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Saturday, May 2, 2009

Create a Shooting Checklist

If you haven't used your camera in several days or a few weeks, chances are that you forgot where you left all the settings the last time you used the camera. You may have used exposure compensation the last time you were out shooting, for example, and forgot to zero it out when you finished, so next time you'll be shooting with compensation without realizing it. This kind of thing happens to me all the time (especially when I'm going back and forth between several camera bodies), so it's a good idea to have a written or mental check list to go through each time you pick up the camera just to be sure the settings are where you want them. Here are things I check each time I go out on a shoot:

  • ISO: Be sure the camera is at its default ISO if you have plenty of light. This speed provides the best image quality.
  • Exposure compensation: This is my biggest mental challenge! I seem to always forget to zero it out and I use compensation a lot, so I end up shooting with compensation that I don't want the next day. Check it.
  • File size: Check to be sure you're using the maximum (largest) file size and the best quality level. On my Nikon D90 (if I'm in the jpeg mode), for instance, this means "Fine, Large" or "F" and "L." Memory cards are almost free they're so cheap these days, so always shoot at the largest file size.
  • White balance: Either set it to the type of light you're using (sunlight, etc.) or just leave it in automatic and the camera will adjust for the existing light color.
  • Exposure mode: I usually keep my camera set either to program or aperture-priority to start and then move to another mode (like manual) if I need to. Don't just assume it's in the program mode, check to be sure.
  • Battery level: Ideally you should have checked this the night before, but always be sure you have battery power. I own several extra batteries that (fortunately) fit all of my Nikon bodies and so I always have at least one fully charged. I've always liked cameras that also accept traditional batteries because that way if you run low you can just run into a drug store and buy a fresh set.
  • Clean lens: Be sure that your lens (or lens filter) is free of major smudges or dust. I keep filters on all of my lenses so rarely have to clean a lens, but the filters are sometimes a real mess. Use a microfiber cloth to clean them.
If you are religious about running down a checklist each time you shoot pictures you'll avoid a lost of nasty little surprises. Now if I could just follow my own advice every day :)


Tomaž said...

Shooting with the wrong settings can be a real drag. I suggest making the benefit of the Nikon's easy reset feature everytime you pick up your camera.

Jeff Wignall said...

Great idea to do a reset! I've been looking all over my D90 for a reset feature--I'll have to check the manual tonight to see if it even has one. I know there is a two-button hack that will do it, but not sure it has that feature in a menu, etc.

Tomaž said...

Try holding the exposure compensation and AF button (indicated by two green dots) for a second or two. That should do the trick.

Jeff Wignall said...

Thanks Tomaz, someone just told me that last night, so I'll try it. I was fooling around with flash options On the D90 menus in a friend's studio yesterday and we made so many changes that we couldn't find them all later to undo them! :)