Take care of your memory.. and memories

A regular reader asks:

Good morning Michael,

I’m going on a 2 week vacation soon, and am thinking about how I manage the cards to keep my risk as low as possible. I plan on nightly backing up the cards to a laptop and to usb sticks. I won’t be deleting any pictures off the cards until I get home (if at all possible). This way I should have 3 way protection. A little crazy, but we’re dropping 10k into this. I don’t want to lose anything. My big worry would be losing the camera bag and laptop due to theft. The usb sticks will always be kept on me or in a different location at least.

Anyway, I’ve a question about handling memory cards. I have always left them in the plastic containers they came in and then put them into slots in my camera bag. I find that cumbersome, but I don’t want to damage them. These are SD cards if that matters. Is it okay just to forget about the plastic cases and tuck the cards into the elastic slots? What about card cases? Do you have any recommendations?

Thanks for any thoughts. I’ve been enjoying your down to earth photography discussions.

Thanks for the compliment, and yes, I have some thoughts:

  • First, the idea of backups makes a lot of sense to me. Things fail and get stolen. I always keep backups, multiple backups if possible, while travelling.
  • If a laptop is big or expensive, consider a Netbook and external drives. A netbook is useless at most things but great for things like backing up pics from an USB-mounted card to an external drive or two – and they’re cheap.
  • I like 4 GB cards. Why? Because they avoid “too much on one card” and because a 4GB card fits in its entirety onto a DVD! Then you can burn DVDs (or go to a camera store to have it done) and mail yourself a copy at home. That’s real safety. And a DVD costs just a few pennies.
  • Cards in the bag without cases is fine – I do that too, as long as the bag is not a flexible type you will sit on. Camera stores sell little card-wraps/containers; many of these have a clip you can use to secure the container to your camera bag. This is an essential step.
  • After backing up a memory card, before reusing it always format it – and in the camera. It does not have to be a low-level format – but I do that too every now and then, just to keep the card fresh.
  • Avoid 800 pictures of Rome on one card. Someone grabs your camera: the pictures are all gone. I swap cards regularly whether I have to or not.

Finally: shoot RAW so you can save sub-optimal pictures, and bring a lot of memory. Your $10k is ephemeral: it is gone as soon as the trip is over – but by securing the trip in pics that $10,000 becomes a lasting investment. That’s worth some extra memory cards!