Is it Irresponsible to Shoot a Wedding on a Single Memory Card?

A year or so ago, I wrote an article on why I switched from Nikon to Sony. A few people asked why I didn’t move to the Nikon mirrorless system. And the answer was simple: I didn’t want to risk shooting a wedding with a single memory card slot.

I shoot RAW to both cards at every wedding and have a rigorous backup process once home too. I know lots of photographers prefer to have their backup as JPEG, but if my main card failed, I’d still want to have the RAW files. That’s just personal choice.

I just believe that shooting a wedding with no real-time backup whatsoever is irresponsible when there’s no real need to.

Now, I didn’t think this was a particularly contentious issue. But it seems a few people think I’m wrong to take this approach. Several tried to explain to me why I was wrong. Now I’m going to take a look at some of this reasoning, and give my thoughts behind it.

1. Card failure is rare, especially with XQD cards

Well, sure. Modern SD cards and XQD cards are fantastic. I’ve never actually had one fail while shooting. I have had them fail in the past, just not in a camera. But ok, I agree that failure is rare.

But it does happen, right? Even if we agree that it’s rare, that’s not the same as impossible. And how would you explain to the couple that you lost their images because a card failed? You think they’ll be happy with, “Oh, I dunno what went wrong, this hardly ever happens”?

2. Cameras didn’t always have two card slots, and people shot weddings on them

Again, I agree.

But there wasn’t an option to shoot onto two cards at the time. The general consensus was to shoot on smaller cards when you only had one, and change them frequently throughout the day so that if one did go bad, you only lost part of the day.

But wouldn’t you rather just use two and not lose any of the day? Hmm, I think I would.

3. People shot on film for many years and they didn’t have a backup film

This is kinda the same as above, isn’t it? Do you know what happened if something went wrong with that roll of film? They lost all the images.

4. I shoot on two cameras so if a card did fail, I wouldn’t lose a whole segment of the day

Ok sure. I get that.

But I don’t know if everyone is the same as me or not, but I tend to prefer one focal length over another for portions of the day. So I might shoot more of the ceremony on my 35mm if I’m standing at the same end as the registrar/priest, but I’ll be using an 85mm more for the portraits.

So if I had two single card cameras, and one failed, then yes – I would still have some shots of that part of the day. But not all, and I could lose 80% of a segment of the day if the “wrong” one failed. Maybe some people shoot more 50/50 than me.

But I’ll partly give in to this one, you could still piece together full coverage of a day. It might just not be your best coverage.

5. I tether to my phone and upload JPEGs to my phone

This is a new one for me, so I don’t know how I feel about it… If it streams straight to the phone then that’s pretty cool and I guess that would act as a backup. But I’d still have concerns. How reliable is the connection? Will your phone battery last a whole day of shooting? What size are the JPEGs that copy over?

If you are going to shoot on a single card…

If you are going to shoot a wedding on one card slot, there are ways to minimize the impact of card failure:

  • Shoot on small cards and change them regularly. This will ensure if a card fails, you only lose a portion of the day, not the whole day.
  • Back your cards up somewhere else if you get a break in the day. If you don’t want to take a laptop with you, look at something like the WD My PassPort Wireless Pro, which has an SD card slot with a button-activated backup process.
  • Shoot on multiple cameras, spreading the risk. So if one does fail, you don’t lose a whole part of the day, just a snippet.
  • Use reputable, big-name, card brands. I know any card brand can fail, but sticking to those with a good reputation minimizes that risk. I always used the SanDisk Extreme Pro cards in my cameras that took UHS-i cards. But I use Sony M cards in my Sony a7 III (well, in slot 1, slot 2 still has the SanDisk in them).

Or you know, just get a camera with two slots…

Seriously, though: if you are shooting on a single-slot camera or two, then do what you can to minimize the risk of losing images. Cards are reliable, but the damage that would be done to your brand and reputation if you were to lose a wedding would be massive. And for me, that’s simply not worth the risk.

But each of us has different risk appetites, and there’s never only one way to do things.

About the author: Andy Dane is an award-winning wedding photographer, lifestyle blogger, husband, and father based in Norwich, UK. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Dane’s work on his website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This article was also published here.