Storing photos for an African safari

I’m so sorry to hear about your lost photos.

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At this point, I’m hoping to go with TRIPLE redundancy: Multiple SD Cards, don’t erase and re-use any of them, at least not until I get home.

Copy photos to iPhone or iPad when I’m back at camp. Let them upload to the cloud whenever. Most of the places we’re staying have WiFi in the lobby, not in the room, and I won’t be able to count on affordable cell data networks.

Look into getting a portable disk drive if it doesn’t break the weight budget.


Caveat emptor wifi. You may not have the wifi speed you are expecting from home (depends on the camp). Be prepared to adapt to conditions.

Safaris (with great guides and a bit of luck) are fabulous. Enjoy!

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Yes, I’m pretty much counting on crappy wifi. :slight_smile: That’s my THIRD backup.

The beauty of iCloud sync is that it’ll keep running whenever it has a connection. Though I’ll have to be careful about data charges.

One of the minor pleasures of this trip will be unplugging. A month without Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, news, RSS, and email – I’m setting my email autoresponder to “not checking messages, email me July 1 or later” (or whenver I get back). Plan to not even check!

Cellular data is pricey in southern Africa, about US $5 per GB. Public wifi is often pay by the MB and can be just as expensive, and often slower. Your best strategy may be to keep local backups, then triage and upload your best shots (10-15% of total I’d guess).

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By the way, I am indeed getting familiar with the camera in preparation for the trip. And because it’s fun. Here’s a batch of shots I took at a local park. Already getting started on wildlife photography!


Watch out for the heat while you are there, Mitch. And the dust!

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This will be Bad Slow WiFi. Do not count on uploading, and I’d say do not even plan on it; it will likely be a time suck - with uploads taking a long time, especially with the number of you spray-and-pray photos like you said you take.

A portable SSD is less than 1.5 ounces. This is not an issue.

Spend less time here, and more time below:

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When I was on Safari I was able to use wifi to chat with my wife, but sending her a photo could take 30 seconds or so in Messages…so plan on it not working!

Also, don’t stress about all this. For me, the safari was an experience, not a photo shoot. One thing that helped this was actually the fact that, by choice, I only had my long birding lens (600-840 mm equivalent). What this meant was that when we got close to animals, especially large ones, I was pretty much forced to put away my camera and enjoy. It was good and something I would repeat (I did get some close ups of lions covered in flies, too).

Landscapes are great too, but the amazing thing is that the environment is so open you can take landscapes photos with a long lens there.

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Also…you’ll probably have situations where it’s easier to get a shot with your phone than to swap out a lens.

Never been to Africa but have been on a couple of longer trips. 2 were with old film cameras and 2 with just a small portable digital (not even DLSR). Good zoom lens was critical for film and my other lens was a macro lens. On the film based trips for the 2 week one I took about 1000 film photos. For the one month one I took about 3000 photos. Had lead pouches for film and split the unused and shot rolls among my hand carry on and my husband’s carry on. He also had his underwater camera gear too.

For the other 2 with a digital camera I took roughly 250 images a day. Saved on 2 different external hard drives and multiple small SD cards. No cloud backup due to costs. (These trips were 10+ years ago) I actually carried a device called an image bank as one of my hard drives. Very heavy but a secure backup.

Now I’d try to get a good DSLR, zoom and macro lens, carry a batch of SD cards and at least 2 hard drives. I never check baggage so I’d have one hard drive in my regular luggage carryon and one in the bag I use as my day bag. I’d go with 2 rugged as possible 4TB hard drives with a case and a handful of SD cards. I also wouldn’t bother editing on the go, time spent editing is time spent not enjoying the experience. Instead schedule plenty of time when you get back to intake and curate your collection. Paper notepad with shot notes or perhaps a digital file you add to daily. I always take a paper journal on trips and I love re-reading them. I use my paper journals for everything from shot notes, to addresses, to what I did and more.

Dust and heat will be the big issues, also lizard urine will corrode plastic and most computer gear so if you stay where they are geckos put everything inside plastic bags. A microfiber cloth in a ziploc bag will keep the dust off it and then you can use it on the camera and computer gear safely.

I’d shoot RAW at a once in a lifetime event but not bother with JPG at all. When I went and used a digital camera the only thing it would shoot was JPG but if you’ve got the choice RAW provides you with a lot more options.

Pack your bags with everything you plan to take and then go on a day trip and carry them everywhere. You’ll find out of the weight or volume is an issue.

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I posted my workflow for a similar situation, not as long a trip, but might be some helpful tips in there. Includes a local back-up and remote backup if you get wifi and use iCloud library.

I took pictures
Imported to iOS devices
Left the photos on SD card as backup
As and when I connected to WiFi, the iCloud library would sync to cloud.

Edit: Just skimming through, this seems like the solution you guys have come to already!

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Most importantly ENJOY THE VACATION!
To often we get sucked into just taking pictures see the new world only trough our viewfinder. And then top it all off by spending the evening dealing with tech stuff of reviewing the images from that day rather then go out and explore. Oh and btw I assume you are traveling with a partner right?


Yes, traveling with my wife.

And yes to enjoying the experience. I’ve been thinking about that as I move about lately and see so many people spending their time taking pictures rather than being in the moment. Not that I’m necessarily any better. Every once in a while recently there’s a story on the TV news about people who literally die when they fall off a cliff taking a selfie.

We’re going to the deepest African jungle and desert, and yet I’ve steeled myself to expect staged Instagram spots, like American restaurants and retail shops have.

Current plan: About 10 or a dozen 64 GB SD Cards. Erase none of them until I get home. Maybe not even then. Do some light photo selection during the trip to eliminate duplicates and photos of my foot, time permitting.

Copy to portable HDD daily, time permitting.

Copy to iPad daily, time permitting, and let the iPad handle uploads to the cloud in the background when I have unmetered WiFi connectivity.

Don’t spend a lot of time sweating the photography; focus on being in the moment.


Looks like you have already received a lot of good advice, so I will just chime in on my recent experience spending 3 weeks in Thailand and Cambodia.
Regarding wifi, even slow wifi allowed me to upload my daily photos to the cloud. In the end, I had 2,000 photos after deleting the obviously bad ones.
Regarding phone calls, I managed just fine with just wifi calling. Unless you truly need to maintain contact, no need to get cellular (focus on the moment). On the other hand, travel partners who changed their SIM cards had access to news and information at the moment (eg Ethiopian plane crash). Changing a SIM card is cheap and easy (don’t lose your original one!). Be sure your phone is unlocked - easier to do before departing. I may get a SIM card on my next trip, as a point of curiosity… and I may not, because being unplugged is awesome!

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It sounds like you have a healthy attitude re: balance between focusing (pun!) on your photography v. enjoying the moment and your companions.

As Joel Sartore says, “Sometimes you just gotta pet the whale!”

Don’t forget to pet the whale.

I look forward to lots of awesome photos that you’ll share here, but also your stories of how much you just enjoyed the experiences.

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I went to Africa several times and have several TB of photos from Uganda, Kenia, Rwanda, Botswana, Tanzania, Namibia, DRC, Malawi, etc.

  • get local SIM cards: very cheap, sold at the airport (only in Ethiopia geting one was a hassle), don’t expect them to work in the parks. But they go for $10-20.
  • forget WiFi: camps in the parks don’t have fiber-optic connections. Sometimes it’s just a 4G dongle on a WiFi router. IF WiFi works. Forget cloud backups.
  • I use cameras with dual card slots, so every photo is backed up in-camera. Cards are stored separately.
  • I have my MBP with with me: another backup and first review of photos
  • Take additional batteries with you.
  • Try to avoid huge cards. If one is corrupted, you won’t lose half the trip.
  • Backing up: depends on file size (RAW vs. JPG, how many MP?). My iPhone would be filled up quickly. :smiley:
  • Cards: depends on file size…
  • practice, practice, practice! A rule for nature photographers: “To get good images of cheetahs, practice with dogs”. :smiley: Especially focus modes. Nothing is worse than having something happening and not remembering how to change from single to servo AF.
  • lens: the bigger, the better. Depends on park, animal, situation, etc… For resting animals (lions 99% of the time): something up to 200~300 is good enough. Leopards, hunting cheetahs, etc: my main lens is a 600mm.
  • you already booked, but: I try to get the cheapest possible (tolerable) accomodation and spend money where it matters (own vehicle).
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Lots of people are mentioning corrupt cards, which is a potential risk. To minimise this, don’t delete photos (this advice may be outdated for modern cards, and is based on anecdotal evidence; experience in the past was things only went wrong when cameras tried to squeeze photos in gaps and mess up the file allocation table or something).

What is still relevant though is that if a card shows any weirdness, stop using it immediately and it is highly likely you’ll be able to recover everything back home with freely available recovery software. It’s not even worth worrying about.

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We’re doing the guided experience. Not our own vehicle. Maybe next time!