How to Download Pictures From an SD Card to a Computer

By Shea Laverty

Many cameras and smartphones come equipped with or feature support for SD cards, making these memory cards great for storing photos. While there are a few ways to access the photos on your SD card, the process of downloading the photos to your computer is generally the same.

Connecting to the Computer

How your SD card connects to your computer depends partially on your computer and partially on how you use the card. The three most common options are connecting the card directly via a built-in SD card slot, using an external reader or adapter or by connecting your phone or camera to the computer via a USB cable.

  • For built-in card readers, locate the SD card slot on your computer and insert the card. Make sure you're putting the card in correctly or you won't be able to access the data. You also risk damage to the card. If you're using a microSD card, you need a microSD-to-SD adapter card.
  • For external card readers or adapters, insert your card into the reader or adapter and connect the reader to your computer. Typically, readers or adapters connect via USB.
  • For direct connection between cameras and phones, switch your device to computer or USB mass storage mode, then connect it to the computer via a USB cable.

Using Autoplay

Autoplay is a Windows feature that helps you set a default action for Windows to take when you connect a device, in this case an SD card. Options include opening the SD card in File Explorer as a folder, opening the pictures in an app like the Windows 8 Photos app or Google's Picasa, or in image editing software like Adobe Photoshop or GIMP. What options you're presented with depend on what software you have installed on your computer.

i Image courtesy of Microsoft.
i Image courtesy of Microsoft.


If you change your mind about how you want Autoplay to handle your card when you connect it, insert the card while holding down the Shift key. The Autoplay prompt returns, so you can choose a new default action.

Using File Explorer

Use File Explorer to look through the SD card's contents as a file folder. Press Windows-X to bring up the power user menu and select File Explorer, then select the card from the list of devices and drives. What drive letter is assigned to your card depends on what other storage devices you have connected to your computer.

Downloading the Files

Downloading pictures from the card is a simple copy/paste operation. Before you get started, make sure you have a destination folder ready in your Pictures folder.

Direct from Card

Open the SD card's folder in File Explorer by double-clicking it.

i Image courtesy of Microsoft.

Select the picture(s) that you want to copy to your computer.

i Image courtesy of Microsoft.

Right-click one of the pictures and select Copy if you want to just copy the pictures, or Cut if you want to move them off of the card. Alternatively, you can also press Ctrl-C on your keyboard to copy and Ctrl-X to cut.

i Image courtesy of Microsoft.

Go to the destination folder in File Explorer and right-click it. Select Paste from the list. Alternatively, you can press Ctrl-V on your keyboard to paste. The pictures are now in your folder and can be viewed at any time.

i Image courtesy of Microsoft.

From a Camera or Phone

The process is very similar for cameras or phones. The primary difference is that the photos are stored in a named folder on the SD card. In most cases, the card is listed as DCIM.

i Image courtesy of Microsoft.

Ejecting the device

After you have finished downloading the pictures, eject the card before removing it from your computer. Properly ejecting your card finalizes all read and write operations, so there isn't a chance of losing or corrupting data when you remove the card.

  1. Click the ^ button on the System Tray.
  2. Right-click the Safely Remove Hardware and Eject Media icon.
  3. Select the SD card from the list of connected devices and wait for the pop-up declaring it safe to remove the card.
i Image courtesy of Microsoft.

You can also eject the card from File Explorer by right-clicking the drive and selecting Eject.

i Image courtesy of Microsoft.