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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), Manual (M), 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, which makes Aperture Priority my default mode. If I do need to control the action, I use Shutter Priority. If I am trying to create a silky waterfall effect, I can depend on Shutter Priority mode to provide the long shutter speed to 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. For times when I need to control all settings, such as when the situation is more complicated than my camera can handle automatically, I put it in Manual (Figure 4.16).

Figure 4.16

Figure 4.16 At the landscape photography workshops I teach, we end most days with light painting after the sun goes down. My co-leader Randy was shining a powerful light on Balanced Rock in Arches National Park, while I used a small pocket flashlight on the foreground stones. Manual mode was required.

ISO 800 • 30 sec. • f/9 • 14mm lens

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 I am 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 only raise the ISO 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 Lightroom to deal with high ISO noise in 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.

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 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. Move the Multi-selector 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 Playback button on the back of the camera and then press up or down on the Multi-selector button until you see “RGB 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. If you really want to nerd out, while in the RGB Highlights view, hold the Zoom Out button and press the Multi-selector to the right to view the clipping on a per-channel basis. With each press, you’ll see the letter representing the channel being viewed blink. Keep pressing to the right to return to the full RGB view.

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 to understand the features of your camera so that you can leverage the technology in a knowledgeable way. This will result in better photographs.

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