Taming the Wild Workflow Beast Part Two: Backup Strategies in the Field

Part Two of Taming the Workflow Beast! This blog post deals with primarily the ability to ensure that you have backups of your images while out in the field. After suffering from various technology failures over the years, I talk about my strategies to ensure that my images survive.
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Taming the Wild Workflow Beast Part Two: Backup Strategies in the Field

I was thrilled. The early morning air still had a crispness to it on that September morning.

I was at a balloon festival shooting balloons. I was standing by the balloons as they were filling up with the hot air from the gas burners.

And I got some great shots. Some with the rising sun shining through the silk fabric of the balloons. And others with the flames of the gas burners.

There was this one balloon in particular I had been shooting. It was in the design and colors of the Arizona state flag. I had been taking a lot of shots when I decided that I need to take my last shot and move on to another balloon.

So I got close to the basket and looked up as the burner was sending it’s flame up into the canopy. I clicked my shutter and looked down at my LCD on the back to find a blinking message – MEMORY CARD FAILURE!

I had lost all the images I shot that early morning. Most of the balloons had launched by that time. Meaning that most of the detailed closeup shots I wanted were no longer possible.

I didn’t feel like staying. I was really upset and I was not a happy camper!

I walked out of the festival, not sure if I had a camera problem or a memory card problem. But I was not happy with what I had lost!

Just How Important are your Images? Really?

One area of workflow that most photographers do not pay enough attention to is image backup.

Most of us blithely move along in our photographic journey. And don’t think about what would happen if our photographs were to disappear.

How critical are they to our livelihoods? How important are they to us? How much do they document our growth in the field of photography?

And to face a day where they are gone – for good – is difficult for us to fathom.

And yet, most of us face that potential reality on a daily basis. Each day we live through without a plan in place to backup our images is a day closer we are to losing them all. Completely!

I have had many scares in my past. And after some close calls and some lost images, I finally decided I needed to have something in place to protect my images!

So I have developed a backup strategy that is a multi-layered defense. A defence against the all too real possibility of losing my images.

In the Field

It all begins in the field.

As I am a landscape and travel photographer, I often find myself traveling and out and about, and I needed to have some kind of backup strategy when away from home. And I have two basic strategies that I use when in the field:

  • Memory Card Strategy
  • USB Backup Disk Drives

Both strategies are discussed more fully below.

1) Memory Card Strategy

It all begins with my memory cards. I have had some memory cards go bad. In fact, in my story about the balloon festival above, not only did I have a memory card failure, but I had lost ALL my images I had taken on that card.

I used to purchase the largest memory cards available. But no longer! After several card failures I now use smaller memory cards, 32GB to 64GB, but no larger. I’d rather swap out memory cards than have 1000’s of images on a 128GB or 256GB card and have a card failure. Been there and done that. Not again!

The second thing I have learned about memory cards is that frequent formatting will shorten the life of the card. I don’t delete images off a memory card until the entire card is full. Once the card is full, then it becomes a candidate for formatting. And I format the card using the camera, just to be extra careful. So I may go out and shoot a scene, and when I download the images there may still be images from several months back. And that is OK. I’d rather be safe than sorry.

As I am still waiting for that mirrorless Canon camera with a dual card slots, I will often rent a Canon 5DS R or a Sony A7RIII which has two card slots when I go on a serious photography trip. The Canon 5DS R has one card slot for a CF card and one slot for a SD card. The Sony A7rIII has two SD card slots. Both cards match in memory size, i.e., they are both 64GB cards. This provides me with in camera redundancy that I desire. If I have a card failure, I still have the other card with the images I have taken!

2) USB/Firewire Backup Disk Drives

When I am back at the hotel for the evening, I will download my images from my memory cards. I have a windows laptop with two USB hard drives. As I am copying the images onto my laptop hard drive, I am also copying them onto each of the backup hard drives.

As I don’t format my memory cards until the card is full, I often will have at least four copies of the images – one copy on my memory card, one copy on my laptop, and one copy on each of the two backup USB drives. This way I am ensured of having backups of my images before I ever get home!

Always Have a Plan “B”

All of this may seem anal retentive to some. But after having lost a number of images from locations that I have yet to return to, I have learned the hard way that it is just as easy to lose images as it is to take them.

When you become serious about your craft, then you also plan on ways to ensure that your work will be recoverable. I have had my laptop hard drive give up the ghost, with all my images on it when out in the field. But not all was lost as I also had backups. Not to mention the memory cards with the images as well. So nothing lost.

Again, I have learned through experience that technology does indeed fail. And it will fail for you. Just wait. And when it does, will you be prepared? Or will you lose valuable images?

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A little bit about me . . .

Back in 1982, my Air Force roommate was in desperate need of some cash, and he had a camera. And I was in the market for a camera as I had TDY (Temporary Duty) orders for Cyprus and was looking for a good camera to take with me. So over some beers and some negotiations with my roommate (and a few hundred dollars later), I found that I had become the owner of a brand spanking new Canon AE-1 camera with an assortment of lens, including a Canon 50mm, a 35mm lens, as well as a telephoto lens.

Fast forward to today, and I am now an owner of a Canon 5D Mark II (looking to upgrade, but can’t decide on my next camera) and a bunch of Canon glass and I am primarily a landscape and travel photographer. Yea, that means that I get up before the sun rises and am out after the sun sets. Makes for interesting times!

Thank you for joining me on this photographic journey and hope to hear from you!

Peace,