6 Sales Tax Tips for Photographers

View More: http://leesunheephotography.pass.us/carrieswails-productshootAt this point in our revamp series we’re going to talk a little bit about sales taxes. I know sales taxes are so confusing to some business owners, especially when you’re new. There’s so much paperwork and numbers involved and a lot of photographers just want to sit down and cry when thinking about all this official crap. That’s why I’ll be breaking down some sales tax questions for you today so you can get a better handle on what exactly they are, where to start, and how it affects you!

1. What is Sales Tax?
Sales tax is a tax paid to the government when an item is purchased or a service rendered. Sales taxes are not related to income taxes at all. They are collected by a different governing body, paid at a different time of year and don’t quite work the same. When you, as a business owner, collect sales tax from sales to your clients you are acting as a third party. You are merely collecting the tax on behalf of the government and sending it to them at a later date. Income taxes are different and are a tax directly on you and the income you bring in.

In the US, not every state collects sales tax from sales, and not every state calls sales tax the same thing. Some states call your sales tax license a Sellers Permit, some places call sales tax “transactional privilege taxes.” However, they’re all basically a same thing, a tax paid to the government on behalf of goods or services purchased.

2. Do I Have to Collect Sales Tax?
Probably. Depending on your state and your business you will most likely come to the conclusion you need to collect sales taxes as a business owner. There will be some circumstances where you don’t (like maybe you live in a state that doesn’t have sales tax).

Here’s where we get into icky questions about sales tax. I’ve heard some hobbyists claim they don’t need to collect sales tax, however, in most cases this is untrue. If you are being paid for a service (whether you are a registered business or not) you need to look into sales taxes for your state and make sure you are properly licensed. Anytime someone is paying you for something you are conducting business. Some states even require garage sales to carry a temporary sales tax license. Technically they’re not an official business either, but because they’re being paid for something most-likely the government wants their cut.

Even if you think you might not have to collect sales tax because of the way your business is structured I would recommend you call your state’s revenue service and make sure that a sales tax license doesn’t apply to you. It’s not a good idea to just assume, always check with the authorities and make sure. Most photographers are going to need to have a sales tax license.

3. How Do I Collect, Report and Pay Sales Taxes?
In order to collect sales taxes you need to have your license (or permit) to do so. You will get your sales tax license through your state’s revenue service. You can easily go online and find out more information or call them if you need to. You’ll have to fill out an application, send it in and most of the time they send you an official license to display when you are doing business transactions as well as some information on the where, when, and how to submit your taxes after you’ve collected them.

It’s also important to keep in mind that sometimes the state isn’t the only jurisdiction collecting sales taxes. Cities can be what we call “home-ruled” and have their own sales tax license and do their own collections. In that case you may have more than one license.

Every state works a little differently, so when it comes to how much to collect, where to report it, and pay it – every answer is going to be a little bit different. For smaller business owners you most likely won’t have to send in taxes every month, but many photographers pay their taxes quarterly or annually depending on what their tax jurisdictions require. Whenever your sales taxes are due you are sent a small form (kind of like when the IRS sends you a 1040 in January) and it’s your job to have kept a record throughout the year or whatever time period you’re collecting for, report that on the form, and send it in with your check. Like income taxes, sales taxes can have added late fees and fines if you don’t file them on time. You can also be audited with your sales taxes, so it’s important to take your record-keeping seriously and make sure you have everything in order.

4. What Do I Charge Sales Tax On?
Typically sales tax is only charged on tangible items. Tangible items are something that we can hold in our hands. However, again, the specific laws of your state and other tax jurisdictions can differ greatly. In many states a service that results in a tangible item will require tax on the entire service. In some states you’d only have to charge sales tax on prints. There is absolutely NO one good answer for this.

One mistake I often see happen here is that we go into an awesome Facebook group and ask there, but there’s so many different answers because people come from all different states, cities, and backgrounds. Some photographers are getting their advice from their CPA, some from a lawyer and others from the grapevine. My recommendation to you is to IGNORE ALL THSOE PEOPLE. Ignore your CPA. Your CPA is a specialist in accounting, most CPAs do not have sales tax knowledge and explicit knowledge of the laws specific to your state. A lawyer may also not know, since they may not have a good hand on accounting and business licensing. The photographer from down the street may or may not know either, depending on where they got their information from. Please, whatever your sales tax question, ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS call your state revenue service to clarify what needs to be taxed. If you are not getting your information directly from your state revenue service and you collect incorrectly, and are then audited and owe money – you cannot get out of that audit by saying your CPA, lawyer or another photographer down the street told you to do it this way. The only place that has jurisdiction on this is your revenue service. Always call them to get the correct information. When you do, record the time and date you called, the employee name who you talked to and that way if anything ever goes wrong, you have them to fall back on. Having been audited by my state’s revenue service I can tell you from experience that their knowledge is absolutely priceless and I don’t listen to anyone else.

5. What’s the Lowdown on Digital Files and Sales Taxes, Really?
Your next question is probably, are digital files a tangible item? Again, the answer to this question is that it will vary by state. Many state are continually changing the law by changing the definition of “tangible” to make digital files either taxable or nontaxable. The best place to get information on how to tax digital files is directly from your state’s revenue service.

What is Use Tax?
What? Use tax? You’re probably wondering what this has to do with sales tax at all, right? Well, in many states or tax jurisdictions (cities, etc.) you may get a sales tax license that also includes information about use tax. Use tax is typically a tax charged to a business on purchases that were made tax free because you bought business items online, or outside of your own municipality. It means that at the end of the year you may have to go back and pay taxes on items you purchased tax free. I know, it sounds super annoying, but it’s just one way that your local governments find to tax business owners. Some states or local governments don’t do use taxes, but may do business property taxes, which are very similar. Use taxes and business property taxes are usually filed annually. You’ll want to record any purchases you’ve made that you got tax free just in case you owe later. Follow the directions sent by your revenue service or tax jurisdictions on how to file, and if you’re confused, always call them directly for help (have I said that enough, yet?!).

6. What Kinds of Records Should I Keep for Sales and Use Tax?
Depending on how complex your sales tax system is where you are located and how you operate your business your records may vary. Regardless, you need to keep sales tax logs of how much you collected, who you collected it from, what you sold and collected on, and what tax jurisdictions those sales taxes go to (state, county, city, etc.). This will make your sales tax life so much easier at the end of the year, I promise. If you’re the kind of photographer who likes to write things down, like me, you can find sales tax logs and use tax logs in the shop!

6 Quick Website Fixes for the New Year

2014-10-29_0004_largePart of getting ready and revamping everything for the new year is your website. If you have a website you love, or you don’t have the time to change yours and create an entirely new website there are a few little things you can do just to give yours a quick facelift for the new season.

1. Display Your Location
When I do SEO work for photographer’s websites one of the things I notice most is that almost every photographer doesn’t include a location where they are located anywhere on the website. How are people supposed to know if they can book you if they aren’t sure where you are located? Put your location and the area you work in most (or are willing to work in) on your website information page, about page, and even the contact page. Make it clear to your clients where you are and your website inquiries just might increase.

2. Re-read Your Information
Sometimes it doesn’t matter how many times I read things over and over, I can still miss mistakes. It may have been 6 months, a year or even longer since you last checked all the information on your website. Go in there now and make sure all your information is current and that your spelling and grammar are correct.

3. Update Your Portfolio
You’ve probably photographed tons of couples since you last went in and updated your website. Now is the time to go through your latest work and add your best stuff to your website. Maybe you can even take out some of the old stuff you aren’t as in love with anymore. When customers are looking for a photographer they may visit your website more than once before contacting you, so it’s always good to have fresh new photos on your website on a regular basis.

4. Check Your Links
Sometimes changing a username or another small thing might lead to a big oops. When I changed my instagram user name it affected the links everywhere on my website that went to my Instagram. Go through your website and make sure that none of the links are broken in your menus and on your pages.

5. Keep Your Copyright Line Updated
Ever seen those websites where it says, “Copyright Carrie Swails Photography 2013” at the bottom? If you are going to list a year, or even a time span (like 2009-2014) make sure you are updating the year. It’s December so while you’re going in there just make sure your website says 2015 so you’re ready to go after the holidays.

6. Set Up Your Google Analytics
One of the things I’ve learned a lot about this year is this whole Google Analytics thing. Almost every website platform has a little spot you’ve probably seen where you can enter your Google Analytics number. If you’re not already signed up with a number you should be. If you have a number, but haven’t put it into your website you should. Here’s why. Google’s Analytics program will give you really accurate statistics about how your website is doing and how people view it. These can be invaluable when you’re trying to understand the effectiveness of your website. Knowing how many people visit you home page and then leave (also known as your Bounce Rate), can tell you if your website looks interesting enough to capture viewers or not. You can also see things like which pages are visited the most often, how often people spend looking at your website, and where your incoming traffic comes from. Just going into Google and setting up that number, plugging it in my website, and checking in once a month or so to see where viewers are hanging around most tells me what my website is doing well, and where I can make improvements to keep capturing viewers’ attention well.

9 Income Tax Tips for Photographers

2014-11-25_0032_largeThe Lowdown on Income Taxes
You might be reading this blog post and the whole concept of filing taxes as a photographer is new to you, so this section is for you with a little of the basics. There are never any stupid questions when it comes to filing income taxes. It can be very confusing, which is why it’s good to outline a little of the basics here.
Taxes are just confusing in general so the first question I usually get is about sales taxes. I want to take a moment to make sure everyone is clear that sales taxes and income taxes are two very different things. We’ll be having a whole article, like this, but all about sales taxes very soon. Income taxes are a fee taken by the government out of your income (the money you’ve made and live off of). Sales taxes are something you collect as a business owner on behalf of the government. In that case you are more like a third party. With income taxes you are paying them directly from your income, but with sales taxes you’re just collecting them for the government, so they shouldn’t be coming out of your paycheck. Income taxes are filed with the IRS and your sales taxes are filed with your state or other local government. They are filed at different times of the year, use different forms, and both have their own sets of laws and policies.

With your income taxes you have to file before the deadline in April of ever year. If you are a photographer doing business it’s best to keep everything very organized and get help to file before the deadline.
Do I Have to File?
The answer is, most likely. In 2013 any self employed person who made over $400 had to claim any earned income. Even if you are a hobbyist, only make a little money each year, or are just starting out, if you made over $400 (assuming that amount will be the same in 2014), you will most likely have to claim that money as income on your taxes.

A common question that is asked in this case is if you have to file if you’re not a registered business or acting as a business. The answer is usually yes. Unfortunately if you have customers paying you, you are earning money as a business, even if you aren’t registered as one.

Save All Receipts!
One of the biggest mistakes we make as small business owners is not keeping our records in order. You need to save everything – every receipt. Even if you aren’t sure if something counts as a business expense, save that receipt so you can ask your tax person later.

To keep my receipts organized I have an inbox in my office. When I purchase something online I can print out the receipt, and put it in my inbox to file later. Or if I ran to the store and have a receipt in my purse I put it in the inbox. Then, each week (on Fridays for me) I do my accounting. I keep paper copies of all my receipts in addition to digital. The key to making your taxes easy or an audit easy is being very organized with your financial records. On Fridays I file all those receipts by year and month, and mark them in my ledger or online software for tracking.

Another great thing you can do to make your tax preparation easy at the end of the year is mark each expense with its corresponding expense category (see the expenses below). Then, when it comes time to hand over all your paperwork to your tax preparer, he or she can prepare your taxes a lot quicker. Tax preparation fees are usually based on the amount of time it takes them to prepare, so the easier you make their job, the less you will end up paying.

Receipts for everything you spend are important. If you don’t keep the receipt then technically you have no proof of the purchase at all and it might not be a good idea to claim it. Whether you are purchasing a new item or a secondhand one, keep receipts. There may be some circumstances where you don’t get a receipt. If you bought a prop at a garage sale, for example. Rather than just handing over the cash, ask if you can have a receipt from them. I try my best to purchase items for business from places and people where I can track the transaction. I purchase used equipment all the time, but if I’m doing it from online dealers I can still have receipts to claim those items.
How Much Should I Set Aside for Income Taxes?
I wish there was a magical percentage I could tell you that would apply to everyone. In general 30% of what you make will go toward taxes, but that amount may vary depending on where you are with your business. The IRS expects newer businesses to not have profits for about 3 years, so they don’t expect you to owe as much as a successful, long-time business might owe. However, if you set 30% aside and you don’t owe that much at the end of the year, then you’ve given yourself a nice little savings you can use to re-invest in the business.

There are going to be a lot of variables that will play into how much you owe every year. Your expenses/deductions, your spouse’s income, and any other financial investments or things you’ve got going on.

As your business becomes more successful over the years you can expect to owe more in taxes, simply because you are earning more and probably investing less.
Sole Proprietors and LLCs
Because I am not a tax person, just a photographer who happens to know some stuff ;), I can only regurgitate here what I’ve read on the IRS’ website. I would recommend that any photographer, sole proprietor or LLC, connect with a tax professional for advice on what they should file. However, I will say that in most cases the paperwork that a sole proprietor files is not hugely different from that of an LLC. Many photographers are single-member LLCs, meaning you don’t have a partner in business with you and in that case I would direct you >here< for more information. If you are a sole proprietor you will most likely be filling out form 1040 and a Schedule C. However, the form you fill out may vary depending on your personal financial situation, and you may file other additional forms based on that too. Regardless, the Schedule C is the form that you will most likely use to document all of your expenses and deductions.
Hire a Pro
As a business owner one of the absolute best investments you can make when it comes to taxes is hiring a professional to help you out. Turbo Tax is not a good solution for a small business owner and I’ve experienced personally in the past how inaccurate their program can actually be.

When you’re looking for someone to prepare your taxes you’ll have a lot of options and one of things I would recommend is hiring someone who really knows what they are doing. You may come across tax preparers with a variety of certifications, like CPA, or EA. EA is probably not as familiar to you as a CPA is. EA stands for an ‘Enrolled Agent’ and is the type of tax preparer I would recommend to any small business owner over a CPA. An Enrolled Agent is actually certified through the IRS and has an extensive knowledge of tax law specifically. CPAs are someone I would hire if I had employees and wanted help with my payroll done. When it comes to business and taxes I want to hire the person who will do things right and will know the laws inside and out, and are certified on a national level. An EA can also help you through an audit and lots of the ickier, uglier things on the side of taxes that we don’t like dealing with. Ultimately the difference between a CPA and an EA is similar to us photographers. When you specialize as a photographer in newborns, for example, you become an expert in shooting newborns. People hire you for that expertise. When you’re a generalist you have a good handle on a variety of photography types. In general, in the photography industry we find that when we specialize in a certain type of photography we build more trust with our customers and more success in the long run. I find that to be true with an EA vs a CPA. I know some amazing CPAs, but I want my taxes in the hands of a specialist. No matter who you hire, hire a professional to help you with taxes. They are complicated and stressful and any type of expert will be better than trying to tackle things on your own. Also, the fee you pay to have your taxes prepared by a professional is also a deduction on the next year, so if you’re wary of spending the money, just know it’s a business expense.

Self Employment Tax
Taxes for the self employed aren’t as simple as writing down how much you made in a year and subtracting all your deductions and paying taxes only on the difference. I wish it was that easy. Self employed business owners will have to pay a self employment tax.

When you are employed by someone else some of your taxes for social security and medicare are pulled directly from your paycheck each year. The other half of those are paid on your behalf by your employer directly to the IRS each year. When you are self employed, you have to pay social security and medicare on your own behalf and on behalf of your employer (because you are your employer), so you end up paying a lot more than the average employee. This is the tax that we often forget, but setting aside that 30% should help keep you covered.

Expenses and Deductions
Below I’ve listed some of the most common expense categories on the Schedule C that I find I use the most as a photographer. There are other categories, but because they’re not as common I won’t dive into those right now. Next to each category you can find examples of things you would claim as an expense in that category.

  • Advertising Expenses – Business cards, signs, cost of expos, booth items for expos, samples and freebies to promote business, fliers, print or media ads (online or in print), anything related to advertising.
  • Car/Truck Expenses – Mileage for your Vehicle OR the expenses associated with gas, oil changes, repairs, tires, etc. – You can only pick to expense one or the other. I generally choose mileage because it adds up much quicker and you can only take a certain percent of other car expenses. Mileage always gets me a bigger return.
  • Commissions/Fees – Business license fees, Sales Tax License fees
  • Contract Labor – This is where you put your pay to second shooters (assuming you hire them as independent contractors). If you pay an independent contractor more than a certain amount each year you may also have to fill out a few extra forms so they can get a 1099 from you and claim it on their taxes. You can get in trouble if you aren’t filling out those forms for your contractors so I would recommend tracking how much you pay each of your second shooters, talking to your tax professional, and making sure you have all of that in order.
  • Insurance – Business and liability insurance fees are an expense here. If you also purchase your own health insurance because you don’t have access to receive it through anywhere else (another job or a spouse’s job) then you will be able to claim that too.
  • Interest – Interest on loans used to finance your business
  • Legal/Professional Services – Legal fees, Accounting fees, tax preparation fees
  • Office Expenses – Office supplies like printer ink, paper, pens etc. as well as fees associated with a studio or office space you may pay for (cleanings, snow removal, lawn care, etc.)
  • Rent – This expense category on taxes is divided into two sections for rental equipment and another for renting or leasing an office/studio space
  • Repairs/Maintenance – Any fixes done on your computer or camera equipment, CPS or NPS (Canon or Nikon Professional Services)
  • Travel, Meals and Entertainment – Any workshops, conferences or other photography events you attend that require travel away from your business ‘home’ as well as any meals eaten during those times. You can claim your flight, hotels, and rental cars or other transportation. There are some specific rules with regards to meals you eat while traveling and how far away you need to be from your home base to claim them. With most meals you only get to claim up to 50% of the total paid, so just keep in mind you don’t get to claim the entire thing.
  • Utilities – If you have a home office you will be able to deduct a certain percentage depending on if you have a specific space set aside for your home office, how large that space is, and how much of your time spent using your utilities is directly related to business. If you have a studio space you rent separately and pay utilities on you’ll be able to claim those as well.
  • Miscellaneous – There is a miscellaneous category on a Schedule C. Sometimes there are items we purchase that don’t fit into a particular category. These kinds of miscellaneous expenses can be camera equipment, fees associated with accepting credit cards for payment, print orders, and more.
  • Home – If you have a space in your home dedicated to business use (studio or office) you can claim it. However there are a lot of rules and regulations that govern how much you can claim. Claiming a huge percentage of your home is used for business is probably inaccurate and can flag you for an audit, so you need to be realistic. I would recommend consulting with a tax preparer on this category. You can claim a certain percentage of your utilities (electricity, etc.), and a certain percentage of your internet, and phone too. Again though, consult with a tax preparer and be very realistic about the percentage dedicated to personal use vs. business use.

Here are a few other miscellaneous tips about certain expenses you might also want to know.

  • Cost vs. Profit – When talking in terms of something you purchase for your client when they order (like a print order) you can claim the expense of the print order. The way our taxes work we don’t present paperwork to the IRS showing the cost vs. profit of individual purchases and income we made. We simply list expenses on our Schedule C forms. If you were a business that carried inventory regularly that would be a different story, but since our orders are custom, you can claim them as you would anything else on your expenses.
  • Client Gifts – If you gift your clients throughout the course of your business you can claim all or part of those gifts. You have a limit of $25 per gift per client you can claim. There are a couple exceptions, promotional material does not count as a gift. Any gift that costs you less than $4 also can’t be claimed. This would be things like pens, paper pads, etc.
  • Depreciation – Any business property (equipment) you have that will have a lifespan of at least 1 year or more will need to be depreciated on your taxes. This means that when you purchase that $3000 camera, you can’t just deduct it all in one year. Depreciation is basically an annual allowance of what you can expense from that each year based on wear and tear and the lifespan of the equipment. To properly depreciate an item in your expenses you need the help of a tax professional to do it correctly. There are a few specific rules and regulations. Generally any big-ticket items like camera bodies, fancy lenses, and computer equipment will be things you’ll have to depreciate. You will depreciate these bigger items on your taxes until you have fully recovered the cost or you retire it from service (sell it). A tax professional can help you through the process.

Estimated Taxes
Estimated taxes are an option for business owners to pay their taxes for the next year in advance. I really shouldn’t say “option.” Unfortunately until you actually owe over $1000 as a sole proprietor in one year you won’t be eligible to pay estimated taxes and then once you owe that much you’ll be doing estimated taxes for the rest of your business’ life. That amount changes if you are a corporation to $500 or more in any year. Once you owe estimated taxes they are a convenient way to make sure you’re paying out in advance and it’s easier than setting money aside. I like being able to pay off things earlier and “break even” at the end of every tax year.

Estimated taxes are paid quarterly and divide up the amount you are estimated to owe the next year into 4 payments. Then each year you submit your taxes in April that estimated amount will be re-evaluated based on what you earned the prior year.

How to Use Off Camera Flash to Photograph a Reception Room

JamieIvinsPhotography_OffCameraFlash_largeFor years I struggled to make a reception room look as good in photos as it did in person. I would crank up my ISO and try to use the ambient light to make a dynamic image. As I walked around the room I held my head high, knowing that I was killing it! But at the end of the day when I loaded my cards up to the computer and looked through my detail shots of the room I would sit there, wind taken from my sails, wondering where I went wrong. Everything looked flat, every table looked the same, and there was nothing interesting about my photos. And while I never had any complaints from my clients I always felt that I was failing them. They were spending tens of thousands of dollars on their wedding and were receiving sub par photos when it came to showing off the room they paid all of that money for. That needed to change. But how?

To answer that question I decided to dive in headfirst to find out how I could give those photos some punch. I googled my heart out and found a bunch of amazing photographers who were achieving what I wanted but struggled when it came to finding out the techniques it took to take such cool photos. One thing I noticed seeing over and over was that flash was being used in one way or another. And then it dawned on me. I could just pop a little flash from the top of my camera to highlight a table or cake and I would instantly be a rockstar photographer, right? So off I went to my next wedding, anxious to try something new in the room. I walked in with a flash on top of my camera, ready to take the world by storm with my new found “knowledge” and started shooting…and instantly ran into problems. Sure, the sweetheart table was bright…but it was still flat. And the rest of the room behind it? Absolute garbage. So I went back to my original method of shooting with only ambient light and felt completely defeated. In that single moment I became very aware of my short comings and the thoughts of “I’m a shitty photographer” that entered my head made me begin to rethink my choice to do this for a living. It wasn’t enough to make me want to pack it in but it definitely made me not want to ever feel that way again about something I was so passionate about so I set back out to find the solution and a short time later the answer was revealed to me.

While talking with a photographer friend of mine I began to tell him about my issues and how badly I wanted to bring my reception shots to the next level. He gave me a few simple pointers to take with me to the next wedding and what I found changed my life and the way I approach room shots. So now I’m here to pay it forward and help save you from the hours of research and frustration I experienced.

The solution in three words: Off Camera Flash (OCF)

My big mistake was not taking the flash off of my camera. For years I’ve been using OCF to help create interesting light during dancing, cake cutting, and speeches but the thought of using it to enhance my reception room photos escaped me for some reason.

So let’s get into it!

Step 1: Set your flash and transmitter on a stand.
Step 2: Use the zoom feature – To create a more focused light most flashes have the ability to zoom between 24-105mm. Whenever I am not using any modifiers for room shots I tend to have my flash(es) zoom set to 80mm.
Step 3: Set your flash to a low power, usually around 1/32 for me.
Step 4: Place your light stand roughly 4-6 ft. away from the table pointed at what you plan on shooting.
Step 5: Find your exposure. I like to underexpose my room shots a bit to help highlight whatever I am lighting up with flash.
Step 6: Rock that shit out!

Easy enough?

Just in case you’re still a little lost I’ll give you some real examples and the camera settings I used to achieve each shot.

Example 1: When shooting a room like the one below I tend to underexpose by 1/3 to one full stop to draw attention to individual tables. In this shot, I set my flash about 7ft high just out of frame to the right, aimed at the flowers. I then hid a a second flash behind a beam to help highlight another table in the background.
Camera settings: ISO 2000, 35mm, 1/30sec @ f/2.8

Example 2: Camera settings: ISO 640, 24mm, 1/30sec @ f/4
Photo by hired gun Easton Reynolds for Jamie Ivins Photography

Example 1: Camera settings: ISO 1250, 35mm, 1/160sec @f/2.5

Example 2: For this cake shot I used two flashes with gridded Magmods, both placed about 5 ft. away and slightly behind the cake to create the shadow on the shadow on the front of the cake.
Camera settings: ISO 640, 35mm, 1/50sec @ f/2.5

And there you have it! The simple steps to taking radical room shots! Once you’ve practiced and gotten it down your options are endless in terms of how you can use your flash to create different looks and feels to each photo.

Keep calm and shred on!

7 Tips for Memory Card Care

In the past month I’ve caught at least two of my second shooters doing things on the list (I’m calling you out, you know who you are) so I wanted to put the topic back up, even though I know we’ve discussed it before just so I can remind everyone of things NOT to do to your memory cards.

As a professional photographer my memory cards are just as important, if not more important than the cameras I shoot with. They are my livelihood, if anything were to happen to them and the photos on them before I was able to get them safely home I would be in trouble. Not to mention that I spend a good fortune on high end memory cards so they keep my camera moving quickly and I don’t miss a beat throughout a wedding day or out on a photoshoot. If I’m investing a lot in memory cards it’s important to me that I treat them like the valuable objects that they truly are and that goes for you too!

1. Never Delete, Only Format!

Every time I see a photographer going through the back of their camera and deleting an image here or there I cringe. This is such a big NO-NO. Please don’t do this to your memory cards if you want to keep them happy! Deleting images from the back of your camera off your memory card can drastically shorten your memory card’s lifespan. Not only that, but it causes card corruption and data errors. You don’t want to delete images off the memory cards when importing to your computer either. When that little box pops ups and says, “would you like to delete these photos or keep them on the card?” Press the keep button. Always press the keep button.

Obviously when we mess up an image and get a crappy shot because maybe it’s out of focus or drastically too bright it would be easy to just stop mid-shoot and delete that right off your memory card so you save space for images that are worth your time. It sounds ideal, right? Except one thing. When you delete images off the back of your camera or even do a delete right after import your memory card still stores residual data from those images in the card. If you’re only deleting and never formatting all you are doing is overwriting that same data over and over. There’s only so many times data can be re-written before it becomes unusable. Over time that unusable data can fill up the card, cause card reading errors, corruption, etc. Formatting is the only way to completely remove images from a memory card without leaving residual data. If you’re one of those people that only deletes and never formats and you’ve noticed your cards running slower, filling up sooner, and storing less images it’s because your card still has the residual data from photos you never fully deleted. While you may have gotten through life thus far with no issues doing the delete method, you never know when it might come up. My philosophy is to always be safe rather than sorry when it comes to something as important as my clients’ wedding images. I’m going to do everything I can to treat them like gold.

When it comes to memory cards, just to be safe I never delete and always format. I keep all the duds on my memory card and cull them out later in Photo Mechanic when I get home. I format a fresh card for every shoot or wedding. Maybe it’s overkill, but when it comes to client’s memories I’d rather be safe than sorry. In general I am also close to filling up a memory card for every wedding, so I’d have to format it anyway to clear it. Sometimes I keep using a card until it’s close to full for things like engagement shoots and format when I’m done editing the photos.

2. Memory Cards Don’t Transfer from One Camera to the Next.

Always format your memory card in the camera you intend to use it in and don’t switch them out, unless you may have two cameras that are exactly the same. For example, I can’t use the same memory card to grab images from my mark iii and mark ii, the images don’t show up and the cards don’t work, so I never switch them out if I’m using both cameras while shooting. Each card is allocated to each camera.

3. Memory Cards Don’t Last Forever

Depending on how often you shoot and how many photos you take when you do, you may wear out your memory cards sooner rather than later. Technology has changed a lot since digital cameras first came out and memory cards were being used, so the lifespan of a memory card is much longer than it used to be. However, as a general rule of thumb running a full time business and being the type that tends to take more photos rather than less I give my memory cards a year for their lifespan. I buy new cards every Winter in preparation of a fresh new wedding season and retire my other cards. Sometimes they still get used, but not for important things like weddings, they may be used for taking photos of my dogs or other things I’m willing to risk corruption.

4. Store Your Cards Safely

I keep mine in a little memory card Pelican Case (see the photo below). It’s pretty awesome and it’s secure. It can get beat up and the cards are still fine. In fact, last week my dog stole it and ran away with it and I found it later with all the memory cards still in tact.

There’s a few other things you should know about storing your memory cards. Obviously putting them in extreme weather situations is probably not the best idea, but what I really mean is storage for things like when you want to stop for drinks with your second shooter before you head home after a wedding. I never like to leave my gear in the car, but sometimes I don’t want to seem like that weirdo walking into a bar with a large Pelican Case or two full of equipment. If I leave my gear in the car I take all the cards with me. That way if the gear gets stolen the memories of my clients don’t. Keep your memory cards with you at all times, especially before you’ve reached home and had a chance to import them and store them somewhere safe. Better yet, import them before you leave your wedding and upload them to a spare hard drive, somewhere via wifi or whatever works for you.

5. Dual Card Slots

I have my mark iii, with its dual card slots, set up to make a copy to the second card, that way I have two copies of every memory card just in case something goes wrong. It’s the main reason I wanted the mark iii and I love that feature. It makes me feel more secure while shooting that if anything were to happen the images would still be safe.

6. Use This Awesome Memory Card Case Hack

That way you can carry your SDs and CFs all in one spot if you use both.


7. Label Your Cards

Put your name on your cards, contact info, and label them so you know which ones you’ve shot on and which ones you haven’t. A photographer friend of mine has a great way of telling whether a card is used or not in her case. When they’re unused and ready to go they’re facing with the front out. When they’re used she turns them backwards. Some people turn them upside down.

Put your name on your memory card case too. In fact, just put your name on everything (camera bodies, lenses, flashes, batteries, battery chargers, etc).