As photographers, we often take for granted one of the most important pieces of equipment we can invest in — memory cards. Whether you use CF or SD cards, there’s some simple things to remember in order to avoid card failure.

Don’t delete … format!

While it might make sense to use your computer’s option to delete photos off your camera, it’s actually the opposite of what’s recommended. Instead, format your card in-camera after you off-load a shoot to your computer. Doing so will refresh the card so it works as best as possible with your camera’s software, lessening the chance for on-the-job issues.

Likewise, you also should format if you’re switching between cameras. While you might have two Nikon camera bodies, they might not have the same model of software on them. Their settings might be slightly different as well. Because of this, it’s important to format your cards whenever you switch camera bodies. Otherwise, the camera may have trouble recording your images or playing them back.

Use your second card slot as a backup

While most entry-level cameras don’t offer two card slots, most pro-level cameras do. Having this extra slot might make you think you can shoot for days with the extra card slot you have. And while that might be the case, that’s not the best usage.

This is especially important for professionals. The last thing you want is card failure to occur after your shoot, before you’re able to import photos to your computer.

Using the second card slot as overflow, or backup, ensures that if one card fails, you’re protected.

If you’re experiencing issues, switch

If your card is having trouble on the job, switch cards. When I first got my Nikon D800, I was having trouble reading to the SD card I had for overflow in my camera (CF was my primary format). Turns out it was related to two things — I was using a very low-end card, and it was 5 degrees outside. The memory card was literally freezing, and the camera was having trouble writing to it.

I switched to another card in my pocket (which — another tip — keep them in your pocket for warmth) and no longer had any issues.

Invest in high quality cards

There are lots of cheap memory cards out there that you might be tempted to buy. Don’t. Invest in a quality brand that stands behind their cards (SanDisk and Lexar both have guarantees), and choose a card at a high read/write speed.

They’re more expensive than the $9.99 cards you might find at Best Buy, but they’re totally worth it in the long run. I recently had problems with SanDisk’s Extreme Pro UHS-II cards physically breaking, and have since switched to Sony Tough cards (B&H | Amazon). These are rock solid, and I’ve never once had a card fail on me!