In the film and photo vest days, it was easy to know if a roll was shot or not. If the film had a leader, it was fresh. If the leader was inside the canister, it was shot. The fresh film sat in one pocket, and the shot film went into a different pocket.
Because we were in darkrooms then, we established eyes-free ways to find and change film in total darkness. We also took extra precautions with exposed film to secure it. One lost 36-exposure roll could cause a week of restless nights – imagine what a missing flash card of 200 images would do.
With digital cameras it's still important to establish a foolproof way to keep flash cards orderly to avoid overwriting or damaging a card.
Use a card wallet to organize the flash cards. Mine is a Lowepro D-Res 4M Memory Card Wallet and it cost about $9. There are more and less fancy options.
Each flash card costs about $75. Most pro PJs travel with at least six cards. It's worth the cost to keep them organized and secure. A card wallet protects flash cards from dirt and impact damage as well as keeping them in a central location. One glance in the photobag for the wallet, and PJs can go to the car feeling secure. At the newsroom, grab the wallet and notepad and run inside to make deadline.
How to organize the wallet
The first item to place in the card wallet is a current business card. The business card is your only hope at getting the cards returned if the wallet is lost. Consider circling the cell phone number in red ink and writing “Reward if found” on the business card.
Next, place the flash cards into the wallet with the label facing outward. This is the PJ's code for fresh cards. As the cards are used, place them back into the wallet with the label facing inward in a specific order by assignment.
The inward-facing cards are shot, and PJs know which cards were used for each assignment by their location in the wallet. This could be critical on deadline assignments where every second counts.
Other wallet items
Many PJs also keep a card adapter inside the larger pocket. The adapter ensures the cards are read by laptops and most machines in the office.
Flash gels can be kept behind the adapter. They are folded into quarters so they don't get lost or damaged. If the main light source changes, open the wallet, get the appropriate gel, return the wallet to the bag and keep shooting.
Where to keep the wallet
Many PJs keep the card wallet in their shirt pocket. However, there's the chance of forgetting the wallet altogether when making a quick exit from the house.
A good location to place the wallet is inside the camera bag. It should be deep inside the bag rather than in an outside pocket. The point is to keep it in a location where it won't be easily dislodged. As an extra security, some PJs clip them on a lanyard to ensure the wallet doesn't escape.
When it's raining or there's a chance of getting wet, place the wallet in a high-quality, airtight freezer bag. It takes a second more to get to the cards, but it only takes a second to loose all the images forever.
As a general rule, PJs use one card per camera per assignment. At the end of a stressful day, PJs could have up to 10 flash cards full of images. However, there will always be the one early morning call to cover a shooting or fire. The PJ might be too tired to check for the card wallet before leaving home.
For these instances, stash an extra high-capacity card somewhere in your car. Place it in a secure, airtight container in a seat pocket or glove compartment. Use it only in emergencies (otherwise it'll be at home with the rest in the card wallet). A small, keychain card holder with one or two high capacity cards accomplishes the same goal. However, the keychain version may get banged around more than practical.
If there's time after the shoot to retrieve the wallet, great. Otherwise, dump images onto the laptop while in route to the next assignment. Even though it's a pain, you'll be happy for the back-up.
Enough for now,