Battery tips

A tip for photographers: batteries. For speedlighters like me, these are very important – so here are a few tips.

  • Camera batteries are Lithium-Ion (LiIon). A battery technology that is used in most of your cameras. LiIon batteries do not need to be “fully discharged before charging”. You can charge them any time, even after just using 10% of the batteries. So go ahead and charge them daily. Never leave home without a full camera battery.
  • Also, if you have not used a spare battery (you do have one, yes?) for a month, charge it (top it up).
  • Flash batteries are NiMH, and these do have a slight memory effect. So use them up fully at least once a month. Better, get a conditioning charger like a Lacrosse (these can fully discharge the batteries before recharging). Also, these batteries “self discharge” in a month or two (some “low self discharge” batteries take longer, but they still discharge!). So recharge regularly.
  • Light meter batteries are specialized. And they last a long time. And they run out when you need the meter… so, carry a spare.
  • Pockwizard batteries: here you do not use rechargeables, which self discharge. but you use quality Alkaline batteries (low self discharge rate).
  • Strobe batteries: (i.e. those heavy optional batteries for outside use of large flashes): These are lead-acid, like your car battery, and should be kept charged. No memory effect here, either. They must not be discharged fully.

And did I mention “always carry a spare set”?

Finally: when shooting an event or a commercial shoot, or anything else, even a family picnic: make it a routine to replace your flash batteries before you start each section. That way you will not run out.

Battery tips

Sunday’s country workshop in Mono, ON prompts me to talk for a moment about batteries.

Background: We used small speedlights Sunday, with simple and effective Honl modifiers and gels. The studio lights and large softboxes stayed packed away.

Tara Elizabeth in the rain, by Michael Willems

Tara Elizabeth in the rain

In a shot like this, you make the background darker by “nuking the sun”: overpowering the sunlight with flash.

Overpowering the sun takes, um, power.

In general, therefore, you will set your Pocketwizard-powered speedlites to full power. On many shots we have five speedlites firing at full power. Full power gives you not that many flashes – in the order of maybe 100 flashes if you are lucky.

To use flash effectively, then, here are a few practical tips:

  • Turn off the “Auto power down” on your flashes (this is in your flash custom functions).
  • Move the flashes as close as you can to your subject (remember the inverse square law).
  • Allow 3 or more seconds for the flashes to recharge before you shoot again.
  • Occasionally, fire a test flash to verify that  all flashes are still working.
  • Use NiMH rechargeable batteries.
  • Ensure these are “low self discharge” types like Sanyo Eneloop, etc.
  • Carry a lot of spares. Several sets per flash.
  • Before each new shot setup, replace them. So you never run out.
  • Use a “conditioning charger” that can discharge your batteries fully before charging. I have three of the Lacrosse chargers (check Amazon or the web).

And yes, go wild, and use speedlites for creative purposes!

Model Tara Elizabeth, photographed by Michael Willems

Model Tara Elizabeth

Tara Elizabeth, photographed by Michael Willems

Tara Elizabeth

Tara Elizabeth, photographed by Michael Willems

Model Tara Elizabeth striking a pose

Tara Elizabeth, photographed by Michael Willems

Tara Elizabeth and umbrella


Batteries have come a long way. But I notice that not everyone knows this.

Modern cameras overwhelmingly use Lithium Ion batteries:

They are recognisable by the word “LiIon” on the battery.

These batteries are fundamentally better than Nickel Cadmium (NiCad) or Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) batteries, all of which suffer to some extent from what we call the “memory effect”: if you do not discharge them fully at regular intervals, their capacity diminishes.

LiIon batteries, on the other hand, like to be kept charged. You can charge them daily and this does not harm them or diminish their capacity. So every day when you get home, charge your camera’s battery, so that you have a full charge when you leave the next day.

(And you always have a spare at hand, too – right?)

LiIon batteries also have a low rate of self-discharge: they keep their charge for a longer time without running down by themselves.

This is why I call them “betteries”.

A Better Battery Charger

When you use AA or AAA batteries, like those in your flash, use rechargeables. But they lose 10% of their charge on day 1 and 2% each subsequent day. Worse, your batteries are NiMH so they have a “memory effect”.

The solution:

  • Only use conditioning chargers, like the Lacrosse. They discharge your NiMH batteries before recharging. Worth every penny.
  • Use low-discharge batteries, like the Eneloop batteries. They keep their charge.

Problem solved!

I have three of these Lacrosse chargers.


Nope.. not the command of the Light Brigade commander to his men.

Well, that too. But in my case, advice.

Unlike the old “memory effect” NiCad or NiMH batteries, modern Lithium Ion (LiIon) batteries like to be charged every day. Like your car battery. They do not suffer from being topped up all day every day – rather the reverse. They like it.


And your modern camera battery is the same. Which is great news. It means you never have to leave home without a fresh, 100% full battery.

So here is my advice: charge your battery daily. Yes, every day. Every time i get home, my battery gets a topup. That is good for LiIon batteries, and no they do not suffer as a result. The charger will stop when they’re done. And doing this daily is good for LiIonbatteries.

Sometimes, technology gets better. Actually, often it does. It is rare that it gets worse. Concorde is one of the very rare examples of the opposite.