It happens to all of us: you take some fantastic photographs, get home, and realize a camera setting was insane. Use these five checks every time you start a shoot, and you'll avoid making those mistakes.
1. Is Your Battery Charged, and Do You Have a spare?
It's so easy to become blasé about camera batteries, but take them seriously. You can't shoot without them! Ideally, you'll be charging your batteries the night before a shoot, but do still make sure when you pack your camera bag that your battery is fully charged. I read a post in a photographers' Facebook group once from a photographer who only had one battery, but realized when setting off to meet her client for a shoot that the battery was dead. She had to postpone her shoot until the battery had charged. How embarrassing. Don't ever let that be you!
2. Have You Formatted the Memory Card?
Personally, I format my memory cards when I take my camera out to shoot. I don’t do it the night before, in case one night I forget. To make sure that I absolutely always do it, I format the memory cards on the job. So far, touch wood, I’ve never had a corrupted card, but the thought of it makes me break out in a cold sweat.
I always think of a story a wedding photographer told me from his days of film photography, of finding that a whole roll of film was damaged and all the photographs on the roll were lost. It’s not worth thinking about. Formatting the cards can reduce that risk for digital photography.
Deleting the images from a memory card doesn’t completely remove the data on the card. Go for gold and format that card. Just make sure you've imported all the images and backed them up first.
3. If Your Camera Takes Multiple Cards, Are You Using One in Each Slot?
The more you back up your shots, the better. If your camera takes multiple memory cards, take advantage of that! I’ve forgotten to do this occasionally when I’ve taken a card out to download the photographs and then not replaced it straight away. The stress of seeing only one memory card in the camera when you open the compartment after a shoot is horrible. Don’t take the risk! Check the memory card compartment before every shoot, and you’ll know you’re good to go.
As a side note, I have my camera set to alert me if there’s only one memory card in the camera, but this alert is so easy to miss that I’m actually tempted to disable it, so I stop relying on it and continuing making sure it’s a manual check before I take any photographs.
4. Have You Got a second Camera Body to Hand?
Ok, we might not all be able to have two camera bodies, but I really think it’s a purchase to prioritize above all others. I’d always recommend buying a second body before investing in additional lenses — just imagine if one camera seizes up. Years ago, when I was just starting out in my photography career, I used to photograph weddings as well as families. One time, the mirror collapsed inside my camera, and everything went black just as the couple had their first dance. Luckily, I had a second shooter and was able to grab their camera, but it was a very stressful lesson to learn the hard way. I would never go on a shoot again without a backup body.
5. Is Anything That You Usually Use in Auto Currently on a Custom Setting?
Whenever you change a setting to a custom option, be sure to set it back at the end of the shoot. And double-check by reviewing your camera options before a shoot. It’s so easy to inadvertently leave a setting selected that will interfere with your next shoot.
Even something as simple as continuous burst mode rather than single shot mode can wreak havoc, as focus and recompose doesn’t work in burst mode — been there, done that!
The other one I always check is white balance. I tend to shoot in auto white balance, but every now and then, I set it manually. It’s such a pain when it comes to editing if this is set incorrectly, and equally, it’s such an incredibly quick thing to check beforehand.
Did you choose a different focus mode than usual? With newer Canon cameras, it’s painfully easy to leave it on something like Case 3 (instantly focus on subjects suddenly entering AF points) rather than Case 1 (Versatile multi-purpose setting), and shooting when you think you’re in a different case mode can ruin your shots. Whenever I change the case from my usual option, I make sure to set it back after the shoot, but I also check before I start taking photographs.
The other issue that’s easy to overlook is the file type. It’s so easy to select something unusual like small JPEG and then forget to set that back. Just imagine doing a shoot with small JPEGs! It’s absolutely not worth the risk. I change the file type once in a blue moon, so it’s not something I check before every shoot, but if it’s something you rotate between, do add it to your checklist.
These checks may seem incredibly basic, but that’s my point: they’re quick to do, but could save your shoot from disaster. Getting in the habit of checking the settings before you take a photograph is so important and something I still remind myself of often.
I went out and took some photographs for fun during the lockdown, and after a couple of months’ break from using my camera, forgot to run the usual checks. I actually couldn’t believe it, but I’d shot on just one memory card and forgotten to format the cards before shooting. I’m very glad I gave myself this reminder on a shoot for fun and not on a paid job!
What checks do you always do before taking a photograph? Would you add any other items to this checklist? Or do you think I'm a risk-averse worry worm?