The Reunion island holds friendly people, wild beaches, breath taking nature and even an active volcano. It also offers daily rains in the inland mountains and thus a lot of moisture. Combine that with precious electronics like a photo camera – and you may have a recipe for a hard attack. I almost experienced one, losing hundreds of photos due to humidity-caused short circuit, when standing on the hillside of the Piton de la Fournaise volcano. And this is what I learned about photos backup on the go...
Protecting the camera sounds as an obvious precaution. I am a careful guy but not the type to put a fancy looking accessory, which is basically a plastic bag, all over my gear. It wouldn’t have helped me anyway –just too much of air humidity everywhere. And when you have a camera, you should use it to take pictures, not to cuddle it in your hotel room.
And there are more ways to lose your photos when travelling: losing your camera, even a theft or robbery, technical malfunction etc. So one has to accept shit happens – and get ready. This is what I do since that Reunion adventure.
1) In-camera photo backup
I broke the piggy bank and purchased my beloved Nikon D800 when it was fresh on the market. One needs an excuse, right? The cool feature of D800 are two card slots. I setup my camera to store RAW files on CF card and backup JPEG files on SD card in the secondary slot. Except for very special photo shots, I do not store RAWs on both cards because of speed, as a legacy to my collection of small capacity 16GB SD cards and for reasons explained bellow.
I admit it’s not a full in-camera backup, as I usually have only one copy of the RAW files on the CF card. But hell, this is just to mitigate any hardware issues with cards. I am not done with my backup solution yet.
2) Download photos from the card
Don’t worry if you – like most people – happen not to poses toys like dual-slot D800. Then you should download the photos from your card. And I do it as well.
I rejected the notebook based solution, as I like my travel gear light. Notebook is also dependent on frequent presence of electric sockets and friendliness of their owners.
Instead I opted for an iPad, whichis lighter, can run longer per one charge and gets handy for other tasks as well.
To download the photos, I connect the camera via a dedicated cable and let the magic happen. To choose which card to backup - and thus RAW or JPEG - I simply remove the other card from the camera.
Works pretty fine for shorter trips, but when abroad for several weeks, the internal storage in an iPad can run out. That's why I am now exploring a backup solution involving external HDD / SSD connected to camera via mobile phone or rooter. Check out soon for further news.
When removing the full cards from the camera, it's a good idea not to store them all in just one location. If you are robbed, chances are they take the whole camera bag. Thus don't put the full cards or your backup HDD or SSD drive there. Also separate the CF and SD cards if you play around with dual-slot cameras. And contrary to my camera gear, I don't mind wrapping these into some plastic bags.
These are the precautions I learned to sport after that rainy day on Reunion island. And I try to stick to them most of my travel - despite I actually managed to rescue the photos. There are companies specializing in data recovery. Not cheap, but the good ones usually do the assessment for free, so you know what are your chances. I was lucky, getting 80% of the pics from the damaged card. And if they can't help you, they recycle the card ecologically. So the planet is fine and you are left with no photos, no Facebook likes and alone to suffer the pain of not backing up...