Pop Quiz: Did You Change Your Camera’s Clock?

Pop Quiz: Did You Change Your Camera’s Clock?

If you live in the United States (and aren’t fortunate enough to reside in Arizona), you probably set all of your clocks back an hour on Sunday to switch out of daylight saving time. I’ll put aside, for now, the arguments about why the daylight saving time system is outdated and annoying, and just ask you this: did you remember to change the clock on your cameras?

When you first get a new camera, generally the first thing it asks you when you turn it on is to set the clock. In the grand scheme of things, having an inaccurate clock on your cameras won’t really drag you down or ruin your life, but it sure could make things more difficult in the future. Unfortunately, camera clocks don’t update automatically like your cell phones or computers do; you’ll have to do it manually.

Here are a few big reasons why it could be helpful if you get the time right:

1. Recreating Images

If you end up looking back at an image from a year ago, or three, or five, and want to know what the light looked like at a certain location at a certain time of day, it would be really helpful to know that the timestamp in your camera was accurate. Being off by an hour, or worse, could mess up an entire shoot. Even being just a few minutes off could be bad. For nature work, if you look at a timestamp and see that an image was taken five minutes after sunset, when really it was seven minutes before, that could change how you approach another shoot and throw off your images.

2. Keeping Commercial Clients Happy

Your commercial clients, hopefully, have some sort of digital asset management system in place to keep images organized. Having accurate dates and times is incredibly helpful in keeping the system running smoothly, and they might get annoyed with you if you turn in images with inaccurate time stamps. If you turn in images from a paid shoot to a client and the times are off, it just looks unprofessional. Get the details straight, and your clients will appreciate it.

Image by Skitterphoto via Pexels.

3. Keeping Multiple Camera Operations in Sync

If you’re shooting something with more than one camera body, especially any kind of event or photojournalistic situation, having your cameras’ clocks in sync is essential for knowing the order of events and keeping images in order while you’re editing. It’s pretty easy to get them “close enough” to being in sync: just set up the time on two bodies while looking at a clock that has seconds on it, then hit “OK,” or whatever button is used to set the time on the cameras, simultaneously.

This is especially important if you're shooting an event — a wedding, for example — and you have more than one shooter. Editing images from multiple cameras that aren't in sync is a nightmare for getting the day's timeline straight. Save yourself the headache. Sync your camera's clocks as well as your watches.

4. Don't Forget About Travel

Whether you're on the road or in the air, changing time zones on your camera while traveling will help keep your travel photos accurate as well.

Image by Pixabay via Pexels.

If you don’t know how to set the time on your camera, just wander around the settings menu and you’ll probably find it. If you must, look it up in the manual.

Luckily, as long as you remember to check the camera when you’re checking your other clocks, it should always be accurate. If you live in a place that doesn’t observe daylight saving time, it might be good to put a reminder on your calendar once a year or so just to check and make sure everything is in sync. You never know when you may suddenly need an accurate timestamp. And if you forget to do it and need to adjust the time on your images in postproduction, you can do that in Lightroom.

Bonus tip: whenever I change my cameras’ clocks, twice a year, I also check to make sure I haven’t missed any firmware updates. It’s a great habit to be in.

Have any of you run into trouble by not having a camera's time set correctly, or been really happy that you did? I'd love to hear stories below.

Lead image by Pixabay via Pexels.

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Kenneth Jordan's picture

Being a beginner I honestly didn't even think about it. I will right now! Thanks.

Stephen Ironside's picture

It's easy even for the pros to forget!

I don't change the camera's time anymore. I used to, but I forgot often, and screwed changes so much that I keep it at my local non-daylight saving time and update when I am sure I won't mix things: i.e. when importing in Lightroom, as a systematic part of my process.

Stephen Ironside's picture

Do you ever shoot with multiple cameras?

Yes and in that case, they're often not mine, so I just take a reference picture of a clock (with seconds displayed) with all of them and adjust after the fact when importing in Lightroom.

Anonymous's picture


Stephen Ironside's picture

Seems a little nit picky, Bob.

"For most purposes, UTC is considered interchangeable with Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), but GMT is no longer precisely defined by the scientific community." - the internet.

I think it's close enough.

Stephen Ironside's picture

Seemed like you were trolling with the Julian dates comment, which has nothing to do with GMT/UTC.

If we were talking about atomic accuracy or synchronizing clocks for space exploration, or something else where being accurate to the second, or more, was essential, then sure, it would've been worth bringing up. But GMT is still thrown around and interchangeable with UTC for "most purposes," which is good enough to set your camera's clock by.

Stephen Ironside's picture

GMT is a time zone that's still used. It's UTC + 0. Same thing.

Like I said, nit picky.

You do have a history of trolling, so it wasn't an unreasonable assumption. Sorry Bob.

Kevin Hatcher's picture

What is UTC?

:) heheh!

Anonymous's picture

I'm saying that for all intents and purposes, conversationally, outside of the IT world in which I make a living, GMT/UTC are interchangeable. Put another way, GMT and UTC + 0 are sufficiently close enough that I'm not worried about referring to the time zone setting on my camera using an outdated, but romantic, name.

As for the inclusion of the date, if it were 2200hrs on 11/08/2017 locally, it would make little sense for me to set the clock on my cameras to 0400hrs on 11/08/2017.

Anonymous's picture

I couldn't tell you how my cameras store time, although they likely use seconds since the epoch. Fortunately for end-users, UI designers long ago decided it was simply easier to allow the user to set the date and time...usually independently of each other...using local conventions such as hh:mm and mm/dd/ccyy and allow for the software to handle the conversation to and from the stored format.

Ignoring your question and responding to your initial remark was my answer to your question.

Same as I do, except I leave it to my own main time zone. I had a mess one time by traveling through the US back and forth from W to E to W trying to change time zones in real time and of course I screwed things up bad on that cause I forgot to do it and did it anyway when I saw I forgot. So I don't change it anymore.

Stephen Kampff's picture

Could be worth noting that GMT switched from British Summertime/Daylight Savings at a separate time to certain regions. I'm sure you've thought about that, and to be honest I could just be missing the point a bit. Nonetheless this article is relevant in the US now but would have been two weeks late in Britain. For two weeks there was only a 4hr difference between London and New York.

Makes calling over the Atlantic a little easier!

Stephen Ironside's picture

Good point, I had no idea about that -- never been there or heard that the UK had any kind of time change stuff like that!

JetCity Ninja's picture

thank you for reminding me. i wish fujifilm cameras would just sync date & time with whatever device i sync'd with most recently, though.

$30 alarm clock can do it, why not $1000+ camera?
When shooting event with 2 cameras, I allways check date and time on both.

Joe Petolino's picture

I second the suggestion to set all your cameras to GMT. Then all you need to remember is which time zone you were shooting in. One trick I use for that: on each shoot, take a photo of a clock set to local time (e.g. your phone's clock). After you've imported that camera's images into Lightroom, use the clock image to correct all the capture times: select all the imported images, then use Library>Metadata>Edit Capture Time>Adjust to a Specified Time and Date. If you take a photo of the same clock with each camera that you use, you can get all of your photos in sync this way, correcting for not only the time zone but also any inaccuracies in the camera clocks.

On my cellphone camera? Why?

Noah Tom's picture

We don't change the time in Hawaii either. We are also friendlier to immigrants than Arizona.

'If you live in the United States (and aren’t fortunate enough to reside in Arizona)'...or Hawaii !