Coping with Large Digital Photographic Files

large-image-sizeThe resolution of digital cameras has rapidly increased over the last 5 years. Most professional and many high end amateur cameras are now capable of producing images at over 12 megapixels. Most serious photographers will shoot images and store them in a RAW format that keeps all the information that the camera sensor received and does not perform compression on the image as jpg processing does. This however rapidly uses up memory. For example atypical RAW file could be approximately 14MB. If you then use exposure bracketing, which takes a picture slightly over exposed and another one slightly under exposed either side of the main image you could be talking about 52MB per shot. At this rate a 2GB memory card would only contain about 40 or so pictures. There are various solutions to this problem:

More Memory Cards

This is obvious on first appearances and does give you flexibility. Memory cards are small and easily portable. Their cost as well has fallen sharply over the last few years and the capacity of them has also increased. 8GB models are now appearing on the market. However whilst their cost has come down you may still need a large amount of them, they also seem to fill up at the most inconvenient time. The transfer rate from memory cards is also very slow when compared to say, USB 2 transfer rates, so after a day’s shooting expect a long time transferring the pictures to your computer.

Tethered Shooting

large-image-size2This is my favourite for when I am photographing in the studio. I connect the camera to the computer and rather than storing the images on the cameras memory card the pictures are transferred directly to the computer. The time for this transfer is also relatively quick and it is also possible to see the picture immediately on the monitor rather than on the very small display on the camera. Having a trailing lead to the camera however can be awkward and you have to be more careful of tripping or even pulling the laptop off where it is standing – make sure you have a USB cable that easily pulls out rather than the reverse! Some high end camera however have optional wireless transfer so you can be relatively cable free, however this will transfer data at a lower speed than the cable connection. Not all cameras have this function so if this may be important to you then check with your dealer before purchasing your camera.

Transfer device

If you are away for several days, likely to take lots of pictures and don’t want to take your laptop with you there are now portable transfer devices available. You can plug you memory card into the device and it will transfer your data onto an internal hard drive. The size of the hard drive varies but is typically about 80GB. They have the advantage of capacity, being smaller than a laptop or notebook computer and some of the higher end models have a display on which you can review the pictures. If you want extra gadgets then this certainly should be on the wish list.


Not used that often but very obvious! A certain proportion of pictures will probably be deleted or never used once taken. Typically there is something wrong with the composition of the picture or something wrong with the technical side, exposure, depth of field etc. If you get into the habit of deleting these pictures as soon as possible then vast amounts of space is saved. This can be a difficult one, the first problem is reviewing pictures on a small camera display is not the best war to critically review a picture (although in conjunction with a histogram display the obviously bad pictures can be identified). The other problem most photographers face is that this is rapid assessment of where they have done something badly – something no photographer will admit – and try to avoid.


Typically I use a hybrid approach to taking photographs. If I’m out for a day’s shooting I will endeavour to delete as many pictures as possible as I go. Then, if I stop for lunch I will transfer the pictures over to a laptop at the same time. This ensures that I get into the habit of not transferring large amounts of files I will never use and probably just sit there gathering (metaphorical) dust on the hard drive.

Which ever method you use, don’t let the technology get in the way of creating that perfect picture and have fun doing it!

Paul Klein lives and works in Loughborough. He is currently undertaking a project to photographically document places and events in Loughborough. The work to date can be seen at Photographs of Loughborough.

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