Event Photographers: Sync Your Cameras
I’ve just started processing images from an event that involved two photographers with three cameras – it isn’t fun. What makes my job even tougher is the fact that the clocks on the three cameras aren’t synchronized. Fortunately, I’ve found a way to fix the problem.
An ounce of prevention…
Before we get to the solution, however, let’s discuss a simple way to prevent the problem in the first place – synchronize your cameras. This way, when you process all the shots from an event, you know that you’re seeing all the images shot in chronological order.
If you’ve already shot the event, or if you simply don’t have the time to set the clocks on your three dozen different cameras, don’t fret – I’ve got other ideas for getting all your images in order.
A little disclaimer
I’m assuming, of course, that you have software that can edit the metadata in your images. I use you Adobe Lightroom for processing, so some of my instructions will be specific to it. If you use Aperture or some other software, I can’t really help you. You can, however, share your own tips below.
The point is this – if you can’t edit the metadata on your images, I don’t have any suggestions for you. If you can, well, read on.
There are three ways I can think of to make sure all your images are timed correctly. One involves manual labor (or lots of fingers), another requires remote triggers, and another involves a simple clock or watch. All of them involve giving all your cameras a common frame of reference.
First, let’s discuss the manual labor method. Count the number of cameras you have, then get as many volunteers. Have them all point at something or someone – you, for example. Have them all fire off a frame at the count of 3. Easy enough, right? You might need to take a few shots, but eventually, you’ll get all the cameras firing at the same time. Of course, the more cameras you have, the less reliable this method becomes.
Next on the list is the trigger method. If you have enough equipment, you can attach remote triggers to all your cameras. Point them all one subject, press the trigger, and there you have it – synchronized shots.
The last item (and the one I recommend) involves a clock. Look for a clock or watch with a second hand – all you have to do is get a shot of that same clock with every camera in your arsenal. You can choose to do this at the start, at the end, or even at any point during the event. You won’t have synchronized shots, but you will have a time reference common to all your cameras.
Put it all together
By now, I think you get the idea already. Give all your cameras a common time or reference to synchronize to, then edit the time codes on the images when you get to a computer. How do you do this?
In the Library module in Lightroom, you will find a panel for Metadata. You’ll probably find it off to the right. If you can’t find it, you can press Ctrl-3 to make it appear.
Look for the field marked Capture Time. If you opted for either of the first two tricks above, you want this field to be identical among all your reference frames. If you went with the clock method, you want this field to match the time on the clock down to the last second. We’re going to do this by clicking on the little icon off to the right, but wait.
Aside from the reference frame, you want to select all the photos taken with that camera. Do that first (I usually keep all images from one camera in a folder), then click that icon.
Another window should pop up now – this one labeled Edit Capture Time. Here you can set a new time for your reference frame – all the other frames you selected “will be adjusted by the same amount of time.” Repeat this step for all the images from each camera, and pretty soon, you’re going to have all your images in chronological order.
If you want to have all your shots from a multiple camera shoot in order, synchronize the clocks on your cameras.
If you can’t avoid that, you’ve got a few tricks to help you synchronize your images in post-processing – my recommendation is to get a shot of a clock with a second hand in every camera.
• Luis • 12 December 2007 •