Wednesday, August 19, 2009

10 Default Camera Settings I learned the hard way

Too often, I leave the settings on my camera to whatever the last shoot or picture required and then find that a day or 2 later, those settings are not appropriate for the next shoot. Many of my pictures are spontaneous action shots and do not allow much time to check the settings, let alone frame and focus. Even when I have the time, it is easy to forget (my mind is like a seive) one or more important controls that could be set to take a better picture. So borrowing from many other photographer's suggestions, this is a list of 10 default camera settings for my Nikon D80 that I review before I leave the house.

ISO = 100
Auto Focus = On
Autofocus = Continuous
VR = On and Normal
Camera Mode = Auto
Picture Quality = RAW
White balance = Auto
Metering = Matrix
Battery = Charged
Card = Formatted

ISO = 100 - This is a killer. Using the lenses I own, I often must crank the ISO to get decent exposure. Photographing musicians in available light is tough as are action shots of surfers with my 70 -300 f/4.5-5.6 lens. If I forget to reset the ISO back to 100, I later find the nice landscape pictures I took to be very noisy at ISO 3200.

Auto Focus = on - As my eyes get worse, I depend more and more on autofocus. I sometimes shut this off after getting the proper mid-air point of focus when anticipating a critter to walk or fly into that space. Forget this and you will waste a few precious shots later when you are trying to shoot anything else. It is also a good idea to occasionally check that the diopter setting in the view finder is adjusted to your vision.

Autofocus = Continuous Servo - Often, for me, quick grab shots are of moving targets so my default is Continuous Servo (AF-C). Hitting the AF button twice will easily take me to Single Servo (AF-S) if I want to lock focus.

VR = On and normal - For lenses equipmented with VR, the majority of my shots are handheld, but when taking long exposures on a tripod, Nikon recommends shutting VR off. The penalty for forgetting to turn this back on is blurry long distance shots when you are back to shooting handheld. I rarely touch the normal/active switch, but it can be moved and normal is my default. You might use Active when shooting from a moving car, but I am usually driving and not taking pictures. It is right next to the VR on/off switch, so check it while you are there.

Camera Mode = Auto - I usually shoot in Aperture or Shutter priority modes and sometimes in Manual and one or the other may not be right for an instant grab shot. So, my defalut setting is Auto. I may take a quick shot in auto, review the meter settings and then move to a priority mode from there.

Picture Quality = RAW - It is more work, but I need all the help (and resolution) I can get, so I shoot in RAW. There are times when I want to display the pictures quickly to a client. I will then shoot RAW + JPEG. Forget to reset this and it greatly reduces storage space. I may also shoot in JPEG only when using burst mode for action shots and need more buffer space. 5 or 6 RAW shots will fill the buffer and may cause me to miss the best shot in a series. Forget to go back to RAW and you lose resolution and many other controls (like the ability to change white balance) when you need it.

White Balance = Auto - Another killer setting if wrong. It is not difficult to hit the WB button and turn the dial thinking you are changing the ISO and end up shooting daylight pictures with a Tungsten White Balance and never notice this until you are back home reviewing pictures. At least I think that is what happened. This is where shooting in RAW mode helped recover some shots.

Metering = Matrix - Unless I specifically want spot metering for a shot, I default to Matrix Metering. I am still studying when best to change this setting.

Battery = charged - This seems silly but especially when taking long exposure pictures, you can never have too many fully charged batteries. You will not be happy driving to that spot and carrying all your gear down the goat path to the beach in the dark and running out of power after 5 shots. Brutal. Another thing to consider, Rick Sammon says that low batteries operate at higher temperatures which may affect the color balance in the image sensor.

Card = formatted - I try to start a shoot with an empty card. there is nothing like running out of memory and having to delete selected shots from a previous shoot and wondering if you had already downloaded them. When you get home, download the pictures, then back them up to a second drive and then (and only then) format the card. Formatting not only deletes the pictures but cleans all the bad bits out and provides maximum storage availability.

So, who says that digital cameras make taking pictures easier then ever. In the old days, after loading the film, you only thought of aperture, shutter speed and focus. Now there are dozens of buttons, menus and sub menus that can make your day or cause you grief. The settings I cover here are easy to get at and change (or mess up). I am not even talking about custom settings, deep within the menu dungeon. See your Thom Hogan guide for those settings.

I have suffered from every one of these setting failures, sometimes more then one at a time. So, I have written them down on a piece of paper and put them in the clear window on my camera bag in an attempt to minimize the damage and just maybe get some better pictures. These may not be your default settings, but they are all good things to think about before leaving for that shoot and looking unprepared. The best time to check your settings just might be when you get home, while the pictures are downloading to your PC.

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