Pilots have to juggle a number of responsibilities, in high stakes situations. They rely heavily on one tool to help with all their tasks, one which you should be using too.
While photographers and videographers aren’t typically in the same high stakes situations as pilots, a mistake like a wrong camera setting or forgotten piece of gear can easily derail a shoot. To help reduce the chances of this happening, you should get in the practice of creating some basic checklists.
A good checklist should have a defined purpose and logical organization. For a gear list, start with the essentials like your camera and memory card, adding more niche items as necessary. When creating a checklist for a particular technique, consider which settings or practices are most fundamental for a successful shoot. Also, consider whether you should be organizing by depth first or breadth first — for most procedures, I like to create the initial outline of important topics, then drill down in detail. Using nested checklists can make it easy to roll up the individual categories when reviewing the list.
Some examples that I use include a packing checklist of the basics, grouped by category. Cameras, lenses, batteries, memory cards, chargers, and cables are all in the first group. Then, I have my supporting electronics; like my phone, chargers, laptop, headphones, flashlight, or other electronics. With this list, I can check that I not only am not leaving anything behind when I pack for a trip, but since I know what I brought with, I can avoid leaving anything at the hotel.
Some other helpful checklists could center around setups for lighting, specific shoots like products and portraiture, or new techniques you’re learning. With cameras growing increasingly complex, a baseline checklist of settings could prevent wasting frames on a daylight shoot while still set at ISO 6400 from the nighttime shoot the previous day.
Now, you don't need to literally run every part of a shoot via a checklist, but consider writing down either the most complex aspects of your shoot. Taking some of the mental work out of the mundane aspects of shooting can help you refocus on the creative aspects, as well as prevent expensive mistakes like forgetting a piece of gear.
I’ve got a few that I use frequently, including packing lists for travel and astrophotography shoots, and I’ve tried a number of different ways to keep track of these lists. Recently, I found an app perfect for my purposes — Simplenote.
One of the top criteria is accessibility — if the checklist isn’t easily available, you won’t use it. Simplenote is free, with apps for Windows, Apple, iOS, Android, and a web app. Additionally, it doesn't require integration with any third party service, since it syncs notes with just a free Simplenote account. This universal compatibility is really important — I wouldn't want my documents stuck in an app that is constrained to one or two platforms. Along with that, the app also supports exporting your notes, meaning you're never tied to the platform itself.
I think that checklists should be easy to modify, since I sometimes change my mind about what equipment I want to bring or need to add a few specific items for a shoot, both of which necessitate making a change to the list. Simplenote works well in this regard, as the text editor style interface makes for easy changes.
Given the broad platform support, it is important that the app handles conflicting changes well. Whenever I've had a conflicting change, there's an easy interface for resolving those issues. As a final perk, the app's developers seem to provide great support. When I found a bug, it was quickly resolved via an app update.
The practice of making and using checklists can help photographers refocus on the creative aspects of the shoot, while having the right app makes adopting this habit even easier. Next time you're planning a shoot or packing for a trip, consider making a checklist. Have you made a checklist for anything photography related?
Lead image courtesy of Jan's Archive