21 February 2012

Getting the most out of your camera (part 1)

With the introduction of the new super high resolution D800 and D800E it is perhaps a good idea to reiterate some of the tips on how to get the most out of your camera. Please note that these tips are equally valid for existing cameras so if you're not already doing so, you should take these tips to heart!
  • Hold your camera steady, use a tripod whenever you can.
    • Hand holding – Shoot your camera like a gun. Stand steady, brace yourself against something if possible. Breath normally and shoot on the exhale. With long lenses, support the lens.
    • Tripod – Don't extend the centre column; this makes a monopod of your tripod, greatly reducing stability. Lock everything down and push down on the top of your camera or the lens (with longer lenses when the lens is mounted on tripod head instead of the camera).
  • Focus right.
    • People and animals – Get the eyes in focus.
    • Landscapes – Focus on the subject of interest (in the foreground). As our brain uses the detail (focus) to help determine whether or not something is close or far away, it is a good idea to have your images gradually blur in the distance. The much advised hyperfocal distance will produce “flat” looking images so may not be a good idea after all…
  • Don't “hammer” the shutter, this will introduce camera movement, potentially ruining your picture. A gentle depress of the shutter gets you there.
    • Improvement – Use the self timer on a short delay to remove any movement introduced by pressing the shutter.
    • Good – Use a remote/cable release. This prevents all movement caused by depressing the shutter.
    • Best – Use Mirror Lock Up mode (alternative on Nikon cameras: Exposure Delay) in combination with using a cable release to also get rid of the movement caused by the mirror moving. This “mirror slap” is especially noticeable on semi-long (e.g., between 1/20” and 1” exposures). The longer the lens the more noticeable it gets.
  • Use as low an ISO as possible. The lower the ISO the lower the noise (in general).
  • Shoot raw. Look at the raw file as your digital negative and a JPG as the print from a cheap laboratory. While the latter may look ok to you, there's probably a lot more potential in the raw file with a bit of careful processing (which, with modern tools can be a highly automated process). Remember that an Ansel Adams was only an Ansel Adams when he developed and printed it himself; much of his signature quality came from the “post processing” he performed in the darkroom.
  • Check the histogram. Change the exposure to improve it. Because digital cameras capture the most information in the brightest parts of the histogram, it is best to “expose to the right.” This means taking an as-bright-as-possible exposure where the (important) highlights aren't blown. This way you have the camera capture the most possible information. Even if the resulting image is too bright, this is still the best approach. You can always darken the image in post processing; this will not degrade image quality.
More tips in Getting the most out of your camera (part 2) 

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