Powering Up and Storing Images in the Backcountry

I encountered my first real problems with power and digital image storage on a trip to the Everest Region in Nepal in 2006.  I knew I would be at least a week or two hiking without the luxury of recharging a laptop for image storage or having the ability to recharge my batteries.  There are several option for each of these problems.  Battery power is often overcome by photographers simply by purchasing multiple extra batteries, charging them, and using the LCD screen (reviewing images) in a limited way.  This can be expensive, however, as the camera manufacturers charge quite a bit for an extra battery. (I realized that camcorder batteries are even worse, for obvious reasons).  Another option included, at least for the Canon 5D Mark II and other cameras, the purchase of a camera grip with an optional cartridge that held AA batteries.  Even though this is technically the same approach to the problem, I felt that I could at least buy AA batteries in a pinch in most countries if my rechargeable ones ran out.  Finally, companies have started making solar-powered battery chargers.  These look pretty great, though they are quite slow.  On a fast-moving outing that requires a lot of travel or a production schedule, the time it would take to charge with a solar-powered recharger could be prohibitive.  

As for image storage, many professional photographers, as they mention below, are carrying loads of CF cards, utilizing the relatively cheap amounts of gigabytes and the better made CF cards, especially at the high-end level.  Corey Rich has even said previously that he has trusted the Sandisk brand without carrying backup.  (I should also mention that he is sponsored by Sandisk.)  Photographers will often backup their images multiple times after a day of shooting, and on a production, this may occur immediately after shots are taken.  In the backcountry, though, the usual method of loading them onto a laptop, often connected to a travel-sized hard drive becomes less efficient.  A solution I used in the Himalayas was carrying an old Jobo 80-gig hard drive which accepted CF and SD cards.  I would not recommend this particular model again, as I could not view the images on the drive and which also worked on its own battery power as well. An Epson P7000 worked much better in terms of assurance that my images were saved and intact while hiking the Camino de Santiago in Spain.

For some professional opinions from photographers who work all over the world in the backcountry, we asked a group of professional photographers what their preferred methods were for image storage and power while traveling away from power outlets.

CHRISTIAN HEEB

We always bring plenty of memory cards then download on a portable hard drive that is battery-powered. We usually back up on my computer too. We also bring a car charger where we can charge a laptop computer and our camera batteries while driving." Website

STEPHEN MATERA

"I keep it pretty simple.  For storage when I’m in the backcountry, I just carry lots of cards. I typically carry upwards of 100GB which gives me in the neighborhood of 3,000 - 4,000 images. In the backcountry, that’s plenty of storage for a few days. Regarding power, I also keep it simple and carry five to six charged camera batteries. I find that a battery can last me a day or more if I manage it well and don’t use the screen too much. When I’m shooting for more than a day while traveling, I will carry a laptop and spare hard drives to back things up (Lacie Rugged 250GB)." Website

JEFF DIENER

"When I'm in the backcountry for extended trips up to a week, my main power reverts to AA's.  I'll bring multiple Nikon rechargeable batteries but once those run dry, I pop in the Lithium AA's which have a stellar lifespan and hold up well in cold temperatures.  I'll also bring an extra digital camera body just for peace of mind.  To store images, I'll use multiple CF cards, run in-camera backups to an SD card and if I really want to be safe, I'll bring some fast, secure Hyperdrive units to dump all my cards onto." Website

DANIEL PATITUCCI

"For power, I have never had problems with camera batteries as we take enough, and we rarely need to edit in the field. For sending things out via social media [in the field], I use the iPad, and for that we have some Belkin battery packs which will give it a good charge. We're out of Europe and power/3G is just about everywhere you go, thanks to the hut system in the backcountry. For Nepal, Peru, and other places on recent trips, we were prepared for 12 days without power, so it was not a big deal for us." Website

AGNES AND MATT HAGE

"Most of our field work has us out away from power on average four days per shoot. On these assignments we'll pack one camera battery per day and AA's for one fresh set on our flashes and Pocket Wizards. We've experimented with solar chargers, but haven't found a system that is worth carrying. The longest stint we've ever done with out recharging was four weeks in the Alaska Range on eight batteries for our Nikon D700. As far as storage memory, we pack a lot of compact flash cards. Like sometimes twenty 8GB or 16GB cards. They barely weigh anything and are a super stable device for storage. Once a file is saved on a CF card, it's on there. There has only been one time when we filled every single CF card we owned, a ten day trek in Torres del Paine in Patagonia. One thing we do keep in mind is that they are small and could potentially be lost in the outdoors. That's one reason we like to have many smaller cards instead of a couple high capacity ones. Still don't like to have all eggs in one basket so to speak." Website

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