Don’t Lose Your Pictures

A few days ago I heard the very sad story of a photographer whose home was robbed in the night and his camera gear stolen. With it also went the card containing the pictures from the job he had shot the previous day. Of course I feel for the guy, but I do think he had failed in a rather basic way so far as the images were concerned.

When I shot film (and on the few occasions I still do) every time I take a 35mm cassette out of the camera the film either gets rewound completely inside, or I tear off the end so there is no danger of loading it again. Random double exposures might of course interest some arty types, but seldom make good documentary or photojournalism.

With digital, you can’t get double exposures in this way, but it is all too easy to put the same card in the camera again, format it and shoot over your existing work. It can happen even if you only own a single card, but it gets much too easy to get mixed up once you have a handful. (Formatting doesn’t remove your files, but allows them to be written over when you shoot more pictures.)

So if you are shooting digital, you need to sort out some simple rules about looking after your work. Working practices that make it pretty difficult to lose your pictures.

So here’s my advice and what I do – and I hope it will be a useful guide.

Digital Card Security

  1. Keep cards ready for use and those you have used in different places.
    (Cards ready for use are in my camera bag. Used cards in a secure pocket of my trousers – with my credit card etc. I keep them in their plastic cases in both cases to stop the contacts getting dirty.)
  2. At the end of any job, remove the card from the camera and put it in a secure place.
    (Mine goes in that secure pocket; if I want to take more pictures I put another card in the camera. )
  3. Immediately you get back to base, use your computer to transfer the contents of your cards to two separate locations.
    (I do mean immediately – I put the computer on before I put the kettle on or open a bottle and have Lightroom set up to automatically import the files and make a backup on another hard disk. When travelling I transfer to one location on my notebook and pray, or take a portable hard disk to make the second copy. Doing it immediately also stops me throwing the cards with my trousers into the washing machine, although I’ve heard of several people who have done this and still been able to read the card once it was dry.)
  4. Install RescuePRO/Photorecovery or similar software on your computers.
    (If you get a problem with a card, take it out of the camera immediately. RescuePRO will almost certainly be able to get your files back – except for any that were not written when the error occurred.)

RescuePRO came free with my recent Sandisk cards – which cost less than the software itself. It seems to work fine on other makes of cards and USB drives. So far I’ve only had to use it on other people’s cards, but one day I’m sure to need it.

Longer Term Storage

As well as considering your working practice while shooting and immediately after, you also need to think about the longer term storage of your images. Making two copies immediately is a good start for this. But shortly I’ll put down some of my thoughts on this vital topic. Of course I wrote about it on ‘About Photography‘ in 2003, but although I think I got it more or less right, I might want to alter a few details.

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