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A digital shooting checklist, Part I
As any professional location photographer (or any Boy Scout, for that matter) will tell you, being prepared is everything when it comes to having a successful photo outing.
It doesn't matter whether you're photographing a birthday party with a point-and-shoot camera or taking a weekend drive into the countryside with your new digital SLR, it's important to spend time getting your equipment ready for the shoot.
If you're not prepared...
Nothing is more deflating than getting to a great location and having beautiful lighting and wonderful subjects all around you only to find out that you've forgotten some key piece of equipment or neglected some crucial step like charging your camera batteries. Trust me--it happens to the best of us!
How to get ready
I spend nearly as much time getting ready for a shoot as I do shooting. It's that important. Here's my basic night-before-the-shoot checklist:
Charge your batteries
Always charge your batteries the night before'even if you think they're "almost" full. And if your camera does work exclusively with a proprietary battery, it's a good idea to own at least one backup. If you use an accessory flash, be sure those batteries are charged, too.
Download and empty your memory cards
Don't forget to pack your memory cards! Should I tell you about the dreadful weekend when I drove to the Berkshires to photograph the fall colors, only to realize when I got there that I left all but one of my memory cards sitting safely on my desk at home? I was at least an hour from the nearest camera shop, the light was perfect, the colors were electric--and I had exactly 30 frames left on the card in my camera. Talk about a deflating experience.
Read your manual (again)
It's especially important to read your manual if it's been a long time since you have used the camera or if you're planning on trying some new techniques, like exposure bracketing or fill-in flash. And you will, of course, pack your camera manual in your camera bag, won't you? I carry all of my camera manuals with me on every shoot--safely protected in plastic zipper bags. And I refer to them regularly.
Clean and check your camera gear
I don't clean the lens itself unless it has obvious dirt. When I get more than a few minor fingerprints or dust spots on a lens, I use an inexpensive micro-fiber cloth (they're under $5) to gently clean the lens. The cloths are washable and they last for years.
If you're using a digital SLR, the subject of dust on the sensor is bound to come up. Dust shows up as spots in bright areas with no detail--like a blue sky. Unless you really know what you're doing though, it's best to leave sensor cleaning to a professional--it's possible to literally ruin a sensor if it's not done correctly. Besides, I've had some pretty wicked dust on my sensors and it's easy to get rid of when editing your pictures.