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The Best Way to Delete Photos From Your Memory Card

the best way to delete photos from your memory card

When it comes to photography, we spend most of our time thinking about taking photos – lighting, composition, exposure, and posing. Then, once the photo is taken, we may start to think about post-processing, gently nudging the photo along until it becomes exactly what we’ve pictured in our mind’s eye. Once that’s accomplished, we do it all over again.

portrait of two girls how to delete photos from memory cards

Back in high school and college, I shot film. I can vividly remember running out, and sometimes having to wait weeks until I was able to buy more. Our public high school relied heavily on film donations, and sometimes when there wasn’t any left, our teacher would have us walk around campus with our pointer fingers and thumbs shaped into a rectangle, pretending to take photographs. Now that digital cameras are on the scene and we’re using memory cards in place of film, the number of photographs that we can take in any given week or month is nearly endless.

You may have noticed that I said “nearly” endless, and that’s because memory cards do have a lifespan and will not last indefinitely. That said, there are a few things we can do to maximize the lifespan of our memory cards, including deleting our photos off the memory card in the most efficient manner possible. This isn’t something that’s talked about all that often, but when it comes down to it, it is really simple.

So if you’re looking for the best way to delete photos from your memory cards, read on!

Less desirable ways to delete photos

If your memory card is full, you may be tempted to use one of these methods to delete your photos.

However, I recommend you avoid them if at all possible.

So here are the ways you should not delete your photos:

Getting rid of each photo individually through the camera by using the Delete or Erase button

If you’re in the middle of a shoot and you take a bad photo, you may be tempted to delete it right then and there with the Delete button.

But this is far from ideal. First, it’s always a good idea to check your images on the computer screen before deleting them forever, because you never know; your image may have some redeeming quality, one that you missed on your tiny camera LCD.

Plus, it’s just not the best way to get rid of your images from a card-health perspective, as I’ll explain in a moment.

deleting an image from your memory card directly on the camera LCD screen

Deleting all photos in-camera with the Delete All option

Once you’ve transferred your photos over to your computer, you can always pop the memory card back into your camera and hit the Erase all images on card button.

But again, this isn’t the best way to keep your card healthy.

Erasing all the images on your card via the LCD screen

Deleting via your computer

Here’s a third way to delete photos from your memory card:

Plug the camera or memory card into the computer, then drag all the photos into the Recycle Bin.

Is this a convenient way to delete images?

Absolutely.

But it’s not the most desirable way to get it done.

Deleting images from your computer

Most desirable way to delete photos

If you’re looking to delete photos off your memory card in the quickest, most efficient, least harmful way, then here’s what I recommend:

Delete with your camera’s Format function

In other words:

Transfer your photos to your PC or an external hard drive.

Stick the card back in your camera and head into the menu.

Find the Format option.

And hit OK.

This is my suggested way of deleting photos off your memory card, and I recommend you use it every single time you need to delete photos, without fail.

(It’s what I do!)

formatting memory cards in-camera is the best way to delete photos from your memory cards

Why are some methods better than others?

In the end, all of the above methods work toward the same end, in that they remove the images from your card.

However, the first three deletion methods are actually more taxing to the memory card than using the card’s Format function. I’ve heard it explained like this:

Imagine that your memory card has a shelf-life of 1,000 uses. Let’s say that you go out and take 500 photos; that’s 500 uses of your memory card. You then upload the photos to your computer, and then individually delete each photo using the Delete button on your camera. Deleting each photo individually counts as another 500 uses on your card. So in all, you’ve just spent 1,000 uses of your memory card, leaving you with no uses left on that card.

On the other hand, imagine that you’ve captured your 500 photos, but instead of deleting them with your Delete button, you use your camera’s Format function. Formatting works in a different way than deleting, because it only deletes the directory files rather than the images themselves. This allows the images to be overwritten the next time you take a picture. Therefore, formatting only counts as one use of your memory card, regardless of how many photos you’re deleting.

So in the scenario above, you’d have used only 501 of your memory card’s uses, as opposed to 1,000 when deleting manually. Certainly, memory cards available today will be able to handle far more than 1,000 uses, but the general logic still holds – formatting your card causes less wear and tear on your memory card than other ways of deleting images.

Additionally, because formatting only deletes the directory file instead of the images themselves, images on a card that has been formatted are typically much easier to recover (if needed) than images that are deleted manually, assuming you did not overwrite the formatted images by taking more photos.

Not a bad trick to have up your sleeve in case of emergencies, right?

I’d also like to add that I have personally seen a difference in the amount of corrupted images/cards that I’ve come across since I’ve been formatting cards.

These days, it’s pretty rare that I delete even a single image using any method other than formatting.

How often should you format?

Some people like to wait until their card is totally full and then do their formatting.

Personally, I like to format my card before each new photo session. It just makes sense to start fresh each time, because I can then upload everything on the card to one location and keep my files organized.

But this is really a matter of personal preference, at least as far as I’m concerned.

The one hard and fast suggestion I do have when it comes to formatting is simply to format the card in whichever camera you plan to use it in next. So if you’re going to be shooting with your Nikon body, make sure you’ve first formatted your card with that Nikon body. And if you’re going to be shooting with your Canon body, format with the Canon body before heading out.

Make sense?

How to delete photos from a memory card: Conclusion

Now that you’ve finished this article, you’re well-equipped to delete photos from your memory cards (the right way).

So make sure to always format in-camera.

Your photos and your memory cards will thank you for it!

Now over to you:

How do you typically delete images, and why? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Meredith Clark
Meredith Clark

is a wife, mother, native Oregonian, complete bookworm, Top Chef lover, and new quilting addict. She believes that photography is for everyone – it is a gift that allows us to capture and document both ordinary and extraordinary moments in our lives. You can see more of her work at Meredith Clark Photography or connect with her on Facebook.