Time to dive into that camera menu and try out some new tricks. Here are five little features that you should be using on your DSLR.
That beautiful sound you're camera makes when you press the shutter is the sound of the mirror flipping up out of the way, followed immediately by a curtain in front of the digital sensor opening and then promptly closing.
As a DSLR's mirror is the largest moving part inside a camera, it can generate a small amount of vibration whilst flipping up out of the way to take an image. Whilst this is not a problem for faster shutter speeds, it can be an issue for slower speeds where the camera needs to be stationary.
The mirror lock up feature is extremely useful in this regard for eliminating the vibration caused by the mirror. If you are shooting on a tripod between 1/30s and say 2 to 3 seconds it can really make a difference as there will no longer be a vibration reverberating through the tripod which could cause a shaky image.
Alternatively, shooting in LiveView mode is similar to using mirror lock-up, as it too pushes the mirror out of the way.
Canon - the option is hidden away in the Custom Function (C.Fn) menu, where you can enable/disable it.
Nikon - on some models there is a setting on the left mode dial, switch to 'MUP' to enable mirror lock-up. Alternatively, on entry level models there is an 'exposure mode delay setting'
Manual White Balance
If you shoot RAW (and you really should be), you're probably aware that one of its main benefits is the ability to adjust white balance afterwards in post production without harming your image. Whilst the camera does a decent job of guessing the correct colour temperature in auto WB mode, it can and does get it wrong. This is where you want to take control and set it manually, ensuring a neutral white in your images.
The trick to this is using a grey card, photographing the card under the same lighting situations that you will be using for your subject.
You will require a card that is 18% grey. These are available for a few dollars from camera stores or online.
Now there are two ways you can do this. You can shoot a picture of the card with the camera set to AWB, and then later in your image editor, select the grey card with the colour picker. This will change that image to the correct colour temperature, which you can then use that value for all subsequent images.
Another method is to take a shot of the grey card filling the entire frame, and then instruct the camera itself to switch over to using that colour temperature for all further shots.
Canon - Take a shot of grey card filling the entire frame. Goto Menu-Custom WB and select grey card image. Then ensure under the white balance menu that it is set to 'Custom'. You should see an icon with a dot and two triangles.
Nikon - Press and hold the WB (White Balance) button and change the dial to 'PRE'. Press and hold the WB button again till the words 'PRE' start flashing on the LCD screen. Whilst it is still flashing, take a shot of your grey card. The camera will now use this new colour balance .
Getting the right exposure is the most important aspect of photography. Camera meters have to contend with highlight and shadow information to make the best choice of exposure based on what it's looking at.
Evaluative metering is probably the most common option used by most DSLR users. It takes a reading over the majority of the frame, but with a bias towards which ever autofocus point is being used. 99% of the time it does it's job perfectly.
For other situations, for example where lighting conditions are variable (subject in front of light or dark background) the spot metering mode is a far more accurate way to instruct the camera as to which specific area must have perfect exposure.
It's ideal use is for portraits, where you spot meter off a persons face for a balanced metering of the skin tones.
When to use Spot Metering?
Close up portraits
Digital Camera World
Back Button Autofocus
This is the coolest feature that many people still don't know exists on their DSLR's.
Even if you know nothing about photography, you still know how to make it focus on a subject and then press the button to take the picture. Thats because both those actions are controlled by one button; the shutter button. The autofocus is confirmed by a half depress of the shutter, and then a full depress to take the image.
Back button focusing works by removing autofocus control from the shutter button and assigning it to a button on the rear of the camera.
This method allows for much more control over focusing in fast moving environments. It can also be combined with the continuous focusing mode (Nikon: AF-C/ Canon: AI-Servo) where you can hold down your thumb on the back button whilst it provides continuous auto focus, leaving you free to fire the shutter without having to wait for focus confirmation.
Flash Compensation (pop-up)
Whilst I could never advocate using pop-up flash, I will admit that there are times when it can come in handy, especially as a quick and dirty fill flash in outdoor light.
Now the main problem with pop-up flash is that it produces a direct, harsh light that it not going to lend a flattering look to any image. Whilst there are methods for diffusing or 'bouncing' light from a pop-up, there seems little point to this as the flash is so weak anyway that any modifications will make it almost useless.
There is one setting however that can come in handy for those occasions where pop-up flash needs to be used.
Just like the exposure compensation dial which can fine tune your metering, there is also a flash compensation setting for the pop-up, which quite simply will allow you to increase or decrease the output of the flash.
This setting is usually buried away in a menu somewhere, but should be listed as "Flash Exposure Compensation".
Try adjusting it next time you use pop-up flash to fill in a subject.
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