Do You Do These 5 Camera Checks Before Every Shoot?

Do You Do These 5 Camera Checks Before Every Shoot?

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?

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50 Comments

Daniel Medley's picture

ISO, always check your ISO.

Jon Kellett's picture

That used to be my #1 when shooting Canon and when I transitioned to Panasonic. Now I'm mostly using Sony, not an issue - Just leave it on auto ISO unless the situation calls for a specific setting (manual ISO for long exposure and night photography for example).

With Sony - Check that the stupid exposure compensation dial wasn't moved when you got the camera out the bag. Man... That button is annoying. Needs a lock.

Louise Downham's picture

Interesting - did you not trust auto ISO when you were using Canon?

Jon Kellett's picture

Hi Louise - Nah. Not on my life, though not for obvious reasons :-)

I used the x0D series - ISO 800 was my limit due to noise and I usually wasn't happy above 400.

Because of that limited range of acceptable ISO, auto-ISO had nothing to add to the process - I'd just see what the shutter speed was going to be and decide if I needed to bump the ISO.

Alexander Lobozzo's picture

damn that exposure comp dial!!!

Daniel Medley's picture

I suppose it depends on what you're shooting. I do almost exclusively portraits; it varies from studio with off camera flash, to indoors natural light or OCF, to outdoors natural light and/or OCF. My whole approach isn't very conducive to auto ISO.

Vis a vis the compensation dial, my Sony A7R IV does have a lock. I know it was an issue on the earlier models.

Sam David's picture

Well done -- and, yes, it's always the simplest thing that tends to be overlooked.

Jason Flynn's picture

I’d be interested to see an actual technical article that shows formatting a card before a shoot has a benefit in protecting against corruption or lost data. If anything, formatting needlessly will wear a card out faster than using it normally.

Wolfgang Post's picture

'Wear out' might only occur if you do a low level formatting where each memory cell gets a write cycle. If you just do the quick format then only the file directory (FAT) is deleted while the actual data are still untouched (that's the 'secret' of data recovery tools).
But eben then, there are plenty of spare blocks in each card and it takes much more than the usual usage to reach the limits of the memory cell technology.

Louise Downham's picture

Good idea Jason - maybe I'll put that together next.. I've been formatting the same cards for 10 years and haven't had them wear out yet, touch wood.

Gregory Mills's picture

Jason, it is actually just the opposite. Erasing the photos of the card causes wear on your card as each cell has to be written to to clear it. When you format at card the directory that tells the where all the photos are is deleted and that is it . This means the camera thinks all the cells are free and overwrites the old photos with new ones as you take them instead of one write to erase the old photo and then a new photo being written resulting in 2 writes.

Just me's picture

I will be agree there.
For example, if you have a mac, it will write extra .db file on any card and also create sub directory that my confuse the camera.
Always put a card in the camera, low level format it, take a test picture and keep it this way until shooting done.
When the card is formatted, it will simplify where each file is written, starting from 0 to the end without jump.
If something happens, it will be easier to recover the file this way.
It also check any cluster and see if it's writable at this time. If low level format fail, it's a very good way to test a card.

Jon Kellett's picture

Recently the battery has caught me out... With lock down meaning fewer photo ops, when I was going to head out the other week my battery was down to 40%... My spare was down to 80%. Lucky me that it had any charge.

Louise Downham's picture

So easily done isn't it! Charge, charge, charge..

Ben Harris's picture

ISO and focus mode. Been caught by both before 🤦‍♂️

Louise Downham's picture

It happens to the best of us!

And always check your WB.

Louise Downham's picture

Absolutely agree!

Just me's picture

Shooting RAW will avoid this possible error. (Their is no WB in RAW)

Just me's picture

Remove the lens cap.

Louise Downham's picture

Ha, now that's an excellent point ;)

Robert Nurse's picture

Guilty! My daughter gets a big kick out of this whenever this happens to me.

Try the stress of getting through a 60 second celebrity PR/press shoot in bright sunlight when you've forgotten to remove the 7 frame exposure bracketing from the previous day!

Louise Downham's picture

Yikes, poor you - it's always when it matters most.. Darn cameras!

Gregory Mills's picture

I have a list of about 15 settings that that I go through for either stills for video depending on what I am shooting that day. I run through and set all my camera bodies to those default setting so that I know what I am getting when I pick up a camera out of my camera bag and can quickly adjust from there. It saves time in the long run, Aperture Priority, wide open aperture, auto ISO, auto WB, etc. This also means if I see any wildlife (or big foot) on the way to the photo shoot, I can just grab my camera, even in low light and the camera is ready to go (I don't even use lens caps in my camera bag so they don't slow me down).

Jon Kellett's picture

The presetting is a great idea!

I try to preset the camera before going out, but sometimes forget. For some lenses I don't bother with fitting the lens cap between shots (if the camera is going back into the bag with the hood fitted), but these days I'm shooting more with a lens that's too big to fit with the hood attached... Can't buy a bigger bag either.

Jim Bolen's picture

When I had shooters working for me, I always had to pound this in their heads that you HAVE to go through a check of all settings before a shoot, plus the backup gear stuff. So many people don't take the time.

Louise Downham's picture

So sensible - so quick to do these checks compared with how awful if something slips through the net..

David Pavlich's picture

After messing up a couple of times early on, it's pretty much a habit to get my settings at least in the ball park before I start to shoot anything.

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