A good friend of mine is a private pilot, and getting into the air is his escape – a freedom – from gravity and everyday life. It’s also a weekend ritual (weather and family permitting): Arrive at the airport at O’ dark-30. Pull plane out of the hanger. Check fluid levels. Inspect all control surfaces… and that’s before buckling up in the cockpit.

Once in the plane, he pulls out a printed checklist, and every item it dutifully inspected, checked or put into place prior to starting the engine. As he says, “I’d rather check and double check, ‘cause you can’t just pull a plane over to the side of the sky and lift the hood.”

Good point.

He went on to tell me that being a pilot has influenced him to create checklists for other things in life. There’s one for towing a boat, packing the car for a vacation, winterizing the pool, etc. So while I’m listening to him call out, “circuit breakers in,” and reach for the panel, I start a mental checklist of my gear: Power on. Selector dial set to Time Value. Shutter speed at 1/800th. Memory cards…


The SDXC card was seated in its slot, but there was a gaping hole where the CF card should be. In my haste to grab gear, I had forgotten to pluck the card from the card reader in the studio when I completed the previous day’s download. I reached into my pocket and pulled out my spare 32GB card, slid it into the slot and shut the memory card door. I breathed a sigh of relief, told my heart to slow down a few hundred beats per minute, and then cursed myself for being an idiot.

“You okay?” He asked, looking at the beads of sweat on my brow.

“Yeah, just had my heart fall into my left pinky toe,” I noted. “I forgot to put one of the memory cards into the camera. Glad I brought a spare, or I’d be in deep kimchee.”

Checklist complete, a couple of switches flicked into position, and the turbocharged Continental engine rotated, then coughed to life. As the fluids came to temperature, he scanned the gauges and I scanned the camera again to ensure I had everything set. Soon we were in the air, both of us getting our “fix” of being in the air and capturing great images.

A couple of hours later, we were back on terra firma, another checklist in hand. With engine and electronics off, the Cessna was rolled back into the hanger. My friend glanced my way, and with a wink said, “I have a feeling you’re gonna write up a checklist for your gear.”

With a laugh, I replied, “Just one?”

Later that day, I pulled out my laptop and wrote my first checklist. It was pretty basic – one for use when I had to travel inter-island, but it covered darn near everything, from cameras and lenses to chargers and cables. I’ve since developed several checklists that are specific to what I’m going to shoot. I have one for aerials, whales, traveling to the mainland, macros… Heck, you name it, I probably have it. The checklists really come in handy when I’m short on time, and need to be sure I have the right equipment with me to accomplish a particular shoot. And it sure beats getting to a remote location, then realizing you left a particular lens behind.

Last night, I pulled out my Big Island checklist, which has grown to include everything I might need to shoot Kilauea erupting to star trails on Mauna Loa. Some items are piled on the “to be packed” table, and notes written of things to get before I depart. By tomorrow afternoon, I’ll have everything checked of, ready to go and I won’t have to worry about my heart plummeting into my left pinky toe.