Travel Photography – How to backup files on the road & travel light

January 9, 2014

Travel photography… I’ve done many trips with my camera gear over the years, and always struggled to find the best way to safely back up my photos.  In the past I’ve usually resorted to carrying my Macbook laptop, and a stack of blank DVDs or USB thumb drives.  My process was to upload the images to the laptop, then create a second backup to either DVD or thumb drive.  This works fine, except it means carrying a laptop & power supply on trips where I honestly would rather do without the extra weight, and also the risk of damage to the machine itself.
An alternative is to purchase an external HD device that has a memory card reader built in, designed specifically for backing up images while on the road.  These are excellent, but can be quite expensive, and are really only good for that single purpose.
Recently, after a bit of research, I’ve come up with a new backup solution.  Here it is…

First…I am shooting with a Fuji XT2.  The beauty of this camera (and others like it) are the dual SD card slots.  This means I can choose to save 2 copies of every image I take, using the second card slot as backup.  When the card is full, I can store the second card away, and have an instant backup.  Awesome.  no extra effort, and relatively cheap & light way to store the images.  But what about a secondary backup?  There is always the risk of loss or damage to the cards.

My solution:

travel photography tips

Here is a list of what you see…Android phone.  Powered USB HUB. External USB HDD (WD My Passport). Memory card reader. And importantly… A USB OTG(on-the-go) cable.  It it the cable that has a micro USB to a female USB connection, and allows the Android device to connect to any of these devices.  The cables are very cheap.  I found mine on Amazon for only a few dollars.

I have a Samsung Android phone, and have installed a program called ‘Total Commander‘.  This app allows you to transfer files from one folder to another, or from your internal storage to built in microSD storage.  There is a plugin for the app called ‘USBstick plugin‘ that can recognize external devices such as USB sticks, external HDD, and momery cards (SD, CF, etc).

Here is an image of the app, showing the external HDD and the memory card as USB Drive ‘A’ & ‘B’.

Within the app, I am able to see the contents of both external devices, and move anything from one to the other.  This means I can copy my raw files from the SD card directly to the external HD, creating a second backup of my images, without needing a computer to transfer the files.  You can see in the next images how I can see both devices simultaneously on the app screen:

Now I find that the app isn’t the most intuitive, but I was quickly able to figure out how to setup the transfer.  I’ve seen other people that have done similar setups, but there is a need to ‘Root’ their Android device in order to get it to work.  This is not something that just anyone would want to do, as it is slightly more complicated, and risky, so this solution works great for the less technically inclined (like myself).  One thing I discovered is that I needed to format the external HD to FAT format in order for it to show up.  I also have found that I need to connect the external devices to the powered HUB first, then connect my phone with the USB OTG cable and open the app.

So there you have it.  A light weight, relatively inexpensive backup solution for storing your images while traveling.  I’m excited to take this setup with me on an upcoming trip to Germany & France.  Some other benefits of this system is I can access the images from my Android device anytime, so I can share a few online here and there as I travel, without needing a computer.  As well, when I get back home,  I can connect the HD to my computer and get to work on the real editing without needing to transfer files at all!

I hope you find this setup useful & I’d be glad to hear of your own travel photography backup solutions on the road & traveling light tips for photographers!  Keep posted to the blog, as I’ll be sharing a custom camera backpack I’m putting together soon.  Cheers!

***UPDATE:

There is a product I’ll be trying out on my next long trip.  It is the Western Digital Passport Pro WIFI HDD.  It is an external hard drive, with a built-in SD card reader, so you can automatically backup your files from the card directly to the hard drive..  It also can act as a backup battery to power your phone, and has an app you setup on your phone that allows you to view & transfer files from the drive to your phone.  So you can share images online right away.  You can even preview raw files with the app.  Not only that, but you can upload anything onto it, so if you want to store a movie or two for the trip, no problem.  Load them on there & they can be accessed via the app.  Amazing!  I can’t wait to test this out.
you can find these devices RIGHT HERE on Amazon, and they come in 1,2,3 & 4 TB versions.  This will be a serious simplification of the backup on the go process!!!

 

*Speaking of travel…
Are you using Airbnb yet?  If not, what are you waiting for?  You can use my DISCOUNT CODE to save a bunch of $$$ for your first trip.  It has completely changed the way we travel.  Having kids it is so nice to rent a home or apartment anywhere in the world for prices often better than a small hotel room!  Use my SIGNUP LINK to get your discount now!  Happy trails!

Want to read about my DIY camera backpack solution?  Check it out right here: DIY Camera Backpack

Want to get in touch?  you can do so RIGHT HERE.

 

 

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VIEW & ADD COMMENTS +

Hi Nick,
Glad to hear you got the transfers working with TC. It is great to have a simple app to do the important work of backing up files on the go. Cheers!

Thanks so much for recommending Total Commander; I was trying to transfer files (using my Android phone) between an SD card and a USB stick, with an OTG hub, and it wasn’t working with ES File Explorer (which only seems to recognise one external storage device at a time). I’ve got TC working, and it’s fantastic!

Re: “Finally, when transferring the data from the SD card, it is not copied. It is moved from the SD card to the HDD and the flashcard is wiped in the process! There is no other option.

I typically like to do a transfer, check that it was successful then reformat the card.”

This is not true. The settings allow you to copy files. I have, recently, however, had trouble getting the SD reader to automatically copy when the card is plugged in, which is how I had it set, and it worked correctly for a long time. I haven’t spent the time to troubleshoot it, though.

The new product (only gets as high as 3TB) looks enticing, because I don’t have any readers/writers that can actually use my Lexar’s faster connection speed. The second generation does, and 7.5 times faster at 75MB/s, according to http://www.dpreview.com/news/1713795375/western-digital-announces-my-passport-wireless-pro.

Wireless speed is only twice as fast, which is disappointing because the first gen wireless was painfully slow when accessed via cell phone wireless. Part of the reason I bought it was to be able to show photos via cell phone wifi, but that proved ridiculously slow and virtually unusable in real-time.

The nearly doubled battery capacity is very welcome. This, combined with faster SD transfer speeds in the field will allow manifold more uses on a single charge. This was the Achilles Heel I found while using it in the field… needed access to electricity due to heavy data transfers draining the battery. With a high capacity card, if filled, it would drain the battery before it finished.

For the example above, at 256GB/day, which is getting into the video transfer or medium format digital realm, I think this second generation model should fit the bill, though you’d probably have to charge every day or every other day, depending on your other uses of it. For that much data, I wonder how many high capacity hard drives you would need for a long trip without cloud uploads.

That makes me wonder if this second gen model would allow for data transfers to a second, larger hard drive, in the field, using the USB port. It would seem possible, but I also would recommend testing before heading into the field.

The only down side that I see in the new second gen model is the added weight. Comparing apples to apples, the 2TB first gen is a quarter-pound lighter, making field work lighter. But with larger battery capacity comes significantly more weight with current technology.

I’ll probably sell my first gen and get the second gen model, simply for the upgraded SD transfer speed and wifi speeds, and enjoy longer battery life at the cost of more weight.

Hi again Brian,
I looked into it, and there is a newer passport ‘pro’ available now, that has improved on the previous version: http://www.wdc.com/en/products/products.aspx?id=1660 Though from reviews it does seem that there are quite a few bugs still in the system. Hopefully there will be better options available soon!

Hi Shawn,

Thanx, for the quick response.

That looks like an interesting HDD, but I found three potential problems with it.

First, transfers using the onboard SD slot are limited to 25MB/sec, so transferring 256GB will take three hours.

Second, you still need some way to check the status of the transfer. Probably a cell phone would do the job.

Finally, when transferring the data from the SD card, it is not copied. It is moved from the SD card to the HDD and the flashcard is wiped in the process! There is no other option.

I typically like to do a transfer, check that it was successful then reformat the card.

Buying a smaller netbook is looking better all the time.

Thanx,

Brian

Hi Brian,
I think you should be able to transfer that much on a single charge. I suppose the best thing to do would be to test it out in advance.
I’m seriously considering getting a new setup for my future travels. If you read the comments, someone mentioned that there is a WD Passport wifi hard drive that allows you to plug your SD card directly into the drive to transfer files. Less wires! Here is a link to it: http://www.wdc.com/en/products/products.aspx?id=1330
Have a great trip & let me know what you end up using & how it all works! Cheers.

Hi,
Great post. I have one question as to capacity. I’m thinking about setting up a similar configuration with a Galaxy S4 for a trip to Africa. With both my wife and I shooting, I would expect that we will generate between 128 and 256 GB (yes, 256 gigabytes) per DAY. Do you have any idea if a fully charged phone can transfer that much data? The Galaxy series of phones only has a single micro USB port for both data transfer and charging – I did find an adapter that claims to do both, but it is junk!

Keep up the good postings!

Great feedback! First I’d like to say that I’m very interested in the WD My Passport WiFi as a new backup solution, that would be waaaaay simpler. From reviews it seems it could use some improvements (more durable casing, some interface improvements), but all-in-all, it really looks like I may consider this (or something like it, with improvements hopefully) for the next big trip.
I’d say also that I would personally not be interested in the eye-fi cards…Just doesn’t seem like a fast or reliable enough option… I shoot a lot, & large files, so it wouldn’t be for me at least.
I’ll still keep the SD card copies as backup. I wish my Fuji XT1 had dual card slots like my Nikon cameras, but oh well, I have lots of SD cards, so I can shoot & store them as I go.
Cheers, and thanks for the great feedback!

I’ve found the WD My Passport WiFi version HD does a great job as a backup. The WiFi works between the phone and HD, or also as a passthrough WiFi for connection to the internet. I haven’t been using all of it’s features, not having much need for the WiFi component, but that feature allows you to connect to the HD without cables with your cell phone. So, if you want the smallest form factor (no laptop, no cables, no USB hub, no SD card reader), then this all-in-one option is pretty great. The pros are that it’s an all-in-one with bundled software for your cell phone, it’s light, relative to the other gear you’d have as alternative, and it comes with an included battery pack for a limited amount of time of use without using a charging cord. The cons are that it operates kind of slowly in transferring files, which also puts a load on the battery that, depending on how many photos you are working with, might eat up the full battery before it goes dead. Another con is that the WiFi seems slow, as well, if you want to flip through images on your phone in slideshow format for sharing in-person with others. That’s likely a factor of 20MB jpg files, though (D810 camera). So one con is resolved by simply plugging it into a wall outlet power source, and the other con is solved by (if it’s an option) downsizing the jpg file size in-camera for sharing ease of use.

The software allows you to manage files from your phone, too. I suppose if you wanted to use your cell phone data, or connected WiFi to the internet, you could upload images to the cloud of choice for another backup.

But the ultimate small form-factor for image back-up would be as simple as using a camera that uses a WiFi-enabled SD card (like Eye-Fi’s cards- just be sure to buy the Pro version if you want to transfer RAW files, not just JPGs), transferring images directly to a cell-phone micro-SD card(s) as physical back-ups, and directly to the cloud, if that’s an option with your service data plan, or via WiFi. The pro for this setup is that it’s lightweight, and very easy. The cons are that you may have to use many micro-SD cards; your shooting will be limited by the performance of the Eye-Fi card (slow by comparison to many of the latest high-speed SD cards); camera battery power is consumed at a higher rate, necessitating more charging or more batteries to carry; and the Eye-Fi card memory maximum capacity means that you will either need multiple of those or will regularly have to format the card more frequently than a higher capacity non-WiFi SD card would- if you shoot a lot. I have an Eye-Fi (non-pro version), and have also found, recently, that it can give error codes to your camera, but I’ve cleared those by simply power-cycling the camera along with removing/re-inserting the card, though it is a worrisome and unwelcome event.

Out of all these options, I prefer the WD My Passport WiFi the most. It seems the most reliable, lightest, near-smallest, and most flexible of all. The built-in SD reader that will give you the ability to automatically back-up image files (with the option of copy OR cutting files automatically – the HD will leave you with an empty SD card after transfer, if you wish, but it’s recommended to format the SD card in-camera anyway) is an incredibly simple task. My 128GB SD card, though, takes quite some time to offload if it’s full. I REALLY like being able to keep images on the SD card as another backup, if the SD card isn’t full, and continue shooting on that card the next day, or multiple days, and being able to plug the card into the HD while the HD “knows” which NEW files to transfer automatically. That may be the single best feature, because it means that I don’t have to manually tell it which files to transfer among a list of files that it may have already transferred the prior day. It really is “plug-and-play” software with the on-the-go photographer in mind.

This was a long comment, but I hope it’s helpful.

Hi Danika,
I’d be interested to hear what you use with your iPhone. A previous commenter mentioned ‘File Manager’ (from TapMedia Ltd), saying it seems to offer similar functionality.
You can never have too many SD cards if you ask me. I typically bring more than I will need, so I can keep the card version, as well as have the portable drive backup.
I keep all my cards & camera gear in a carry-on bag. Never check any of it when I fly, as you never know if it will get lost, or damaged, or stolen even. Scanning should not affect your cards or drives.
Cheers, and let me know how it goes!

Thanks Shawn.

This is great. I need to find the same setup but for an iPhone. Anyone out there know if this will work?

I have the 1TB drive and reader already. Need the hub but I know iPhone can be a bit finicky.

Also, my plan was to shoot RAW and jpg at the same time so that I could upload a few shots to Instagram as I go. Bound to eat up a lot of memory though. Have to plan how many SD cards to bring.

Lastly, any need to worry about cards being wiped out by scanning in airports? Best to keep cards on my body, in my carryon or checked luggage? Thanks so much.

Fantastic! I will look into a combo USB hub/card reader. I have also found another Android App that works even better than Total Commander does, it is Nexus Media Importer. Thanks for filling me in on the iPhone app, and be sure to update me on how this setup works for you on your trip. Happy trails!

Thanks Shawn!
I got inspired by your setup. In a few months from now (July 2015) I’m going to South Africa. Searching for lightweight soloutions I’m inspired by your setup. I realize that the setup can be even lighter in case you have a combined USB Hub/Card reader. Just resently I got such a unit. Since I’m using iPhone 6 Total Commander is not an option it seems. However, File Manager (from TapMedia Ltd) seems to offer similar functionality.
I’ll see if it works and update this post.
Thanks again Shawn
Warm regards
Jesper (Denmark)

Hi Mike,
Glad to hear you have found a solution that works. Be sure and let me know how it goes, and of course, should you post any of the India images online, send along a link! Happy travels.

Hello Shawn
Although I have admitted defeat regards using the Lenovo Tab for my India trip, I will in due course try out the Nexus Media Importer to see if it is any help – although I fear that there is an over-riding limitation built into the Tab that isn’t allowing the files to transfer properly to the external HD. But I would be happy to be proved wrong.
I have to add that it’s such an immense relief now I have bought a small (13″) laptop insofar that everything works fine pretty much “out of the box” – I have loaded the Canon RAW Codecs so don’t even need to use memory card readers, just connect the camera to the laptop. And there are 3 full size USBs so can connect mouse and a camera / memory card simultaneously. It is an HP 360 laptop, and in retrospect I could have even gone for a smaller one – the 11″ convertible one that also has a touch screen, but that was more expensive. Thanks again for your support Shawn.

Thanks for the prompt response Shawn – I’m leaning towards USB 3.0 all round – USB 3 HDD, USB 3 Hub, and USB 3 Card Reader. I have a Samsung Galaxy S3 as well, so once I’ve got everything going, I should be able to report back. Cheers for the update on the new utility you’re using too!

Hi Diane,
The Hub I’m using is USB 2.0, and I am unsure if transfers would be faster via a 3.0 Hub, or if indeed there would be any limitations… I’d be curious to know myself, as I do find the transfer process a slow process, since I have been using it with a high volume of large RAW photo files… I would likely be convinced to make a switch to 3.0 if there was a significant speed increase. Also, I have begun to use a new program to control the transfer of files. It is called ‘Nexus Media Importer’, and I prefer the user interface much more than the Total Commander one. Much more intuitive. Cheers!

Hi Mike,
I sent a reply directly to your email query… Let me know if you got it & have had any success!

Cheers for the article, and particularly the photo highlighting your setup! Just wondering about the USB Hub – is it USB 2.0? If you had a USB 3.0 USB Hub, and a USB 3.0 HDD, would this increase your transfer speeds, or would there still be a limitation in place via the Smartphone? Thanks.

Here is an update. I have now managed to get the tablet to recognise my card readers, and found out how to transfer files via Total Commander / NTFS plug-in to the external HD.

However I can’t view the transferred RAW files on the External HD. In fact the copied RAW files / folders do not show up at all on the HD when connected to my Windows PC – although the available HD memory has reduced by a consistent amount indicating the transfer was successful.

I realise this is probably a limitation of some kind on my laptop, being “unrooted”.

But unfortunately as it is I am not able to rely on using the tablet as a back-up system and am now thinking how I can make room to take my laptop to India after all!

Thanks for a useful post anyway – I would still be grateful to hear your thoughts if you have any on this matter.

Mike Box

Hello again. I have now tried out with a USB hub and two drives attached to it; both drives show up OK, including the 1TB one; but think I am probably missing something simple. (In my defence I am new to Android OS from this week only.)

But when I do a long click on an image file icon (in either panel)the drop down lists do not include any option for moving / copying, as I understand from the TC webpage that it should.

If you could clarify what I am missing I would be very grateful.

Many thanks.

Of course I meant 1TB not 1GB!

Thanks for sharing this Shawn. I too am looking for a portable back up regime for a 2 week trip to India and don’t want to take my laptop. I have bought a Lenovo S8-50 tablet and 1 GB Seagate Back Up Plus Portable HD (Really compact!)but can’t get the tablet to transfer files to the HD. I like the Total Commander application interface a lot (am used to using Windows) but although TC recognises the HD (via OTG lead)and allows me to edit files on it from the tablet, unfortunately it still won’t enable files to transfer to the HD. (I did install the USB Stick plug in)
Have yet to try with a USB hub though so maybe that might make a difference?

Hi Mark,
Definitely works without internet. You install the app on your device, and that is it.
I am unaware of any limits for HDD size, and doubtful it would matter. I used a 2TB portable drive on my trip in March.
Cheers!

will this system work if there is no internet for the apps? Also is there any limit on the size of the external HDD? Thanks

Hi Niles,
If there is an iOS solution, I have not heard of it. Granted, I am an Android user right now, so I haven’t looked into it for iOS… If you do hear of anything, please reply back and let me know, as I would be interest to find out! Cheers.

I don’t suppose there is a similar solution for iOS? I have an ipad mini and an iphone 4 and do not want to get a new netbook just for transferring RAW files to my external HD (I do tons of photography). Thanks.

I have used this system a couple times. Worked fine to transfer the files from a 16GB card to my external HDD. Phone battery wasn’t an issue in that case, just made sure it was well charged.

This looks great. Have to ask, have you changes anything since? for how long (or how many gb) did you samsung battery last? Thanks

Awesome David! Glad you are able to make use of it, I know it has definitely lightened my load for trips too. Cheers!

Thank you Shawn!

This is sensational. I am about to go on a two week trip and last two week trip ended up with 80gb of material (RAW, HD video). So backing up on the road is critical. And I am dead keen to avoid a laptop.

Tripped over your set-up and just got it all going. First time. No dramas and easy! Wow!

This is going to make this part of my trips so much simpler. One power point and everything else can run standalone.

Thank you!

Your system sounds excellent also! I am going to check into the ‘Folder Sync’ app, and see if it could work for me also. I shoot a ton of high MB images, so I wonder how it would work in that case…I’d definitely have to clear out my SD card space! With a good internet connection this seems like a great way to go. Thanks!

Thanks for sharing your setup!

I’ve been on a ditch the laptop, use the phone kick for a while now myself. My solution to the photo backup challenge is a bit different.

I use either a Eye-Fi card or Host On The Go cable to get the files onto my phone, and then I use FolderSync to push the files to a Google Drive.

A couple things I like about Folder Sync: (1) it has no problem processing hundreds of photos in the background and (2) it can delete the file after it’s confirmed it’s uploaded it to the cloud.

My guess is that this notion of deleting files probably doesn’t work for you — but I find that gives me essentially infinite disk space and all I need is a network connection.