Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Align Capture Times Across Multiple Bodies ** Updated **

Have you ever gone for a walk or traveled on vacation, shooting a bunch of images with your phone, a compact camera and a dSLR? Have you then come back and experienced the nightmare of trying to figure out when the images were taken in relation to one another? Of course they all have a capture time, but unless you aligned the clocks in those cameras to the second, the images are gong to fold in on one another.

You could shoot with three bodies and end up seeing your images sort like this in Lightroom or whatever editor / organizer you favour.


This is a royal PITA because processing them can be a pain when there is wide separation between related images, and when you upload to sites that sort by capture time (the sort that makes the most sense for vacations etc) they will be presented forever out of order.

Update: A user on http://DPreview.com at http://www.dpreview.com/forums/post/54208855 commented that GPS is another excellent reason to get your times aligned. I presume that the method involves having your phone track your whereabouts in real time and then processing the log later on against the images. You would want to get your image clocks aligned to a web site in order to be essentially dead accurate against the network clock that your phone was using. I’ll have to try that at some point.

This hit me several trips in a row and I knew I needed a way of dealing with it in Lightroom, so I cam up with a method that works extraordinarily well with almost no effort.

I will give you a methodology that works every time, and then embed a video showing exactly how the mechanism works in Lightroom. You are free to adapt the method to other tools so long as you say my name every time to perform the magical operations :-)

If you follow these steps every time you will never suffer the ignominy of out of order images again … and note that the capture time edits presume Lightroom, but of course you can do the equivalent operation in whatever toolset you have.

  1. The times on your cameras should be loosely aligned, but don’t waste time trying to get it perfect. And if you forget to align them at all, the method stills works.
  2. Shoot your images.
  3. DO NOT change the times on any of the cameras once you start shooting.
  4. Once you are done and loading the images into Lightroom, do the following for each camera:
    1. Open up a web site with the current local time for the time zone in which you shot the images
    2. Shoot an image of the current time
    3. Take the card and load it into your card reader
    4. Select the folder into which you are dumping the cards for the shoot, right click and select “import to this folder”
    5. Allow Lightroom to import the entire group.
    6. Lightroom shows you a “last imported” collection that restricts operations to the imported images from this card – if you need to dump all the cards at once, then you need to do the isolation step yourself later, as shown clearly in the video embedded below
    7. Select the time image and select “edit capture time” in the metadata menu.
    8. Change the new capture time to match the image and do not forget to align the date as well if it is wrong
    9. Click ok and all images are aligned to the image of the time, as in the offset is applied to them all
  5. Once all the cameras have gone through this process, you will see that all of the images are in perfect sort order by capture time.

There are some alternate flows that might be needed:

  • If you have multiple cards from any of the cameras, then you will need to import everything and then perform the capture time edits by isolating images from each camera after the fact. See the embedded video for that method.
  • If you shot in multiple time zones, then you will need to tag the images from each time zone or use separate folders somehow to enable you to process each camera / time zone group separately. It would help to have an image of the time in each of the time zones to make the capture time edits easy. And you will need to perform the after the fact isolation exercise as discussed in the video.

All in all, I find this method easy and reliable. I hope that you do too …