Alley in Pisa, Italy

by Lars Kotthoff

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I live in the UK and spend most of my time here, apart from a short trip abroad once or sometimes twice a year.

This Sunday just gone we switched from GMT to BST, so our clocks went forward one hour. I updated my camera clock to match the new time, which is something I do every time the clocks change but someone said to me that this was a bad idea and that I should just leave it on GMT/UTC all year around. I guess this is partly due to GPS tracking (although I would normally use my iPhone which automatically updates it's time, so I need to sync my camera with my phone before I begin ideally).

I like the idea of updating my camera so it's on local time wherever I am in the world, but of course there is always the possibility of forgetting to do this. In the summer we are off on Honeymoon and will be in several different time zones, so the question is should I just make an effort to remember to update my clock time as I go, should I just leave it on GMT/UTC or is there a better way?

I am genuinely interested in what other photographers do to tackle this issue, especially with regard to travel and spending a few days at a time in different time zones.

I would also like to know how people handle the metadata when posting images online as the metadata could indicate a photo was taken on a different day due to a time zone mismatch. Also when reviewing photos I think it is often useful to know the times they were taken, especially with regard to sunset and sunrise, so knowing the accurate time can be important. Do you just have to manually work it out or is there considered to be a 'best practice' approach to dealing with this.

Very much looking forward to reading your responses.

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I've just realised I didn't change mine to GMT in October! –  ChrisF Mar 26 '12 at 21:49
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Great question and I look forward to reading the answers too. I also switch between GMT and BST but I'm sure I could leave all the heavy lifting to Lightroom if I bothered to research it. :) –  Mark Whitaker Mar 26 '12 at 21:51
    
Thanks, while camera was one of the first clocks to set, this question reminded me of the backup camera. –  Imre Mar 27 '12 at 15:36
    
It seems that everyone has their own approach, I'm not sure if there is a common theme other than be consistent in whichever approach you take. –  Mark J P Mar 27 '12 at 23:12
    
I just recently started up my backup camera and realized I should set the time. Almost set it to current time, but thanks to this question I realized I want to set it one hour back. –  Vian Esterhuizen Mar 28 '12 at 22:54

8 Answers 8

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I like to have date and times on photos reflect local times and date at the location. Unlike another respondent, I like to be able to search for a photo taken "at about 3pm on the Thursday afternoon when I was in Xian" and, while there are other ways of cataloguing and ordering, being able to search on local date and time is a bonus.

Travel from NZ involves long international flights (8-12 hours typical range unless going to Europe.)

I (try to remember to) change the camera date on the flight and change my wristwatch at the same time and take a before and after photo of the watch sequentially so I have a visual reference to the actual time of change in the photo stream.

Outbound from NZ the camera steps back in time so some photos will be out of time/date order. Making the change early in the flight minimises the impact if I care. e.g. China is 5 hours behind NZ and is ~ 8-10-12 hours flight time (Hong-Kong / Shanghai / Beijing) depending also on route so the time impact on photo date-sort order is usually minimal.

In the past I used to assign a long file name prefix based on properly time ordered date. Effectively YY MM DD HH SS in compressed form. It was useful but not so much so that I kept it going.

Related:

Fixing corrupted file date & time: Due to Microsoft's cavalier handling of file date & time format when copying from cameras to hard drives you can find time offset by 12 hours and date by one day or both, on occasion. Confusing day and month is another sometime Microsoft speciality due to NZ using ddmmyy format as opposed to the usual US mmddyy format. Use of an EXIF to file date-time copying program fixes this. I use the excellent free jhead program to do this. Running jhead -ft *%1*.jpg in a [gasp!] DOS batch file will correct the date time to that shown in the EXIF for all files in a "folder". I believe that Microsoft Powertoys synch manager does this too but I have never tried it.

Travelling backup: I use the venerable and marvellous XXCOPY to incrementally copy in files from camera card to a netbook. When in tourist mode I carry the netbook everywhere and may download from camera card several times during the day. [Just because you are excessively paranoid about data loss it doesn't mean your cards won't fail :-)]. When XXCOPYing I change the archive attribute bit in the process, so that uncopied files can be identified, thus allowing an only-new files download incrementally AND leaving a backup copy on the camera card. I then copy from netbook to portable hard drive (possibly also during he day) and only then, if required, delete files on camera card. [On one journey I lost two of my 3 copies of photos (vanished with no clues, probably stolen) and still lost no photos.

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Interesting stuff, thank you. –  Mark J P Mar 27 '12 at 23:09
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The reason I stopped setting my camera to local time is the difficulty of cleaning up after I inevitably forget to do it or leave it on some random time zone after returning home. –  Reid Apr 1 '12 at 23:21

If you do photography both with a real camera, and with a smartphone, then you can't use the "keep everything in the home time zone approach".

Not if you use your phone as a watch, anyway!

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Despite living in the US, I set my camera clock to UTC. I didn't think of using EST, though since I'm a Westerner that doesn't appeal to me too much. :)

It is a little annoying that photos taken in the evening show up on the wrong day. However, I thought never needing to reset the time zone on the camera, and UTC being the easiest time "zone" to convert to any other time zone, outweighed this problem.

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Interesting question. Since my Canon 50D does not have a built in GPS, I use an Amod AGL3080 GPS Data Logger to track where I am when I'm shooting. I can then either use exiftools or Aperture to merge the GPS log with the photos.

The matching is done by the datetime stamp in the EXIF information.

I haven't played with it, but I bet its a lot easier if I keep the camera's time accurate within a small error window.

exiftools have switches to correct time zone, but I haven't played with Aperture in this scenario.

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I try to be careful and update the timzone setting in the camera to the local time zone. Note that this doesn't change the absolute time recorded in the metadata, but only the local time offset. Since I take a lot of outdoor shots, I leave the GPS receiver connected to the camera on by default. It will automatically set the camera clock when it receives a signal, so I never have to explicitly set the camera's clock. GPS is time you can trust because the system inherently works on time. It has to know time very accurately to compute position.

We recently changed to daylight savings time here, and I did remember to change the timzone in the camera. I would really like this to be automatic, working with the position data from the GPS. Would it really be that hard for the firmware to have a timzone map, then look at the absolute time and the position to determine the local time?

Maybe a timezone map is asking for too much data in a camera, and then you have to update the firmware as political changes are made to timezones. Still, this can't be that much data for moderm memories. My car GPS receiver has street level detail of large areas of land stored in it. The extra data for timezones must be small in comparison, yet it doesn't do that and I have to manually set the timezone on it too. I don't understand why they solved 99% of the problem and skipped the last relatively easy 1%.

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Unfortunately, the time zone offset is a nonstandard EXIF extension and you can't be sure that all cameras or post-processing or display software will respect or leave it intact. In some cameras, this very well may change the "real" EXIF time fields rather than setting the nonstandard field. I have no idea about the state of support for this in current cameras, though — it may be that it's supported almost everywhere at this point. –  mattdm Mar 26 '12 at 22:54
    
FWIW, political changes to timezones and especially to DST information are incredibly frequent. The tzdata database is usually updated 10-20 times a year. Of course, most of those changes are obscure from a global point of view, but still. –  mattdm Mar 26 '12 at 22:58
    
@mattdm: Yes, it is unfortunate time is not dealt with better in EXIF. My camera (Nikon D3s) puts the local time in the EXIF date/time field. That is useful, but nothing seems to tell you the camera's offset from GMT is used to make that local time. The camera knows since the timezone is a setting in the menu. My software looks at the camera time and the GPS time metadata to get both the local time and GMT. It shouldn't have to be that tricky but I saw now easy way around it. That also means my software might not work with other cameras that put different stuff in the date/time field. –  Olin Lathrop Mar 27 '12 at 23:21

My cameras (Nikon D300s and Canon S95) have the capacity to use time zones. For instance at the moment I'm in Brazil, and rather than change the time I've left them on GMT (or UTC if you're being modern about it) and changed the time zone to -3. In the last 4 months I've been through three time zones. Part of my work involves photography and having the right time stamp on the photos is an important part of my workflow, so having the capacity to change time zone is extremely useful.

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Sadly my 5DMK2 doesn't support time zones. This would seem to be the ideal solution. –  Mark J P Mar 27 '12 at 23:08

I hear you! What a pain. I thought about standardizing on GMT, but I name my photos by date, and since I'm not in Europe, that means many photos would be on the wrong day locally. So, I leave my cameras all in EST (even in the summer — one hour off is no big deal), and automatically batch-correct my phone pics so they're never in DST either. When travelling far, the dates get off — oh well.

So that's what I do. But in any case, like so many organizational things, the important thing is to be consistent. That way, you know where you are, and can even batch-change your scheme later.

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I like the idea of using the camera as the master and shifting the correct timestamps to match. –  drewbenn Mar 27 '12 at 2:01
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Yet another reason to abolish DST. I do the same as Matt. I leave it as my local, never update for DST or vacation. This does cause problems when you're traveling over many timezones because it starts interfering with the day, which has confused me at first, but it's fairly easy to correct after the fact. Also, it's become my consistency and that's why I still do it this way, just as Matt said. –  Vian Esterhuizen Mar 27 '12 at 4:27
    
I think being consistent is really great advice. I have the routine I've kind of fallen into of updating the time zones as I travel but I'm wondering if I should consider a different approach. –  Mark J P Mar 27 '12 at 23:11

meh, I almost never set my camera's time. It will drift by a few minutes, then get off by an hour when we switch to or from Daylight Savings, and I rarely bother to correct it. I almost never set it when going on a trip, either (although I usually only travel within my current or neighboring time zone).

I'll occasionally remember part way into a trip that it might be nice to set the clock for the trip's time zone, but then I decide that I've already taken some pictures and that it's more important that all my photos at least use the wrong time consistently so they'll all be correct in relation to each other.

However, that's probably because I rarely use the time metadata with enough precision to care: as long as I'm within a couple hours I'm happy (it's nice to know on what day I took a picture, but when I'm sorting photos I'll allow the "day" to leak a couple hours into the next if I was taking pictures before going to bed). If I think, while out in the field, that I might care about the exact time when the picture was taken I will either write down the current time or take a picture of the current time on my phone (which I can then use to calibrate the actual time of all the pictures, as long as I didn't change my camera's time mid-adventure, and if I care).

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