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 I’ll put aside, for now, the arguments about why the daylight saving time system is outdated and annoying, and just ask you this: did you remember to change the clock on your cameras?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.

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.

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


Interesting idea!

GMT, today superseded by UTC (Coordinated Universal Time), is not a date standard. Are you perhaps saying your camera allows for Julian dates?

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.

Why would you say that? I simply inserted that relevant fact along with my comment and question to Bill.

Your response is also ironic considering accuracy of something, in this case time, is what is ultimately being discussed, and the fact that "the internet" runs on UTC time, not GMT time.

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.

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

That's an unreasonable and cynical assessment.

He also said "and date" in his post, hence my legitimate question to him regarding the date.

Before insinuating or accusing someone of trolling, you should go well beyond "seemed like." Most people don't appreciate being accused of trolling, myself included.

"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."

You mean like astrophotography?

"But GMT is still thrown around and interchangeable with UTC for "most purposes," which is good enough to set your camera's clock by."

GMT is a time zone, where as UTC is the universal time standard. "Good enough" has nothing to do with facts, such as the fact I innocuously inserted into my comment and question to Bill.

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!

First, you need to read more carefully what I wrote. I clearly said GMT **is** a time zone so for you to respond by saying it "is a time zone that is still used" makes absolutely non sense.

I mentioned UTC because what is ultimately being discussed is accuracy of time. That tidbit of information regarding UTC (which is a fact) that I provided wasn't even the main point of my post to Bob, but yet you felt the need to latch onto to it as an excuse to accuse me of nit picking. Rather ironic, don't you think?

But that wasn't enough for you so you insinuated that I was trolling based on your rock solid foundation of evidence of "it seemed like."

Still not enough for you, you now accuse me having a "history of trolling."

No, the truth is people that like to make such accusations do so because they are ultra sensitive and intolerant of other people expressing views and opinions that they don't like. People like that will also do that when they know they can no longer refute a person's message (like you ignoring my astrophotography remark, amongst other appeals to reason) so they then attack the messenger. It's as simple as that. You are showing yourself to be such a person Stephen.

I already read Bill Curnow's response and while I believe he is also allowing himself to go down the wrong path in regards to what I said regarding UTC, he was able to respond to me without telling me I was being "nit picky" and without accusing me of "trolling," and of ultimately being a troll, as you have.

As a writer, as an adult, as a man, people are going to say things to you throughout your life that you may not agree with or even like, but that's no excuse to try and silence people by ultimately trying to discredit them personally. As a writer for this site your response and accusations make this site look bad. It's intolerant, disrespectful and unprofessional behavior.

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.

My comment regarding UTC wasn't the point of my post to you, something I have addressed thoroughly in my responses to Stephen. I never even said or suggested that GMT wasn't suitable for your use.

I don't understand your response regarding my date question, especially since you say you are in IT. My question regarding the date had to do with Julian dates (something used in the IT world) and that perhaps your camera allows for that way of recording dates for the user. That's all.

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.

I believe you have also allowed yourself to become distracted by my UTC remark. You also didn't answer my question by ignoring it. A simple no Bob my camera doesn't allow *the user* to use Julian dates would have been a reasonable answer.

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!

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!

Han Seoul-Oh'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 !