If you’re like 97% of the photographers who read this blog, you are involved in digital photography. And that means you have to consider backing up your digital photo library. You do have a backup don’t you? If not, stop reading right now and go make at least one back up and then come back to the blog.

Assuming you understand how important it is to backup your digital photos, you might have access to a backup drive you hadn’t counted on – your iPod.

That’s right, the iPod makes a wonderful backup device. If you have a large enough iPod (The new iPod Classic from Apple offers up to 160 Gigs of storage) and if you have a small enough photo library, your iPod (in a pinch) can make a wonderful emergency backup device.

Back when I photographed weddings, I carried my iPod with me and transferred images from the CF cards to my laptop and then from the laptop to the iPod. I carried the CF cards and the iPod in my pocket during the wedding and left the laptop in the trunk. That way I always had the wedding stored in at least two locations.

This is easy to do.
1. Connect iPod to your computer.
2. Open iTunes if it doesn’t automatically open.
3. Select the iPod icon in the Source pane.
4. Click the Summary tab.
5. For most iPod models (except iPod shuffle):

Select “Enable disk use” or “Manually manage songs and playlists”. Either one will allow you to use iPod as a drive. If you select “Manually manage songs and playlists”, iTunes won’t automatically update iPod with the iTunes library. If you want iTunes to automatically update your iPod, select “Enable disk use” instead.

For iPod shuffle:
Click the “Enable disk use” checkbox and set the Storage Allocation slider to indicate the amount you want to be used by audio files and the amount you want to be used for data files.

6. The iPod disk icon appears on the desktop and in Finder windows, and in My Computer/Computer in Windows. Double-click the icon and drag files to or from iPod’s window to copy them.
7. Make sure to eject iPod before disconnecting it from your computer. Tip: The iPod display will say “Do Not Disconnect” when disk use is enabled (iPod shuffle’s status light will continue to blink orange until after it is ejected). These are reminders for you to eject iPod first.

Once you can see the iPod as a drive, just copy photos to it like you would any other drive. As long as you have enough free disk space on your iPod you’re good to go. You can pull photos off the drive by reversing the process.

Join the conversation! 19 Comments

  1. I had a serious problem with storage. I’ve been traveling around the world for the past 18 months. When I had to send my photos back to the US, I used an old iPod as a cheap storage medium. I now use two 300gb USB hard drives, but the iPod got the job done for me at the time.

    If I could, I’d buy a bunch of old iPods from eBay or Craigslist for just this purpose.

  2. This is not new, but not well known.

    Going back between 2-4 years and at least 3 generations of iPods, there have been adaptors that allow you to connect the iPod directly to the camera to download files, including raw. The raw files can not be viewed directly on the iPod, but are there backed up or ready to be transferred to your PC later.

  3. iSteeve I agree not new – nor will I ever claim that much of what we post here is. But based on my email, most of what we post is not well known. And that’s the idea.

    If you want to be able to see the raw photos, you need to invest in a separate media player with that capability. But most people already have an iPod laying around so it’s a lower cost alternative.

  4. If you have your photo thumbnails on your iPod for viewing from iPhoto, don’t forget about the checkbox for “Include Full-Resolution Photos,” which will copy your photos automatically from your iPhoto Library every time you sync your iPod.

  5. A couple years ago we spent a month touring Eastern Europe. We had an iPod we planned to take. Being paranoid, I decided to buy a second iPod too. Every night we copied all our photos to both iPods before erasing the cards for the next day.

    Sure enough, our initial iPod died the day before we returned. Wouldn’t boot. When I returned, I took it to Apple and they said the drive had died and that it was unrecoverable. I could have probably sent it to one of those drive-recovery companies, they charge upwards of $1000 to recover, which would have been a painful (though necessary) expense had we not had two copies.

    The second iPod survived fine, and our photos made it back to our Lightroom collection at home, where it then propagated into our multiple backup scheme.

    As you implied — ALWAYS have your copies in a minimum of two places. Oh yeah, we are going to Spain next month. This time we have a new MacBook for our primary, plus two 320GB USB drives. We will have 3 copies — in 3 locations in our luggage and pockets — every day.

  6. Scott, I don’t know how you do it, but whenever I am thinking of a question to ask, a post shows up that talks about it. I have been thinking about using my iPod to copy my pictures from my CF cards to as a backup of the card until I get home and can load the on my MacBook Pro and then back them up (soon to the new Drobo I just bought instead of only to an external hard drive). The question I had was about the speed and reliability of using the iPod like the standalone media players you mentioned. I was wondering if anyone had some hands on experience using an iPod this way and what they thought of it compared to the other solutions like those from Epson. Thanks for the great show and great blog!

  7. i have an ipod nano …
    i knew i should have bought the ipod classic … :(
    may be next time …

  8. I carry around a portable USB Hard drive in my camera bag for the same purpose.

  9. Apple has a camera converter for the iPod available on their website. This allows you to connect your camera directly to your iPod and transfer your photos. It will accept any camera that offers PTP or mass storage modes. The downside, at least from what I’ve read so far, is that it’s very slow. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m thinking of trying it, just to see.

  10. A while ago I bought the CF adapter for the iPod, but it was way too slow for practical use. So you have to use a computer to put the images on, but it is a good way to back stuff up or just take stuff from one machine to another. Now if you want something that you can download from without taking a computer you need one of those Epson P series devices.

  11. I have iPod classic 80GB. Bought camera connector, hoping to have another portable backup. But the connector DOESN”T WORK WITH iPod 80GB! At the time I was purchasing it, Apple’s site was assuring that ‘iPods with colorful screen will work fine with this connector). When I contacted Apple the person was not aware of the problem, then confirmed “well, this really might not work with this iPod”. My advice – check the compatibility first. I resold my connector and still am not using the iPod as backup – lack of hardware :(

  12. @kay: we use this with out ipod gen 5.5. It works nicely, but you are right – it’s VERY VERY slow (USB 1.1). I wish apple would release a USB 2.0 version. I tend to run the ipod out of battery offloading my wife’s 400D – even with a (not normally full) 1GB card. But it does work :)

    This means we dont take a laptop with us any more, so we go out for a day, eg in Venice, and shoot, come back, offload the camera while having a shower, and then off for the night with a now empty camera. Repeat for 4 days :)

    I’d recommend finding a USB card reader which will work with the ipod connector, then you can just swap out the cards in your camera, and offload WHILE you are shooting more :) Might be quicker too, but I’m yet to try it.

  13. When I first bought my ancient (ie 3 year old) iPod I bought the 60gb specifically for the purpose of using it as back up storage when I went digital. I just had the opportunity to do so on a 5-week long trip to New York, Europe and Iceland. Knowing I had 2 copies of my RAW files made it psychologically much easier to reformat my cards. I don’t use iTunes, however, but just open the iPod icon that appears on my desktop and copy the files to the folder I’ve created there. Since I had 30+ gigs of images, I was happy that my iPod was bare bones for the trip with just some of my music library and podcasts on it.

  14. I’ve used my ipods not only to back up some photos from my HD, but I’ve used my ipod and the Delkin adapter to upload in the field.
    Sweet.

  15. About the Apple iPod Camera Connector – This only works with a few very old iPods. It came out with the pre-video iPod Photo, was never updated. I have one (and an old iPod Photo). It is horribly slow, drains the battery like crazy, and does not work with newer cameras. There seems to be a hardcoded list of recognized cameras, it does not like my D300 for example. All in all a real shame, it would be nice to use an iPod in the field for immediate backup.

  16. Adding to previous post: The adapter itself is just a passive USB to iPod dock converter. The trouble is that Apple put firmware in the iPod Photo to recognize media cards and transfer the photos. Then dropped this feature from newer iPods.

  17. Apple is that way. Very often, if they don’t think a feature caught on, they’ll just dump it rather than persist with it. Apple makes nice stuff, but you never know if a feature you want is going to stick around.

  18. I originally bought my 80Gb Ipod for use primarily as a storage device while travelling. Don’t wast your time trying to use the Ipod to Camera adapter unless you have a point and shoot and want to shift just a few Jpegs. Transfer rate is very very slow and the Ipod battery won’t handle more than about 30 minutes. Initially tried to use it with a 20D and although the Apple blurb said it was supported it rarely recognised the Camera. When I tried to get help, Apple didn’t want to know me. The adapter has stayed in the draw ever since. I now use multiple 4 and 8Gb cards in my 40D and I use my Ipod for music only and I’m much happier!

  19. good post Scott… i’ve recently bought an ipod and going to use it in the way you describe… will be back to tell u of the outcome.. thanks

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