Helpful Checklist to Use Before Photographing Anything

A Helpful Checklist to Use Before Photographing Anything

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If you are reading this you probably find photography exciting, maybe even so exciting that from time to time you forget changing your camera settings according to the subject you’re shooting. You have probably already missed at least one amazing shot, just because you forgot to change the ISO or shutter speed.

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You are not alone. This happens to both amateurs and professionals, however there are a few simple tricks to avoid ever missing that shot again due to unpreparedness. In this article I’m going to share with you the simple steps I follow before going out to photograph, the steps I have learned the hard way. A helpful checklist to use before photographing anything.

Why do you need a checklist?

Okay, before I start sharing the steps, let’s briefly talk about why you need a checklist. The reason I need a checklist might be different than yours, and it all comes down to your needs. What are you photographing? Are you photographing to make huge prints? Are you capturing a moment that only lasts a brief second?

My main field of photography is landscapes and nature. It is rare that my window of opportunity only lasts for a brief second, meaning that I often have the time to find the best settings. However, if you are more into wildlife photography, travel, or perhaps street photography, your window of opportunity is much shorter, ergo you must be able to quickly take up your camera, and fire off some shots without spending much time fiddling with your settings.

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The feeling of coming back home after an amazing evening, importing your photos, and realizing all the shots are ruined as a result of forgetting to change the settings is a feeling I don’t wish upon anyone. No matter what type of photography you do, quality is the most important.

Point one – Before you leave

Step one takes place before even leaving your home. This might very well be the most important step, and I know for a fact it’s one that many often forget.

Part one of the checklist consists of four basic, yet crucial elements to check:

  • Are your batteries charged?
  • Is your memory card full?
  • Did you clean your equipment?
  • Is all your gear packed?

Are your batteries charged?

You may laugh and think, “Do’h, obviously I won’t go out with empty batteries”. Well, that’s exactly what I thought too until one time when I drove seven hours to the west of Norwa,y where I would spend the weekend in a tent photographing epic landscapes. After one hour of shooting my first battery died, and I realized that all my spare batteries where empty too. Since I was camping I did not bring a charger.

In deep frustration I ended up driving the seven hours back home, as I did not want to spend the weekend in some of the greatest nature of Norway without my camera (Yes, I should have stayed and enjoyed the nature – but my thoughts where not rational at the time). Luckily I managed to pull off one descent shot from that evening, which I did not realize before writing this article!

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I have made a habit to always set my batteries to charge as soon as I get home from photographing, yet I also double check that all batteries are charged when I leave on trips.

Is your memory card full?

Now, leaving home with a full memory card is not as critical as not having any battery time. However it is rather annoying to get the message “Memory card full” after taking 10 pictures. You then have to waste time deleting images one-by-one. Make sure there is enough free space on the card when you head out on your adventures!

Is your equipment clean?

Most of us are guilty of not cleaning our equipment from time to time. It’s more exciting to process your images when you get back home rather than clean your gear, right?

Regardless of what is fun or not, cleaning your equipment needs to be done, especially after photographing in rough conditions or by the sea. I recommend always bringing a microfiber cloth, air blower, and some cleaning spray when you are out, but the more you clean at home, the more time you have to photograph when you’re out.

Personally, in my earlier days I had a couple shots ruined due to forgetting to clean my filters after being out photographing by the ocean.

The image below is a typical example of what your files might look like if you forget to clean your lens before shooting. This shot was luckily not ruined, but it took some time removing all dust spots.

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Did you pack all your gear?

This is something I have yet to experience myself, probably due to my paranoia of forgetting something. But it’s happened more than once that I have been out with someone who forgot their memory card, remote shutter, or even their camera. So make sure that all of the equipment you need is in your backpack when you exit the door!

Point two – In the field

Now that your batteries are charged, your memory card has available space, your gear is cleaned, and the equipment you need is packed, let’s head out to capture some beautiful images! But don’t get too excited, remember to go through these quick steps first:

Determine the subject you are about to photograph

Before you look into the settings themselves, start by reflecting upon the subject you are going to photograph. Is it a landscape, animal, people, or something else? By spending a few seconds becoming aware of what you are about to photograph, it will be much easier for you to remember to set your settings accordingly. You will then avoid photographing a bird with a narrow aperture when you want to blur the background.

At this stage I would also recommend putting some thought towards what lens you will need most. If you’re photographing birds, you normally need a long zoom, more than the wide angle. Prepare the correct equipment right away, so you avoid having to change lenses while you watch the bird fly away.

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Check your ISO

If you are a landscape photographer like myself, you want the ISO to be as low as possible in most situations. However, you are also outside photographing sunrise, daytime, sunset and nighttime. These hours often require different settings.

It sucks to photograph a beautiful sunrise, just to come home and realize you forgot to change the ISO from 1600 after photographing the stars last night.

As a default I always check that my ISO is set to 100 when turning my camera on, as this is the setting I use for most of my shots. If you are photographing wildlife you might use 400 as a default to make sure you freeze the moment.The image below is a unfortunate example of one time I forgot to reset my settings from the night before. This resulted in me missing that small moment when the bird spread its wings.

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Check your White Balance

Most of us look at the image preview after firing of a couple shots so we quickly become aware of any visible mistakes we have made, such as not setting the White Balance. Sure, the White Balance is easy to fix in post processing, but I prefer to make the shot as complete as possible in the camera. Quickly check that the White Balance is set to what you normally use (even if it is Auto, Cloudy or any other pre-made setting).

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Don’t forget the focus!

Have you ever quickly taken up your camera to photograph the bird that just passed you, and later noticed that the image is out of focus because you forgot to change to Autofocus? It’s an easy mistake to make, so before you start photographing, be aware of how you have set the focus.

This also applies for the other way around as well. Say you are about to photograph a long exposure, you set the focus perfectly and slide on the filters. Then, just as you are about to start taking the picture, your autofocus starts going. No, it’s not a disaster, just simply annoying.

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Point three – Back home

At this point your memory card is hopefully filled with amazing images. This is the last step, and it loops right back to point one. Now it’s time to set your batteries to charge, import your photos, and clean your equipment. If you make a routine of doing this after every session, you will avoid making the mistake of heading out unprepared.

That’s it for this checklist, and I hope it helps the next time you are out photographing. These steps don’t take much time to follow, and you don’t need to spend hours in post-processing trying to save a image anymore.

Do you have any “rituals” you do before going out to photograph? Please share in the comments section below.

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Christian Hoiberg Christian Hoiberg is a full-time landscape photographer who helps aspiring photographers develop the skills needed to capture beautiful and impactful images. Visit his website to get a free download of his eBook 30 Tips to Improve Your Landscape Photography.