We have all, at one point or another, missed what we would like to think are award winning photographs. Whether they are or not is secondary; the point is, we missed it — or we messed it. I believe that a lot about your photograph is determined moments before you press the shutter, so making right decisions at that moment is vital.
A few words of introduction
I have never written tutorial-style or how-to articles on photography on this website, and I do not intend to, so please do not consider this as one. This is more of a how I do it description which you might find helpful in your own photography. If you profit by it, share it using the buttons above (or at the end of this article) and let others learn too. If you want to make money out of it (nice idea, whatever it is!) go ahead; and you do not have to credit me in any way.
Now onto my five tips: some people will give you a list of 10 or twenty things to check, and I must say they are pretty thorough. But I do not believe in such lists because they are impractical. Your photo is probably gone by the time you check thing number nine, let along 19. This is why I brought down my list to 5. On the field, it just works.
Of course, your choice of shutter speed and aperture are two things you will check no matter what, so I have ruled them out of this list. What are included here are some other simple settings to get you sorted out.
(Update: A couple of photographs with connected incidents and thorough explanations have been added below. They may be helpful.)
Some people say check your shutter speed and aperture and so on, but I would rather check my ISO first. I have gone on many a photowalk where people set up their camera for one shot and changed the shutters and apertures for the next while completely forgetting about ISO.
The damage ISO can do to your photograph is something even Photoshop cannot correct. Think about it.
2. Metering and compensation
Most cameras meter in up to three ways. Yours may do at least two. For what it’s worth, given that my phone has three metering modes, I do not see why an actual camera should have any less.
Wrong metering is the number one reason for missed exposures. The one-metering-does-it-all attitude will not help your photographs. Is matrix metering the all powerful? Think again.
And now it’s time for…
3. Focus area mode
Once again, I have seen too many people shoot a bird and then shoot a flower with the same focus mode. Sometimes, the job gets done in this order; the reverse hardly ever works! What I mean to say is, if you switched to AF-C to shoot a bird, say, switch back to AF-S to shoot a tree (for example).
This prevents unnecessary focus hunting because your camera is not tricked (ironically, by you) into thinking there is movement it is not detecting. So if you think your camera takes a tad too long to grab focus, perhaps you should check your focus area mode?
4. Focus mode
Perhaps this does not apply under all circumstances, but when you are shooting on and off a tripod, there are two things to remember. Firstly, turn of lens-stabilisation (vibration reduction, image stabilisation, vibration control, whatever you want to call it) because, like focus area modes, the camera gets tricked into detecting, and hence introducing vibrations that were never there in the first place.
Secondly, many photographers forget to turn it back on after releasing their cameras from their tripod. Usually they figure it out too late or never till the end! So the next time you carry a tripod, make this the first thing to check when mounting as well as un-mounting.
5. Exposure compensation
One of the most important things to watch out for in your viewfinder or live-view is your camera’s built-in light meter (which, among other things, is saving you a lot of money on a separate, bulky light meter to carry around.)
The light meter is usually a number line (remember school maths?) with the exposed towards highlights section on the right and exposed towards shadows section on the left. When you have taken your camera as far as you would like (maximum ISO, slowest shutter possible and the widest aperture you can afford), your last resort is the exposure compensation button (or remap, depending on your camera model) which will stimulate higher and lower exposures making the sensor record as necessary.
Use this wisely. And then remember to turn it back to zero, or else you will spend the rest of the day shooting at high ISOs not realising you had under-compensated your photographs all along.
And now for our last photo story.
So happy shooting. The next time you pick up your camera, do think of these things and tick off a mental list that will help you make not better photographs, but photographs closer to your visualisation of a scene. But to end it all, I hope these seemingly ordinary, but extremely important tips make way for you to improve your photography and make it better than it already is.
Have a daguerreotype day.