Photographer's Checklist: Be Prepared!

by Jim Zuckerman

Wild Dog Portrait
Wild Dog Portrait
© Jim Zuckerman
All Rights Reserved
Every time you go out shooting, you should check the following settings on your camera. If you don't do this, sooner or later - and probably sooner - you will get angry at yourself for forgetting to set the camera properly.

(1) ISO. It is very easy to forget you were shooting in low light conditions the night before when the ISO setting needed to be high, like 3200, and then when you are out doing landscapes on a tripod the next day (or the next week or next month), you realize you forgot to change the ISO back down to 100 or 200.

Since I started shooting high-end digital cameras in 2005, I've used 200 ISO as my standard outdoor setting. Now with the advent of cameras like the Canon 5D Mark III that allow us to use much higher ISO settings, I have switched my baseline setting to 400 ISO for most situations, such as the wild dog portrait (right).

Rhinos in Namibia
Rhinos in Namibia
© Jim Zuckerman
All Rights Reserved
(2) White balance. Even though you can make corrections with white balance in post-processing if you shoot in RAW mode, save yourself the trouble of adjusting all your shots. I recommend daylight WB for all your outdoor shooting; tungsten WB for when you shoot indoors with tungsten (incandescent) bulbs; auto white balance only for florescent or mercury vapor illumination.

In deep shade and in low light situations, the color tends to go blue. I don't mind this in most circumstances, such as the picture of the rhinos (right) recently captured in Namibia, but if you don't like the blue color cast you can either use cloudy white balance or tweak the color in Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom.

Note that the white balance for flash is the same as for daylight.


(3) Image stabilization. Turn it off when using a tripod. Use it when your shutter speeds get to be slow (such as 1/45th and slower) and you are hand holding the camera. I don't use it when the shutter speed is fast because it causes the battery to be unnecessarily depleted faster than it would otherwise.

(4) Exposure mode. Make sure you have selected the exposure mode best for the situation at hand. Keep in mind that if you use aperture priority, as most photographers do, you have to watch what's happening to the shutter speed if you are hand holding the camera. It's very easy for it to become too slow while you are concentrating on depth of field. Having extensive depth of field won't matter if your pictures are not sharp due to a slow shutter.

(5) Auto focus points. If you use the central focus point like I recommend, you don't have to check this every time you shoot. Just leave it there unless you are shooting birds in fight or some other special circumstance.

(6) Take a picture of a solid white object or the sky and examine the image on the LCD monitor for dust. Use a hand blower to dislodge the dust if your automatic dust removing feature can't do it for you.


Notes from the Editor:



Article by Jim Zuckerman. To learn more about photography, explore the many online photography and Photoshop classes offered here at BetterPhoto.com.