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Photography Tips and Tricks - a comprehensive list

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Tips and Tricks...here are some of the tips and tricks that I use, you may already know some of them or use alternative methods yourself. I offer them from a personal point of view and as such some of them are specific to the Canon 10D camera (my old weapon of choice), some are general and some could easily be adapted to other camera makes/models with very little effort.
This list is just a starting point, if you have any others that you think our members would benefit from, please post them into the forums and I will add them into this article as time allows. Hopefully with time it may become a useful, free resource.

Tip 1

Turn on the histogram in the image review if you have the option - the more you get used to looking at them, the more they will tell you. ...as an add on to this on the 10D, if you set the preview time to more than a few seconds, you have time to do all the above and if the image is poor (before the preview/info disappears) press the Delete button and confirm to delete it. This is invaluable and can save a lot of time later in downloading and processing files that you know you are going to delete.

Tip 2

Watch the backgrounds, they can work for or against your subject, DOF button is a powerful tool. Learn to use it and remember it's there. If you are using a large depth of field with foreground interest, make sure you have the focus sharp on it and that you take time to only have your chosen subject matter in shot. Sloppy attention to foreground content is a common error by many photographers, both amateur and professional.

Tip 3

Bland skies can ruin a otherwise excellent picture, use filters, return to the location at a different time or recompose the shot without the sky to avoid degrading your work.

Tip 4

Check the ISO setting whenever light conditions change and when you first start a shooting session. It has never happened to me honest but imagine getting home after a successful day out shooting pictures to find that everything has been shot at a much higher ISO setting that had been dialled into the camera on a previous days shoot. Noise can kill an otherwise great picture.

Tip 5

Noise when used correctly can add atmosphere to a picture, especially in certain portrait and architecture shots. If uncertain take a few shots with different ISO settings and pick your favourite once at home.

Tip 6

Related to ISO, before putting the camera away for the day check to make sure everything has been returned to your preferred default settings.

My preferred 'default settings':

  • Put in cleared CF card
  • Format to camera
  • RAW mode
  • ISO to 100
  • Review mode to on, 4 secs with info.
  • Av to f8
  • Tv to 1/125
  • Manual 1/125 f8
  • Put camera in "P" mode
  • Drive in Single Shot mode
  • Focus point in centre
  • Exposure bracketing to "0"
  • White balance to Auto
  • Turn it off.
  • Put fresh battery in
  • Set all lenses on AF
  • Make sure all round lens is attached (28-75mm in my case)
  • Put cameras in case.

This way I can grab a camera and take a picture with some chance of getting it right on the first try should that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity present itself.

Tip 7

Put your name and if possible contact information on everything, in a manner it can be removed if you resell, but not so it can fall off. Etching the name on your equipment will not help if taken by a thief, but it having a name and contact number, might get it back if lost or accidentally taken.

Tip 8

When putting a filter back on your lens or when changing filters - turn the filter backwards until you either hear it click or feel it drop down on the lens, then tighten the filter on in the proper direction. This may seem obvious but it works a lot quicker than turning and turning which could lead to it becoming cross threaded or scoring the lens threads.
NOTE: this only applies to filters - not lenses.

Tip 9

The Canon Custom function C.Fn-02 when set to 1, disables the shutter without a CF card in the camera. The default is '0' which allows you to shoot without a CF card installed which is fine for checking out lenses in the retailer but useless when out in the field taking real pictures. Unless needed for some reason change it to not allow you to shoot without CF card installed. At worst it will save some possible embarrassment and at best it could be a lifesaver.

Tip 10

Give full manual a go - you can dial in exposure adjustments as needed, and you'll get used to constantly thinking about the settings on your camera and what they are doing to your images. It may be a good idea to only do this when out on practice shoots or after you are certain that you have captured that perfect or banker shot. With practice you will become more confident and the settings will become second nature leading you to dial them in almost without thinking. It's a good feeling to be creative on the fly with confidence.

Tip 11

I originally thought the Auto WB setting worked pretty well on the 10D. I was amazed by the difference when I first tried the custom setting. If you want the best colour rendition and accuracy use the custom white balance setting with a white card. I try to set a custom white balance now for important shots. Obviously if shooting in RAW mode you don't need to worry about white balance as it can be altered during post-processing.

Procedure -

1. Take your white card out, (don't use the grey side).
2. Turn auto focus off if the lens you have on the camera can't focus really close, (as close as you can reach out in front of the lens). It doesn't necessarily need to be in focus for the shot of the white card. It's just that if auto focus is activated, it won't let you take the picture of the white card unless it can get focus lock.
3. Hold the white card in front of the lens, (approx. 8 inches to a foot) at a slight angle, (1/3) to the light source in both the horizontal and vertical axis.
4. Take a picture of the white card.
5. Turn your auto focus back on so you don't forget it.
6. Go into the menu and select Custom White Balance. The camera will automatically pull up the last shot taken after a second or two. Push the centre button in the large dial to select the shot.
7. Now you must set the white balance setting to the Custom setting as well. It's the second icon down in the right row on the top of the 10D, (under the K or Kelvin setting). If you are in auto white balance, press the wb button and turn the large dial two clicks to the left.

You can now take pictures that will match what you see with your eyes much more closely.

NOTE: Remember to either reset your white balance to auto or a preset or to shoot a new shot of the white card if the lighting changes.

Tip 12

If shooting from a tripod without a remote release set mirror lockup and self timer for the 2 second delayed shooting, this will eliminate all vibrations and give surprisingly better results. More importantly - when you are finished and take the camera off the tripod, set the mirror lockup back to disabled and drive back to 0ne-shot or continuous, BEFORE putting the camera away (this will save you anxiously worrying about why the camera won't shoot a couple of days later, not that I have ever done that of course ).

Tip 13

When you get home transfer all images from all cards to your PC and format the cards. Charge all batteries. Put a card and a battery back into the camera and put the camera back in its bag. Put all other cards and batteries back into the camera bag. If you grab your camera bag and go shooting its good if everything you need is actually in the bag and ready to use.

Tip 14

RAM is cheap, your computer should have at least 512MB if running Windows XP, Personally I use 1GB RAM. Remember that Photoshop will open a 2048 x 3072 JPG into an 18MB file (worse if RAW -> 16bit) per picture. Sometimes I have quite a few pictures open in Photoshop at the same time but I am fortunate as my system here is set up solely for image editing and browsing the web only. I have limited software installed and a fast/powerful system as well. I let windows handle all the resources inc. ram allocation but I have set up Photoshop's scratch discs manually to separate hard drives, none of them is on the 'C' drive with Windows or the Windows swap file. In use it is quick and rarely accesses the hard drive when editing pictures. The exception to that is if I am working on multiple images at the same time doing "designer pages for the weddings" or if I am processing large batch jobs.

Tip 15

Backup those image files! Hard Drives can and do crash! The cost of a CD writer is so cheap these days that if you don't own one it should be a high priority. With file sizes getting larger as camera sensor sizes increase, now might be the time to consider a DVD writer as serious alternative. There is also evidence that DVD's do not deteriorate as much as CD's thus they will keep your files safer for longer.

Tip 16

If you don't own a wide enough lens for the landscape you are looking at, take several light readings across the scene and then set the mode to M. Set your aperture and shutter speed accordingly (usually an average of the light reading taken-watching for over exposure) and then take a series of shots panning whilst making sure there is some overlap between each shot. A tripod is nearly always essential for this process. You can stitch together a panorama later in Photoshop or use one of the custom software packages available. These shots when done properly are almost always received well.

Tip 17

Something that took me a while to figure out was how to properly expose for photographs on the bulb setting...or longer than 30 seconds. Is there a simple "rule of thumb" that can be used?

The Easiest way I know is to set the camera on manual and the aperture wide open (small F stop), then check to see what the meter says. If necessary increase the ISO up too, until you get an exposure of less than 30 seconds. Then start adjusting back to the aperture and ISO you really want, doubling the time for every full stop. Here is an example for clarity...

If you have to set the aperture to f/4 and ISO 400 to get a reading under 30 seconds - for simplicity, say that the camera picks exactly 30 seconds but you really want f/11 for good depth of field, and of course you want ISO 100 to keep noise to a minimum.

f/4 to f/11 is 3 stops (f/5.6, f/8, f/11). So you have to double 30 seconds 3 times (1 minute, 2 minutes, 4 minutes) ISO 400 to 100 is 2 stops (200, 100). So double 2 more times (8 minutes, 16 minutes).

In this example you would set the camera to f/11, ISO 100 and an exposure of 16 minutes.

Since 16 minutes is a long time to wait I'd cut that in half by underexposing 1 full stop and do a picture at 8 minutes and then check the histogram. Judging the histogram will give you an idea for the next try. Sure, the 8-minute shot might be an extra, unnecessary step, but why wait 16 minutes to find out it's messed up? Also remember that most photographs can easily be recovered from being underexposed by 1 stop in most image editing software packages, so if time is a premium, sometimes this can be a life saver.


Tip 18

The photographer creates the portrait and the lens captures the image. Thus, depending on the situation, a certain lens can be a better choice. Contrary to popular belief there is no such thing as a "perfect portrait lens". That said there are a few lenses that compliment imperfections found on a person's body or facial features and so by definition make better choices. A Lens with a field-of-view equal to the focal length of 85-135mmm (35mm format equivalent) tends to make the subject appear a bit thinner, and therefore, a little more desirable (may be). A lens that has a wider aperture is also preferred.

A portrait photo comprises of the subject, the lighting, the pose, the scene or background, the mood, and the composition. The lens ties all of these together. But the most important ingredient of a portrait is the subject's spirit and essence; without these qualities, the photo will be lifeless no matter how great the photo looks. Technical error can be overlooked if the photo captures the heart and mind of the viewer.

Tip 19

An aperture of f2.8 or wider will give the background a nice blur (called bokeh) and pop the main subject out from everything else in the photo. This is not gospel though, don't be afraid to experiment. Whist on the subject of bokeh, it is a little more complicated than just a blurred background...

If you have any bright points of light in the background, and if those points are nicely blurred, then that is good. Sometimes you can get the nice, blurred points that are uniformly symmetric. If they have some interesting blurred colour tint to contrast with the main subject, that is nice also. If the blurred light points get too distinct, then the viewer's eyes will try to discern what they are, or what they mean. Of course, they may have little meaning. Bokeh, to some photographers, sort of sets a mood. A blurred background is just a blurred background. Bokeh is the quality and characteristics a particular lens gives that blurring. It's sort of the 'personality' of that lens.

Child Photography Tips

Tip 20

When making a portrait of standing subjects, lower your camera to half the height of the subjects (about belly button level).This allows you to keep your lens barrel parallel to the ground, thus letting the subjects look at your camera squarely. It will also keep your background and any vertical lines in the scene from distorting (tilting inward or outward).

Tip 21

When making a portrait with light feathered across a subject (leaving one side of the face in shadow), make sure you get a catchlight in both eyes. This will keep the eye in the shadows from going "lifeless". By looking closely at the eyes, you can see whether you are getting the catchlights while you are shooting. Take time to review the images as you shoot.

Tip 22

When you are photographing children outdoors with the sun as a backlight, try positioning yourself so that there will be dark areas behind the subject's head. Backlit hair/heads will show up better and create more drama against a darker background area, as opposed to the sky or other light object.

Tip 23

To keep a kid's attention, find an object or perch that can be used as a "holding" device. It can be the simplest of structures. The goal is to find something that a child finds interesting for an extended length of time. Let them have their fun, while you go about photographing a variety of expressions in that context. It can be an enjoyable experience for both parties.

Tip 24

When working with cooperative subjects (a rare joy in children's portraiture!), gently suggest that the subjects tilt their heads just a little bit toward each other. This will lend to the portrait a sense that the subjects are aware of each other and that they share a special bond. However, watch that they don't overdo it by tilting their heads too much as that can lead to the picture looking posed.