How (and why) to time-sync multiple cameras

Here at PWD we edit a lot of events, and one of the most troublesome issues we run into is that of having multiple un-synced cameras shooting an event.  Whether photographers carry around multiple bodies or have a second shooter (or third, fourth, or twelfth), the clocks on those cameras often vary drastically from each other.  This makes sorting the images in chronological order impossible, which, in turn, makes editing very difficult.

To make things easier on everyone, we always recommend syncing your cameras’ clocks.  This lets us sort all the images by their time stamps and get straight into the editing.  So how do you time-sync cameras?  There are a few methods.

3-2-1 Now!

Easy, but not terribly precise, this method requires one person for every camera body you are syncing and can be done on-site.  Simply open up each camera’s menu and navigate to the clock setup.  Prepare each camera to the same time, but don’t confirm the setting until everyone’s ready.  Next, tell everyone to confirm the setting (usually just a push of a button) after you count to three.  Then, it’s all up to personal reaction times.  “3, 2, 1, now!”  Everyone confirms at about the same time, and the clocks start counting (roughly) together.

The Computer Hook-up

Using your computer to set the clocks will give you a very precise sync, but it does require a little more setup time.  Most digital cameras come with software which can be used to sync the camera’s clock to the computer clock.  Consult your camera’s software documentation to find out how, and then sync each camera to the computer one at a time.  With this method, each camera will be ticking along perfectly in sync.

One Per Minute

I don’t recommend this last one if you have more than three cameras because it can be a bit more time consuming.  The idea of this method is to set one camera per minute while looking at a master watch.  To start, get a clock or watch that shows seconds.  Prepare your first camera to match the time on the master watch plus one minute.  Then confirm the camera’s clock right when your master watch reaches the new minute.  The first camera is now set, and you have one minute (plenty of time) to prepare the next camera in the same fashion.  Again, this is not the most precise method, but it should be more than adequate for event photography.

There you go.  Just choose the method that works best for you, and post-production will be that much easier.  Do you have another way you sync your cameras?  Let us know in the comments section below.

 

Shameless Plug: If you’d rather not worry about things like this, PWD Labs offers a complete array of post-event image services which can remove the post-production burden from you, the photographer.  Just send us your out-of-camera images, we’ll edit and process them to your standards, and we’ll return the processed images to you.  It’s that simple.

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Comments

  1. I shoot with 2 bodies and sync my Nikon D7000’s camera clocks. Then I ingest my images in separate 2 folders in consecutive numbering per camera body folder, join the images in one main folder, go to TIME CAPTURE and still have camera #1 & #2 separated. Also should I be able to use different camera’s i.e Nikon & Canon?

    • Bob, let me make sure I understand what you’re saying: You sync your cameras, shoot, and then put all the images in one folder. When you sort that folder by capture time, the images are not sorting by time; instead you see all the camera 1 files together and all the camera 2 files together. Is that correct? If this is the case, that does sound a bit odd. Double-check to make sure you cameras not only have the time synced, but are also on the same day, month and year.

      And yes, different camera makes and models can sync together just fine. When sorting by capture time, the only thing that matters is the time and date, not the type of camera.

      I hope this helps!

  2. You can also got to time.gov and sync with their clock. As a back up you can take a picture of the screen as your first shot for each camera (have any additional shooters do the same). That way, if anyone’s sync is off you can use that image as the reference to sync in post with Photo Mechanic or Lightroom

    • Having everyone take a picture of the same, accurate clock is a great idea if you’re pressed for time.

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  1. […] editing, and post-production.  DON’T FORGET TO SYNC CAMERA CLOCKS WITH YOUR SECOND SHOOTERS!!  (Click here for a link to a previous PWD blog on how to time sync your […]

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