Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Preventing your photos from being lost while traveling

Sandisk Compact Flash Memory CardIt's happened to me and many photographers I've known over the years since digital took over from film photography. It even happened to me just last year. Has it ever happened to you?

I'm talking about memory card failure while traveling.

Fortunately, I've lost very few photos, but others I know haven't been so lucky. Losing precious images you've carefully crafted while traveling can be especially disagreeable because travelers often never return to many locations, especially when away on one of those “once in a lifetime” trips, the really special journeys.

Whether I'm on a two week jaunt to some exotic locale, a day trip to a local wildlife refuge, or any kind of photo shoot, long or short, I take the same measured precautions to protect the images I've made.

In the world of computers data back-up and data-loss disaster plans are crucial.  Photographic images are just as important to photographers, whether pros or amateurs, as computer data to businesses, and must be likewise protected.

Electronic devices eventually fail. Nothing lasts forever. Quite simply, not having a back-up plan for your memory cards while traveling is like gambling at the casino, where over the long haul, the house never loses. Part of the photographers' plan to prevent image storage loss, must include best practices of memory cards use.

Photographers must prevent other loss causes, as when we travel, we can loose our photos due to theft, fire, flood and other disasters.

I can't tell you how often I hear about amateur enthusiast photographers, who are very serious about photography, say all you need on a trip is enough memory cards to store all the photographs you expect to take, and when you get home they'll be plenty of time to process and store your photos on your computer.

In my opinion, that just doesn't make sense.

Here's my travel image loss prevention plan for your consideration:

Memory Card Usage Procedure:
  • While it's possible to delete images from memory cards, I never do it, either in the camera or when connected to my computer. Lexar, one of the top camera memory card manufacturers in the world, states, “Deleting images in the camera is a convenience but at the same time can result in data corruption, especially with large file formats like RAW and TIFF files.” Even if you save your photos as JPG files it's my advice to never delete photos from your memory card, either in your camera, or via your computer.
  • Once I've copied all my images from a memory card to my computer, I insert it back into my camera, and format it. That clears the photos from the card, and refresh its file system. Lexar and other major manufacturers recommend this to reinitialize memory cards which is critical in helping ensure they work properly. Always format your cards in your camera, not your computer to ensure the cards' file system is appropriate for your specific camera.
  • Prior to removing a memory card from my camera, I make sure not to remove it until the camera's completed writing my last photo to the card. Removing a memory card from one's camera prematurely may corrupt the photo files on it, and you'll lose all images not fully written to the card.
  • In my opinion, memory card storage is about as reliable as “floppy disks.” While they might hold on to your photos reliably for some time, they might not. Therefore I don't depend on their reliability, and reinitialize them after each use. By the end of each day, I upload all my photos to my laptop (A netbook or portable hard drive would suffice.) and also to my battery powered portable hard drive, to ensure I have two copies of every photo. I then put each memory card into my camera, and format them to reinitialize them, and strengthen their file structure.
Lost Image Prevention and Disaster Protect:
  • Colorspace UDMA Portable Hard DriveThe top two reasons for a loss of travelers' photographs, from my experience and those of travelers with whom I've had contact is memory card theft or loss. Thefts can occur from hotel rooms, while in restaurants, touring, from luggage, and other locations. Lost luggage has also been the cause of lost photos.

    While there's no such thing as a “foolproof” plan to prevent losing of your photos from theft or loss, there is much you can do. Back-up, back-up, back-up!!! I can't stress that enough.
  • To prevent theft of your images you should also take further precautions. I lock my portable hard drive in the room safe, and my laptop in my backpack, stored out of sight and locked with a PacSafe steel “exomesh” backpack protector. While out touring, my memory cards are in a Gepe Card Safe in my pocket. While in transit, all of my photo and computer equipment is in my carry-ons, never in checked luggage.
  • Believe it or not, another cause of photo loss is water contamination of memory cards. Compact Flash cards are more susceptible to water damage than SD cards, but all can be ruined by water, especially by salt water. That includes your perspiration, which is salty. When you carry memory cards with you, keep them in a water tight case.
If you want to reach home with your images intact, back up your images daily, use your memory cards properly, and protect your images, on your memory cards, in your computer or other devices from theft, water, etc. Use your common sense.


Anonymous said...

Ned, I'm glad to see that you recommend reformatting the memory cards each time you've copied the photos to your computer. I only had one card go bad and that was before I learned this valuable lesson. Fortunately, I was able to put the card aside and recover the once in a lifetime pictures when I got home again.

I'm concerned that many people today are storing all their pictures on their cameras and they are going to be lost over time.

John said...

Thanks for the helpful advice.

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