You will spend a lot of time and money planning the trip.  You will see sights you may never see again.  Take the time and thought to set up a process for transferring images and backing them up.  Today’s guest article is by Greg Downing, co-founder and head guy at, which is one of the very best nature forums on the planet.  I regularly use this site to insider tips about locations and information on equipment .  The site also has some great articles and a store carrying many of the top names in photography.  You may also know Greg as the developer of the ‘Skimmer Sack’, a bean bag design we have shared info on in the past at this site. More on Greg and NatureScapes is at the end of his article.  In closing, let me note that this article and all images within remain the copyright of Greg Downing and/or Naturescapes.

Leopard in a tree - © Greg Downing, all rights reserved

article by Greg Downing

I travel a lot and I need a safe and reliable way to manage my images while on the road. I have employed a very simple back-up system that has worked for me since I started shooting digital with the invention of the Canon EOS 1″D” series camera. In my view the best system is one that is not only simple but also one that is redundant and safe. Here is what I do, step by step, to ensure my images are safe, easy to access and redundant!

Splash page for Greg's site - © Greg Downing, all rights reserved

1. I make sure I have enough digital media to get me through a full day’s worth of images. This will depend largely on what I am photographing and what camera I am shooting with. I am not a heavy shooter and generally have plenty of space on a few 16 GB drives, even with my higher resolution EOS 5D Mark II or 1D Mark IV cameras.

2. I always carry a laptop computer and at least two flash card readers designed for the fastest download of my images from the media that my camera supports (compact flash cards in my case). If I have multiple ways of hooking these up to my computer I carry one of each (USB, Firewire and Express Card Slot for instance).

3. I carry at least two external portable hard drives. I use USB powered Western Digital My Passport Drives in 250-500GB capacities. These are small 2 1/2″ drives that can hold a lot of data cheaply and they come in various sizes. I usually purchase mine from and a recent search brings up lots of options including a 500 GB version for $89.00.

4. Since I run workshops I am rarely away from someone else with a laptop in case mine fails. I therefore format my drives to universally work with Mac and Windows machines so I can access them from any computer. I label each drive with the location and date of the trip – marking one as Primary and one as Secondary.

5. Each night I download all the images that I shot that day to both external USB powered hard drives – in duplicate. I use Lightroom as a downloader but you can do it manually or use a program like Downloader Pro if you’re a Windows user or Photo Mechanic if you’re a Mac user.

6. I then edit and throw away the easy to spot missed shots from the Primary drive. All the images remain on the secondary drive.

7. I carry at least one of these drives wherever I go in case of theft or loss. I do not put them in my checked bags when flying home. Even if I park at a restaurant the drive goes inside with me and does not stay in the car.

8. When I return to the office after the trip I download all the data from the primary drive to my permanent storage drive as well as a duplicate to my main backup drive. At this point I have 4 copies of my images from the trip.

9. I do not erase the USB drives but, if there is still space, I use them again until they are full of images. Sometimes I can get 3 or 4 trips on each drive. Both drives then becomes a RAW “archives” and at least one gets stored off-site – just in case the office burns down or gets robbed etc. I often carry one of them with me as a “traveling archive” of that series of images in case I want to access them while on the road. That also counts for an off-site backup 🙂

10. As I edit images in the office and archive and organize them more permanently I create additional back ups to store off-site, but most of the time the images I process for print or web display are separated into separate folders so they are easy to find.

NOTE: If I am using my laptop drive as a Primary and know I have enough space on it for all the images from the entire trip then I can get away with only one external as a Secondary Drive. This is not as safe however as my laptop drive is generally more likely to become corrupted or damaged since it contains the system software and is in use under more demanding conditions and increased heat. I also need to erase them from the laptop eventually and eliminate one of my 4 copies at that point.

Zebra foal © Greg Downing, all rights reserved

Black backed Jackel © Greg Downing, all rights reserved

tryGreg Downing has been traveling the world teaching professional and amateur photographers for more than a decade hosting his instructional workshops and seminars. Instructing photographers of all experience levels Greg has earned a reputation for his gracious and generous teaching style.

Greg’s images are known for their unique style, exacting composition and strict attention to detail. As an internationally recognized photographer, his numerous publishing credits include books, advertising campaigns and editorial publications such as Birding Magazine, Outdoor Photographer Magazine, Birder’s World, National Geographic and many others. Especially passionate about birds, his images can also be found in printed form in several Wildbird Centers on the east coast, as well as appearing in private art exhibitions.

In 2003 Greg founded with E.J. Peiker and Heather Forcier. Today Greg is the Publisher, President and sole owner of the company and oversees all operations from his home base in Parkton, Maryland.

Greg is a member of the American Birding Association, and the North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA). As Greg travels the world taking pictures he enjoys meeting others, teaching and sharing his passion while making new lifelong friends in the process. Greg recently announced a planned March 2011 workshop in Tanzania.

To see more of Greg’s work or to join in on one of his workshops, visit his website at