Someday, it will happen. You were absolutely certain that you’ve charged each of your camera batteries, but somehow you juggled them wrong and there’s only one or two fully-charged batteries in your bag! The rest of them are dead, and you’re going into a 15+ hour wedding. Uh-oh. (And you call yourself a professional!)
Or maybe once upon a time your batteries used to last an entire workday, however now for some reason (maybe the 2-3 years of shooting under your belt have something to do with it) you find yourself barely partway through a job, and you’re already down to 50% on your last battery.
Well, of course I could advise you to have your assistant run to the nearest camera store for some spare batteries, or, I could suggest buying a spare compact battery charger on Ebay. For now, let’s just consider those tips to be freebies, and move on to the issue at hand: what to do if you ever actually find yourself in this scary predicament. How can you milk your camera batteries for all they’re worth? Watch our video, and read the extra details below!
1.) TURN OFF ALL WIRELESS CONNECTIONS
Cameras these days have more and more connectivity options, from GPS and WIFI, to bluetooth and NFC. (I think the new Canon 5D mk4 may have all of the above!)
It is now your job to know which, if any, of these power-hungry settings may be on by default, and to ensure that they’re all turned off when not in use. On Sony for example, they’ve just made it simple: Airplane mode! Done.
On Canon and Nikon and others however, you’ll have to look up which wireless features your camera has, find them in the menu, and make sure they’re only on when you actually need them.
2.) TURN OFF STABILIZATION
On the one hand, this is a no-brainer for saving battery power, because stabilization is a huge battery life drain. On the other hand, if you’re shooting shakily on your longer lenses such as a 70-200mm, stabilization is very important.
Therefore, consider turning off your stabilization for wide and mid-range zooms, or on any stabilized primes, if you have one of the newer ones with such bells and whistles. If you have a mirrorless camera (Or a Pentax!) with sensor-based stabilization, you can turn that off and save a ton of battery power.
Then, with your longer lenses like a 70-200mm, you can either turn off that lenses’ stabilization and grab a monopod / tripod if you have one, or rest your camera on objects, or simply focus more effort on proper hand-holding techniques.
Alternately, consider grabbing your telephoto prime lens (such as an 85 1.4) to regain your low-light motion-stopping. You’ll have to get a bit closer to the action on an 85, but usually that’s not the end of the world.
3.) TURN OFF Automatic SENSOR CLEANING
Normally, I leave my camera’s sensor-cleaning option set to the most frequent option: to clean my sensor automatically every time the camera turns on and off. Canon, Nikon and Sony all have this feature I believe.
If I’m scrambling to get my battery to last on a multi-day hiking trip, or a very long wedding day, I go into my menu and turn this feature off completely. It’s not going to make my sensor get horribly dusty right away, and it will save that extra bit of battery power that gets you through the day.
4.) TURN OFF LCD Image-REVIEW / Playback
Another thing I prefer to leave on all the time is image review/playback. Not everybody sets this feature, but I like to quickly glance at my histogram or my blinking highlights.
There are a lot of options for conserving battery power when it comes to LCD playback: You can have your LCD stop image review altogether, or you can set the timer to just 1-2 seconds, instead of 30 seconds or even minutes.
As a side note, on Nikon cameras you can also tell the menus and various info displays to turn off more quickly, not just image playback. You can even instruct the exposure meter to turn off after a few seconds!
5.) TURN DOWN YOUR LCD SCREEN BRIGHTNESS
This another easy one. Hopefully you’ve already learned to use your histogram, as taught in Photography 101! You should still be able to get perfect exposures even if you’ve got your camera’s LCD turned down to -2 or -3. It will definitely be much darker, and in bright sun you’ll have to rely entirely on your histogram, but it’s easy to get used to.
If you’re indoors at a wedding reception, of course, a dim LCD can actually be a good thing; turn your LCD brightness down to -3-5 or so, and you’ll be surprised at how much longer your battery lasts!
6.) TURN OFF YOUR CAMERA WHEN NOT SHOOTING
This tip is both painfully obvious, and yet ironically not as useful as it was 5-10 years ago. Nowadays cameras are a lot more efficient, and Canon cameras especially have a reputation of barely using up any battery power all day long when not being used, so many candid wedding photojournalists that I know will just leave their cameras on for the entire day.
Still, it bears mentioning. The best way to conserve camera battery power is to just turn the camera off altogether. Even when your battery is down to 1-5% remaining, with conservative shooting and lots of off-time you might be able to squeeze another few hundred photos out of your battery.
7.) replace batteries that aren’t lasting as long as they once used to
The last tip I’d like to give is this: I number my batteries, because I have four of them, (I once had six!) and I try to check the battery life meter whenever they get low. Both Nikon and Canon advanced or semi-pro cameras have a feature in the menu where it will tell you how many percent is left, and how many shots you’ve clicked. Usually when I’m shooting a wedding, and my battery warning comes on in my viewfinder, I’ll look in the menu and it will say, 10% left and I’ve clicked 1,000 photos. Or if I’ve been using the above tricks, it might say 15% left, and I’ve clicked 12 or 1300 photos!
By checking this menu every time I get a chance, I’ll know that something is going wrong if my battery meter says it’s down to just 5% and I’ve only clicked a couple hundred photos. Unless I’ve been shooting video, there is something seriously wrong with that battery. (Of course, a videographer can still use this same technique to determine when their batteries are getting old and weary.)
Many cameras also now have a “battery health / lifespan” meter, but to be honest I haven’t found this to be as helpful as simply paying attention to how quickly batteries die.
So that’s about it. Of course as a responsible professional, I hope that you never ever find yourself in a pinch with a low battery. Any hard-working pro worth their salt should at least go on Ebay and buy one of those cheap generic brand chargers and toss it in their Pelican case, just for emergencies. Besides, you ought to own enough batteries to get through two or three jobs back to back, just in case. But for that one time when you misplace a battery or somehow didn’t charge one, (or two) now you know what you must do in order to get through the day.