Forget-Me-Not List

Article and Photography by Ron Bigelow

Modern DSLRs have so many features that it is sometimes difficult to keep track of all the settings. One of my biggest concerns is that a shot will be ruined because some switch was not in the correct setting for what I wanted to create. Perhaps, I might change a setting for a particular shot and forget to change it back to its original setting, or I might accidentally change a setting without knowing it. I don't want to be like the wedding photographer that an acquaintance told me about that shot an entire wedding with the camera set to the small JPEG setting.

To help ensure that such things are unlikely to happen, I decided to take a lesson from the way pilots operate. Pilots don't just jump in the pilot's seat and take off. Instead, they have a list of items that they check. They carefully verify everything to make certain that nothing has been forgotten -- aren't we glad that they go through such a procedure. Pilots follow this procedure to reduce errors. Why can't photographers do the same? Actually, we can. In fact, that is the subject of this article: creating a photographer's list of things to check to make sure that everything is done right. I like to call this my Forget-Me-Not List. I have memorized my Forget-Me-Not List and mentally review it as I set up for any important shot. Keep in mind that I do not go over this list before every shot. For more casual shooting, I depend on my skills and experience. However, using a list is good insurance when I want a particular shot to be perfect.

A couple of points should be kept in mind. First, this is my list. Therefore, it was designed to meet my needs. Other photographers may find that some of the items on this list are not appropriate for them or that items that are important to their photography are missing. Thus, each photographer should develop his own list. One may use this list as a starting point and modify it, or one may build a list from scratch. The important point is that it is up to each photographer to create a list that is customized to his needs. Second, I realize that this topic is not as interesting as some other topics in photography. It is far more interesting to read about such things as composition, light, and sharpening of images. However, I consider this topic to fit under the category of good, basic, photographic technique. Good technique reduces the chance of messing up shots. Thus, while less interesting, topics such as this are of equal importance to those "more interesting" topics. The use of a list just might save one of us from losing an important shot.

The Camera

The following camera related items should be checked.

Sensor: Is the sensor free of dust? I usually try to check this the night before a shooting session. If I suspect that dust may have gotten on the sensor while out in the field, I take a shot of a monotone object (e.g., a featureless sky) and check the LCD screen using the enlarge button to magnify the image so that it can be checked for dust.

Lens: Are the lens and filters clean?

Battery: Is there enough power in the battery and are spare batteries easily accessible (e.g., in a pocket as opposed to buried somewhere in the camera bag)?

Memory: Is there enough space on the memory card, and are spare memory cards easily accessible?

Image Recording Quality: Is the image quality set properly? In other words, if it is desired to shoot raw, is the camera set to raw mode?

Image Settings: If not shooting raw, are the image settings set up correctly (e.g., picture style, contrast, saturation, sharpening, and color space)?

ISO: Is the proper ISO for the shot selected?

White Balance: Is the white balance set correctly? If shooing a manual white balance, is a neutral gray object readily available (e.g., a gray card or WhiBal)?

Metering Mode: Is the proper metering mode selected (e.g., is spot metering needed or should the camera meter off the entire scene)?

Shooting Mode: Is the camera in the correct shooting mode (e.g., fully automatic, manual, aperture priority, or shutter priority)?

Drive Mode: Is the drive mode set properly (e.g., single or continuous shooting)?

Auto focus: Is the auto focus set up properly? Is the auto focus switch in the correct position? If auto focus is being used, is the correct auto focus point selected?

The Tripod

If a tripod is being used, the following should be checked.

Camera Level: Is the camera level? This is best done with a bubble level.

Tripod Levers/Knobs: Have all of the tripod levers/knobs been tightened?

Tripod Weighted: If desired, has the tripod been weighted?

Remote Switch: If desired, has a remote switch been connected to the camera?

Mirror Lockup: If desired, has the mirror lockup been enabled?

The Scene

The scene before the camera should be checked for the following:

Image Periphery: Are any objects protruding into the image from the periphery?

Objects in the Image: Are there any unwanted objects (e.g., an old beer can) in the image?

That's pretty much it. At some point, this all becomes automatic. Until then, it is not a bad idea to memorize your list.