Five Tips to Prevent a Photo Shoot Disaster

Five Tips to Prevent a Photo Shoot Disaster

Many of us have either done this ourselves or have a friend that has done it. I'm talking about getting out to a location only to learn that you don't have a usable memory card or battery.

I have a friend who went out to the lake to take some night photos one night and he got all the way out to the location only to realize that he did not have a memory card. The friend that took him only had one card. They wasted 30 minutes driving home just to get a memory card.

When it comes to digital cameras there four things you need: Camera, Lens, Memory Card, and Battery. Yet so many times people forget their card and/or their battery. This may result in anything from a mild inconvenience to complete disaster if you're on a scheduled shoot with a client.

One of the attributes of being a successful photographer is being reliable. Great photos are created by being able to take photos in the right place at the right time, so here are 5 things you can do to help you be prepared to get that shot.

1. Always Keep an Extra Memory Card Somewhere

For guys, we almost always have our wallets with us, so keeping a memory card in your wallet could save the day. If someone else forgets their memory card, you'll be their hero when you whip one out of your wallet. That reminds me, I need to get my memory card back from my friend Jeremy.

If you don't carry a wallet at least leave one in your car, purse, or camera bag. It doesn't take much to forget a card or drop it and lose it. Another possibility is to use a phone case with a credit card slot and keep a memory card or two in there, most people rarely forget their phones.

Personally, I have a bunch of 16 GB memory cards all over the place. I have them in several camera bags, in my truck, in my wallet, in my wife's vehicle. You can pick up 16 GB SD cards for about $6 so there's no reason to not have a few spare cards. They don't need to be the fastest cards ever, they'll still work for photos.

2. Never Close the Card Door When the Card Is Out

This tip may not be practical depending on your camera, your camera bag, or where you store or leave your camera, but I never close my card door when one of my memory cards isn't in the camera. My camera sits next to the charger or the card reader while I offload photos.

Most of the time I open the card door, remove the card and immediately import my photos. Once imported, I immediately put the card back in the camera, even before editing. Another thing you can do is have a second card that you can immediately put in the camera. I have a rule that unless both my primary cards have photos on them, one is always in my bag or my camera.

Occasionally I'll need to take more photos before offloading the photos on my card. In that case, I'll set the card by the computer and immediately put my secondary card in the camera.

My camera has two card slots. One of my personal rules is that I never remove both cards at the same time. There's always a card in one slot or the other. I rarely ever shoot more the 16 GB during each outing, so my 64 GB SD card in the secondary slot almost always has tons of room on it.

3. Never Close the Battery Door When the Battery Is Out

Again, This tip may not be practical depending on your camera, your camera bag, or where you store or leave your camera, but I never close the battery door unless there's a battery in the camera. This tells me when I pick up the camera that there's not a battery in it. If you don't do this, another option is to have a second battery that you can immediately put in the camera while the other is charging.

The ideal situation is to have several batteries, enough to cover 3 sessions worth. That way if you forget to charge the batteries from the first session you'll have enough batteries for the next shoot (second session) with plenty to spare if that shoot goes long (third session).    

4. Always Take an Extra Card and Battery

If you're like me, I sometimes don't want to haul my camera bag everywhere I go on foot. If you don't bring your camera bag, at least take an extra memory card and battery (or two) with you. Always. Period. It's so easy to toss them in your pocket, it's not worth it to risk being without them.

I've had a few instances where I was just going to walk out somewhere to get a couple of shots, then something happened and I needed (wanted) to shoot a bunch more photos before I could get back to my camera bag. Having that extra battery and memory card can be a lifesaver. I keep an extra battery and two memory cards in a ThinkTank battery pouch.

5. Always Offload Your Photos or Switch Cards When You Get Home

I'll admit that I don't always do this as sometimes it's pretty late at night when I get home. I do however make it a point to do it first thing in the morning, which is a bit easier for me since I work from my home office. If you don't offload your photos as soon as you get home, at least come up with a plan to do so. Place your card in a safe place and get a clean card in the camera. I often use a small sticky note placed on the card to tell me what is on it. With all of the devices and review items I have lying around my office, I'm careful to always make sure that memory cards with stuff on them are clearly tagged.

I've found that just about the only time I had images still on a card when I went out to another shoot was when I didn't offload photos that I took right away.


Whether it's ruining a client shoot, a vacation, or simply a day out with friends, forgetting your memory card or battery can be anything from a simple downer to a complete disaster. Taking a few precautionary steps will help prevent this and ensure you have everything you need to take those great photos.

One of the things that will greatly help you to not forget these things is to figure out your method of card and battery management and be consistent with that method and make it a routine.

What things do you do to prevent such a disaster?

Mike Dixon's picture

Mike Dixon is a Muskegon Michigan based landscape and nature photographer who's passionate about anything photography or tech related.

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All of those are common sense, with the exception of 2 and 3 (which just doesn't make any sense).

Well, some people don’t have common sense, and I’ve seen people do these on numerous occasions.

#2 & #3: when either of those are not inside your camera and doors are left open, you won't just pickup your camera and leave. You'll know your camera doesn't have memory card or battery.

Btw, #2 did happen to me, thankfully the second card that I had inside my camera saved the day

However, if you are going to leave the doors open overnight in an unsafe environment, it's not recommended. Instead keep a cheatsheet that you check before packing your camera and practice it all the time.

Well that's just an automatic reflex for most people who photograph - at least you'd think. If you can't remember to do those 2 things, then you shouldn't be picking up a camera anyway - IMO.

I am glad it didn't happen to you. Unfortunately I still have to pickup my camera.

well these two are crucial, i'm doing so for like 10 years now, never had a fail. If you're in unsafe enviroment, why bothering with charging battery? It's the simplest trick, you can't grab your camera without noticing that something is missing.

I would add #6, before you pack your camera, always make 1-2 pics and review them to check if everything works.

"1. Always Keep an Extra Memory Card Somewhere." Preferably in your camera. There have been a couple of times in which the card in my secondary slot has saved my bacon.

To the list I would also add, check your ISO at the beginning of every session. I did a shoot with one guy who forgot to check his ISO from a previous shoot and ended up shooting the whole thing with ISO800 when 100 would have been fine.

But the biggest piece of advice I think I would have is to have everything in order, checked and ready to go, the day before the shoot as a matter of habit so that you can just grab it and go. It's easy for something to fall through the cracks when you're scrambling, checking, and packing right before you walk out the door.

I’ve been practicing 2 and 3 for years. I have a difficult time remembering and the simple act of keeping the door open helps remind me to check and make sure I have a card and or battery in the camera.

I think you forgot the most important setting: lock shutter when there is no card inserted. So you won't be able to take a photo at all.

How do you miss the big sign telling you there is no card in the camera?

1. All digital files need to live in two places at any time. After the shoot, physically separate your data. I leave one card in the camera and the second card goes into my wallet for example. If the car gets broken into, I still have my shoot. If I lose the card in my pocket, I have the one in the car.
2. Set camera so it cannot fire with a data card.
3. Carry as much backup gear as possible. Two cameras, extra lighting gear. Etc. If it works, it can stop working so carry backups when feasible​.
4. Slow down! Most mistakes happen when we are rushing and forget to look at the images and question what we are doing.
5. If you are shooting on assignment, make sure you really understand what they need and how they are going to use the images.
6. If something feels wrong, if you have a bit of discomfort in your gut, STOP and take it seriously. That means it’s time to recheck everything.
Zave Smith

“2. Set camera so it cannot fire with a data card.”

That’s a terrible setting. I bet you mean, “without.”

Leaving the doors open on your camera is just begging to have one or both snapped off on accident.

Why wouldn’t anyone carry spare consumables with them, other than ignorance or misplaced confidence? Hobbyist, enthusiast or professional, at least one spare card and battery should be pretty obvious as you’ll never know when or why you’ll need it. Speaking of which, these 5 suggestions could be condensed into just 1: carry a spare battery and card in your bag.

Personally, I cycle my cards. After a day of shooting, when the cards come out for transfer, a set of formatted cards go in and I have 4 matched pairs for this. One of those matched pairs and a battery are always in my bag.

If we really want to get silly, why not recommend people tape a spare card to the bottom of their camera body or attach a spare battery to their keychain using a case, just in case they travel without a bag?

When I'm on a shoot for a client, I have two bodies, multiple batteries (ALL are charged the night before) multiple memory cards, two external drives when shooting tethered. Two battery chargers. Also multiple lenses of overlapping focal lengths. When I need 2 of my mono-lights, I bring 4. When I need 4, I bring 6. Spare EVERYTHING. The potential pain of lugging all that gear is far better than the pain of letting a client down and losing business.

All my cameras except for my point and shoot have dual card slots and they're set to write parallel so if a card blows out, I haven't lost any images.

When I shoot recreationally, its dependent on the situation. Again, I'll deal with a little pain in order to carry the gear thats going to allow me to get the best images.

No off brand anything. Ever. No official manufacturer representation outside of a dealer network? Nope. Nope. Nope.

No mention of a backup canera? Shutter or mirror is as likely to fail as a mem card.

Umm, confession time. How about heading off to central Australia for 3 months...and leaving your beloved camera in the drawer at home. Yep that one, the thing that's almost permanently bolted to my hip!!

I was so distraught, I nearly spent 2 grand buying a new one. Until we realised we were meeting up with friends along the way...who were coming via my place. So I blew the $100 deposit and waited a couple of weeks to be reunited.

Oh the shame...and the joy. Here's my dearest heading off into a sand dune to see if one was lying around there.

Dopey McDopeyface from Dopeyville. There, I've said it. My name is Rod and I forgot my furkin camera.

Ow. Painful.

Superfluous article. Just make yourself a checklist that you go over before every shoot.

Either a checklist or a case/bag with compartments for specific items so that an empty compartment means you've forgotten something.

Most phines have a memory card. Apple? Opps.

Storing an sd card in the wallet is the surest way to damage the will definately crack especialy when the wallet is in the back trouser pocket.

Possibly. I keep my wallet in my cargo pants side leg pocket.

I had an SD card fail in the 5DIII I used to use, so me forgetting to have cards available won't happen. I don't do a lot of paid shoots, but I do require a camera that has 2 cards (I use a 5DIV now). I also have a grip on the camera and it can take a LOT of shots before the battery drops even one notch on the LCD. Just use common sense and the chance of messing up a shoot is minimal.

I have a second slot but since I only use lexar pro on sandisk extrem pro I have never needed or used or take a backup card, so buying a good memory card is a good idea.

I have a simple method to prevent #2 and #3. when I pick up my camera I turn it on, if it comes on then chances are pretty good there is a battery inside, also if I press the playback button and the display either shows an image or "no image, then the same rule applies. Sometimes the display is blank which means the battery is dead or there is no battery in the camera, if I press the playback button and the display shows "no card in camera" then I need to change something. When I leave my house I leave my front door open so I don't lock myself out.