Tag Archives: batteries

Untimely Battery Death: How to Avoid It.

As a night photographer I’m a proponent of the philosophy of “carry a big battery” and you’ll never miss that shot.  However I learned a hard lesson about my corral of batteries that I feel I must pass on before you too shriek in terror when you find your once reliable battery has met an untimely (and inconveniently timed) demise.

Lithium Batteries are Greatly Disturbed By Heat

This was the lesson I learned the hard way. I had a stable of five fully charged batteries ranging in size from 1800 milliamp hours all the way up to 8,000 milliamp hours. I kept them in a shaded part of my car through some summer days in the San Francisco Bay area.  And that was how I learned that Lithium + Fully Charged + Heat = premature death.  The two low capacity batteries previously allowed me two and a half hours worth of continuous night exposure. Now they each last about 12 and 15 minutes.  The three HUGE batteries that could easily power my camera all night long for continuous exposures now have about the same life in them as my regular 2000 mA hr batteries – that is, about 1/3 as long as they used to last.

I learned why my brutish batteries became so feeble at Battery University.  In a nutshell I discovered that storing batteries cool (less the 86 F) and at 40% charge is the most effective at prolonging their life.  What I do now is keep all of my batteries in a separate pouch which I take with me into my office or home – even if I leave my camera equipment in the car.

I’d like to heed the 40% storage method – but not all of my chargers accurately tell the battery capacity. And worse, when I’m running out for a night of exposures, I usually don’t have an extra hour or two to fully charge my workhorses.

And yes, repeated discharge and recharge of those batteries will diminish their life, but NOT as fast as fully loaded batteries baking at a mild 90 degrees or more.


Stacker’s Checklist

Created November 2, 2010
Last Updated April 19, 2019

Note: Items in RED are suggestions that apply in particular to star trail captures and may be changed based on circumstances at the scene and goals.

Site Selection

  • Sunrise, Sunset, Moonrise, Moonset and moon phase all known.
  • Safe area, travel paths known


  • Camera, tripod, release plate, camera batteries, memory card, lens, intervalometer + batteries, lens hood, rain protection, headlamp, flashlight/torch, and items for light painting.

On Site

  • Tripod set up – no leaning (center column should be vertical) – leg locks tightened.
  • Camera aimed, leveled.
  • Camera locked onto tripod. Head tightened.
  • Tripod weighted/secure and everything is wobble free. Keep the tripod low and out of the wind for best stability. Do not extend the center column.
  • Neck strap removed or secured to prevent wind throw. Intervalometer and any other cord, or wiring also secure. Velcro on the intervalometer and the tripod leg is a handy trick.
  • Save GPS coordinates and/or mark site with glow stick / other?

Camera Settings

  • Manual Mode, Bulb exposure
  • ISO 200  (varies but from 100 to 800, and up to 6400 if capturing meteors or the Milky Way)
  • Single Exposure
  • LCD brightness down
  • Image review time off
  • Record in RAW
  • White Balance = daylight (Auto not recommended)
  • Aperture f/4 (f/1.4 to f/7.1)
  • Auto focus OFF
  • Image stabilizer (vibration reduction) OFF
  • Long Exposure Noise Reduction OFF
  • Mirror Lockup OFF
  • Auto Exposure Bracketing OFF
  • Focus Assist OFF (this often fires an infra-red beam/red beam and will annoy other photographers). On many cameras this feature is on the flash unit/speedlite. On Nikons, this resource may help.

Timer Setup & Test

  • No delay, length of exposure = 1:59 minutes (adjust based on conditions. A 2 minute total interval is a good starting point), interval = 1 second, Num exposures >= 120
  • Timer cabled to camera
  • Test sequence (lens cap on) – Verify that second shot starts before canceling.

Focus & Final Framing

  • Check image composition, field of view.
  • Set camera to Aperture priority mode (not needed if it is already dark)
  • Take several bracketed shots in daylight or twilight: if it is already dark take a high ISO “range finding” shot. E.g. 2000 ISO for 30 seconds.
  • Pixel peep and adjust focus until sharp.

Battery and Card Shuffle

  • Remove memory card and insert second card. Format new card in camera.
  • Take second set of bracketed shots.
  • Return camera to Manual/Bulb mode.
  • Turn off camera and remove battery.
  • Reinsert battery (or insert fresh battery).
  • Verify that all settings are correct (See Camera Settings, above)

Final Steps

  • Check for wobble. Start by lightly jostling the camera, tripod, center column and even walking around in the area to make sure no movement occurs.
  • Set DELAY on interval timer appropriately (at least 5 seconds).  Goal is to start and/or end in twilight.
  • Secure cables for timer, external batteries (and neck strap). Do not block battery or memory card access.
  • Switch to aperture priority mode (so that your manual settings do not change), take a single image and re-verify focus. If already dark, take a high-ISO range finding shot for this task.
  • Switch back to Manual/Bulb.
  • Verify all camera settings as described in Camera Settings
  • Start Timer and verify that the timer is running.
  • If practical wait for first two shots to complete.
  • NOTE: You can leave the lens cap on for the first few exposure to collect DARK frames.

My thanks to Mike W. for comments and improvements to this checklist.

Additional References