Universal Coordinated Time


Today’s Question: Following up on your discussion of correcting capture time based on different time zones, why don’t you just leave your camera always set to Universal Coordinated Time (UCT)?

Tim’s Quick Answer: While using Universal Coordinated Time (UCT) as a permanent time setting for the camera can be convenient, it can also lead to confusion about what the local time was when a given photo was captured.

More Detail: It can certainly be a minor hassle to need to update the time (and possibly date) on your camera when you travel across time zones. This is one of the reasons many photographers simply leave their camera permanently set to Universal Coordinated Time (UCT). However, this introduces additional challenges if you actually want to know what the correct local time was for the capture of a given photo.

To calculate local time based on UCT, you obviously need to know your location (or at least which time zone you’re in). You also need to know if there are any additional adjustments, such as for Daylight Saving Time in the United States or Summer Time in Europe. These are obviously not insurmountable problems, but they can be especially challenging if you’re trying to locate photos based on capture time long after they were actually captured. If you don’t recall the specific location where a given photo was captured, determining the local time based on the capture time in metadata could be challenging.

My preference is to try to always have the accurate local time reflected as the time of capture in the metadata for my photos. Admittedly, at least with today’s software, that information isn’t always especially helpful. If I’m looking for photos captured around sunset, for example, the accurate timing information can be helpful. But more often than not the capture time is interesting but not critical (and sometimes it isn’t even all that interesting).

While I don’t make extensive use of the actual capture time for my photos all that often, I do prefer to have the information in metadata be as accurate as possible. So I prefer to try to remember to accurately set the time zone for my camera, rather than leaving the camera permanently set to a single time zone such as UCT.