Memory Cards: why you should have more than you need

My reflection on memory cards started with a culling session in Lightroom. Moving through the images I realised that many photos were duplicates. I initially thought that one of the cameras should have been in a different capture mode; I must had imported the images from the cards more than once. Then a terrible fear started dawning on me: what if I had imported one card twice instead of two cards? Just by checking which cameras I had used, I realised that one was missing. I had indeed failed to import all the memory cards, and one was missing.

If you really want to know what happened, I am sure you will find this article illuminating. In the meantime I will give you an overview on what you need to know about memory cards in plain English. I will give you some clear answers on why you should have more memory cards than you need. I will also underline why you need a method.

memory cards by Faby and Carlo

What happens when you format your memory cards?

Memory cards, exactly as hard drives, stores information. To access a particular file you have a special part of the drive that knows where the file is. When you format a card, you simply delete this information. Deleting the allocation table, the place where drives store the physical location of their files, is not the end of the world.

The truth is that a good data recovery software will be able to find your files. Even after formatting them, data are still in the memory cards. Your precious photographs will be there, you will only need some time to find them.

The first thing I did when I realised I was missing some photographs was to try and recovery my photographs. I checked every single one of my memory cards to see if I could find the files. Do you think I did?

memory cards by Faby and Carlo

The real danger is when you overwrite data

Formatting memory cards is not the worst that can happen. If you don’t consider those that fails completely, there is another worse case scenario: overwriting your files. Let’s say that you formatted your memory cards, and that you used them in another shoot. The new files are going to take the space where your missing files were. There is no way to recover your image if you do like this.

After spending a few hours digging into my memory cards, I realised that there missing photos were not there. All the memory cards contained other photographs; the ones I was looking for were gone. They had been overwritten, hence there was no way of recovering them. Oh, and by the way, the images I lost were from a client’s shoot.

memory cards by Faby and Carlo

How do I physically organise my memory cards? (now)

When I realised that the photographs were gone, I realised that the method I was using was not good. Randomly using memory cards, formatting them and overwriting their content was a danger to our business. So I looked at what went wrong: I used some of them the day after the shoot, and I filled them up with another client’s photographs. I should have had used different memory cards, hence my need of more of them; however, that would not have been enough.

When I finished importing the photos from the memory cards from a shoot, I put them away in a very specific order. First of all I put them at the back of my card holder, so that they are the latest ones. Then I make sure that they are turned, so that only the black face is visible. In this way I know exactly which cards are ready and which ones are still full of photographs. Having many cards, the photographs can be in their original location for few days. After I start processing the batch relative to those memory cards, I erase them. In this way I am sure that I haven’t forgotten anything! Once erased, I simply turn the memory cards, so I can see the brand: I now know they are ready to be used.

Losing a hundred or so images for a client gave me a big push to change. I bought more memory cards and I set up a method. There are two silver linings to this story. The first one is that I have learned how to be a better professional. The second is that despite having lost a card, I had enough great images to impress my client!

memory cards by Faby and Carlo

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