By Louis Kleynhans
You make many mistakes over the years and some of them can be really costly. For this blog post I have decided to put together a few tips that can help you to not make the mistakes that I have made. Some of the tips are very basic, and others more advanced.
Always reset camera settings
There are few things worse than taking what you think is a stunning picture, only to find your camera’s ISO and saturation were cranked right up from a previous shoot and you’ve missed the moment. Avoid this by checking – and resetting – all of your settings before moving from one picture-taking opportunity to the next.
Charge your batteries
Don’t assume your camera’s battery is fully charged – make sure it is. Charge it before you go out so you’re certain there’s enough life in it. Invest in a spare battery if you regularly find yourself shooting beyond its capacity.
Set the image size
Most times you’ll be shooting at the highest resolution your camera offers, regardless of what it is you’re photographing. But do you always need to? Sometimes a smaller image size might be all you need, and reducing the resolution not only means more images will fit on a memory card, but you can achieve a faster shooting rate, too. If sports photography is your thing, reducing the resolution will help you avoid delays as your camera clears its buffer.
File format: RAW, JPEG or both?
If you intend to do any manipulation or retouching then shooting RAW is often the best solution thanks to its increased bit depth. However, RAW files are larger, so it takes longer for the camera to deal with it. You also need to process the images before they can be printed.
JPEG files, on the other hand, are processed in-camera at the time of shooting. So you can print or share them immediately, and you’ll find that you can shoot a much longer burst of consecutive frames at a much quicker rate. Providing you don’t want to make too many radical changes to an image after you’ve taken it, you may find you can’t tell the difference between a JPEG file and a RAW one.
For the ultimate in choice, though, and when speed isn’t important, why not shoot both? Most digital cameras give you this option, and you can then decide what you want to do when you’re back at your computer. Just make sure you pack an extra memory card.
Experiment with settings
When they’re not working on an assignment, professional photographers spend a lot of time testing. This could be testing a new lens to determine which aperture or focal length it performs best at; testing the ISO and white balance to see which options give the very best results; or even testing the dynamic range so you know the sensor’s limitations. You can do exactly the same with your SLR, so you know precisely where its strengths and weaknesses lie. This isn’t about looking for perfect shots – just experimenting with your kit to understand it better, or trying out new techniques that you can employ at a later date.
Double-check your kit
It might sound obvious, but check your camera bag if you’re going to be shooting away from home. Make a checklist to help you remember everything.
Autofocus or manual focus?
It’s all too easy to become over-reliant on your camera’s autofocus, and there are some situations where focusing manually is definitely a better option – pre-focusing to photograph a fast-moving subject on a race track, or focusing precisely for a detailed macro shot.
Shoot more than you need
Even with static subjects, consider shooting a burst of frames using your camera’s continuous shooting mode. Subtle variations in the light as clouds move across a landscape, or a portrait subject changing expression, are both examples of a ‘perfect moment’ that could be missed with just a single shot. So shoot a burst and pick the best frame later.
You may be able to adjust the exposure of an image in your editing software, but lighting an under-exposed shot will exaggerate any noise, while over-exposed highlights are impossible to recover. If you’re in any doubt, bracket your shots to be sure you’ve got one that’s correctly exposed – even if you choose to shoot RAW files.
The effect of a polarising filter is impossible to recreate digitally, which makes it the number one filter choice for outdoor photographers looking to cut down reflections or intensify blue skies. Don’t skimp on price, or you’ll be skimping on quality.
Black & white: in-camera or in-computer?
Unless you know that you definitely want to print black-and-white images from your memory card, it’s best to shoot in colour and then convert to mono later in your image-editing software – it will offer a lot more control than your camera. If you decide to shoot black-and-white JPEGs, don’t forget about in-camera filters: red, orange and yellow filters can all add drama to boring skies, while an orange filter will reduce the appearance of freckles and blemishes in portraits.
So much has been said about ‘dust bunnies’ (small particles of dust that can land on your camera’s sensor and cause dots in images) that many photographers seem paranoid about changing lenses – but that’s one of the main attractions of DSLR photography! There are some simple precautions to take though. Always switch the camera off when changing lenses, as this removes any static charge from the sensor which can attract dust particles. Shield the camera from the wind and weather and make sure you have the replacement lens ready to fit. Finally, keep the camera’s lens opening pointing downwards when changing lenses, to minimise the risk of anything falling into it.