I often find that many of my students neglect to do some very simple but important things before and after their photo shoots. Therefore, I have put together a list of my top "10" requirements:
1) Clean your optics! -- be sure to clean your front and rear lenses as well as your LCD viewfinder and LCD screen. If your optics are not clean, neither will your images. Use a "Giotto" rocket blower to blow off the dust and an optical cleaning cloth or a Zeiss wipe for further cleaning.
2) Carry a spare memory card -- what happens if you go on that once-in-a-lifetime trip and you take 500 photos all saved to just one memory card? You are putting all your eggs in one basket so to speak. Have a secondary memory card so that you can save 250 images on one and 250 images on the second card. In this way, if one of your memory cards gets lost, stolen or corrupted, you still have 250 treasurable lifetime shots preserved and you still have a memory card for photography! I suggest one 8GB and one 4GB.
3) Carry a spare battery -- similar to item #2. If your batteries get lost, stolen or lose power you won't have any means to operate your camera! Also, in cold weather or excessive use of your LCD screen, your camera battery will drain faster.
4) Use a tripod and remote shutter -- if you want to truly capture "tack-sharp" images of your subjects, especially of landscapes, having a stablized platform is a must! This is especially true if you are using a heavy camera and long lenses and any other accessory that adds weight. This makes it more difficult for hand-holding even with image stablization technology. Once on a tripod be sure to use a remote shutter release for "hands-off the camera" technique. In this way, there is a lesser chance for inducing vibrations that can create a blurry image. Be sure your lens image stabilizer is set to OFF.
5) If you are hand holding your camera, be sure your image stabilizer is ON (if you have one on your lens) and then use the hand-holding shutter speed technique for a better chance to control vibration and movement in your subjects.
6) Format your memory card(s) frequently -- this is an often overlooked housekeeping duty. Formatting your memory card(s) using your camera's menu helps to prevent your memory card from getting corrupt and malfunctioning.
7) Camera settings -- remember to reset your camera's settings such as ISO, Exposure Compensation, Picture Styles, Metering mode, etc. When you change your camera's settings in order to customize for the subject you are photographing, many of these settings will remain the same once you turn the camera off. You may not want to use these settings for other photographic scenes so be sure to reset.
8) Don't shoot into the sun! -- This will often cause lens flares and create havoc with your camera's metering. Use a lens hood and filters such as polarizers, neutral density and graduated neutral density if need be but avoid shooting directly into the sun.
9) Always carry a camera with you! -- even a simple digital Point & Shoot will be sufficient as a spare camera in case your DSLR malfunctions or in times when you do not want to take the heavy load with you, just having any kind of camera will allow you to capture that special moment.
10) PRACTICE! PRACTICE! and PRACTICE! some more.