Camera Program Dial

10 Tips and Tricks to Make You A Great Photographer

Digital camera tips: 1. Preset exposure modes
‘Serious’ photographers may frown upon them, but your DSLR’s preset modes shouldn’t be disregarded entirely, especially for candids. ‘Landscape’ mode will typically set a small aperture and boost saturation, while ‘Portrait’ mode combines a wide aperture with more muted colours. Both can be used beyond their intended purpose – it’s just a question of understanding what the preset parameters are and exploiting them creatively.

Digital camera tips: 2. Don’t forget Program Shift
Grossly underrated, your camera’s Program (P) mode effectively gives both aperture and shutter speed priority in one semi-automated package. If you want a wide aperture, simply ‘shift’ the Program to get it. You want a slower shutter speed? Then shift in the opposite direction.

Digital camera tips: 3. Don’t forget Program Shift
Grossly underrated, your camera’s Program (P) mode effectively gives both aperture and shutter speed priority in one semi-automated package. If you want a wide aperture, simply ‘shift’ the Program to get it. You want a slower shutter speed? Then shift in the opposite direction.

Digital camera tips: 4. Try bracketing
You may be able to adjust the exposure of an image in your editing software, but lightening 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.

Digital camera tips: 5. Read the histogram
While your DSLR’s LCD screen will give you a guide to how well an image has been exposed, it shouldn’t be relied on. In bright light, images will appear darker than they actually are, while looking at the screen at night will make images appear bright, even if they’re actually slightly under-exposed.

The histogram is the only way to accurately assess an exposure on your camera, and the main thing to avoid at the time of shooting is clipping the highlights and, less serious, the shadows. If the histogram hits the right edge of the scale, consider reducing the exposure and shooting again.

Digital camera tips: 6. Expose for the highlights
It’s far easier to recover detail in areas of shadow than it is to disguise burnt-out highlights, so when the contrast is high, expose to preserve the highlight detail.

Digital camera tips: 7. Spot the midtone
While your camera’s multi-zone metering mode (aka Matrix or Evaluative) will deal with most scenes, a Partial or Spot metering pattern can also be invaluable when you’re shooting in mostly bright or mostly dark situations, when you can use it to take a reading from a nearby midtone, such as a pavement or grass.

Digital camera tips: 8. Assess the contrast
As well as enabling you to take a precise meter reading, you can use your camera’s Spot meter to determine the contrast in a scene. Take one reading for the brightest highlight area, and another for the deepest shadow to determine how many stops separate the two readings. If this exceeds your camera’s dynamic range, you’ll have to accept some clipping in the shadows, highlights, or both, or consider shooting a bracketed sequence for an HDR (High Dynamic Range) shot.

Digital camera tips: 9. Shoot for HDR
To determine the exposure range for an HDR image, take Spot meter readings from the highlights and the shadows in the scene, with the camera set to Aperture Priority. Switch to Manual, set the aperture, and use your Spot readings as the start and end points of your HDR sequence. Adjust the shutter speed a stop at a time until you have covered the exposure range. The exposures can then be combined in software.

Digital camera tips: 10. Use an ND grad filter to balance exposures
You can banish featureless skies from your landscape shots by using a graduated ND (neutral density) filter to balance the exposure between the sky and land. It’s best to have a set of ND grads with different transitions so you’re prepared for a variety of conditions. Alternatively, make two exposures – one for the sky and one for the foreground – and then blend them in your photo-editing software.

– TR

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