Preservation of your travel photos and videos

Photography Equipment

Travel photos.  We all take them, often by the hundreds.  They are on our mobile phones, camera, GoPro, drone, and anything else that has a lens and storage.  But where do they end up after that?  Often, if you are like I was, dumped on a computer hard drive, USB device, or they remain a permanent fixture on your mobile phone or SD card.  And what happens if you lose or break your phone or camera?  You end up losing hundreds (or thousands) of valuable photos.

This happened to me about 15 years ago.  I was travelling around the United Kingdom with my sister, madly snapping everything and anything that was interesting (and it was ALL interesting), then disaster…the SD card on my camera corrupted and I lost several weeks worth of photos.  I was devastated.  The photos were irreplaceable and I was left with only my memories of all the fabulous places we had visited.

I have never forgotten that feeling of despair and disappointment, which has made me super picky when it comes to making sure it doesn’t happen again.

World Digital Preservation Day…today

Today is World Digital Preservation Day, which gives us the perfect opportunity to look at how we preserve our travel photo and video files. It’s when we can all take stock to see if we are taking care of our digital assets the best way we can.  It’s a day to question whether your backup and preservation practices could make the difference between being able to view your photos and videos years down the track or losing them altogether.

What is digital preservation?

Everyone has their own ideas as to what digital preservation entails.  Broadly speaking, digital preservation is “the coordinated and ongoing set of processes and activities that ensure long-term, error-free storage of digital information with a means for retrieval and interpretation for the entire time span the information is required.”

And we all want that, right?

So what does that mean in real terms, when talking about our travel photos and videos?

To me, it means:

  • transferring the raw files off temporary storage media (such as an SD card in my camera or the internal storage on my mobile phone)
  • organising them to make retrieval easy
  • adding metadata such as keywords so I can locate specific files
  • ensuring everything is backed up to prevent loss
  • saved in a file format that can be opened by any computer down the track.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it?  And the truth is, it is easy.  But only if you do it regularly, ideally daily or weekly.

Technology for Photo Management

File management while travelling

So how do we do digital preservation, particularly while travelling?  Speak to anyone and they will have their own method for backing up and preserving photo and video files.  Ultimately you will need to find the one system or workflow that works best for you.  That being said, below is what works best for us, both while we are travelling and when we get home.

We capture photos and videos either on an SD card (camera, GoPro or drone) or on our mobile phones.  We also always have a laptop when travelling as well as an external hard drive or two.

SD cards

The aim while we are travelling is to unload the files from our SD cards every night and organise them on the external hard drive.  I don’t unload the files onto the laptop as our MacBook Pro only has a 500GB internal hard drive and I don’t want to slow down the processing speed unnecessarily with too many files saved on it.  So I use the laptop to transfer from the SD card directly to the hard drive.

Mobile phones

The method of transferring files from our mobile phones depends on where we are and how long we are going to be away.  Our preferred method is to use the Camera Uploads feature of Dropbox.  This will automatically upload our photo and video files from our phones into a designated folder in our Dropbox account.  Dropbox also ‘knows’ which files have already been uploaded and which haven’t so we don’t end up with duplicates over time.  To use this feature while travelling, you may be dependent on WiFi hotspots at local cafes, libraries and hotels which can make for limited photo transfer rates.  Alternatively, if you don’t have too many files to upload and have the capacity on your mobile data plan, you may wish to upload any time using mobile data.


Another option is to connect our mobile phones to the laptop with a cable and manually upload them in a similar way to SD cards.  If we use this method it is critical to make sure that all our photos and videos are then deleted from our mobile phone otherwise we’ll end up with duplicates next time we are connected to WiFi and the files automatically upload to Dropbox.

Tool Tip: if you end up with duplicate files that are a nightmare to sort out, a free program that we use is called AntiTwin.  The interface looks a bit dated (think Windows XP era) but it works a dream, and in no time at all you can identify any possible duplicates.

Once on the hard drive, I organise the files into folders according to date.  I usually add to the folder name the location the photos were taken.  Sometimes you may end up with multiple folders for the one date if you have photos from different locations throughout the course of the day.

Folder structure

First (preservation) backup of your travel photos and videos

Once the files have been transferred off the SD card or phone onto an external hard drive, I copy these files to a second external hard drive (if I have one with me), then delete them off the SD card.  This ensures that I have a full SD card for the next day’s activities. And by saving the files onto two separate hard drives, this means that if one hard drive fails, I have the other as a backup.  It is also best practice to never keep your two hard drives in the same location or the same bag (although I have to admit that I am guilty of this!).

FACT: guaranteed, your hard drive will fail at some point

External hard drives, USBs and even SD cards will fail at some point.  It is much safer to backup your precious travel photos to at least two locations while travelling.  It is also wise to invest in a rugged hard drive, such as the LaCie 2TB Rugged Mini, which is shock and pressure proof, and being a solid state drive is much more reliable.  Also be carful with thinking that larger capacity SD cards are better than smaller SD cards (e.g. 256GB v’s 32GB) – if the large one fails for some reason you lose more of your memories than if you use smaller SD cards. Choosing the right sized SD card comes down to balancing your preference for convenience over risk.

Digital preservation of your travel photos and videos when home

For the most part, I leave the digital preservation aspects to my file management to when I get home and have the luxury of multiple monitors on my desktop PC.  If on a long trip however, I will sometimes start doing this while travelling.  It all depends on how long we are going to be away and how many photos it looks like we will end up with.  If I don’t want to run the risk of forgetting a location or the context surrounding a group of photos, I’m more likely to do this while travelling.

The first step is to copy the contents from the external hard drive to a folder in Dropbox.  We use cloud storage as our main storage location for photos as it syncs between all our devices and computers.  Other cloud storage can be used, such as OneDrive, iCloud or Google Drive, but make sure that it doesn’t compress the image – many do and it will affect the file size and quality.  We have been using a Dropbox subscription for many years now and never had an issue.

Once the hard drive has been copied over, I check the photos that were automatically uploaded to the Camera Uploads folder in Dropbox and incorporate them into the folder structure.  This is where the two monitors comes in handy 🙂

I use Adobe Bridge, a free media management program, to apply keywords and batch rename files if required.  I used to rename each photo as “date created (yyyy-mm-dd-hhmmss)-location”, however we have had too many instances of the internal date dropping off the GoPro (and we keep forgetting to make sure it is set), so we now just keep the original filename and place the files inside the dated folder.

Adobe Bridge is used to add keywords and any other metadata that may be missing.  I have built up a defined set of keywords including recording device, location and subject.  I apply keywords to all files, which is then embedded into the file itself meaning that no matter which program you open the file up with you will see the embedded keywords.  This makes searching for a particular file much easier, even from Windows Explorer.  Adobe Bridge can also be used to move files around your hard drive if you need to further organise them.

Adobe Bridge

File format of your files

Another step in the process is to ensure that the files are saved in an appropriate format.  Raw files and video files are data-hungry and will rapidly fill your SD card and external media.   A little while ago our Apple phones updated and unbeknownst to us started saving photo files in HEIF format, which of course cannot be viewed on a Windows computer without specialist software.  Once we realised, we changed the file format on our phones back to JPEG and purchased software to convert all our HEIF files to JPEG.  We still save our raw files alongside our converted files, but in a dedicated subfolder just in case we need them in the future.

HEIC file organisation

Our Canon camera, similar to the Apple phones, has it’s own raw file format.  For general day-to-day photography, we simply use JPEG to save on required SD card space, however when doing detailed photography work or when we know we will use the images for something special, we’ll always shoot in raw (and no, that doesn’t mean getting our gear off 🙂 ).

Second (preservation) backup of your travel photos and videos

Have you heard of the 3-2-1 backup rule? It is a simple to remember acronym for a common approach to backing up your files.

3-2-1 Backup Strategy
So how do we achieve this?

Our 3-2-1 Backup Strategy
Okay, technically the computer hard drive copy is linked to the cloud storage account as synced files, however if disconnected from WiFi it is essentially another copy of the data.  And Dropbox has excellent version control if something is accidently deleted.

About World Digital Preservation Day

World Digital Preservation Day is held every year on the first Thursday of November.  It is quite a big deal where I work (a library) as it is the one day of the year where we can celebrate all things digital preservation, what we have achieved and what we are still striving for.  Organised by the Digital Preservation Coalition, the aim is to create greater awareness for digital preservation practices that will translate into all aspects of society.

World Digital Preservation Day

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