They say the bumpiest part of any flight is when the human pilot turns off the autopilot and takes over the controls. Photography is similar: Your camera is generally a lot more knowledgeable about exposure controls than you are, and under typical conditions, it'll take better photos than if you tried adjusting the settings yourself. Don't get me wrong—I absolutely recommend taking control of your camera to shoot better photos. But when you fiddle with your camera, that's when you can accidentally adjust settings incorrectly, leading to a ruined photo. This week: My preflight checklist of things to double-check to make sure your camera is set back to its "default" state for error-free photography.
Why It’s Important
Of course, you don't need to check all 10 of these every time you pick up the camera, and your own camera might not even support all of these features. But if you fiddle with any of these settings, there's a good chance you'll forget to set one or more of them back to the normal or default position when you're done. That can have disastrous effects on your next shooting session. Worse, it's not always immediately obvious what went wrong with a photo if you're not thinking about some obscure setting you changed two weeks earlier. That's why I tend to give all of my camera's most important settings a rapid "once over" when I take the camera out of its bag.
Perhaps you've noticed something about photographing wildlife: It's really hard. The main problem, of course, is that animals will, almost without exception, fail to pose on cue. In fact, they refuse to take any direction from you at all. And if you thought it was hard to take a photo of a cat or a dog or a moose, just try to photograph birds. In the past, I've given some advice for shooting wildlife and pets, but this week let's zero in on tips for capturing our feathered buddies.
There are two common situations you'll encounter with your camera—sitting and waiting for a bird to land somewhere, and then shooting it while it's earthbound, or trying to catch a bird in flight as it zooms by overhead. Both are fun and can yield some rewarding photos, but it's a lot harder to snap a great photo of a bird in flight, because you need to pan the camera so you track the bird's motion in the viewfinder.
I suggest that you start by shooting birds when they come to our home turf—when they settle down in trees, on posts, or on some other stationary spot. You'll have to act fast, though, because they probably won't stay long. Here are four things to keep in mind:
One of the things they never tell you in school is that no matter what career you choose, you only spend about 20 percent of your time doing the really fun stuff. When I wear my writing hat, for example, I find that I spend about 80 percent of my time on administrative details (generally, stuff related to planning) to write. Likewise, as a photographer, a huge part of my time is related to what you might call file management, which includes tagging, organizing, and sizing photos for their intended publishing destinations. Recently, we discussed cropping and resizing but this week, I have an even better way to resize your photos.
From the mail that I get, I know that many of you need to publish photos in places like Web sites, blogs, and newsletters. Especially on the Web, where Websites and blogs often use templates that do really funky things if you use photos that are the wrong pixel size, it's important to make sure your photos are sized properly—part of the 80 percent of things you do when you'd rather be writing or taking photos.
Have a question about digital photography? Send it to me. I reply to as many as I can—though given the quantity of email that I receive, I can’t promise a personal reply to each one. I round up the most interesting questions about once a month here in Digital Focus.
For more frequently asked questions, read my posts from April, May, and June.
When I was about 15 years old and a fledgling "serious" photographer, I wanted to enlarge and crop one of my photos in a particular way. Unfortunately, in 1979 it was all but impossible to edit a photo unless you had your own darkroom and printing equipment. Fast-forward about 30 years, though, and photo editing is child's play. Cropping is an essential photo skill--for example, most of the monthly Hot Pic photo contest winners are cropped, to improve on the original composition. But have you ever taken the time to learn the Crop tool's secrets? This week, I have five things you should know about this unassuming little tool.
1. Crop to a Specific Aspect Ratio
Here's a trick that people typically take a long time to figure out on their own, but is absolutely revolutionary once you know about it. No matter what photo-editing program you use, odds are really high that you can tell the Crop tool to cut a rectangle in some specific aspect ratio. If you tend to click the Crop tool and then just try to "eyeball" an 8-by-10-inch aspect ratio, use the aspect-ratio setting to work more effectively. In Photoshop Elements, for example, click the Crop tool (tenth item from the top of the toolbar) and then choose a specific entry from the Aspect Ratio menu in the Tool Options palette at the top of the screen. To go back to a freeform crop box, select No Restriction.