How to Spring Clean Your Memory Cards


Ahhh spring. A great time to bust out your lens pens and lens cloths and dust off your photography equipment. But don’t forget to spruce up your memory cards before heading into the summer season.


Start With a Memory Card Inventory

Take the time to survey how many cards you have and what state they are in. This is especially important if you have multiple types of cards floating around. Ensure that there are no stragglers hiding in a camera bag pocket or at the bottom of a lens case. My tip: I write numbers on my memory cards so I can double check I have all my cards before leaving a location.

Back-up Images on Your Cards

Do you ever snap a quick photo but forget to move it off the card? Now is a great time to move those images over to your computer, leaving room on your memory cards for new photos. Here is another great tip: delete images from your card in a batch. Limiting the amount of times you change data on your memory card will help extend the life of your cards. So choose to delete the images off your card in one format, either in your camera or on your computer, instead of deleting single images as you shoot. Better yet use “Format” to wipe and reformat the card in camera.

Store Your Cards Properly

All memory cards, no matter the type, have delicate parts. Keep your cards safe and dust free by storing them in a container designed for memory cards. There are a ton of memory card wallet options available. Take a few minutes to think about what your memory cards go through and then look for a container that will work for you. Do you need a waterproof case? Are you a wedding photographer who carries around more than a few cards? If so, this is a worthwhile investment for you.


Write Your Name on Your Cards

We’ve all seen the Facebook posts of an image being shared around the web off of a found camera or memory card, in an effort to return the device to its owner. Don’t let that be your photo! Write your name and contact information on your cards. Losing a memory card is a downer – they aren’t cheap and those images could be lost forever. Simply including your email address, website, or phone number along with your first name, may increase the odds of having a lost memory card returned.

Label Used Cards

Come up with a system to label used cards. It happens – you start taking photos, and forget which cards you’ve used and which you haven’t. You then have to do the classic move of putting the card into your camera to check if it is full. Skip this step by coming up with a way that quickly identifies which cards are full. If you’ve numbered your cards, you can keep track of the numbers. My personal system is to put used cards into my card wallet backwards. A quick glance tells me which cards are ready to use.


Do you have a memory card organization system? Tell us what works for you in the comments below.

Need some new cards or some accessories? Try some of these:

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Nikole Bordato is a portrait and wedding photographer based in Western Canada. Connect with Nikole on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Google+.

  • Michael Owens

    I spring clean my mem cards after every shoot I do. I backup the images (RAW) to TWO external drives, and delete. Simpler for me. OCD perhaps. But I prefer that way!

  • Gareth Lewis

    Every two months I completely format all my cards

  • Adelina

    I agree, I just copy my photos to my computer if they are personal photos and to my hard drive if they are for clients. And then I format my card and ready to use again!

  • Paula

    I download all my images each time I take photos and then reformat the card. My mom calls her memory cards “chips” and she uses one until it’s full, then she stores it away, and buys a new “chip.” 😉 I guess if that works for you – drives me nuts! HA!

  • Barry E Warren

    I have a memory card wallet that holds 3 cards,plus keep them in there little plastic cases. I reformat the card I’m using about every 4 shoots. But never though of some of the stuff that’s on this page. Thanks for sharing , now to write info on my cards.

  • Nikole Bordato

    Hi Michael – I’m the same way with the external drives. You can never be too careful.

  • VSB

    My thoughts exactly! Spring cleaning? Seriously? Formatting and backing up should be part of all good workflows. If that’s OCD, count me in! 🙂

  • Michael Owens

    It’s very true Nikole! Can never be too safe with backups 🙂

  • I apologize if this is slightly off topic. Does anyone know how to format a large number of memory cards quickly. I need to format 100+ memory cards. Thanks!!! -O

  • Jwren

    I used to format after copying to my hard drive too, then I realized these little cards are an additional backup, it’s cheaper to just buy a new one and store these as an extra backup. So I back up to my computer about once a week, then my computer has an ongoing backup to an external drive. Then when my card is full, I pop it out and store it in it’s case. I recently bought a plastic fishing lure container to organize them all. It’s small enough to stick in a small fireproof safe, but has plenty of room for all my memory sticks and SD cards.

  • Nikole Bordato

    I never thought of a plastic fishing lure container – that is brilliant!

  • Phil Wormald

    I now take more care with which cards are full and empty when I’m using them, I have a little paper ticket that says “Full” and I pop that into the single card box with the card once full. I also flick up the ‘Lock’ tab.

    I also found the hard way never delete any image, how crap, off a card in the camera. I did this twice only to find that the rest rest of the images after the deleted one were inaccessible. I ended up downloading some recovery software but still only managed to rescue a few of them.

    Once a shot is completed I import all the good files to LR and leave the bad ones. Then back up the PC files. The cards then get reformatted in the camera one by one so I’m ready for the next shoot.

    How many times have we gone out with our gear to find that we have full cards and then are not sure if we copied them over or not?!?!?

  • photoguy

    I use individual holders in a card wallet, and for those cards (and yes, they’re all numbered) that may have photos on them (projects and personal) I just keep a log in one of the wallet slots with a short description on the cards.

  • Chris Breidenbaugh

    Everything is copied to HD and deleted from card. Three time a week, HD is backed up to three different external HDs.

  • daria

    Thanks Mayhem that’s why John and I thought this would be really helpful for a lot of our readers here! Glad you enjoyed it. ????? ?????????? ???? ????

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    Note #2: auto-dimming welding glass won’t work 🙂
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  • MIchael Griffin

    I carry 8 SD card in a plastic envelope that originally had a lens cleaning cloth. I cut up an anti-static ziplock to make two sleeves to hold the SDs in the envelope. They’re all numbered. Also use another of the same envelopes to carry two spare camera batteries. Its’ all of a size that can fit in any pocket.

  • me

    First The headline to me indicated a better way than formatting or if in camera or our of camera was best I think the article needed to be reorganised so it moved in logical steps from data to mundane card management. The most important info was in the backup section. The ads at the end…hmmm the physical card management weighting of the article is now clearer 😉

    Second, SD cards are super cheap in the USA at just $25-35 ea! At $100 a pop for a decent card here (AU) having lots of spares is often not an option!

    Third – a BETTER system for identifying cards that are full or need protecting is to use the little lock mechanism in the size of the card 🙂 Tab up or down soon identifies it’s status

  • jeo

    I keep little pieces of blue electrical tape on the outside of my card holder/s. When the card is full, I move the tape to the card. It’s been working perfectly (oh, goodness, did I just say that?) for me for several years.

  • jeo

    OH, and when I have downloaded them and backed them up twice I take the tape off and reformat.

  • KC

    Interesting topic. Most important: Put the date of first use on your cards. Rotate out old cards to second tier use. How old? It depends. Simply put, cards have a limited read/write cycle. They don’t last forever. If you shoot video – a lot less.

    There can be an entire, lengthy debate about format v. delete. In general, if you Format a card, and have an “oh damn” moment, odds aren’t good that you can recover the images. You can with Delete. If you haven’t tried it yet, download a card recovery utility and try it on a card. Don’t wait until it’s an emergency.

    But it goes a little deeper than that. Formatting a card adds to the read/write count. You’re basically telling the camera to write over every sector on the card, whether it has any image data or not, create a new file table, and check the results for integrity. Delete just sets a flag on the filename instructs the camera to write over an area.

    Sorry, to go all “tech” here, but cards do fail, just like hard drives and SSD’s. Actually, they fail worse. The file system is pretty primitive (think FAT32 DOS) compared to modern computers. I’ve had malfunctioning cameras cross my desk and it was just old cards.

    What’s missing is the question: Is one big card better than several smaller ones? Personally, I like 32gb and 64gb cards. They’re cheap enough to rotate out to second tier use. Even better, you can use them to archive images. They don’t deteriorate with age, and take up very little space. You cans store thousands of them in a fire proof box.

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