The wonder of owning a digital camera, the thing that always struck me as so special about it, is the fact that you can take unlimited photos. Ever since I was a little kid, I dreamed about it, and for the last 15 or so years, that dream has been a reality. With digital cameras, you get to experiment as much as you want. So why not do it? Go hog wild. Keep snapping. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain. Here’s why.
Settings schmettings. You’ll learn how to trust your gut a lot more.
We keep talking about different camera settings, and it’s a very handy discussion to have if you’ve never taken a certain kind of shot. You wonder how someone can get such rich tones and colors, you learn which settings that person used, and then you try them out for yourself. But here’s the thing. Every situation is a little different. It’s unique, and unless you have a lot of experience under your belt, you won’t know how to adapt your photographic style for every little thing life throws at you.
Settings are a guideline, but every time you go out and shoot, you should always be experimenting with different variations of those settings. Try a few shots at a faster shutter speed or wider aperture, just to see what happens. Play with the white balance. Heck, set it something that doesn’t even fit the situation you’re in. You might just discover a new way to get interesting colors where there previously were none.
Use previous shots to guide your next one
I never ever show up to a shoot, pick all of my settings, take one photo, and go home. I always fire off a few test shots, look at them on the back of my camera’s LCD screen, and then I decide where to go from there. You should do the same. In fact, you can do even better than me. You can use the information your camera provides you to determine what to do next. Have a look at the “highlights” and “histogram” options on your LCD. They’ll give you valuable insights into your lighting that you just can’t get with the naked eye.
Professionals go one step further and bring their laptops with them to every shoot. They load up some software that lets them get in there and see the details. With a fullscreen version right in front of them, they can determine whether they need more sharpness, extra highlights in a particular region, or anything else you can’t see on a tiny screen. That’s their “experimentation” phase. Once they’ve gathered their information, they readjust and take more photos.
Too bright to see the LCD? All the more reason to keep taking more photos.
I’ve gone out on some pretty sunny days, and I’ll be frank with you. It’s hard enough to see in front of me, and it’s even harder to see my camera’s LCD. When this happens, you have a good reason to take even more photos. You don’t know what’s going on until you get home. You might as well cover all of your bases and delete the overexposed and underexposed shots later on.
I usually shoot at a few shutter speed and aperture stops above and below my target (using the EV option, or switching to manual mode). This will give you a wide range of photos with different light levels. Believe me, if you take enough of these, you’re much more likely to stumble upon a photo you like. It sure beats stumbling around in the dark (or in this case, the bright midday sunlight).
If your friends get impatient with all that experimentation, just say what I like to say. “Yeah, I’m kinda nerdy about this, so if you could just stay still.” Good photography takes time, and chances are you’ll be spending most of that time in the experimentation phase. They might not get what you’re up to right now, but it will eventually make sense once they see your work.
The way I see it, digital cameras aren’t just good for taking photos. They’re also good for taking readings. There’s only one way to know if a particular setting works, and that is to try it. Fire off a few test shots, experiment some more, and only save what you like. That’s the new way to take pictures.
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