13 Things Your Camera Wishes You Knew

Your sad, old camera will start to treat you better if you learn to take care of it.Every time I go to my nephews’ soccer games and see all the parents with their cameras on “green mode”, or attend a sporting event and see spectators using their flash from a quarter mile away, it makes me grit my teeth.  It’s all I can do to stop from walking up to them and fixing their camera for them.

13 Things Your Camera Wishes You Knew

This morning, I got to thinking.  If it is painful for ME to see these cameras being mistreated, imagine how the camera feels!  Canons have feelings too, ya know?  (Nikons happen to have more, but let’s not get into that).

The readers of this site tend to be a bit more knowledgeable about photography than your average shutter snapper, so I wrote this one with the more advanced photographer in mind.

Your Camera Wishes You Knew That…

Camera Tip #1: AI Focus and AI Servo are not interchangeable

Nikon cameras only have single servo (AF-S) and continuous focus (AF-C) , so you don’t have to worry about this one.  On a Canon camera, you have spot, AI Focus, and AI Servo focus modes.  When photographers are shooting subjects that will move constantly during the shot (for example, a football player running toward the camera), they need a focus mode that will continue to focus until the instant that the shutter is released.

Trouble is that most users learn whether to use AI Focus or AI Servo for this situation, and most choose AI Focus since “Servo” sounds scarier.  AI Focus tracks focus continuously until the subject stops, then it locks focus, and then tracks again if the subject begins to move.  AI Servo continuously tracks focus and never locks.  Although there are some situations where AI Focus is useful, my personal testing shows that a SIGNIFICANTLY higher percentage of all “moving target” shots are sharper using AI Servo in 99% of situations.

One writer online summarized it like this (and I totally agree):

  • One-Shot is for when neither you, nor the subject, are moving.
  • AI Servo is for when either you, or the subject, is moving.
  • AI Focus is for when neither you, nor the subject care if your focus is accurate.

lintlessClothCameraCamera Tip #2: Lintless cloths never seem to be lintless

I bought three or four lintless cloths at varying prices to clean my camera over the years, and then I simply gave up.  Every time I cleaned the camera with the lintless cloth, it would instantly become twice as “linted.”  Part of the problem was the quality of the cloths, but the other problem is that the lintless cloth can get lint on it from your camera bag if you aren’t extremely careful with it at all times.  Then, I discovered a cheaper, easier, and cleaner way to clean my camera.  I found a little product called “Pec Pads” on Amazon.  It is basically a package of 100 disposable TRULY LINTLESS cloths.  Use once and throw it away, so you don’t have to worry about lint getting on your lintless crap.  For only $10, it’s a steal!

Camera Tip #3: Memory cards are not created equal

Without even arguing brand, let us talk about speed for a minute.  If you do not know how to check the class of your memory card, you MUST read this article on memory cards.  Suddenly, you’ll realize that it was your memory card, and not your camera, that was slowing things down.

Camera Tip #4: The camera feels more secure with the center column of your tripod down

When I go on workshops, I see about half of the photographers use the center column of their tripods to get the camera up to eye level.  Most of the time, the photographers use the center column because their tripod is too short if only the legs are extended.  When you buy a tripod, make sure to buy one that is tall enough to reach your eye level without using the center column.  Need help with a tripod purchase?  Here’s a list of tripods I personally recommend.

Camera Tip #5: Exposure compensation is the best friend of a pop-up flash

Most photographers don’t use the pop-up flash because of the horrendous light quality it produces, but all of us get in a pinch sometimes where we use it to get a grab shot.  You may not know that you can control the output of the flash by using the FLASH compensation setting in your menu.  No, it is not the same thing as exposure compensation, which has no effect on the output of the flash.

batteryGrip-300x198Camera Tip #6: A battery grip will be the best $50 you ever spend on your camera (yes, I said $50)

A battery grip is an add-on to the bottom of your camera that gives you another shutter button so you can hold the camera properly when shooting verticals.  Also, it allows you to stack another battery in there.  For some camera models, the battery pack will increase the frames per second you can capture and improves your autofocus speeds.  For every camera model, it allows you to shoot for twice as long (read: an entire wedding) without changing batteries.  Most battery packs by Canon or Nikon cost $250 or more.  Fortunately, there are many third-party batter packs available and most of them are EXACTLY as good as the Canon or Nikon battery grip.  Copy this paragraph and email it to your spouse.  Make the subject line of the email “Christmas idea.”

Camera Tip #7: You don’t need 3 pictures of every picture

This weekend, I hired 3 models and a few assistants for a MASSIVE portrait photography shoot in a studio, a soccer field, a barn, an urban city, and in a lake (yes, IN the lake).  It was a giant production that lasted 12 hours.  How many memory cards do you think I needed for that shoot?  Answer: one.  I shot a total of 420 pictures.  Why so few?  I only took one frame of each pose.  When you have the fundamentals of sharpness down, it will no longer be necessary to take multiple photos of the exact same pose in hopes of getting a sharp one.  I always tell every model I work with that they should vary up the pose slightly every time they hear the shutter snap.  If I really want to go back and work on one pose, I’ll say so.  Working this way is much more efficient, and you will save time editing.  Also, I believe I came home with more DIFFERENT poses than if I had taken multiple pictures of every pose.

Will you please pin this on Pinterest?

Will you please pin this on Pinterest?

Camera Tip #8: The LCD will lie like a politician

Photographers call it “chimping” when someone looks at every shot on the LCD after it is taken.  The name comes from people looking at the camera and  repeatedly saying “oooh” like a chimpanzee.  Anyway, looking at the LCD all the time can distract you from shooting, but the point here is that, if you don’t check the histogram rather than the picture on the LCD, then chimping isn’t going to do you much good.  Think about it.  You already knew what the composition and lighting would look like before you took the shot. You don’t need an LCD for that, you only need a viewfinder.  The purpose of chimping, for me, is mostly to see the histogram.

Why look at the histogram rather than simply looking at the picture to determine if it is properly exposed?  The problem is that an LCD is made up of little lights!  If you look at the screen when it is dark outside, the photo will look VERY bright.  If you look at the picture when it is bright outside, the photo will look dark.  Judging exposure by looking at the picture on the LCD is a terrible habit.  When you get home and put the photos on the computer, you’ll probably recognize that many of your photos are not properly exposed.  You’ve probably heard this tip before, so START DOING IT!

Camera Tip #9:  RAW files should never be left naked

I always recommend that photographers shoot in RAW so that they have a greater latitude in post-processing.  UNFORTUNATELY, I have spent enough time on Flickr to see that many many photographers shoot a RAW file, convert it immediately to JPEG, and then post it on the web.  It is easy to spot because RAW files look totally naked.  They have no sharpening, contrast, or color pop to them.  Your camera would appreciate it if you either (1) shoot in JPEG so it can apply these things for you, or (2) never EVER convert a RAW file to JPEG without first dressing it up a little with some basic changes in Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom.  And, before you ask, the “clarity” slider in Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom is NOT for sharpening.

Camera Tip #10: Your camera doesn’t have much to do with sharpness, so find something else to blame

I have shot with almost every DSLR made by Canon, Nikon, and Sony produced in the last 5 years, and I have never seen a DSLR that is incapable of recording sharp images.  That simply isn’t the problem.  If your photos aren’t as sharp as you would like, then you should first fix your fundamentals and then determine the problem is caused by a cheap lens.

Camera Tip #11: The camera strap that came with your camera is for lynch mobs, not photographers

I survived about two weeks with the uncomfortable camera strap that came with my first camera.  One of my first purchases was a cushy camera strap.  I have gone through a couple different brands, but my current favorite is the Black Rapid camera strap.  It’s a thing of beauty.  Check out my full review of the Black Rapid strap here.  It doesn’t matter which one you choose, but do your neck a favor and buy something comfortable.  You can even by cheap cushioned straps on Amazon for as little as $10.

cameraTips-300x199Camera Tip #12: Erase all images and “format card” do very, very different things

If you have been using “erase all images” then you will probably like reading this article, “9 Things Photographers Should Know about Memory Cards.

Camera Tip #13:  Your camera craves customization

Most higher end DSLRs (anything other than Canon Rebels and Nikon D3100s) give you the option of customizing what the buttons on your camera do.  If you find yourself constantly going through the menus to do some things, you can customize your camera buttons to do that operation for you.  Spend 10 minutes with your camera manual and you’ll have a much easier time shooting in the field.  This is how many sports and wildlife photographers do “back button autofocus.”

About The Author

Jim Harmer is an author, photographer and the founder of the excellent  improve photography. If you like what you’ve read make sure to visit his blog, course site and like him on facebook. This post was originally published here. [lead photo by Steve Rainwater]

  • http://martybugs.net/blog Martin Pot

    Some great tips – but I have to disagree with point #6. Instead of attaching more weight to the camera I’m holding up near my face, I prefer to carry an extra battery (or two) in my pocket.

    • David

      I stepped back from Battery Grip using to full time attachment of a ‘for Camera Made’ Quick-Release Plate. A Grip is nice but my Grip was just used for Portrait-Format-Shoots and with the Grip the Camera becomes a lot more unhandy.

      I know there are Quick Release Plates for Cam+Grip but this is senseless because you loose the comfort on your hand when shooting portrait.

  • David

    “#12: ERASE ALL IMAGES AND “FORMAT CARD” DO VERY, VERY DIFFERENT THINGS”

    They do different things for sure, but if you hit delet all on your camera it will not corrupt your Database because if you are on a Database and tell it to delete something it knows what it has done and in not formatting your Card is nothing wrong.

    Also not in deleting images by a computer.. there is nothing wrong with it, there is just something wrong with Canon to not check for a recent scenario in the right way..

  • Koos

    This is how components that can cost as much as three D4 cameras can be cleaned: http://www.thorlabs.de/tutorials.cfm?tabID=26066
    Note the relatively cheap, one-time use only lens tissues. Key is to store the tissue in a clean environment.

  • catlett

    I agree with most of what you say but if you read your camera manufacturer’s warranty you will probably see that using a 3rd party grip will void the camera’s warranty. Hardly worth it.

    You also need a qualifier on the LCD lying. The histograms don’t lie and can be very important in determining the exposure you want no matter if you are using spot, center or matrix metering.

  • http://wilcfry.com/ Wil Fry

    #3 – YES! I didn’t really notice this with my Rebels, but when moving up to the 60D, there was a huge difference in burst mode speeds with a better SDHC card (and a huge difference in how long I could record video before it would stop).

    #4 – I haven’t seen a tripod that gets the camera high enough for my eye without the center column raised. If there is one, it’s WAY out of my price range. Mine (Manfrotto) doesn’t even get high enough with the center column fully extended, so I’ve solved the bad posture problem by using the fold-out LCD screen for on-tripod composition.

    #5 – Title seems wrong? Should say “flash compensation”, right?

    #9 – I can’t speak for other brands, but Canon raw files can be “dressed up” in-camera. If you use Canon’s (free) DPP software, it applies the in-camera settings by default — sharpness, contrast, color temperature, etc. I used to think of those as “jpg-only” settings, but they work for raw too (if you use DPP). The same software can also save any edits to the raw file itself while remembering the original “recipe” in case you want to go back. And DPP has come a long way in the past few years. It’s usually all I use for processing my raw images.

    #11 – YES! Camera makers should be embarrassed by the straps they ship with their cameras. I have a drawer full of those useless things.

    #13 – “anything other than Canon Rebels…” Just a note. Some Rebels, at least the ones I’ve used (XT and XTi for example) DO offer *some* button customization, just not to the extent you’ll see on higher-end cameras.

  • John C

    Overall great article. #7 becomes true with more experience, but shouldn’t stay a habit when you get better or it is a waste of time and resources. As far as the straps, I have a variety of cameras and get a nice strap for the best one and “hand down” that one to the next in line etc. The strap that comes with a standard SLR is not so bad on a “mid size” camera like a Sony H9. Never had an issue with 12 so far but probably will now. I need to work on getting more used to using the custom buttons. Thanks for the article!

  • zzz

    Has the OP found a magic way to communicate with cameras? Because I’m a little confused about the title here.

  • Amaryllis

    I’m glad I already know those things! The only thing I do is chimping… but I do check the histogram more than the picture itself! I try conditioning myself to not chimp, though, by flapping the LCD screen against the camera body (I have a T3i, so I can just move the screen so I don’t see it at all). For the neck straps, I personally prefer the Matin neck strap though, it’s made of neoprene and it’s very comfortable ~

  • mevanecek

    Some decent tips. A few thoughts:

    #6: $50 grips are low-quality plastic affairs that *will* come loose at the most inopportune times and will break under normal usage. OEM grips are made of the same metal innards as the camera. I have a $50 grip sitting on my filing cabinet, broken. I have an OEM grip in my camera, continuously. Do not skimp on quality, because while it may not have happened to you, it just hasn’t happened to you *yet*.
    #7 Many/most of us don’t shoot experienced models who know to flow from pose to pose. Our subjects/clients are not going to have a single clue about how to pose their bodies. Go ahead and capture 2 or 3 shots of a pose, because the client probably won’t hold steady. After you’re experienced at holding the camera rock-solid (or using a tripod) and can direct the subject effectively, then by all means make fewer frames.
    #8 Don’t trust the histogram; it will mislead you, even though it never lies, until you know how to read the histogram in relationship to the scene you’re shooting. All you histogram-spouting bloggers never seem to cover that fact. Shooting a tiny white object on a black velvet background is going to stack the histogram all the way to the left. Learn how to recognize lighting conditions and scene composition before consulting the histogram, and learn how to properly meter a scene when possible, and learn how to actually interpret the histogram for the scene, instead of expecting that nice mountain to the right of middle all the time.

    Have a great day!

  • Anne

    i agree, but a good image filtering algorithm is also important so do check this application PhotoSplashFX here is the link
    https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/photo-splash-fx-lite/id840972638?ls=1&mt=8