The Ultimate Trick to Remember What Card Has Been Imported: Remove All Guesswork

The Ultimate Trick to Remember What Card Has Been Imported: Remove All Guesswork

Importing files from a memory card onto a computer doesn’t seem to be a complicated task, and it shouldn’t be. However, it’s probably one of the most crucial parts of your workflow. If you forget a file on your card or format and reuse the wrong one, it can generate bigger issues than any photographer would like to face. Because let’s be honest, no one wants to tell a client that files have been lost… let alone a full job! There is a trick to avoid that kind of problem, and if you’ve never heard of it, you may be surprised by how simple it is!

The tip that I’m going to describe in the following lines should work with virtually any camera on the market. I’ve used it with Nikon’s, Canon’s, and Phase One’s cameras. I guess Sony, Fuji, and the likes should work as well. When a card is formatted, your camera is going to create a folder structure. Usually, it starts with a DCIM folder at the top, and then other sub-folders inside. This is where we can trick our camera system. It reads what’s inside the DCIM folder and when it must save new files, such as videos or pictures, it will write in there as well.

No need to change anything in your import routine. Simply import your files like you always have, no matter what software you use, nothing changes until just before you are about to eject the card. Once all the files have been copied, open the Finder or any file explorer, and rename the DCIM folder. I tend to rename it _DCIM so that I know it’s been imported and that it’s not a folder that’s been copied from another disk.

When the DCIM folder has been renamed, your camera won’t display the pictures that are in it anymore. So you know the card is either empty or has been ingested, and you can format it. If you have large cards, you can even keep the files on your card and keep shooting. The camera will just create a new DCIM folder. This way, you have a backup on your card for a while. Only format your card whenever you don’t have enough space anymore.

As simple as this trick may sound, it has saved me many times! When shooting important large jobs or weddings, it’s easy to lose track of what cards have been imported or not. Going through the trouble of comparing files, or letting a software analyze everything can eat up quite a bit of your time. With the DCIM folder renamed, I don’t even need a computer to check it anymore! If the camera tells me there is no file to display, I know the card has been imported, and I can use it.

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user-141563's picture

Just turn the card face down. Done.

Vegard Breie's picture

Haha. I was reading to find this tip, or as me. unimported cards on the left side of my computer/reader etc, imported on the right. In my cf wallet, the ones I have used are always upside down. Why complicate it? :D

Not always so simple guys. I actually like Quentin's tip. Its purpose is to remove any doubt from situations where it may arise. Examples. When you couldn't finish yout import routine properly (because of a hurry or some mess). Or when working with other people handling cards too the risk of unknown status is immensely greater. In that case use also green and red gaff tape on the cards. Trust me that kind of additional fail safe is not usually needed until you wish you had it !! So thanks Quentin for the tip. I will definitely use it!

Ha, ha... I do that on a shoot but when copying i always manage to mix them up, doesn't hell that almost all my cards are the same brand and size, so they all look the same.

Graham Marley's picture

I mean, do whatever works, but checking first and last files on the back of the camera, plus file count, against what's on your hard drive takes like, a minute. I do that right after I back up the folder and then format the cards one by one.

Quentin Decaillet's picture

True, but you don't always have your computer with you. Personally, I don't like to format my cards until the retouched files are delivered. The more backups I have, the better :) Though, like you say, do whatever works best for you!

gabe s's picture

So you have multiple back ups, and don't reformat the card till the images are finished? I would loose track of cards so fast if I tried that.

The only thing this will trick is the user into card corruption. Anytime you alter the card's state on a PC (Win / OSX) your asking for trouble if you do not immediately re format it in camera. Removing the card, changing the file name, shooting on it, thinking it's a "back-up" isn't a solution it's a dangerous workflow that wouldn't be accepted on any Pro shoot.

The face down or upside down card works. Its safe and tested for the last 20 years. Cant manage your cards on set? Hire a DIT, that's what their there for.

Rob Mynard's picture

Yeah, as soon as you put the card into a Mac, it's going to write a bunch of "invisible" (to the Mac's finder window) index files. I know that cameras should be smart enough to not worry about these but every card company suggests formatting a card in camera before shooting, so I would worry that in rare situations these might cause a problem.

Jay Jay's picture

I have multiple 64gb cards of the same size. After every shoot, the images get transferred to my hd, where it's mirrored to a second drive. Card goes back in camera. When it's completely full, the card gets put in a box, and a freshly formatted spare 64gb is put in the camera. That way, the original card with all the images are still with me while i use that second card. I can attest that it's saved me at least twice when for some reason, i didn't copy all the images to the hard drive.

Now that i'm using 256gb cf and sd together, it takes a fairly long while before i have to format them, and when i do, i'll format SD 1, put CF 1 in the backup box, and put in a freshly formatted CF 2, so i'll still have one card with all the original photos on them until i fill up the replacement SD 1 and CF 2 cards. (I agree with Justin in that i read if you fool with a card in the Finder or Windows, you risk corrupting the file system on that card when you put it back in the camera)

Rob Mynard's picture

But just putting the card into your computer causes the computer to write hidden index files to the card, are you not worried that these could cause a corruption?

Yes, but then you format the card in the camera before you use it.

Jay Jay's picture

Or just keep using the card until it's full, then put it aside in a drawer and put in another like-sized memory card and continue shooting until that's filled up.

Rob Mynard's picture

That's what you're supposed to do I believe but Jay Jay was saying that they dump down each day, and then keep shooting on the card until it fills, without formatting after each dump. That sounds like you're increasing your chance of corruption yeah?

Michael Kuszla's picture

This is a method. I agreed.

And you mentioned it, this is not a "how to manage your cards", but a tip to manage imported and un-imported photographies form cards.

From my side, photographies are locked on the numbered card until I discharge and back-up them. But it works only for a day session. Not even more when you move for more than 2 days away from home-office... or away from electricity :-) (I have a second "cardflow" for this type of session).
And thanks god to have 2 card slots on our cameras!!!