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Experience has the ability to make us wiser with our actions and choices. As a photographer, I have made mistakes in the past because of which I missed out on awesome photo opportunities. If only I was more careful, I could have avoided such situations. While some of these chances are inevitable – those where you wish you should have brought your tripod, or when your lens should have had a longer reach, some can simply be avoided by having some quick checks. Making sure of certain settings before and after a shoot as part of your workflow can go a long way.
Here are five checks you should develop a habit of before you start taking photos. The post also explains what happens if you fail to do so.
1. Check the Shooting Mode
If you use different shooting modes from time to time, it is best to make sure you’re using the right one before you start some serious shooting. I normally switch between Aperture Priority and Manual Mode depending on what I intend to shoot. I don’t have a problem when I intend to use Manual, since I already know I will be using 2 dials to change aperture and shutter speed. The problem is when I think I’m in Aperture Priority Mode but I’m really using Manual. I adjust the aperture dial, but the shutter speed doesn't follow.
It’s quite obvious when this happens since you’ll see in your viewfinder that the number on the shutter setting doesn't follow, although if you don’t take notice, you might end up with either an underexposed or overexposed image.
Unless your shooting mode dial has a safety lock to keep it from accidentally switching, use only one mode, and don’t let others touch your camera, make sure that it is set to your preferred mode all the time.
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2. Look at the ISO
I don’t know about you, but most of the time, I don't want to think about my ISO setting too much. During the day when there is enough light, all I want to care about is whether to use wide or shallow depth of field, or freeze and stop motion, or other techniques. I simply keep my ISO at my preferred low sensitivity setting to keep things in detail. The only time I touch it is when I find the need to do so – either when a grainy shot looks better, or if I need to push for a little more exposure.
But what if you were using a high ISO the night before since you’re looking at getting more exposure? Then suddenly you need to shoot something very interesting at high noon. If you forgot to switch back to a low ISO, chances are you’ll end up pretty frustrated that you didn't remember that you changed it last night since your shots look pretty noisy when you would have wanted detailed ones. Always have the habit of returning to a low ISO and change as needed.
3. Is There Any Exposure Compensation?
When your metering system is acting strange one culprit can be exposure compensation. Maybe you forgot that you were using +3 stops the last time when you were taking photos of snow so it wouldn't look gray. Now it’s making you wonder if you forgot what you've learned in basic photography since your camera is causing your street shots to look overexposed.
Sure you might figure out what’s wrong after a few shots, but if you already included this check as part of your shooting workflow, then you wouldn't have had the problem in the first place.
4. Check the Metering Mode
Like exposure compensation, using a metering mode that you’re not used to can screw up a perfectly good shot. You might get lucky shots when the light and tones are fairly even, but under a high contrast environment, you’ll end up with an overexposed or underexposed image with the wrong metering mode.
The best thing to do is to keep a preferred metering mode and change it at the start of every shoot as necessary. I use matrix metering generously but use spot metering when I need make sure a certain element is exposed properly. I make sure to switch it back to matrix at the end of every session.
5. File Size and Image Quality
Image quality is very important for the professional photographer. I can’t imagine using a Medium-Basic setting for a client’s marketing collateral. It will surely give me a headache later. But professional or not, you never know what you can do with your photos later. Perhaps you need it for your own business or you want to make your own coffee table book someday. You need to make sure your camera is set to the best image quality setting you can. For some, Fine-Large jpeg is enough. Other photographers prefer Raw.
The thing about not checking the image quality beforehand is that when you’re actually shooting with the wrong one, chances are you only get to realize it when you’re already post-processing your images. Just imagine getting a one of a kind fine-art photo which you think you can sell for thousands of dollars only to find out you were using the smallest file size in your camera. To add to the frustration, you didn’t mind your white balance thinking you can edit the raw file later anyway so you end up with ugly colors. This is why it’s important to check this one before and after a shoot.
There you have it! Don’t forget these quick checks. It only takes a few seconds to do and will also save you a lot of time and trouble.