The 10 Second Pre-Shoot Camera Check

[tweetmeme]I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve ruined shots because I failed to check my camera settings before shooting. Haven’t most of us been in that situation? You’re shooting something out of the norm (maybe some manual controls, exposure compensations, ISO settings, etc), and you don’t set your camera back to the “regular” settings. So you pick up the camera again after a few days and start shooting, only to realize that you completely screwed up a bunch of shots because the camera was still set for that last outing.

After doing this a few times, I’ve gotten in the habit of spending 10 or 15 seconds checking my camera settings before I shoot. Of course, all cameras are different (as are shooting styles), so this is just my own personal checklist of things I look at. Yours may be different, but the point is that you should have that habit of checking the settings prior to releasing the shutter. Here’s a rundown of what I look at and how I typically set my camera.


My usual setting is aperture priority mode, but I’ll sometimes switch to shutter priority or full manual. I always make a note to set it back to aperture priority before I start shooting, unless the situation calls for something different.


This one varies on the lens attached, but I usually preset my 50mm lens at f/2 or f/2.4 while in aperture priority mode. The reason I do this is because I know that’s fast enough for most lighting situations, and it reflects my personal shooting preferences (I like somewhat shallow DOF most of the time).


For me, this setting usually stays at zero, but sometimes I’ll move it around in difficult lighting situations. This one is a big deal — I’ve been burned more than once because I didn’t set it back to zero. If your compensation is way off, you can’t recover a bad shot.


My usual ISO setting is “auto” — and my auto is allowed to vary between 200 and 1600. In bright situations, I’ll set it to 100. And in dark situations, I’ll set it to 3200 or 6400. I always check that I set it back to auto-ISO so I don’t go out in full afternoon sun shooting at ISO 3200.


Most of the time, I’ll leave my drive mode on machine gun mode (or hi-continuous). I don’t use it very often, but it’s nice to have it ready if I do need it (sucks when you need it and it’s turned off). On occasion, I’ll switch over to single shot if I keep firing too many accidental continuous shots.


For the most part, I like to keep my camera in AF-S (single shot) mode. I find that continuous AF and auto AF slow down my continuous drive when I do need it, and Manual focus is rarely used on my digital camera.


I’ve grown to like spot metering, and I rarely change it from that. If I do, I try to make sure to set it back to spot so that my exposures are closer to what I expect.


I don’t think I’ve ever changed this setting, but I glance over it to make sure I didn’t change it by accident last time out.


Another setting that I rarely change. Auto white balance usually does an OK job (except for incandescent lighting), and it doesn’t really matter much when shooting in a Raw format.


Although this item is near the bottom of my screen and the bottom of my list, it’s probably the most important. ALWAYS check your batter power before you even walk out the door. I messed this up just once… haven’t done it again.


Yet another setting that I rarely change, but a good one to double check. I’d be kinda pissed if I spent a whole day shooting only to realize that I shot all JPEG images rather than Raw.


I usually have the same memory card in the camera and I know that I can get a bit over 400 shots on my card. So if I see less than 400 available photos, I know that I need to format the card and clear out the old photos.

Again, these are just the things I quickly glance over before shooting. Other cameras and other photographers will have different needs and different checklists. But the point is that you should have some sort of camera setting checklist burned into your mind.

What other things do you check before shooting? And what are your typical settings for some of these items?

25 thoughts on “The 10 Second Pre-Shoot Camera Check

  1. Maxime Gousse

    I check for the VR (optical stabilization) switch. I sometimes turn it off by taking out my camera out of the bag.

  2. Jenni Brehm

    Excellent advice, Brian! I have countless shots where I forgot to check the ISO settings or the exposures compensation. priority mode is important, too, because sometimes the dial gets switched around when I take the camera out of my bag or something. very, very important.

    Another helpful hint: if it seems like your autofocus isn’t giving you a sharp image/preview, check the correction wheel at the viewfinder – could be that it got turned in the camera (happened multiple times to me)

  3. David Tong

    Excellent reminders, Brian.

    David’s Simple Photography

    IIn line with the last point…

    Check if there is a memory card installed.

    Set your cam to disable shooting if a memcard isn’t installed so you won’t snap a single shot without a memory card in.

    Lastly, always take a frame or two of test shots and review the LCD in every new location, lens change, light change to make sure everything is alright before shooting more.

    Spending that extra 10 seconds of pre-flight check can save you from losing gigabits worth of images.



  4. Flo

    A good list. But my first priority on my list is – check to make sure there’s a memory card in the camera!

    Several times, when I’ve taken only my camera and a particular lens with me, I’ve also not remembered to put a memory card back into it! So a whole day of missed photo opps!

    Doesn’t do much good to check all the other items, if you also don’t notice that the image counter says “0″

  5. Dave Wilson

    I suppose it’s an extension of “Exposure Compensation” but another one to add to the list is auto-bracketing. I’m forever forgetting to turn off bracketing then wondering why I get some very whacky exposures on the next few shots.

  6. Dave Hodgkinson

    The one that’s bitten me a few times: BRACKETING!

    There’s nothing like having 1 in 3, 5, 7 or 9 exposures right and the other off. Can take me ages to work out why.

  7. Tyler

    I have a habit of forgetting to switch my minimum focus distance back to the 2.5 to Infinity as opposed to the 1.4 to Infinity. I have missed many a great action shot because in the closer focus distance the auto-focus is hunting too slowly for a lock.

  8. Nick Graham

    Thanks for the list – lots of good tips.

    I pretty much do everything in the same order, only I check the battery and memory card first, then go from there.

  9. Brian Auer Post author

    That’s what formatting does. But in addition to clearing the photos, it clears any other clutter on the card that accumulates from repeated use. It also preps the card and file structure to receive new information. It’s just a better way to keep your card “healthy”.

  10. Pete Boyd

    I know full well what formatting does, I just questioned, and still do question, the value in doing a format each time you just want to wipe the files. It’s certainly worth formatting occasionally. It doesn’t “prep” the card any more than deleting the files does, unless in the instance that the filesystem on the card has gotten corrupt. And there’s not much that gathers on a card from repeated use, the most I’ve ever seen is some cameras leave empty directories behind.

    I am fairly sure that formatting will ‘touch’ more of the card (in rewriting the file allocation table (FAT)) than file deletion (which will only remove the first bits of each filename in the FAT), thus wearing it out quicker.

  11. Max Pinton

    Good list. I’d add one that drove me crazy for longer than I’d like to admit on my Canon Rebel XT: Check for AF Point Lock. This is unaffected by autofocus mode, survives power cycling, and I didn’t even realized I’d set it, but once set it disables all the other AF points.

  12. Brian Auer Post author

    I guess all I can say is that I’ve always formatted my cards before each use and I’ve never had one fail or hiccup — I have a few CF cards that are over 5 years old and they work fine. This is one of those things I’ve never really questioned, and I just do it the way I learned how to do it years ago. But now I’m a but curious about the pros and cons of each method…

  13. Dave Hodgkinson

    @Max Pinton – oh yes! On the D300 there’s a ring that locks the AF/AE point rocker. It sometimes gets knocked into the “Lock” position. Very frustrating when you’re trying to move the point around and it just sticks there.

  14. Pete Boyd

    Brian Auer: Yes it’s interesting how raising these things causes one to think harder about such things, to look again at how every piece of information you know about a thing fits into the whole that you think you know, to see gaps you might not have appreciated and to go research them further. I too am going to look into this more.

  15. Rob

    This is a great checklist. Granted, you’re doing a quick once over of nearly all the general settings, but like the title says, it won’t take more than about 10 seconds, maybe 20 if you have to change a lot of settings from your previous shoot…

  16. Barb Ricker

    I’m very new at all this, but I try to remember to check the date & time setting. Hate having pictures saved with wrong information.

  17. Lloyd Burrell

    I think this is a good order. I just wanted to add that I prefer an f/2.7 standard or even f/3.2 when the general context allows it. As for the custom white balance, I found that little variation may prove helpful.

  18. Sharan Balani

    They should just include a “zero-out” button which sets everything to default…or let you save a reminder checklist to your startup screen or somesuch

  19. Jonathan Lopez

    I have to admit that I’ve accidentally switched the White Balance a few times without knowing–but it wasn’t the end of the world because I was in RAW…thank God.

    I cycle through my preview after taking shots sometimes, and on the D5000, I always forget that it changes the shutter speed if you didn’t hit the official Preview button (as in, right after you shot the picture and it displays on screen). Terrible! I have accidentally switched to a 10 second shutter before, had to switch off the camera and turn it back on. So used to my D90 now though, so I don’t have that problem.

  20. Dusty Wall

    My first paying gig was a baby portrait session, all of which I shot +2/3EV in aperture priority in JPEG. Allthe highlights were blown and there was nothing I could do about it. Now I mainly shoot in Manual and RAW.

    Also, I’ve learned that the best time to check battery & cards is when you get home, when you have the time to charge & transfer.

  21. Lee Allen

    very useful to know , I am not always sure what standard settings to use , to get good results. I always try now to avoid Auto.

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