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How to Conserve Battery Power When It’s Almost Gone

conserve-battery-power.pngIt’s day two of your long awaited seven day vacation away from the worries of life at home.  You’ve seen the city, you’ve perused the shops and you’ve even found a few great places to eat.  After a long day of sightseeing you head back to your hotel and unwind a bit before getting ready for the next day of activities.  Knowing your camera battery is probably getting low after two straight days of shooting, you rummage through your bags for the battery charger.  Ten minutes later, with the entire contents of your luggage spread out upon the bed and nightstand you are gripped by the unspeakably horrible realization that, gasp!, you forget to pack your camera’s battery charger.

For those of us that really love photography and taking pictures on a trip, this moment leaves a pit in our stomach.  If your trip happens to be in an electronically outfitted area, you can probably remedy this situation by finding a camera shop and purchasing a workable solution.  But let’s assume for a moment that you happen to be miles up the Amazon River or high up in the Himalayan Mountains.  What now?  In no particular order, here are some tips that can help stretch the battery life of your camera and help you bring back some great photographic memories.

1. Think About Your Shot First

With the seemingly unlimited volume of most flash cards these days, a lot of photographers have grown accustomed to what’s often been referred to as the “spray and pray” mentality.  I’ll even admit to this method of photography from time to time.  Sometimes it’s easier to be lazy in the field, taking 20 shots of that pretty horse in the field, and then sort out the best shot later, at home on the computer.  But when you have a limited number of shots left, and you often won’t know just how many shots that is, it’s time to slow down and consider your shot before bringing the camera up to eye.  Is the image something you’ll really want to share back home?  Does it convey a great sense of what it’s like where you are or how your trip is unfolding?  How best can it be framed in the viewfinder?

Think about the shot’s value before getting the camera into action.  You may find that a lot of the pretty things you normally would snap four images of without thinking, turn out to be scenes simply enjoyed without need for a picture.  This step alone will save a lot of battery use indirectly by reducing the amount of times you want to get your camera out.  The next five tips will be your biggest power savings once you’ve decided you just have to take the shot.

2. Turn Off Auto Focus

This tip only works if you use a DSLR camera.  Most point and shoots (P&S)don’t have a focus ring on the lens like DSLR lenses do.  If you have a point and shoot, you don’t have much of a choice.  But for those with DSLRs, using manual focus can be a huge power savings.  Most cameras will start focusing when the shutter release is pressed down half way and will continue to focus until the shot is taken.  And the larger the lens, the more power will be sucked from the battery to bring objects into focus.

If you find yourself in one of these 5 situations where manual focus is better than auto focus, you’ll want to switch over anyway, even if your battery isn’t low.

3. Turn Off The Review Feature

Both DSLR and P&S cameras have the ability to review a shot after the image is captured.  While technology for screens is advancing and battery consumption is a prime concern (as well as clarity in sunshine) it’s still best to simply turn off the review feature.

4. If Your Camera Has A Viewfinder, Use It

More and more DSLRs are being shipped with “live view”, popular on most all P&S cameras.  But this can also be a huge power draw.  For the same reason turning off the review feature saves energy, turning off “live view” and using the camera’s viewfinder can possibly save more power.  Personally, I purchase P&S cameras that can still be used with just a view finder for this very reason.  Constant display of what’s in front of the camera is not a wise use of battery power when running low.  If your P&S does not have a viewfinder, allowing you to turn off the “live view” on the LCD during shooting, this tip may be of little help.

5. Turn off Image Stabilization

I absolutely love the image stabilization capability of my larger lens.  It allows me to get great shots at 300mm even at 1/20th of a second shutter speeds.  But I also know from personal testing that my battery will last a lot longer with it off.  Around 20% longer.  Just like autofocus, the battery is drained from constantly moving elements around inside the lens to compensate for camera shake.  It’s best left off, or only turned on for vital shots.

6. Power Off Your Camera When Not In Use

I know this one sounds obvious, but many of us get in the habit of leaving our camera on and letting it power down automatically.  If you have a P&S that does not have a viewfinder (and thus can not turn off the ‘live view’ display) it’s especially important to turn off the power.  As stated in #4, no matter how power conscious that display screen is, it’s still using power that is better served taking shots.  This tip also couples with #1; leave you camera off until you’ve thought about the shot and have it set in your mind, then power on the camera and get the shot.  Of course, if your camera has a sensor cleaning function when powered on and off, this may lead to more power use, but those features can usually be turned off as well.

7. Don’t Transfer Pictures

MSI StarReader.jpgIf you are accustom to using your camera to download photos to your computer, now might be a good time to think about bringing along a USB flash card reader (of course, if you forget your charger there’s no guarantee you’ll remember this too!).  Downloading from your camera will surely suck down more power as most cameras don’t take advantage of the power capabilities from the USB connection (and for the circuitry in the camera, it’s far more simple to leave it this way).  I’ve had batteries die mid transfer when I had no other option.  I now carry a MSI StarReader 52-in-1 reader (pictured right).  I know, the 52 is sort of misleading, but it handles most cards and even will read cell phone SIM cards, making it very handy for international travel.

8. Increase ISO To Lessen Flash Use

Your flash can kill your batteries in no time flat.  Depending on your camera’s capabilities, it may be a worthwhile option to increase the ISO a bit in marginal lighting situations to lessen the use of the built-in flash.  Before your trip, or right now, do a few quick tests in moderate indoor lighting (the most likely scenario for flash use) to see just how far you can push the ISO before it doesn’t look good to you.  This setting is purely subjective.  If you can stand the grain at ISO400 on your camera, then go with it.  Some cameras look horrid above ISO200.  Don’t take someone else’s, or some website’s, word for it, try it out yourself and see what looks good to you.  Flash use has been shown to reduce battery life by as much as 40%.

The Most Important Tip: Relax!

Leaving behind your camera’s battery charger, intentionally or accidentally, can really change how you approach photography while on vacation.  Once you get over the initial ‘freak out’ when it’s not found, remember there are steps you can take to continue using your camera to capture memories of your trip.  And never forget the most important tip: Relax, you’re on vacation!!

NOTE: When your battery does finally die with no chance for charging, be sure to remove the flash card and keep it with other valuables.  Chances are you’ll leave your camera behind or unattended far more than if it was working and it may fall into the wrong hands. Or get lost in the shuffle of checked baggage.  Keeping your flash card with you ensures your photos make it back even if the camera goes missing.

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Peter West Carey

Peter West Carey leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics - A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

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