Sooner or later, every photographer runs into their camera’s dreaded low battery warning. The eighth law of photography states that the charge left on your battery decreases as the scene in front of you grows more interesting. But never fear – that’s where the tips in this article come in.
Below, I’ll explain the most important things you can do to improve your camera’s battery life and never miss the shot.
1. Cut Down on the LCD
The biggest battery drain in a camera is the LCD – both the rear screen and the electronic viewfinder. This is the big reason why DSLRs almost always have longer battery life specifications than mirrorless cameras – the optical viewfinder lets you skip LCDs altogether.
However, if you use your DSLR in live view, you’ll notice that its battery life slides dramatically. Side by side against a mirrorless camera, there’s actually a good chance it will die first. LCDs just take a lot of power to run.
What does this imply? Quite simply, you should always do what you can to cut down on LCD usage when your battery is running low.
For DSLR users, that means switching to the optical viewfinder. For mirrorless photographers, it means turning off the camera frequently, or setting it so the viewfinder only activates when you hold it to your eye.
And regardless of the camera you use, drastically cut down on the amount of time you spend reviewing photos. Chimping has its place, but not while your battery warning is blinking red.
2. Optimize Your Battery Saver Settings
Most cameras have menu options designed to improve battery life and maximize your shooting time. For example, the “metering timeout” setting lets you select how long you want the camera to wait during inactivity before shutting off its metering system.
Beyond that, a number of cameras today have an “Eco mode” that minimizes power consumption from the camera’s LCD. On the Canon EOS R, for example, Eco mode dims and then turns off the LCD when not in use, improving your battery life significantly – from 370 to 540 shots per charge, according to Canon’s official specifications.
It’s also important to note that mirrorless cameras are generally more efficient using the rear LCD than the electronic viewfinder. In terms of the EOS R again, Canon only rates 350 shots using the EVF, with no Eco mode to improve it. On the Sony side of things, the new A7R IV is rated for 530 shots via the viewfinder and 670 via the rear LCD.
If none of that applies to you, one option at your disposal is always to lower the brightness of your rear LCD. It might make photography a bit trickier in bright conditions, but the payoff is getting the shot rather than missing it completely due to a dead battery.
Other camera settings and extras that harm battery life include:
- Image stabilization (both in-body and in-lens)
- Popup flash
- Bluetooth and WiFi
- Most external accessories: GPS dongles, lightning triggers, wireless remote releases, shotgun mics, etc.
Sometimes, these capabilities are essential for your photo, so it’s worth the battery life sacrifice. But if you’re down to your last bar, double check to ensure that you’re not using any of the above settings or accessories without good reason.
3. Keep Your Batteries Warm
In cold environments, camera batteries die far faster than at room temperature. The same is true to a lesser extent in very warm conditions.
Often, the best solution here is to remove the battery from your camera when not in use and keep it in an inside pocket of your clothing. At the very least, it’s a good idea to do this with the extra batteries that you’re not using at the moment.
Using this technique, I’ve sometimes managed to revive batteries that my camera said were dead and capture an extra series of shots. But it’s better to keep your battery warm as a preventative measure rather than a post-empty fix.
In short, if you’re not actively using a battery in cold environments, keep it in a warm pocket. The innermost possible layer of your clothing is ideal.
4. Be Wary of Old Camera Batteries
Over time, batteries lose their ability to hold power. This is completely normal behavior, but it does mean you should be careful of relying on older batteries in a pinch. Two batteries that you’ve had for ages might not last as long as a single new one.
Personally, I recommend labeling your batteries with a sticker or sharpie to show how old they are with a quick glance. This doubles as a way to make sure you haven’t lost any batteries; if you have batteries 1 through 7 except for #4… well, you know which one you’re missing.
On top of that, a lot of photographers have friends who shoot with similar camera systems. If you label your batteries, it’s much easier to keep track of whose are whose at the end of the trip.
These days, I still use my old camera batteries quite often, but I make it a habit to buy at least one new battery each year to “top off” whatever I lose over time. For the sake of saving money, I tend to go third-party, although I know this is a big debate. At least in my use, the money I’ve saved with third-party batteries has significantly outweighed the sole issue I’ve experienced with any of them – one didn’t work with my Nikon Z system.
Still, the specifics are up to you. The really optimal way, though more expensive, is to retire your old batteries and buy a new (original manufacturer) one each time you do. That way, you know that any battery you use at a given time will perform at or near maximum capabilities in the field.
5. Bring Along Extras!
There’s really nothing to stop you from getting around this whole battery-life issue by just packing along a few spares. Camera batteries don’t weigh very much or take up a lot of space, and they’re not all that expensive in the long run. (A pair of knockoff EN-EL15 Nikon batteries costs about $30, including a charger, if you buy the right brand.)
In general, extra batteries will save you in all but the most unusual circumstances. If you’re doing a long hike where every ounce matters, or you accidentally forgot your charger for a week-long trip, the rest of the tips in this article suddenly become very important. But for everyday photoshoots, just pack more batteries than you think you’ll need, and the problem goes away.
That said, there are ways to improve your battery management system so that you’re always more likely to have a charged battery ready to go. Personally, I now leave one fully-charged battery, a USB charger, and a power pack in my car at all times, and it’s saved me on more than one occasion. Beyond that, I also keep my battery chargers plugged in at home and habitually recharge any battery from a recent shoot.
Some photographers say that it’s bad practice to recharge a battery that’s not totally dead; supposedly, it harms the longevity of a battery. Whether they’re right or not, I’d rather my batteries fade a bit more quickly in the long run than show up at a landscape with half the charge I had planned.
But either way, the more you bring, the less room there is for something to go wrong.
A dead battery is one of the more annoying experiences a photographer can have, and it can be downright devastating if that’s the only thing standing between you and a once-in-a-lifetime shot.
With enough planning and preparation, you’ll rarely be in a situation where battery life management tips like the ones above are necessary. But everything doesn’t go right 100% of the time, and chances are good you’ll run into low-power danger eventually.
When that happens, the good news is that there are things you can do. DSLR users should shoot through the optical viewfinder; mirrorless users should (with most cameras) shoot with the rear LCD. You can avoid using camera settings like WiFi, IBIS, popup flash, and image review. You can turn down your LCD brightness and keep extra batteries warm if you’re shooting in the cold.
Or, if the worst-case scenario does happen, you can sit back and take photos with your brain instead. To most of us, that’s half the fun of photography anyway.