National Geographic Photographer’s Hard Drives Stolen at Airport, Contain Images of World's Rarest Animals

National Geographic Photographer’s Hard Drives Stolen at Airport, Contain Images of World's Rarest Animals

National Geographic Photographer and Speaker Joel Sartore has had his bag stolen at Bali airport. The bag in question contained his computer, cameras, and worst of all, hard drives containing images from a three-week trip he’d spent shooting some of the world’s rarest animals.

Bali police, as well as management at I Gusti Ngurah Rai International Airport – where the incident occurred – have since been enlisted to help.

Communication and legal manager of the airport's operation PT Angkasa Pura I, Arie Ahsanurrohim announced they had shared CCTV images with the police, in hopes of fueling investigations into how Sartore's bag was taken. Police confirmed they have blurred images of the man who was spotted stealing it.

If you don’t know him by name, you may know some of his legacy. Sartore is the founder of Photo Ark, a documentary project aiming to help endangered species, which is now in its 25th year.

He posted about the incident on his Instagram, with details of the hard drives, and an accompanying picture. He appealed to anyone viewing the post, writing:

If you have any information that could lead us to these missing hard drives, please contact myself, the local authorities or my friends at Asa Film in Bali, phone +62 812 9829 8109. I need your help now to bring these hard drives home. No question asked. Each is blue in color, either 1 TB or 2 TB, and are made by Silicon Power.

Lead image by Artur Tumasjan on Unsplash.

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40 Comments

michaeljinphoto's picture

Dude's probably just going to wipe the drives and use the stuff himself.

Deleted Account's picture

I hate to see terrible things happen to people, but... yikes! A Nat Geo guy with irreplaceable work? Where was the handcuffed chain to bag? The dedicated carrier of stuff (lose the bag, lose your job)?

Reginald Walton's picture

Or where is just the backup to a cloud service somewhere before you board the plane. I'm nowhere near that level, but when I take important trips and I get shots that are hard to come by, I back my stuff up before I leave. And I copy it to external hard drives and leave it on the SD cards as well - geesh!

michaeljinphoto's picture

Backing up to a cloud service can be rather difficult depending on where in the world you are. Still, you'd think that the guy would have multiple copies in different bags and/or even memory cards on his person. Sounds like a rather serious screw up if this was a big job.

Lee Whitman's picture

Exactly. Good luck backing things up to the cloud from most of Africa. Instead, have multiple drives/copies. It sucks to have to do.

Burt Johnson's picture

National Geographic, and he only has one copy of the images???? I NEVER enter an airport, or change cities without THREE copies in three different locations.

My computer has my initial copy. I then carry two 4TB SSD USB drives, onto which I copy everything. One of those gets a copy every single night. NO EXCEPTIONS. The second SSD gets copied to before I switch hotels, go to an airport, or take my computer outside the hotel. (and the computer is always chained to a desk or chair, or whatever solid item I can find to wrap the chain around)

The computer is carried in my computer bag. One SSD goes into my carry-on, and the other goes into my wife's carry-on.

I also have BackBlaze making online copies the entire time, though it is rare for internet to be fast enough to really fully keep up. That is there as a partial 4th copy though too.

We traveled to 10 countries in 2019. This kind of basic image back-up should be common sense to anyone giving a darn about his photos when traveling on the road. And National Geographic????

Kevin Harding's picture

Nowhere does it say he doesn't have backups. He may just be concerned some people are going to have originals of his work. Lots of people jumping to conclusions without the full facts though I can see why as the post doesn't elucidate.

Hope he gets them back whatever the case.

Stuart Carver's picture

Must be nice being perfect mind.

Felix Valeri's picture

Title says hard drive, story says computer, camera's and hard drives, they were all in a bag that was stolen. personally, my laptop and camera never leave my sight when traveling.

Deleted Account's picture

I thought it was just me. Phew! I had a death grip on my gear for the epic NZ trip. :)

LA M's picture

Wow...just look at all the armchair photographer's comments on here......

Deleted Account's picture

Your chair looks mighty comfy, too.

LA M's picture

Sure is...alcantara to match the seats in my car...

Deleted Account's picture

Common synthetic. Good on ya.

LA M's picture

Built to withstand..weather/wear and BS alike.

Deleted Account's picture

Containment. Smart choice.

Dana Goldstein's picture

What a shame! And no not trying to be snarky - I've read so many photographers over the years discussing how they never keep all hard drives etc together, for precisely this reason. Really surprised. I can't imagine there's any chance he'll see those things again, they've probably already been sold off.

Broke the #1 rule when shooting digital images.

This must be a heartbreaker for Mr. Sartore. His Photo Ark project is a labor of love and is, I believe, funded from his speaking and publishing efforts. At the very least it represents a harsh financial hit to him.

Rather than speculate blame let this be a reminder to us all to take precautions and be ever-vigilant while traveling with gear and loaded drives/cards. It’s especially easy to let your guard down especially on lengthy, exhausting trips.

Deleted Account's picture

It's especially important to me that those are the most critical times not to let my guard down. If I'm that tired... it's my responsibility to take proper precautions.

I typically travel alone. Single female. Thousands of miles behind me.

Yeah, no blame. Cautionary, you bet. Apologist... never!

Never heard of Silicon Power drives. Are they any good? Asking for a friend.

They’re new to me, too! They’re certainly far less expensive than Samsung or SanDisk! (Maybe this was actually a sleeper promo for Silicon Power? 😉)

Fristen Lasten's picture

Investigators want to question Naruto, the rare crested macaque monkey who lives in the Tangkoko.

Paul Papanek's picture

I just returned from a shoot in Costa Rica and Panama. As always, on a daily basis, I download to 3 drives. On the trip home to LA, my wife carries one drive, another goes in my backpack, and the last goes in my ThinkTank roll-aboard. If any one bag gets stolen, I have two backups. And I never shoot over an exposed card so I have those as a 4th backup. I feel terrible for Joel but it seems that he was unprepared.

Dana Goldstein's picture

I think something that travel photographers should always research is whether there is a place they can upload to the cloud from while they’re there - maybe the US Embassy would even allow something like that as a courtesy to traveling Americans? Certainly if someone has any pullable strings, they should in such situations and set it up in advance.

Lee Whitman's picture

Unfortunately data in parts of the world is prohibitively expensive. It's also incredibly unreliable.

Dana Goldstein's picture

Entirely possible. All the more reason for separating what you have.

1. After any important same-day shoot (e.g., driving home) I put one card from each camera in my little pocket in my jeans originally intended for a pocket watch. The other I leave in the camera. That way even at a rest stop if the car is stolen I have a set with me, and if something dastardly happens in the building itself, the car has a set with it.

2. I was doing a T&T shoot in September with bad internet. I had the work on two camera cards, a laptop and an external drive but I was still paranoid for the eight hour drive home. So I bought a thumb drive, copied the work there, and put it in the mail to myself.

rookie noob mistake. i do hear the thief is asian looking and has black hair and 1 long unibrow. not sure if that helps.

jim hughes's picture

I see posters talking about all the precautions they'd have taken, so this would never have happened to them. That's great.

On the other hand they probably haven't been traveling the world for years, going to enormous lengths in tough locations to create beautiful photographs of species on the edge of extinction, and then taking the cause to the public in books, videos, gallery shows (I've been to one, it was fantastic) and personal appearances. That stuff can be distracting.

This isn't just a "Nat Geo guy" we're talking about. This is Joel Sartore. Read about him and his work.

I hope the police can get the word out and arrange to buy back these drives.

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