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How I Shoot: A Closer Look at the Camera Settings I Use

The great thing about working with a DSLR camera is that I can always feel confident that some things will remain unchanged from camera to camera. For me, these are the Aperture Priority (A) and Shutter Priority (S) shooting modes. Regardless of the subject I am shooting––from landscape to portrait to macro––I am almost always going to be concerned with my depth of field. Whether it’s isolating my subject with a large aperture or trying to maximize the overall sharpness of a sweeping landscape, I always keep an eye on my aperture setting. If I do need to control the action (Figure 4.16), I use Shutter Priority. If I am trying to create a silky waterfall effect, I can depend on Shutter Priority mode to provide a long shutter speed and get the desired result. Or perhaps I am shooting a sporting event—I definitely need fast shutter speeds that will freeze the fast-moving action.

Figure 4.16

Figure 4.16. I got to join my aerial photographer buddy Dave Cleaveland on a helicopter flight over Maine during one of his recent jobs. A fast shutter speed was the most important factor in overcoming the vibration of the helicopter and keeping subjects sharp.

While the other camera modes have their place, I think you will find that, like myself and most other working pros, you will use the Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority modes for 90 percent of your shooting.

The other concern that I have when setting up my camera is just how low I can keep my ISO. This is always a priority for me, because a low ISO will always give the cleanest image. I raise the ISO only as a last resort, because each increase in sensitivity is an opportunity for more digital noise to enter my image. To that end, I always have the High ISO Noise Reduction feature turned on when shooting in JPEG mode (I use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom to deal with high ISO noise in the RAW format).

To make quick changes while I shoot, I often use exposure compensation so that I can make small over- and underexposure changes. This is different than changing the aperture or shutter because it is more like fooling the camera meter into thinking the scene is brighter or darker than it actually is. To get to this function quickly, I simply press the Exposure Compensation button and then dial in the desired amount of compensation. Truth be told, I usually have this set to –1/3 so that there is just a tiny bit of underexposure in my image. This usually leads to better color saturation.

One of the reasons I change my exposure is to make corrections when I see the blinkies in my rear LCD monitor. (“Blinkies” is not the real name for the highlight clipping warning, just the one that most photographers use.) Blinkies are the warning signal that part of my image has been overexposed to the point that I no longer have any detail in the highlights. When the Highlights feature is turned on, the display will flash between black and white whenever there is a potential of overexposing in the image. The black and white flashing will only appear in areas of the picture that are in danger of overexposure. To turn on this feature, go to the Playback menu and enable the feature as follows.

  1. To set up the highlight warning for your camera, press the Menu button and then use the Multi-selector to access the Playback menu.
  2. Once in the Playback menu, use the Multi-selector to choose Playback display options, and press OK (A).
  3. Use the Multi-selector to move down to the Highlights option, and then press the OK button to add a checkmark (B).
  4. Now move back up to the Done heading, and press the OK button again to lock in your change.

Once the highlight warning is turned on, I use it to check my images on the back of the LCD after taking a shot. If I see an area that is blinking (Figure 4.17), I will usually set the exposure compensation feature to an underexposed setting like –1/3 or –2/3 stops and take another photo, checking the result on the screen. I repeat this process until the warning is gone.

Figure 4.17

Figure 4.17. The blinking black and white areas (shown in this image as black) are a warning that part of the image is overexposed at the current camera settings.

Sometimes, such as when shooting into the sun, the warning will blink no matter how much you adjust the exposure, because there is just no detail in the highlights. Use your best judgment to determine if the warning is alerting you to an area where you want to retain highlight detail.

To see the highlight, or “blinkie,” warning, you will need to change your display mode. To do this, press the Image Review button on the back of the camera and then press up or down on the Multi-selector until you see the word “Highlights” at the bottom of the display screen. This will now be your default display mode unless you change it or turn off the highlight warning.

As you work your way through the coming chapters, you will see other tips and tricks I use in my daily photography, but the most important tip I can give is that you should understand the features of your camera so you can leverage the technology in a knowledgeable way. This will result in better photographs.

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