So you’re planning to take some pictures today. Maybe it’s your son’s birthday, or your daughter’s softball game, or a hike through some attractive scenery. What can you do to be prepared? You’ll develop your own routine in time; here’s some ideas to get you started.
Turn your camera on to make sure the battery is installed and check its charge; carrying a second battery (if it’s charged too, of course) is a good idea. Check to make sure you have a memory card installed: you may have to open the compartment and look. I confess that I’ve gone out myself to shoot without a memory card in the camera — it was tucked into my computer to deliver the pictures from a previous session — and no spare card with me. Since that fiasco I’ve velcro’d the plastic case for a memory card to my camera strap, so I always have a spare card on hand.
Check the settings on your camera to avoid any surprises. What might be lurking in your camera to trip up your shoot? Maybe you set your jpeg quality to low, or your white balance to tungsten, for a prior shoot, and never brought it back. Maybe your last shoot was in weak light and you cranked your ISO way up to a setting that doesn’t make sense for the daytime shoot you’re planning now. Maybe your exposure is set to center-weighted, rather than averaging in the entire scene. Maybe you played with your focus settings, or your jpeg conversion, to shoot pictures of your child’s soccer game, or set your exposure to manual to experiment with more control.
And the problems can be obscure. I often use a tripod when I’m outdoors with an infrared trigger to trip the shutter. My camera will turn off vibration control for the tripod use it assumes is intended when a remote control is used. I went out one morning with remote control active and missed some good pictures from the failure to disable remote control and get the vibration control active again.
So what’s the best way to conduct a pre-shooting routine? It depends on your camera. My Pentax has an Info button that will display all of the current settings on the camera’s LCD. It takes only a few seconds to push that button and review the settings for something that’s just not right. If your camera doesn’t have a similar feature, start at one corner of your camera and work your way around the body in one direction or another to check all of the settings.
Another safeguard against problems with odd settings is to reset the camera for general use at the end of a day of shooting, so the camera is more ready the next time you use it. This can also be helpful on a day when you’re walking around with your camera and you can’t anticipate when a picture will present itself. Set your camera so you can get a shot without thinking about settings if you’re surprised by an opportunity.
A final thought on the pre-shooting routine is to bring the lenses (if you have more than one) that you think might be needed for the shooting you plan, and any accessories that you’ll need during the day (filters, lens hoods, external flash, a remote shutter control, a microfiber cloth to clean lenses, whatever).
Now that you’re ready, go out and take the pictures. You’ll want to develop your own pre-shot routine; here’s some ideas that have worked for me.