1. Safely eject and observe the “Five-Second Card Eject Rule.” As with external hard drives or USB flash drives (a.k.a. Thumb Drives), an icon for a memory card will appear on your computer when you insert it into a standalone or built-in card reader. It should pop up either on the desktop (Mac OS), or when viewing the file directory when you select “Computer” on Windows OS. After downloading a card and backing up to at least two different hard drives or other media, it’s important to properly eject the card. On Macs, there are at least three ways, and the two most common are by selecting the card’s icon and pressing Cmd + E, or by right clicking (ctrl clicking) and choosing “Eject Card.” On the Windows OS, the two most common methods to eject a card safely are by choosing “Safely Remove” from the bottom right of your screen and then selecting the card from the list at the bottom of the screen (look for the icon with a green checkmark), or by right clicking and choosing “Safely Remove,” which is the method I recommend since multiple items may be in the list at the bottom of the screen.
The Five-Second Rule was “Busted” on MythBusters, one of my favorite shows (as it pertains to dropping food), but it’s a good rule to adhere to when ejecting a memory card from your computer. In practice, this means that you should wait at least five seconds before removing a card from a card reader after the computer indicates that the card has been ejected (not five seconds after you initially choose a method to eject the card). If you don’t wait long enough (or if you don’t safely eject the card), you can potentially damage your memory card, and a warning window may pop up to alert you that you didn’t properly eject your card. On Macs, you’ll know the computer has ejected the card when the icon for the memory card vanishes from the desktop, and on the Windows OS, a window will pop up that reads “Safe to Remove Hardware.” If you want to be extra safe, wait about ten seconds instead of five.
2. Rename your media card’s DCIM folder to help avoid overwriting the card’s data and to help ensure that you’ve downloaded the card. There are many ways to download a memory card to a computer, from almost completely automated, to completely manual via drag and drop. I personally prefer the old school drag and drop method. Below is a description of the process I use:
Rename the “DCIM” folder and drag it into a folder on your computer where you keep your camera files. I use a date-based folder system as shown in the screen shot above. Most cameras create a DCIM folder on the media card. It can be accessed through a computer by “opening” the main card icon. That can be done by double-clicking on it, or by viewing it in column view, as shown in the screen shot above. I recommend renaming the DCIM folder on the card for two reasons: First, by naming the folder something other than DCIM on the card, you will have less of a chance of overwriting another folder called DCIM that may already be on your computer. For this process to work, you will need to rename each DCIM folder from each card with a unique name, like I’ve done in the screen shot above (see DCIMa, DCIMb and DCIMc above in the column with the red arrow).
Secondly, when you put a card back into your camera, the camera will display something similar to the words “No image” on the LCD. This is because the camera is looking for the DCIM folder. This is a good thing because it’s a quick “double-check” method that alerts you that you’ve probably already downloaded the card to your computer. If you are able to see the photos on your camera, that usually means that the folder still reads “DCIM,” and you probably did not download the files yet. A related tip is to copy the files from your media card to multiple hard drives or other storage devices multiple times instead of copying them to your computer and then copying from your computer to another device.
Please note: If you have multiple cameras that share the same group of memory cards (especially if they are different brands), you may notice that the “no image” message or another error message will appear on your camera’s LCD screen even if you don’t change the DCIM name. Dedicating a set of cards to each camera will help avoid this problem. As with any new process, I recommend testing it before using it with images that are important to you. And to ease one potential concern about this process, when you reformat a card in your camera, the camera will create a brand new DCIM folder.