Managing and Backing Up Photos on the Road

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Thanks for reading! Andrew.

Hong Kong

In a few weeks time I fly to China, where I will spend a little over a month travelling and seeing the country. My wife and I will stay in Shanghai initially, then visit the cities of Xi’an, Beijing and Hangzhou. I will talk more about the gear I’m going to take with me in another article, but for the moment I’d like to spend some time discussing an issue I’ve been thinking about for a while – safeguarding and backing up photos while on the road.

I am going to take a MacBook Pro, an external hard drive and an iPad with me to China. When we travel to Xi’an, Beijing and Hangzhou I will leave the laptop and external hard drive in a friend’s apartment and take the iPad, minimising both the amount of gear I need to carry around and the risk of something valuable being stolen.

This is my backup plan while I am away from Shanghai.

  • Take plenty of SD cards with me. Memory cards are virtually indestructible and far more durable and reliable than external hard drives. I won’t erase any photos from the memory cards until I am home and have backed up the images they contain to several hard drives.
  • Each evening use an Lightning to SD Card Reader to import my files to my iPad. I have an iPad Air 2 with 128GB storage. It has around 100GB free storage at the moment and I don’t anticipate using all that space.

Next, there are two workflows to choose from. I don’t know which one I will use yet, but have tested them both to verify they work.

Workflow #1

  • Shoot Raw + JPEG in camera. Transfer both Raw and JPEG files to my iPad.
  • Import the JPEG files into Lightroom mobile (Lightroom mobile can’t import Raw files).
  • Organise the JPEG files into Collections, view them in Lightroom and Flag the best photos for processing later. I can even carry out some processing in Lightroom mobile.
  • After the trip, transfer the Raw files to an external hard drive and import into Lightroom. Meanwhile, Lightroom mobile synchronises with Lightroom CC, importing all the JPEG files into Lightroom CC and saving them on my computer’s hard drive.
  • Use the Syncomatic plug-in to synchronise metadata between the JPEG and Raw files of the same name. One piece of metadata specifically – Flags. That’s because I have marked the images I want to process with Flags in Lightroom mobile.
  • Delete the JPEG files, leaving just the Raw files to process.

The advantage of this workflow is that Lightroom mobile automatically uploads imported JPEG files to Adobe Cloud, where they wait until you open Lightroom CC, which then automatically downloads them.

I’m interested in this because of the backup potential – if the worse were to happen and I lost my memory cards and iPad, then those JPEG files can still be downloaded by Lightroom CC.

This hasn’t been tested in the field – unknown factors may prevent it from working. It also depends on the hotel’s wi-fi connection being fast enough to upload all imported JPEG files.

A disadvantage is that shooting Raw + JPEG requires more storage space. Another is that Lightroom mobile is only available to photographers who subscribe to Adobe’s Creative Photography Plan.

Workflow #2

  • Shoot Raw in camera. Transfer Raw files to my iPad.
  • Import Raw files into the Photosmith app.
  • Use Photosmith to view photos and flag the images I want to process.
  • At home, synchronise Photosmith and Lightroom over a local wi-fi connection. Photosmith transfers the Raw files to my computer’s hard drive along with the metadata changes that I’ve made.
  • An advantage of this workflow is that I don’t have to shoot both Raw and JPEG files, saving storage space on memory cards and iPad.

A disadvantage is that Photosmith is only available as an iOS app, and can’t be used by photographers with Android tablets.

Another is that you can’t process images with Photosmith (although you can view photos and assign Flags, Star Ratings, Colour Labels and Keywords).

I’ve tested both back-up workflows at home, but I’ve yet to try them in the field so it will be interesting to see how they work. I’m leaning towards the second method (using Photosmith) as my preference but will probably try both.

Not everybody can spend a month in China but I’m sure that most readers are on the road at some point in the year and interested in finding a backup method that is both easy and secure.

I will let you all know how it went after the trip.

If you have any thoughts about backing up photos while travelling then please share them in the comments. I’m curious to hear how other photographers approach this problem.

Further reading

You can learn more about Lightroom by reading these articles.

The New Dehaze Slider in Lightroom CC (plus a workaround for Lightroom 6 users)

HDR Merge in Lightroom: First Thoughts

Lightroom 6 and Lightroom CC Launched

Video Tutorial: Environmental Portrait in Lightroom

Video Tutorial: Black & White in Lightroom

A Short Guide to Using Smart Previews in Lightoom 5

Portrait Processing in Lightroom

How to Uncrop Square Format Images in Lightroom

How to Show the Focus Points in Lightroom

Converting Photos to Black & White with Tonality Pro

How to Create the Black & White Matte Look in Lightroom

Use Lightroom Better with the Amazing Alt/Option Key

How to Improve the Speed and Performance of Lightroom

Lightgram Presets for Creative Photographers

Mastering Lightroom

Mastering Lightroom ebooks

My Mastering Lightroom ebooks teach you how to get the most out of Lightroom. They are written for Lightroom 4, Lightroom 5, Lightroom 6 and Lightroom CC and cover the entire workflow process, including post-processing in the Develop module.



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20 Responses to “Managing and Backing Up Photos on the Road”

  1. Ian says:

    Hi Andrew, another option for you is the Western Digital My Passport Wireless. I believe it takes an SD card to copy all the files to the drive. You can then view on the iPad iPhone etc.

    I haven’t got one so can’t verify how good this will be.


    • Hi Ian, I’ve read about the My Passport Wireless device but I don’t like the idea of using a hard drive, which is more likely to fail than the SSD storage of the iPad. I’m not sure how long you can trust a hard drive for – it should be okay now but can you still trust it in three or four years time? Plus on the iPad you can view and flag photos, and sync the whole lot up with Lightroom at the same time. Although the hard drive would be a better option if the storage on the iPad isn’t likely to be enough for your needs.

      • Ray Brown says:

        Doesn’t the iPad change the file name to a long string of numbers? i like to keep the original file name so i have used a Samsung Tablet which keeps the file names the same. However an iPad is a better option so you can use LR Mobile. I like your idea of transferring the metadata from the jpeg to the RAW file when you get back so all you flags, ratings etc are there. I’ll give this a go. I have also used a wireless drive, but I understand your concern for non flash drives

        • No, the iPad doesn’t change the file name, so there is no problem there. Lightroom mobile is available for Android devices now. If you’re a CC subscriber it’s worth trying.

  2. Dave says:

    Do you have any concerns about internet security while in China? I’ve heard it’s best not to use internet devices in China or Russia as you are almost guaranteed to be hacked…

    • Hi Dave, I spent six months in China a few years ago and didn’t experience any problems. Then again I do have a Mac – Windows machines may be more vulnerable. I have no idea about Russia. You do make a good point though about using public wi-fi, and this applies anywhere in the world. I’m not an expert on online security but I understand it is possible to be hacked when you log into a public wi-fi connection. The level of risk depends on your device and operating system. For best security you can use a VPN (Virtual Personal Network). This also has the benefit of allowing you to access banned websites from China.

      • Ed Mullin says:

        I bought mine in 2012 and it’s still working fine – granted it doesn’t get a lot of use except when I have a long trip, which unfortunately is not frequent enough 🙂 – Ed

  3. Ed Mullin says:

    Hi Andrew,
    I enjoyed reading your proposed workflows – it gave me a few ideas to try out with my iPad.

    However, I wanted to share with you the backup plan I used when on safari in Tanzania, and later in China. I used a HyperDrive ColorSpace [] as my main backup since I didn’t want to have my laptop in the desert. I was able to backup 4 different cameras and even though I had enough cards so I didn’t need to erase any it was comforting to have a backup. The HyperDrive takes most cards and even allows you to view them quickly on it’s very small screen. And it looks like the new models have built in wifi – which would be great with the iPad (assuming you can connect). They’re not too expensive and it worked great for me.

    Enjoy your trip!


    • Hi Ed, that looks like a great product. But do you have any concerns about longevity? For me, I don’t know how long I would be able to trust a hard drive for. It’s probably fine for now, but what about in three or four years time?

      I noticed the same company makes something called an iStick which is portable flash storage with a lightning connector so you can back up photos directly from an iPad. They do look like a good idea.

      • Dave says:

        I guess I’d only be worried about the drive making it home, not years and years. I would prefer an SSD just so there’s nothing mechanical to fail or worry about dropping as much.

  4. Ton says:

    It is a pain backing up when travelling given the weight problems. I use a Samsung Galaxy Tab s 8.4 tablet with an excellent screen, great colours, plus a Bluetooth keyboard. All the day’s images are then copied onto it using a card reader and an OTG cable. Then the cards go into my check-in case – first copy. The second copy remains on the tablet and I use Rawdroid to check them out as I shoot RAW. The images are then copied onto large flash drives (third copy) and those stay with me all the time and even in jacket pockets at check in. The tablet goes into my carry-on luggage.

    It can get confusing knowing what has been copied and what is still to come so I set up a series of folders by date for the time away and, on return, copy all the images into one folder named for that trip, eg, “UK June 15”. Using FileRenamer, they are then all renamed into the order I have found easiest, by trip and sequential number, eg. UK 0001 to UK 9999 . Note the space after the numbers. Using other software, each image is then viewed and the actual name of the location/subject/whatever is added on using F2 to rename the shot. The cursor goes automatically to the end of the space so I can then type in the balance of the name such as “UK 0259 Big Ben”. As the EXIF file has the date in it, and the folder has the main date, I don’t see the need to use that again.

    Doing it this way means that the shots are always in numeric sequence as the sort process looks at UK 0001 to 9999 and the rest of the name is not relevant to the sort. Depending on the software used, it is then possible to search by name, put sections of the images into sub-folders (eg. UK June 15/ London/.

    After this is done, I then work on what I will process further using the usual selection options in Lightroom or whatever. If there are real duds, these are deleted on the tablet if I have time.

    Hope this helps.

    • Hi Tom, that’s really interesting especially as I’ve never used an Android device. Which flash drives do you use?

      • Ton says:

        Hi Andrew – and thanks for your newsletter.
        I use 64GB flash drives, with 32GB spares if I need to use more and I guess, not being an Apple user, they would be ok for your backups. The larger flash drives are still too expensive for my budget. I prefer Sandisk, Lexar, Toshiba and Kingston and have not been let down yet. Usually the flash drives are on a strap hanging around my neck during the day.
        In my cameras I use 8GB and 16GB SD cards, you lose less images if one fails or is lost, but have considered using some 64GB SD cards as backup as they are easier to carry safely inside wallets & travel pouches.
        Last year in Japan, where everything is normally very safe, my wife and I had two cases opened up and some documents “disappeared”. Both cases had TSA padlocks on them but the other two cases had ordinary padlocks and weren’t touched. One had my D600 in it! This is one of the reasons I like to have 3 copies!

        • Hi Ton, the flash drives sound like a good idea as a third backup. I will try them with the iPad to see if it works. Sorry to hear about your experience in Japan.

  5. Richard Masters says:

    I sympathise with the need to try out different workflows.

    As a heavy LR user on my PC I really like the promise that LR Mobile offers, but getting the right workflow is proving to be difficult as Adobe are refusing to put metadata management into it. [I urge people to put pressure on them, FWIW…]

    I really like the look of Photo-Mate R2 for RAW photo management (where Ton uses Rawdroid) but would like to know if anyone has used this in anger, on the road. Have you developed a good workflow for when you get back home and have to integrate with LR?

    Thx, Richard

    • Hi Richard, my workflow is quite simple and I can do what I need to in Lightroom mobile, which is assign flags and arrange images into Collections. The changes synchronise with Lightroom CC automatically. If you have an iPad, Photosmith lets you edit more metadata, such as keywords, and also syncs with Lightroom. I don’t have an Android device so I can’t comment on software like Photo-Mate R2.

  6. Chris Bishop says:

    Photogene4 can convert your raw files to jpg on the iPad. this then lets you use LR mobile to process the jpegs. The screen isn’t colour calibrated, so I use the Photosmith approach, metadata work, saving the colour critical work until I’m back at base.

  7. Rick Mili says:

    Non-LR Mobile Strategy
    I bring the smallest MacBook Air with one external Seagate and one external WD drive and a Lexar card reader. My D800 uses both CF and SD cards. I copy the files from both cards into a “raw” (unedited) folder, then import them into LR. I tell LR to move the images to one external drive and BU to the other and save the catalog to the MBA SSD. Both external drives have a Time Machine partition so I BU the MBA to alternate drives. I also have a HyperDrive UDMA like Ed which I also use to back up the cards, but it is for contingency only and not really part of my workflow. I also copy all the filenames to an Excel spreadsheet with the card name.
    ADV: Lots of redundancy, full metadata and editing capability, TM BU picks up catalog changes, with Smart Previews I can edit without connecting HD
    DISADV: Weight, MBA is slow
    My workflow is still evolving, but I have used this in France, USA and Iceland (currently). I also tried FTPing my files to my own server, but the upload speeds in most cases are way too slow.

    • Hi Rick, thanks for sharing this. It means you’ve backed up your files in three different places, which has to be virtually foolproof.

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