How To Improve Your Photography With A Secret Memory Card Trick

Whilst film photography has a tangible cost to every frame – and one that ultimately became too high for me to justify a couple of years back – digital photography can seem like it’s virtually free.

After the initial costs of the camera (which I’ve shown can be merely a few pounds and less than £50 for a DSLR and lens capable of lovely images), the ongoing cost per shot is negligible.

But with the financial freedom digital brings, it’s all too easy to to get carried away and shoot hundreds of photos every time you head out, just because you can.

The danger then is we get lazy and sloppy, and the overall quality of our photography diminishes.

Maybe we even long for those simpler days when we didn’t have such dizzying freedom to photograph anything and everything, and the shots made per outing were in double figures rather than triple or quadruple.

One way to limit this of course is simply through self-discipline, and controlling how frugally you shoot.

But as most of us have less self-discipline than we’d like (plus maybe years of trigger happy digital habits aren’t so easy to undo), there’s an easier way to restrict your shooting.

Simply get yourself a small capacity memory card.

A selection of SD cards I’ve inherited in old cameras. The Renault one is from a TomTom SatNav device I think and is actually a surprisingly large 2GB.

If you use say a 1GB card (which in my 10MP Lumix LX3 allows around 200 images), then you are obviously far more limited in how many shots you can make before the card is full, compared with an 8 or 16 or 32GB card.

If you need to be even more disciplined, try a 512MB or 256MB card. In my LX3 these would give me around 100 and 50 shots respectively. I have an old 128MB card which says it’s good for 24 shots once in the LX3, just like a roll of film.

So then you have the kind of enforced sparsity that a film photographer enjoys each time they head out with just one or two rolls of film. 

The advantages of restricting how much you can shoot before your card is maxed out are multiple –

– Better compositions

A capacity for fewer images means you become more considered about when to release the shutter. Instead of machine gunning off 13 minutely different versions of the same scene, then picking the best afterwards, you take your time, and shoot one, perhaps two.

Those you do make will almost inevitably be more pleasing because of the additional thought and care that’s gone into them.

– Less time editing

Fewer images made per photo shoot means fewer to edit afterwards. Leaving you more time to enjoy the images you made and start planning and enjoying your next photography excursion.

– More attentive, focused editing

With fewer images to go through, your editing head stays fresh and keen, allowing you to get down to the very best of your latest batch of images whilst your enthusiasm is still high.

Trying to sort through hundreds of new images and maintain the same level of editing objectivity is very challenging.

A batch of 40 or 50 photos is far more approachable than 400 or 500, where you’ll likely become numb with boredom before you’re even half way through, then delete or keep everything before you get to enjoy the few gems that might be waiting.

Or become so jaded that every image starts to look the same.


– You become a better photographer in the eyes of your audience

I’ve talked in the past of blogs where the photographer feels the need to dump every image from their latest photo shoot.

The problem is that even if there are a couple of stunning photographs among them, most people will likely have clicked away, tired of wading waist deep through the mediocrity of the rest of them.

Our audience shouldn’t be given the heavy lifting work of curating the best of our images, it’s our job as the photographer to also edit down to the cream of the crop before we present them publicly.

When you make fewer images in the first place, then edit them with a fresher, sharper eye, the images you share at the end will be a much smaller and higher quality sample of your work (perhaps 3-6 images, rather than 36), so those following will automatically consider you a better photographer, and be more likely to continue to follow.

– Less storage space

I know storage is cheap these days, but you still have to keep the images you want somewhere, plus back them up. If you’re rattling of hundreds of images every time and keeping most (or all!) of them, that storage will soon fill up.

If you’re sharing online too, whether on a dedicated photo site like Flickr, or via a blog, then again the fewer images you share, the less your storage space, and the cheaper the cost.

– Better appreciation of your own archives

More importantly than the cost of storage space though, even if you’re very organised with filing your photo archive, the larger it becomes, the less likely you’re going to want to go back and sift through it.

It becomes the equivalent of a dusty attic space where you only open the door occasionally to ram more stuff in that you know you won’t look at for years, if ever again.

Rather than a small, easy to navigate and enjoyable archive of your very finest photography, that you return to periodically.

There are other, more minor benefits, of using small memory cards.

They’re cheaper in the first place (most of mine came free with old digital cameras I was buying for pocket money anyway), and you have fewer images to lose if one fails (perhaps a hundred images rather than thousands). Though I can’t ever recall having any memory card of any kind let me down, perhaps I’ve been lucky.

But the main points are above.

Using smaller capacity memory cards helps you be more discerning with what you decided to capture, keeps you fresher and more attentive when editing, means you have far fewer images to store and organise at the end of it, and increases your talent in the eyes of your audience.

Whilst I have a couple of 16GB SD cards I bought new years ago, the vast majority of the time I have only a 1 or 2GB card in the cameras I use, for these reasons.

I’m tempted to dig out some of the even smaller cards I have and see how a photo walk limited to the equivalent of just one roll of 35mm film would feel. That old 128MB card I have would do that, with around 24 shots.

I even have an ancient 32MB Canon SD card that’s good for a mere five shots in the Lumix LX3, and only nine in my 6MP Lumix FX10, if I wanted to get even more restrictive!

How about you? Does the size of your memory card influence how disciplined (or not) you are with your trigger finger?

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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25 thoughts on “How To Improve Your Photography With A Secret Memory Card Trick”

  1. Brilliant, Dan. Also, I’m glad you’ve started linking to the Flickr page for your embedded images again. I hope you’re doing well!

    1. P, good to hear from you, and thanks for your comments. Yes, I want to make that closer connection between 35hunter and my Flickr again, as those are really the only two places I hang out online. The extra 20 seconds it takes to make the photo a link back to the original on Flickr I think is time well spent.

      1. Definitely. Now that you’ve started linking directly to Flickr again, it’s super simple for me to not only look at the linked image in all its full-res glory, but I can quickly find other interesting images adjacent to it that you shot with the same camera around the same time. Good stuff.

        I really don’t know why there has been this dramatic shift away from Flickr and towards Instagram. Instagram is pure, undiluted garbage and a total waste of time (to use or browse). But what do you expect when it’s a product of Facebook, the largest life-waster there is? It’s not at all easy to navigate a user’s photos and the resolution is a joke. Flickr is a vastly superior platform, especially for people who take their photography seriously and want others to approach their work with an equally serious eye. I’m so glad you and a handful of others continue to use it. For those that only upload to Instagram, I don’t even bother following their work.

        Take care, Dan!

      2. Thanks P, really pleased you appreciate the Flickr links. It’s the antithesis of Instagram in this aspect, and I love going through Flickr either on iPad full screen, or on a laptop, viewing full screen by pressing “L”. This is a major shortcoming (for me) of Instagram, the silly tiny image size.

  2. Yes, storage and shooting capacity (or the possibilities enabled by shooting capacity) is a double edged-sword I think. I don’t think that there is much justification for a landscape or fine art photographer needing to shoot hundreds of frames at a time but I can see that it would be easy for a sports photographer to end up with thousands of frames at some mad fps rates (and it’s been a long time since us spotty sales kids gazed in wonder at the Nikon MD-3 bolt-on motordrive unit that we worked out could rip through a 36 exp film – sometimes all too literally – in 9 seconds).

    I was a film photographer so yes, conventional photography for me was, and still is, rooted in the forethought involved with the get-it-right mindset, but my adventures in camera movement abstract are actually only possible for me because of the freedom of having, and using, the storage space to shoot multiple similar (but not the same) frames of a dynamic subject like the waves in order to get the one or two shots that I wanted – plus any happy accidents I like!

    But I still only have 32 Gb cards, which is I think about 1000 RAW shot capacity a go… but one of them is more or less resident in the camera and I download and format that as soon as I’m back from shooting instead of letting it fill up. I’ve never needed to change to the ‘spare card’ that’s in the camera bag for more capacity, but I dare say if I was shooting my son playing rugby, I might.

    1. Bear, when you’re shooting your abstract camera motion photos, do you edit as you go and delete anything that hasn’t worked in camera? Or just keep them all to review at home later?

      1. Definitely prefer to see on the 27″ proper colour depth and corrected monitor at home in Lightroom first before committing to a delete.

        You just cannot see (well, I can’t with my eyesight anyway) the same things on a camera’s screens, viewfinder or rear screen, and they certainly do not have the sort of editing power I want for the whole process!

      2. I agree about reviewing on a computer screen, I rarely delete in camera, only if I’ve slipped or something and made a useless photo that I know I won’t need.

        Re editing, I meant simply choosing which to keep and which to delete, not any kind of additional post processing. I wouldn’t want to do this in camera either, generally far too fiddly, and again the screen lacks the size to be able to review the photo in adequate detail.

  3. There’s only two problems with this. The first is finding a small capacity SD card, as anything under 16GB is a rare item indeed. The second is paying for it, as the bigger cards cost not only less per unit of storage but often less over-all. The frugality in us demands a better bargain.
    Personally I like the ability to “shoot like crazy”, but still don’t because of having been “raised on film”. That self-discipline aspect you mention is really the important thing; if you can’t control your own habits to a reasonable degree you’re going to be in trouble in more ways than one. And not just with photography.

    1. Marc, I just searched on eBay and 1GB SD cards are abundant, around £4 or £5 each.

      Most of those I have (maybe 10 altogether) I extracted from old cameras I bought, so this might be just as cheap an option. I can only speak for where I am (UK), so it sounds like the availability isn’t there in Canada? Could you get a small batch of them on the US eBay and have them shipped?

      Absolutely, regarding self control. I’m pretty disciplined in most of my life, and it helps feed into the same outlook and approach. If you’re reckless in one area, it’s more likely you will be in others, I believe.

      1. Oh I can get smaller cards here – if I want to hunt and basically spend as much or more for a 2GB card as I can buy a 16GB for. It’s silly.
        The Canon uses about 10MB per full-size photo, so a 256MB card would be one roll of film! If you’ve ever really filled a big card you notice how they get slower the more they have on them.
        Again we are forced to adapt to what is available, rather than have manufacturers supply our actual needs.

  4. I use a small card, too, but for a different reason: I think it’s more stable than the bigger capacity one. Also, as with any storage media, it should (but often isn’t) only be used til it’s about two thirds full rather than completely full.

    That said, I’m not a ‘photographer’ as such, just someone who enjoys taking photos for my own pleasure, and currently, as I have done in previous years, I share one camera with my husband. He has his own that he uses sometimes, but this is our ‘go-to’ camera. This is why I am gobsmacked that you have so many cameras!! (Though I suspect that if you had bought them all new and full-price, you’d have a smaller number, don’t you think?)

    1. Thanks Val. Even my 1GB cards are rarely full! If I used something smaller like 32 or 64MB I would likely fill them, but 256 or 512MB would probably be fine for me most of the time, especially as I use older cameras that are usually 6-10MP, not 20MP+ like some modern digital cameras. So the image files are smaller anyway, and I only shoot JPEG not RAW, which again keeps the file size down.

      Regarding the number of cameras, I only have about a dozen now. It feels manageable to me. I had perhaps 60 at my peak (or nadir, depending on your perspective!) about four years ago.

      The State That We Are In...

      That’s still pretty tame, I know some readers here have had (and still have) hundreds…

  5. My personal rule is to process all images the same day or next. Backup my images and format the SD card. I only keep the images I am willing to process. I also try to limit my shooting so I have only decent images to process. I use a large card in case I go on an all day or several days shoot. So far no problems recently with cards failing. I think they may have improved them.

    1. Thanks Sherry, your process sounds pretty similar to mine. Except increasingly I don’t process, just edit (as in, go through the photos from each shoot and delete those I don’t want/like).

      I upload the photos as soon as possible to my MacBook after a shoot, and it’s set up to automatically delete from the card and back up to Google Drive as it goes. As I edit, it syncs too, so I only have the ones I keep backed up to Google Drive. Then once a month or so I do an external HD back up too.

      1. Yes I can see from the images on your blog Sherry. Why is it called port4u by the way? Port like the drink, or as in a ship coming into port? Or like a USB port?

  6. I do exactly that, Dan. I buy a dozen 1GB cards at a time, and I don’t remove the images from them, rather use them as storage as well. I also have an external drive and cloud for backup. But, another advantage, from when I was a photojournalists, is to use more than one card on an assignment in case one of the cards are bad.

    1. Frank I’m curious how you organise all those cards physically? Do you shoot on one card until it’s full then move to the next, or start with a new card each photoshoot? Yeh I always carry a spare card, but to be honest I can’t recall a time when even an ancient small capacity SD card has caused any problems. They seem a very stable storage medium.

      1. Dan, cards are about the cost of a roll of film but, as you know, you get way more images on a card for the money. I shoot the card til it’s about full and date them. I also move images as I shoot them to my external drive and add keywords (and of course the date is on them already). Cards are more stable today, yes, but I still can’t shake not using two cards on important subjects from back when I started in digital photos.

      2. It’s really interesting to read about how others store photos, as I had never even considered using SD cards for longer term storage, they’re simply a means to store photos on camera before being transferred to a long term archive of some kind.

      3. There are many articles online about using and SD as permanent image storage. I used to use CD and DVD’s, and then flash drives. So I just decided to save the money and keep images on the SD’s. I also, as I said, back up to external hard drive.

  7. I”m glad this works for you guys. But in my case I just don’t take the picture, or try to get rid of the ones I don’t like early enough. I’ve often gone out for a photo walk and didn’t fire the shutter once – if I don’t see the composition, no reason to take a picture I’ll delete later anyway.

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