What to do with your digital photos while traveling?
People who like both photography and traveling, like myself, usually find it very enjoyable to combine both hobbies. Living in the age of digital photography, this often results in hundreds or thousands - depending on the length of your trip and the speed of you trigger finger - pictures.
The more pictures one takes, the more important the storage media becomes, because let’s face it, about 95% of your luggage is easily replaceable but your pictures are in that other five percent.
Needless to say, good storage media is important to secure your images, and every image should at least be available on two different media.
In this post I will give you an overview of the possibilities.
The memory card
The first location where your photos will be saved is on the memory card, most likely an SD card. At the moment of writing, SD cards are available in sizes going from 256MB up to 32GB. A lot of people automatically buy the largest one available, figuring that they only need to take one or two cards as 32GB can store about 1000 RAW files or more than 5000 JPEGs. Unfortunately, in the memory card business, size isn’t the only thing that matters. First of all, if all of your photos are on one card and you loose it, you loose everything. If they are divided over 16 cards of 2GB, you only loose one sixteenth. Even if you backup regularly, you might not have lost all of your pictures, but you did loose your only SD card. Note that these things often happen at the beginning of a seven-day safari, where everyone will have the greatest pictures, except for you.
Another thing one should be aware of when buying a memory card is the speed if the card. You may have the largest card available, if you can only take one picture every two seconds, you may never be able to fill your card.
My advice is to always take a couple of 4GB or 8GB cards with a decent speed (at least 5 images per second).
If you bring enough cards so you don’t have to delete any images during your trip, the memory card can be seen as the first backup, then there’s still one to go.
The web album
The cheapest and easiest solution to store your images is with a web album like Google’s Picasa, Yahoo!’s Flickr or Microsoft’s Windows Live SkyDrive. It is free, you get a decent amount of space and today you can find an internet café at the smallest hell holes.
So our case is closed, we’ve found our second backup device? Incorrect! Like everything that’s cheap and easy, this feature has a huge list of disadvantages.
Here are the most important ones:
- Even though internet is available widely, the speeds are often very poor in developing countries
- Some web albums will automatically resize the images you’ve uploaded, this results in a quality loss when you download them again at home.
- Web albums are often visible for everybody, if there is a setting to secure your album it’s probably not the default.
- RAW images cannot be uploaded to web albums so you are limited to making photos in JPEG.
- Internet cafés are often a breeding ground for viruses, so you might want to think twice before you connect your camera or insert your memory card.
As you can see, web albums are certainly not the best option to backup your images. Therefore I only use them if I want to show something to someone immediately. Suppose your daughter gets born during your trip to Zambia, you keep the photos on your memory card, perform a backup to another medium and then walk to the internet café to upload some pictures to your Picasa account so friends and family can admire the newborn. Personally I don’t have a daughter so I use Picasa to brag with my friends whenever I did something cool.
The portable storage device
At first there was the DVD, no in fact at first there were the floppy disk and the CD, but I’m not covering these as I’m quite sure you won’t use them for storage. So there was the DVD, a relatively cheap device that can store about 4GB of data. A lot of photo shops and internet cafés provide a “burn to dvd” service where they copy the images on your memory card to a DVD. Easy and cheap, but again, DVDs - especially once you have more than ten - take space in your luggage, they get scratched or broken quite easily and you always have to find someone to copy your data.
Maybe you better buy a USB flash drive, it’s small, handy and are much harder to break than a DVD. The sizes vary from a couple of megabytes up to 256 GB in 2010. Personally, I find this one of the best solutions for the average holiday photographer. The only desadvantage is that you need access to a - probably someone else’s - computer.
If you see things bigger or you’re planning a very long trip or you’re planning to take a huge load of photos, you might want to consider buying an external hard disk, which biggest advantage is its size that goes up into the terabytes. If you consider buying one of these, I suggest you read the next paragraph, it will blow your mind.
The image tank
An image tank is very similar to an external hard disk, with the big difference that it excludes the need of a computer. The hard disk can either be connected directly to the camera or the memory card can be inserted in the tank and with the help of a screen you are able to select and copy images. Often the tank provides other basic functions like viewing the stored images, renaming, resizing,...
Next to the big players - Canon, Epson,... - The company Vosonic appears to build decent image tanks for a decent price.
For those who don’t know what a netbook is, it’s that small portable computer that seems to appear everywhere around you these days. You’re likely to spot them on buses and trains, in stations, in airports and on airplanes, in McDonalds, in the car during traffic jam and in dorm rooms of most hostels. They are nothing more than lightweight portable computers, designed to do basic tasks while traveling.
Like every self-respecting backpacker I once swore that I would never take such a thing on my travels. I wanted to get away from stress and capitalism, not take it with me. And like a lot of self-respecting backpackers, I’m slightly changing my mind and considering buying one myself.
The reason why netbooks are that famous for travelers is because they make the trip a lot easier, in these times of wireless internet, one can send an e-mail, add a calendar entry, set a reminder, write an article, watch a movie or play a game almost everywhere.
For photography, bringing a netbook is bringing more than just storage. The images can immediately be viewed on an 11” screen - which is a lot better than the 2.5” screen on your camera. If one of your images is not what it’s supposed to be, you notice this immediately and maybe you can take the photo again. It’s also possible to install photo editing software, so you can perform basic modifications while still traveling. And of course you can use your netbook for afore mentioned not photography related actions.
Now which solution is the best? It all depends on your needs.
If you take pictures with a cheap compact camera, your best backup solution is the web album. Your photos are in JPEG anyway and you won’t loose a lot of quality.
Once you get a bit more “professional”, you’ll need to go for the more expensive solutions. I am still a big fan of the USB flash drive. It’s cheap, small - which means light and easy to hide - and has enough space. The big con is that I have to take a risk for viruses by inserting my flash drive and my memory card in unknown computers.
Personally I think it’s hard to choose between an image tank and a netbook. They both cost about the same but the image tank is much more practical, it’s small, fast and easy to use. On the other hand with the notebook the images can already be viewed and edited, and it can be used for the weekly “hi mom, everything is still fine” e-mail.
If you want to keep a blog up to date, you almost certainly need a netbook.
As a general rule I think I can say that what you gain in functionality, you’ll loose in space or money.
And maybe also that more technology means less fun. Maybe.
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