Image storage and backup

Securely and quickly moving your images from a memory card to a computer takes place in different ways depending on where you are and how you like to work. For example, if you’re photographing a day-long wedding with an 8GB flash card, you may be able to shoot and store the entire event on that one card and never take it out of your camera until you’re back at your computer. Or, you may be traveling and shooting multiple cards that become full over one or more days, requiring you to transfer images while on the road to a secure form of storage.

When you are on the road or out of the studio, you have several choices for storing images in order to transport them later:

  • Portable hard drive;
  • DVD or CD;
  • Memory cards (CompactFlash and/or SD);
  • Laptop.

Any of these may work, depending on what you’re doing and what equipment you have with you. When I travel to major world sports events, I always keep redundant (paranoia) backups so that in the event one storage method fails, I have others. Throughout the day, I usually transfer images from my memory cards onto a portable hard drive that directly accepts CompactFlash and Secure Digital cards because my camera uses both types. At the end of the day, I also back up the entire day’s shooting onto a DVD and then store the discs either in the safe in my hotel room or in a safe-deposit box at the front desk. When I travel, I keep the discs in a separate bag from the portable hard drive, just in case something was to happen to either bag.

If you are traveling for multiple days, it’s never a bad idea to have a DVD backup of your images if for no other reason than they are rarely damaged by dropping them, by water, or by an electrical surge. Furthermore, a stack of DVDs is far less likely to be stolen from a desk or hotel room than a portable hard drive.

Storing images on memory cards is okay for short-term transportation. The biggest danger with trusting images stored on a card for more than a few hours is that memory cards are easy to lose. And, in spite of stories of occasionally making it through the wash in someone’s pocket, don’t count on a waterlogged CompactFlash or SD card being fully usable once it’s dried out. Another big risk with keeping your images on a memory card is that you might just forget that you haven’t downloaded or otherwise stored the images, and accidentally format the card in your camera to take more photos.


The most common and available portable hard drives operate only with a computer through a USB connection. Some are quite small and powered directly through the USB connection, needing no external power — which can be quite handy at a shoot on location where you might not have access to an AC connection. You can get drives that range from 30GB of storage to 500GB and more (the larger drives typically require AC power).

Some portable hard drives also accept direct input from memory cards (see 9-1), thus skipping the need to use a laptop to download images in the field; later you connect them to a computer to review, manage, and transfer images. These can be very handy and useful, but reliability is a very important issue and you’ll want to be sure to test and use the drive so that you completely understand it and trust it before using it for a critical photo shoot. Some drives will display images on an LCD screen, but these devices tend to consume battery time much faster than those that do not.

The Creative Zen W is a portable media player capable of playing video and music along with presenting photos, receiving FM radio, storing contacts and datebook info, and voice recording. Using the CompactFlash card slot on the side, images can be directly downloaded without having to use a computer; the Zen can also be connected to a PC with its USB connection to back up images or other data.


Storing images on a CD or DVD is reliable, inexpensive, and safe as long as you are careful not to scratch the discs and you store them in a good-quality zippered case or equivalent container. DVDs hold many more images than CDs, but not every burner is DVD writable. Most laptops today now support DVD writing, but you should double-check to be sure that yours does. DVD+R is a one-time writable format that will let you record your images to the disc and then later read and copy them to your computer (or wherever). DVD+RW is a rewritable format, meaning that you can record to the disc multiple times, just like a hard drive. Generally speaking, DVD+RW is less compatible with various DVD writers and readers, so for increased reliability I suggest you stick with DVD+R.

There are portable CD burners available that let you insert a memory card into a device that will directly burn to a disc. Because of their very limited ability to confirm the data, combined with the various levels of reliability of burner-disc brand compatibility, I urge caution in using these devices. By far, the most reliable and fastest way to burn CDs and DVDs is by using a laptop or PC; most burning software lets you do a secondary verification pass to ensure the data (images) have burned correctly; alternatively just open your image editor or the file browser on your computer to do a visual check of the images.


Memory cards, such as CompactFlash and SD, are designed to be a temporary solution for image storage and a way to easily transport images from camera to computer. Keeping your images on memory cards until you can download them to your computer with a USB card reader is a reasonably fast and easy way to download images.

However, as I mentioned in the opening part of this section, it’s not a good idea to store memory cards containing critical images for any longer than you must. They are too small and too easily erased to be reliable. If you have a large enough memory card for a full shoot and you want to keep it in your camera until you are at your computer or wherever you will be to back up the images, that’s okay. However, I wouldn’t suggest keeping them that way for more than a day or so. Many tourists who have been the victims of street muggings where their cameras were stolen are far more distraught over losing a week’s worth of vacation photos than they are over losing their camera.

If you’re using more than one memory card, have a consistent location where you store cards that have been filled or used but not yet downloaded. Use a separate memory card case, a zippered pocket in your camera bag, or other secure place where you will not accidentally use the card and format critical and unsaved images.

Be sure to format your memory card in the camera before you use it. Formatting is more thorough than simply erasing the images, and if there’s any risk that you used the card in a different type of camera, this process ensures the card is set up properly for the camera. If you forget to format the card, and it’s been used in another type of camera, you might see that there is only a very limited amount of space on the card and you won’t know why — because it still contains images from the other camera that are not visible on the one where the memory card is being used.


In the field, you may want to download your images to a laptop both for storage and so you can begin working with and presenting them right away. You can download to your laptop either by using a USB card reader or by connecting your camera directly to your laptop’s USB port; using a Firewire connection is also a high-speed option for downloading images if your PC and memory card reader support it.

Still, I suggest that for really important shoots you also back up images onto a CD, DVD, or portable drive in addition to your laptop. It’s just too easy to accidentally damage a laptop when you’re out and about, so this way you’ll at least have a fallback.


Canon’s line of wireless file transmitters lets you send photos directly from some Canon dSLR cameras to any FTP server using a wireless connection (802.11b or 802.11g) or a wired Ethernet connection (see 9-2).

The Canon WFT-E2 Wireless File Transmitter mounts to the 1D and 1Ds Mark III cameras and provides several ways for you to get photos in real time to a computer locally or at a great distance.

They can also connect to various USB 2.0 storage devices so that you can instantly store images to drives that contain much more space than a memory card. For situations where you are actively shooting an event and need to have images immediately sent to someone on a computer, this is the way to go.

  • WFT-E1A. This model is compatible with the 1Ds and 1D Mark II, the 1D Mark IIn, the 5D, and the 20D.
  • WFT-E2A. This model works with the 1D and 1Ds Mark III. It supports the Mark III’s Remote Live View function.
  • WFT-E3A. This model works with the 40D.

The Digital Rebel XT and XTi models do not have wireless file transmittal capability.

You will need time, technical expertise, and patience to get the transmitter set up between your camera and computer (unless you’re downloading directly using USB 2.0), and most of the photographers using it have reported errors if the setup and use isn’t followed carefully. Canon supplies information and software for setting it up, as well as online resources and demos, and there are several configurations you’ll need to review, understand, and select.

Interestingly, to set up the camera for use with the transmitter, you load software onto a flash card at your computer, and then load the card into your camera where you run the update — just like doing a firmware update. (Note: This transfer option is only visible in your camera’s menu if the transmitter is connected.)

On the camera, you can select the specific images you want to send (RAW, JPEG, or both) or you can just send them all at once. If you fill a card and then transmit images, however, be aware that you won’t be able to shoot until the transmission is finished (because your card is full, and you can’t remove it because of the transmission taking place).

Another interesting capability the WFT-E2a sports for globe-trotting photographers is the ability to connect to and integrate with portable GPS devices, which enables you to record GPS information (including altitude, UTC, latitude, and longitude) into your image file’s metadata — and which can be displayed on the camera’s LCD screen.


When shopping for DVDs you may notice that you can find both DVD+R and DVD-R discs. This gets confusing, because CDs come only in CD-R. DVD-R was the first version of the recordable DVD format, and was designed to be used with stand-alone DVD machines; DVD+R is the format compatible with most computers and is what you will want to purchase.


The included antenna has a nearly 150-meter range, and you can optionally buy a more powerful one that reaches almost 500 feet. Unfortunately, the transmitter requires but does not ship with a battery or charger.

Category: Photography Workflow

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