Ta-Ta Taj Mahal: Backing-Up Photos with Eye-Fi

The images you use in your presentations can make your work look professional or amateurish, brilliant or uninspired.  But there may be nothing that can give your talks a more creative and original feel than using images that you’ve created yourself.  Using your own photos or artwork allows you to tell a story about yourself and connect with an audience in a way that’s much more difficult to do with words.  Sure, they aren’t appropriate for every presentation, but a photo of your kids, your dog, or from the time you spent building carp ponds in the Peace Corp can help your audience feel that they know and understand you better in a matter of seconds.

So while this post is only peripherally related to presentation skills, I thought it was worth sharing.

A few of the pictures I lost. This panorama feature was one of the reasons I bought a new camera.

I was lucky enough to take some amazing trips this year.  India.  Singapore.  London. Spain. And (less exotically) Las Vegas.  Knowing that I’d be visiting beautiful places, I bought a new camera, the Sony NEX-5, which is a tiny SLR with the amazing ability to take huge panoramic photos.  The pictures are gorgeous, and the camera does all the work for you– no tedious stitching-together of photos required.  Best of all, it’s small enough to stash in a big pocket if you’re a blond guy feeling a little conspicuous on the streets of Mumbai.

Over nine weeks I took pictures of everything, more than 3,000 of them. I was good about downloading my photos to my laptop almost every day so that I didn’t risk losing them on my memory cards.  And I shared many of my favorites on Facebook so that people back home could see what we were up to.

It wasn’t until we got home that I lost all of my pictures.  Bye-bye Barcelona!  So long San Sebastian!  Arrivederci Rioja!  Ta-ta Taj Mahal.

I needed a better backup plan.

Taj at Sunrise

The Taj Mahal at sunrise. These are the biggest versions of these pictures I have.

We visited London and Spain with some of our best friends, seeing San Sebastian and Rioja for the first time and staying at Frank Gehry’s otherworldly Hotel Marques de Riscal.  In Barcelona we checked back in on the progress being made building Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia and I used my new camera to get some great panoramas of the sculpture-garden roof of La Pedrera.  We were in Singapore for the inaugural Youth Olympic Games (I’d never heard of it either), which celebrated with fireworks over the river every night.

I also got to go to India and explore Mumbai with my camera all day while Brian was working– or at least as long as I could take the heat and monsoon rains before retreating back to the beautiful, nearly restored Taj Mahal Palace hotel. There I’d sort through my photos with a drink in the Harbour Bar, which I usually had to myself during the afternoons.  We visited Udaipur and stayed at the Lake Palace Hotel, a former Maharana’s residence floating like a white marble dream in the middle of Lake Pichola.  But most amazing of all, we hired a driver and made the journey from New Dehli to see the Taj Mahal.

The Taj Mahal isn’t easy to get to.  It’s located in Agra, a huge city that for some reason doesn’t have an operating airport.  And there were no train tickets available from New Delhi, so our only option was to hire a driver to take us there, spend the night, and drive us back.  It wasn’t cheap, but we figured it was a once in a lifetime experience.  Which it was.  Our hotel– the Oberoi Amarvilas– was a destination in itself, and our room had a terrace with a view of the Taj, which was even more beautiful than you expect it’s going to be.

We were there at 6:00 am, before the heat and the crowds

Assuming that the backups of my hard drive were working properly (they weren’t) I attempted to upgrade iPhoto on my laptop when we were back home, thinking I’d try to make photo albums from our travels.  Not only did the upgrade fail, but iPhoto somehow decided to delete the last two years of photos from my computer while leaving all the rest.  They weren’t in the trash, they couldn’t be recovered from the hard drive, Apple engineers couldn’t find them in a copy of my iPhoto library.  They were just gone.

Luckily, some of my pictures (but none from India) were still on the memory card in the camera.  And there were the low-resolution photos I’d uploaded to Facebook, but they were really just sad, ghostly reminders of the originals, far too small to print. I spent weeks trying Apple’s suggestions to recover my photos with almost no luck.  I reimported everything I could find and rebuilt my iPhoto library as best I could.  I mourned.  For a while I didn’t even want to look at my clever new camera.

When I finally hit the acceptance stage I realized that I needed a better way of backing up my photos.  I thought about buying online storage, but backing up my existing library (currently 60 gigabytes of photos, plus another 70 gigabytes of music) would take forever and be expensive.  I’ve made backups onto external hard drives, but managing them gets confusing.  Besides, if the house burns down or someone breaks in and steals them, they’d be gone anyway.  I even thought about (and rejected) a solution that lets you back up your files to a hard drive in someone else’s house.

What I wound up using surprised me.  The Eye-Fi card.  I’d never really thought about using it to do backups.

I’d considered Eye-Fi in the past, but my Sony cameras had never been able to use the SD format that it comes in.  Happily, Sony has moved away from it’s policy of only supporting their proprietary Memory Stick format, and I was thrilled to realize that my new NEX-5 also had a card slot that would accommodate SD cards.  Eye-Fi was finally an option and I decided to take the plunge.

So what’s an Eye-Fi card?  It looks just like any normal SDHC memory card and will work in almost any camera that takes SDHC memory.  But its show-stopping trick is that it also has a built-in Wi-Fi transmitter than instantly turns you camera into a wireless device.  Configure it to work on your home network (which was incredibly easy for me) and your camera will automatically upload all of your photos to your computer.  (If you’re a Mac user you can also set it up so that your photos are automatically imported into iPhoto).  And here’s another neat feat– Eye-Fi will also upload your pictures over open Wi-Fi networks.  So if you’re on the road with your camera and don’t have your computer handy you can pop in to a Starbucks, turn on your camera and your pictures will upload to the Eye-Fi site and be waiting for you on your computer when you get home.

Oh, and if you’re into geo-tagging your pictures, it will do that too.


But I was looking for a backup solution– here’s how Eye-Fi provides it for me.  In addition to sending your pictures to your computer, you can choose to have Eye-Fi upload them to one of more than 25 photo sharing sites (including Flickr, MobileMe, Snapfish and YouTube).  Now you can get your photos on your computer and have an online backup all without ever having to connect a cable to your camera.  I’m currently sharing all of my photos to Flickr, and they’re the same high-resolution photos as the originals, not the shrunken approximations from Facebook that were the only remnants of my India photos.

Hopefully I’ll never lose anything like this again, but I suspect maintaining all these digital records is only going to be a bigger headache as time goes on and our collections grow from gigabytes to terabytes.  It’s important to have a backup plan.  Or two, three or four of them.

I highly recommend the Eye-Fi card.  You can learn more on their website or take the plunge yourself on Amazon.


1 thought on “Ta-Ta Taj Mahal: Backing-Up Photos with Eye-Fi

  1. Your story of losing your photos made me cringe when I first heard it, and I like that you found a thing that automagically uploads. Partly because then I get to see your photos right away.

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