaimed photographer Elia Locardi’s livelihood relies on keeping his precious image files safe. He reveals the strategies you need to help ensure you never lose a single shot on the road

Since 2009, I’ve been on the road full time, capturing and sharing the most beautiful destinations on the planet. With so many years of travel, I’ve accumulated dozens of terabytes of photos and videos. Throughout this perpetual journey, I’ve done my best to keep my data as safe as possible, no matter where in the world I happen to be.

Here are my tips and recommendations for keeping your data safe while travelling.

1. Bring enough storage… and then some

By far the most important rule for keeping your photos safe while travelling is to always bring enough storage capacity. In fact, while calculating how much storage I’ll need while on the go, I always try to overestimate. There’s nothing worse than being out in a remote shooting location and running out of space for your photos.

Above all, having a large assortment of reliable cards for your cameras paired with a few ruggedized and reliable portable hard drives is absolutely key for maintaining a seamless photography workflow while on the road. Having enough storage also gives you the ability to not hold back on shooting due to fear of running out of space.

Another thing to consider when arming yourself with an abundance of storage media is the read and write speed. Having both high speed cards and hard drives means that you can spend more time in the field shooting with high frame rates and less down time copying and backing up all of the data. Cards like the SanDisk Extreme Pro might cost a little more, but the extra speed is worth every penny.

2. Automate your backup

If your camera has dual memory card slots, by default the write settings should be set to sequential mode. This means that once the first memory card is full, the camera will switch to the second slot and continue writing the photos sequentially. For the ultimate peace of mind, I recommend shooting with the write settings configured to backup.

Transferring images to the Cloud (SanDisk)

Transferring images to the Cloud (SanDisk)

With backup enabled, each time you take a photo, the camera will write the file to both cards which creates an automatic backup of everything you shoot. This helps ensure that in the rare case of a card read error or failure, the backup card will still have a perfect copy of your photos. It’s the ultimate peace of mind in the field. Just keep in mind that you’ll need to carry a few extra cards since two are used at once.

If you have access to free or cheap Wi-Fi, consider backing up your photos to the cloud. Some home/small business storage products like Western Digital’s My Cloud Home include a personal cloud service that automatically backs up your files to your internet-connected drive back home.

3. Portable SSDs and hard drives are your friend

While on the road and after each day of shooting, I always copy the entire contents of my memory cards to my portable hard drives. My rule of thumb is to always have important data copied to at least two different locations.

This can either be two separate external hard drives, or as an alternative, one copy on the internal laptop drive and the other to an external drive. With either scenario, the data is redundant since it’s now in at least two additional places.

Personally, I like to use two separate hard drives instead of my laptop drive for multiple reasons. First, internal SSD storage on my laptop is limited and I’m often out of space. Secondly, external hard drives are extremely portable and much more affordable when dealing with multiple terabytes of data. New wireless portable drives like the My Passport Wireless SSD make transferring files easier than ever.

SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD drive (SanDisk)

SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD drive (SanDisk)

4. Don’t clear your memory cards until you’re back home

After copying all the files from the memory cards onto two portable hard drives, I take file preservation even further by keeping the data on the memory card as well. That way, in the ultra rare situation where both backup hard drives become compromised, my files are still safe on the memory card itself. And while I know this means investing in quite a few cards for in-the-field work, it also gives you a high level of protection against losing any data.

I also want to point out that I don’t keep the photos on the memory cards permanently. Once I get back to the studio with both hard drives still in tact and fully operational, I wipe the data off of the memory cards and prepare them for the next photo trip. Sometimes I am away for a weekend and sometimes I’m away for months at a time, but no matter how long the trip is, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

5. Keep your storage solution physically safe

If you’re going to invest all this time and energy to create a redundant backup system on the road, it’s also really important to protect it. And while using high quality and durable storage media is paramount, so is taking physical care of it.

Being on the road full time since 2009, I’ve had my share of device failures and there’s always the potential of theft. One thing I’ve learned is to take advantage of any security you happen to have. If you’re staying in a hotel, always put your hard drives in the room’s safe box. Or, if you’re staying in a dodgy area, keep one in the safe box and carry one with you.

Travel kit including SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD (SanDisk)

Travel kit including SanDisk Extreme Portable SSD (SanDisk)

Never place your hard drives in checked luggage. Always pack them in a carry on bag.

If you’re in transit and have friends or colleagues travelling with you, ask someone responsible to carry one of the hard drive backups for you as well. That puts two backups with you and one with a friend. And by all means, if you’re flying to the next destination, never place your hard drives in checked luggage. Always pack them in a carry on bag.

For more remote destinations or when you’re hiking and camping for multiple days, keep them in dry bags just in case you get caught in a storm, and I don’t just mean rain, in the desert, I’ve found myself caught in dust storms as well. Do your best to protect them from the elements.

I often feel that the photos I’ve captured are more important and valuable than the camera gear itself. Above all – from the moment you leave on a trip to the moment you return – keep your cards and hard drives as safe as possible.

Elia Locardi is an internationally acclaimed professional travel photographer, videographer, writer and public speaker who spends his life shooting some of the most beautiful locations in the world. He is also a brand partner for SanDisk, manufacturers of hi-speed, ultra-reliable memory cards and other storage solutions.