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6 Quick Tips for Photography on the Fly

Blue Heron Olympus E30 high ISO test
Olympus E30, 70-300mm f/4.0-5.6 lens, 300mm, f/5.6, 1/320, ISO 2000.

Today I went on an impromptu nature photowalk. It was sunny (which it seldom is in Vancouver during winter),  so when the clock hit quarter to magic-hour I was out the door.

I spent most of my time stealthily crouched in a glurpy muddy swamp for about 1 1/2 hours. I was waiting for  this lazy Blue Heron to take off, so I could get the spread-winged money shot. Then I got the dreaded flashing “CARD FULL” message on my screen.  This bird had stayed in the same position for 30mins, so I figured I had time to quietly pop a new card in. The very second I put down my camera to swap cards, the heron flew away into the most perfect pink sky.  Gotta love nature photography.

Lisa's Nature Photography Camouflage
I bet you can’t even find me in this photo, my camouflage gear is so stealth.

The point is that in my haste I forgot a lot of critical things necessary for taking photographs; such as a clean CF card, a charged battery, and perhaps rugged waterproof boots (which you technically don’t need for photography, but I find that I consistently end up stepping or kneeling in something wet, muddy, sandy, or soggy).

So let’s learn from my forgetfulness, and get ourselves prepared!

Here are 6 Quick Photo Tips for Photography on the Fly:

  1. Always check your camera to make sure there is a memory card in it. Duh! But i did it today, so there’s no fault in double checking your camera or your sanity!
  2. Make sure the memory card is empty. Nothing sucks more than getting that great photo opt ruined by the dreaded “Full CARD” notice.
  3. Bring one or more spare memory cards. Make sure they are clear too. Even if you think there is ample room, you never know what you may want to shoot. Memory cards are so cheap now, so buy a couple and keep them in your photo bag. You won’t regret it.
  4. Aim to keep the battery in your camera fully charged. Make a habit out of recharging your battery when you return from a shoot. Then, you’ll have a fresh one when you head out next.
  5. Mark dead batteries with black tape (gaffer’s tape works best because you can reuse it again and again). I use this system with my flash AA batteries as well. It definitely helps you identify usable batteries in a pinch.
  6. Keep these things in your photography bag
    • extra battery
    • extra Memory Cards
    • battery charger
    • USB-USB mini cable
    • soft cloth
    • lens dusting brush
    • fingerless gloves
    • headlamp or flashlight
    • plastic bag (comes in handy for protecting your camera gear in the rain & gives you something to kneel on something instead of muddy swamp land). I’ll do a DIY post on this to give you all the tips for weather protecting your gear.

If you do a little bit of prep work before you head out on a photo shoot, you’ll be ready for anything awesome that comes your way!

Share your preparation tips in the comments!

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  • Reply
    February 19, 2009 at 5:59 PM

    I always have two batteries with me. One is inside the camera (of course) and one is in a little pocket attached to the camera’s shoulder strap. If the battery in the camera runs empty I swap it with the fully charged on in the strap pocket. As soon as I get home I chage the empty one but leave the one in the camera alone. This way I alwasy have at least one fully charged battery with me. At the same time I make sure that each battery is used ~50% of the time and that the batteries see complete charge and discharge cycles. In particular the last aspect is very important to get most out of your batteries (doesn’t matter which chemistry).


  • Reply
    Kim Dever Thibodeaux
    February 19, 2009 at 6:06 PM

    Those darn blue herons are so unpredictable! But hey, at least you were able to trek through the muck…I’m in South Louisiana and the blues that I shoot wade in alligator infested waters. I’m not aware of any boots that will protect me against being eaten!

    I agree that one of the most important items aside from FC’s and batteries is a large trash bag, for the very reasons you listed.

    This was a great article. I’m going to print the checklist and keep it in my gear bag.

  • Reply
    Mileta Nikoletic
    February 19, 2009 at 6:07 PM

    I generally have a battery grip on both my camera bodies. However what i’ve noticed is that especially in cold weather, (i live in Sweden), you get better battery life (read: more shots than you otherwise would have gotten) if you pop one battery out of the grip and keep it in a pocket as close to your body as possible. When the battery in your camera dies, swap them out and so on. Not great for shooting things that move cos you are increasing the chance of missing them but works well in a bind….
    Gotta say.. i’m a fan of your blog…

  • Reply
    February 19, 2009 at 6:26 PM

    Nice article. :o no gaffers tape though. always gotta have some a that on something in my bag for when i need. it…

  • Reply
    Marty Skitch
    February 19, 2009 at 6:45 PM

    One other thing to remember is to make sure your camera is set to the correct settings for the situations. Make sure the ISO, white balance etc are set to your current situations.
    This pass weekend I drove pass a Blue Heron and a hawk and did not get a chance to get a shot. At the end of the week a Red Tail Hawk landed right in front of my parked truck and I did get a few shots of it.

  • Reply
    February 19, 2009 at 6:58 PM

    Great article! As a new DSLR owner I’ll take any tips I can get. Bummer you didn’t get the shot you wanted!

  • Reply
    February 19, 2009 at 8:04 PM

    Very nice, where did you shoot today? Was this in Richmond bird sanctuary area by Iona? Would love to try some nature photography.

  • Reply
    February 19, 2009 at 8:26 PM

    Hi Lisa,
    You have a new DSLR now. Switched to Olympus? What is the story?

  • Reply
    Kim Dever Thibodeaux
    February 19, 2009 at 8:32 PM

    @Marty Skitch: You are so correct! I had my camera on manual focus when a red shoulder hawk swooped down and started attacking something in the water about 10 feet from me. I was snapping away and then he was gone…then I realized what had happened…I chalked it up to DSLR newbie excitement!

  • Reply
    Apoorv Khatreja
    February 20, 2009 at 1:44 AM

    One thing that I almost always notice with your photography posts is that you always make it sound so easy, when in fact, you always have help with you.

    Who took the second photograph of you?

  • Reply
    February 20, 2009 at 6:30 AM

    Living in the Pacific NW, I can sympathize with you on having to be ready for the wet weather. I carry my gear in a Maxpedition Jumbo bag. It’s like a man purse that doesn’t look like a purse and it holds an insane amount of stuff. It’s also waterproof, which helps up here. I also carry 2 camera covers (silicone impregnated ripstop nylon…can’t remember the brand), and an Opteka disposable cover. I carry two because if I’m shooting with someone else I’d rather loan them one than go home. Maxpedition.com is something you might want to check out. They don’t have a camera bag, but their stuff is extremely adaptable. It’s like if Legos made gear bags.

    I also bought some of these: http://www.countycomm.com/CBH.htm They’re the best thing I’ve found for keeping all my AA batteries organized. Live ones go in + up and dead ones go in + down so I know which ones need to be charged when I get home.

    I also carry:
    small 1st aid kit
    my medication (allergy meds, etc)
    spare cell battery
    Leatherman tool (more useful than a swiss army knife)
    2 x small flashlights (TWO?? Yeah. I used to carry one and then the one time I really needed it, the bulb burned out on it…go figure)
    Memory card multi-reader and mini USB cable (2 inch long cable so I don’t have to pack a mile of cable)
    notebook & pen
    business cards
    lens cleaner & cloth
    Speedlite (430EX)
    Lenses (duh)
    Off-camera cord and a wireless flash trigger
    Wireless camera remote
    pocket recorder
    JVC Everio (just starting to use this)
    Polaroid micro printer (this thing is tiny! it prints business card size photos. It’s totally useless, but since I shoot a lot of band photography and I get stopped in public a lot I thought it might be a good promotional tool for picking up business. Check out zink.com for more info on it)
    Oh, and a camera. This is my bag that goes everywhere with me. Maybe I should just post a photo of the bag and the insane amount of nonsense that you can stuff in it on my Flickr.

  • Reply
    Kim Dever Thibodeaux
    February 20, 2009 at 10:07 AM

    @Faust: Thank you for telling us about that Maxpedition bag. The “Jumbo” is definitely the one to go with. And I agree they are very nice man-purses. And thank you for your comprehensive list of items. I no longer hang my head in shame for lugging so much stuff around. I hate to get out in the wild just to discover that I need something from my car.

    I’d like to add one more item: a small, soft pack of pre-moistened towelettes. Sometimes when crossing over fallen trees and other stuff, you get your hands dirty. They come in handy when wiping your hands on your jeans just doesn’t do the trick. I toss used ones in a Ziplock bag that I carry with me to collect snack bar wrappers and any other trash that I generate.

  • Reply
    February 20, 2009 at 6:08 PM

    No problem :) They have a ton of different bags and packs on their site. I have a few add-ons that I use with my Jumbo. That’s the great thing about their stuff…you can expand your existing bag :) I should mention that they are NOT padded for photo gear, but I added some foam padding from a photo bag I don’t use to pad my lenses. I recently noticed that B&H sells padded Velcro tabbed “walls and floors” for making custom compartments for photo bags. I think they’re from Kata. I plan on ordering some to make my Jumbo into a proper photo bag. I also have the Typhoon Gearslinger: http://www.maxpedition.com/store/pc/viewPrd.asp?idcategory=2&idproduct=50

    I like to travel light, so this bag was perfect for getting all my gear on the plane without having to put anything in luggage. Between this and the Jumbo I was able to pack all my camera gear, including a compact full size tripod, laptop, 4 days of clothes, camcorder, chargers for everything, etc back to NJ to shoot my brother’s wedding. Everything went with me as carry on. With flying I’ve hit the point where I don’t trust anyone with my bags. I would sooner leave something home or ship it ahead than let the baggage monkeys and TSA steal my stuff or break something.

  • Reply
    February 21, 2009 at 11:37 AM

    Your first tip sounds so lame and obvious but you know what? The other day it was a gorgeous winter day with beautiful blue skies and I grabbed the dog and my camera to go for a walk. Just when I had gotten far enough from home to make it too much hassle to go back, I turned my camera on so I could get a few shots of a crane (the construction kind, not the bird) against the brilliant sky. And speaking of brilliant? My screen said “No CF Card”.

    I won’t repeat what came out of my mouth. The sad thing is that it’s not the first time. I try to make a habit of returning my card to my camera immediately after dumping them, before I even look at my pictures, but clearly I have not perfected this habit. :D

  • Reply
    February 21, 2009 at 2:16 PM

    All you need is a new 32 GB flash card for your camera and you’re set for a few months… and they are cheap!

  • Reply
    February 22, 2009 at 2:24 AM

    Ok, I said I’d put up a photo of what’s in my bag, so I did: http://flickr.com/photos/faust0matic/sets/72157614285801024/ Two photos, one before I emptied it and one after with everything labeled in both and links in the labels to where you can get them.

    cheers :)

  • Reply
    Richard Turner
    February 22, 2009 at 9:54 AM


    And risk losing an entire expedition/holiday’s worth of photos on one card??!!!
    (On a 4gb card I get my 450D gives me 220 Raw files so on a 32gb that would mean I’d lose nearer 2000 files, countless more if I chose to shoot jpegs). I’m sticking to a collection of the smaller cards.

  • Reply
    February 22, 2009 at 5:47 PM

    Your checklist almost mirrors the one I’ve been building. I try to keep a remote shutter in the bag too. I’ve also put a sealable plastic bag to stuff the camera into while it warms up from being in the cold outside.

  • Reply
    February 23, 2009 at 6:48 PM

    Thanks for the tips :) I just have a P&S camera, and the battery annoys me. It’s a proprietary battery and it’s pretty expensive to purchase a 2nd one. I’m jealous of those friends with cameras where they can just pop in a couple of new double As or something!

    Now I want a DSLR though! A friend just got one and the piccies he takes are absolutely excellent :)

  • Reply
    February 24, 2009 at 5:03 AM

    @Anna: Check Ebay for batteries. I can’t justify $60 for a battery either, so I usually buy aftermarket batteries of Ebay for $5-$10. So far I’ve seen no difference between these and my OEM batteries for any of my Canons or my Olympus cameras.

  • Reply
    June 11, 2009 at 1:12 PM

    Some nice tips, I always make sure I have a UV reduction lens on my slr, it is golden and maybe a tungsten one for that added effect.

  • Reply
    Lucrecia Agustine
    February 25, 2010 at 1:31 AM

    Awesome Blog, Mate! Admitedly I’m a gadget fanatic and am always on the watch for new and interesting sites and info about cool gadgets and gadget related stuff… which is what led me here. Anyway i just wanted to check in as I certainly plan on visiting again! Cheers!

  • Reply
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