Top Tips and Tricks for the Canon 5D Mark III

OK, I admit, I’m being a bit deceptive.  While this post will include “tips” for taking full advantage of the Canon EOS 5D Mk III, it won’t really contain any “tricks.”  That is because with digital photography, especially a camera as powerful and complex as the 5D3, there really aren’t any tricksTricks implies shortcuts, and to paraphrase Euclid, there is no royal road to dSLR photography.  Instead there are techniques and camera controls that can and should be learned.  These will then allow you to adapt not just to a specific situation or emulate a certain image or style, but will give you the tools and knowledge to adapt to any situation and create the images you desire.

I spent several intimate weeks with the Canon 5D Mk III as I researched and wrote my dSLR camera guide, Canon 5D Mark III Experience, the first (and hopefully best!) book available for the 5D Mk III.  In the process I learned and discovered a few obvious and not so obvious things about the 5D3 that will help you get the most from your camera.

Canon 5D mark III mk 3 Experience e book tips tricks how to learn manual guide instruction
Detail of the Canon 5D Mark III

Learn and Take Advantage of the Autofocus System

First and foremost is to learn, understand, and make full use of the new 61 Point autofocus system.  This powerful and highly customizable AF system will allow you to capture more sharp images of a variety of moving subjects which was not previously possible with the 5DII, or even the 7D.  But to do this you will need to take control of it in order to focus on, or begin tracking, your intended subject.  This involves making use of the AF Modes as well as the AF Area Selection Modes and AF Points.

For moving subjects you can then employ the AF Cases and their settings to let the camera know what to expect as far as subject movement.  AF subject tracking works in part by predicting where the subject will be when the Shutter is pressed, so if the camera knows the subject is going to be moving erratically about the frame and changing its rate of speed, then it can take measures to better follow this than if it is set for a subject that is expected to move smoothly at a steady rate.  Ten tips could easily be written about the autofocus system alone, but I will limit it to a few (my e-book guide Canon 5D Mark III Experience contains extensive explanation of the AF system and all its elements, if you wish to learn it inside and out.)

Canon 5d mark iii mk 3 auto focus autofocus 61 af point select
Simulated image of the Canon 5D Mark III viewfinder showing the 61 autofocus points, with the desired AF Point shown as the larger black square.

One of the essential steps in taking a successful and sharp photo is controlling where the camera autofocuses.  If you allow the camera to autofocus by automatically choosing its own focus point(s) (such as in Auto+ Shooting Mode or with One-Shot AF Mode and Auto Selection – 61 Point AF Area Selection Mode) it typically focuses on the closest object.  This may or may not be what you want to focus on, so you should select or at least narrow down where the camera focuses using the autofocus AF Points or Zones.  By doing so you are telling the camera exactly where to autofocus or to look to find a moving subject to track.  For example, you often want to focus on a subject’s eyes, but if you allow the camera to choose the autofocus point itself, it may select another part of the face, or somewhere else on the body, or even a raised hand that is nearer to the camera than the face to focus most sharply on.  If you are capturing an image of a bird in a tree, the camera has no idea you want the autofocus system to zero in on the bird so that it is in sharp focus and not the branches or leaves near it or the perhaps even the leaves closer to you.

You will select an AF Mode based on whether the subject is still or moving, and select an AF Area Selection Mode based on how large of an area you want the camera to look at to find your intended subject – ranging from a small spot to a wider Zone to all the available 61 AF Points.  You can set the AF Modes and AF Area Selection Modes in a variety of combinations based on what and how you are shooting.

Activate all the Available AF Area Selection Modes at first and experiment with them all.  Then if you decide that you will never or rarely use one or more of them, de-activate those modes so that you don’t have to “click” through them every time to select your desired mode.

canon 5d mark III mk 3 autofocus auto focus af point zone 61 af area selection mode
Available AF Area Selection Modes of the Canon 5D Mark III

Spot AF is Not Necessarily More Accurate than Single-Point AF.  You may be inclined to use Spot AF all the time, assuming it will be more accurate than Single-Point AF, but this is not advised.  Spot AF is designed for specific situations and autofocusing challenges, where you need to focus on a very precise area and avoid any surrounding or foreground objects that the AF system may otherwise lock onto.  This can include making sure you zero-in on a bird that is sitting among leaves and branches, or perhaps shooting through a fence to a subject beyond.  In those situations you may find that Single-Point AF searches back and forth between the near leaves/ fence and the further subject, because the area it is looking at to find the subject encompasses both potential subjects.  Spot AF will allow you to target in on a more precise area.  Although Spot AF is indicated in the Viewfinder by the tiny square within the larger selected AF Point square, Spot AF will actually pinpoint the focus to an area about the size of the larger square.

So while Spot AF will be more accurate in certain situations as described, it should not be used for general use.  Because it is so precise, the area it looks at to find contrast or a detail on which to focus may be an area of solid color.  For example if you used Spot AF to quickly focus on the general cheek and eye area of a face, it may be aimed at an area of skin without contrast, whereas the Single-Point AF area might encompass the cheek and the eye and thus find enough contrast to be able to properly and quickly focus.

Decide How Many Selectable AF Points you wish to Choose From.  If you are coming from a Canon 5D Mark II, the 60D, or any number of other previous Canon dSLR cameras, you may be used to only having 9 AF Point to choose from.  If you still wish to manually select a specific point or zone, you may find that 61 points are a bit overwhelming at first.  Even if you are used to the 19 AF Points of the Canon 7D, you may not wish to suddenly jump up to 61 AF Points.  So you can limit the number of AF Points you wish to choose from to either 15 or 9, or to just the more accurate cross-type points.  Unfortunately, the 9 points are not in the nice diamond pattern of previous EOS cameras, but you may find them to be more manageable.

canon 5d mark III mk 3 auto foucs autofocus af mode point area selection 61 11
Limit your Selectable AF Points if 61 are too many to deal with.

Choose Your Priority when Working in AI Servo – Focus or Release.  You will need to tell the camera what your priority is when shooting in AI Servo AF mode – is it to ensure that the subject is in focus, or that the shutter is release immediately, whether or not the subject is in focus?  There are two menu items to set the priority for the first image and the second and subsequent images if shooting in Continuous Shooting Mode.

For AI Servo 1st Image Priority, Release priority will prioritize shutter release, or immediately capturing the initial shot at the possible expense of exact focus.  Generally when taking a photo, you are supposed to half-press the Shutter Button, allow the camera to focus, then continue the full-press of the Shutter Button to take the image.  If you simply “mash” down the Shutter Button, this setting will cause the camera to take the photo without bothering to focus first.  Sometimes when photographing sports, news, or events, capturing the “decisive moment” may take priority over exact focus.

Setting for Focus priority will prioritize focus for the first shot, ensuring that the subject is in focus before the picture is taken.  So when you fully press the Shutter Button, this setting may cause a brief, perhaps micro-seconds delay while the camera confirms focus before actually releasing the shutter.

Equal priority is a slight compromise between Release and Focus priorities.  It allows a brief (perhaps micro-seconds) pause for the camera to possibly find focus before releasing the shutter.  It does not guarantee that the image will be in focus, but merely gives it more of a chance to find focus.  It generally seems to make more sense to choose Release or Focus based on your priority.

Canon 5D mark III mk 3 custom setting function control multi controller direct autofocus point
AI Servo 1st Image Priority menu to determine if capturing the shot or getting the subject in-focus is the priority.

AI Servo 2nd Image Priority is similar except that it applies to the second and subsequent images in the burst.  Setting for Speed (Shooting speed priority) will prioritize shutter release, or continuing the high speed burst at the possible expense of exact focus.

Setting for Focus will prioritize focus tracking for the following shot(s), ensuring that the subject is in focus as you continue to take the burst of images.  Again, this may cause a brief, perhaps micro-seconds delay while the camera confirms focus before releasing the shutter for each image.

Equal priority again allows a slight pause before each of the subsequent shots to perhaps give the camera time to find focus before releasing the shutter.  This pause may be slightly more pronounced when shooting in low light or low contrast situations.

These 1st Image Priority and 2nd Image Priority settings should be set in conjunction with each other, based on the type of situation you are photographing and thus your priorities.  Generally, it sharp images are your goal, you will want to set both for  Focus Priority.  You may sacrifice the maximum 6 frames per second (fps) continuous shooting speed (if you have the Drive Mode set for High Speed Continuous) as there might be a  couple micro-seconds or more delays as the camera ensures that the subject is in focus before taking the subsequent shots.  If you are capturing a “decisive moment” such as a runner at the finish line or a goal being scored, you will want to set one or both of the settings to Release Priority/ Speed Priority, but ensure somehow that you have pre-focused on the subject distance so the result is not wildly out of focus.  Again, I go into much more detail about the various combinations and when to make use of them in my e-book.

Set the Custom Controls for Multi-Controller Direct.  This will allow you to manually select your AF Point or Zone more quickly by simply toggling the Multi-Controller thumb joystick, without having to first press the AF Point Selection Button.  You have probably noticed, to the dismay of your muscle memory, that the AF Point Selection Button no longer controls image zoom.  This is because there are many more image review options that are now made possible by Comparative Playback (side by side image review), discussed just below.

canon 5d mark iii mk 3 multi controller direct af auto focus autofocus point select

canon 5d mark iii mk 3 auto focus autofocus multi controller direct af point select zone control custom function setting
Set the Multi-Controller for AF Point Direct Selection for ease and speed.

Take Advantage of Comparative Playback (Side by Side Image Review).  Of course you can instantly review the image you just captured on the rear LCD Monitor, but the 5D Mk III now also offers Comparative Image Playback Mode (Two-Image Display) which gives you the ability to simultaneously compare two images or two different sections of the same image.  Whereas before, one would have to “flip” back and forth between two images and navigate around the images, this feature allows for some extremely helpful and flexible image analysis that was previously only possible once you were back at your computer.

To enter Comparative Playback Mode during image playback or review, press the Creative Photo / Comparative Playback Button (at the top of the row on the left of the camera back), which is also indicated by the side-by-side blue squares icon for side-by-side image playback.  Use the SET Button to highlight which of the two image windows you wish to navigate, then use the Quick Control Dial or Main Dial to scroll or jump to the desired image, the Magnify Button followed by the top Main Dial to zoom in or out of the selected image, and the Multi-Controller to navigate around the selected image frame.  You can press the INFO Button repeatedly to change the Shooting Information Display in order to view shooting information and/ or the Histograms.  If you zoom in on a specific area of one image and wish to zoom in on the other image to the same magnification and same area of the image, press the SET Button to switch to the other image window, then press the [Q] Button.  Also, press and hold the Playback Button to view the highlighted image as a single, full-screen image.

canon 5d mark iii mk 3 view image lcd side by side comparative playback review rear screen
Comparative Playback Mode view of two different images, also showing the images’ Histograms.

There are several different viewing options and potential uses for Comparative Playback, whether you are simultaneously viewing two separate images or two areas of the same image.

-Display the active AF point(s).
-Preview alternate cropping guides.
-View the thumbnail plus the Luminance Histogram.
-View the thumbnail plus the RGB Histograms.
-View the thumbnail plus basic exposure information.

For two different images:
-Compare the compositions of two images simultaneously.
-Zoom in and simultaneously compare a specific area for focus or exposure.
-View the thumbnails along with histograms or basic exposure information of both images.

For the same image:
-Zoom in and simultaneously compare two separate areas of the same image to have a closer look at focus or exposure.
-View the entire image for overall composition while also zooming in to view an area of detail for focus or exposure (see Figure 61).

Set the Default Magnification for Image Review.  In order to immediately review your images according to your preferences, you should set the initial magnification and position that you will view an image during image review (Playback) when you press the Magnify Button.  You can set for no magnification (1x) and then use the top Main Dial to zoom in and out.  This can be handy if you have the image review set to initially show the Shooting Information Display with the Histogram.  Since the image in that view is a thumbnail, you can then press the Magnify Button to show the full size image.  After this initial zoom, you can then use the Main Dial to zoom in or out.

Or set for 2x, 4x, 8x, or 10x magnification and it will instantly zoom to that magnification when the Magnify Button is pressed.  Again, after this initial zoom, you can then use the Main Dial to zoom in or out.  Each of these magnifications will zoom from the center of the image.  Or you can set it to quickly zoom in to full size, 100% view of the pixels, zoomed into the AF Point where focus was achieved, using setting Actual size (from selected pt).  This can be useful to quickly check for precise focus, though note that if you focused with a selected AF Point and recomposed, it will zoom into the final position of that AF Point in the composition, not the actual position where you used it to focus on your subject.  But if you only recomposed slightly, it will often be easy to quickly navigate to the actual area of focus.  The setting Same as last magnif. (from ctr) will zoom in at the same magnification that you last viewed an image at, centered at the image center.

canon 5D mark III mk 3 magnify button lcd view zoom
Magnification menu to set how images are initially viewed during Playback when the Magnify Button is pressed.

 

I’m still putting this post together but wanted to share what I had already written.  Next week I will go into more detail about the tips below:

Turn on the Viewfinder Warnings

canon 5D mark III mk 3 viewfinder warning custom function setting

 

Auto Rotate Images in the Camera and on Your Computer

canon 5D mark III mk 3 auto rotate image view lcd

 

Use the Q Button for Quick Access to a Variety of Features for Still Images

canon 5d mark iii mk 3 q button control edit image view lcd

 

Make Use of the Silent Control Touch Pad and Q Button for Movie Shooting

canon 5d mark iii mk 3 movie video silent control touch pad q button menu

 

canon 5d mark iii mk 3 movie video silent control touch pad q button menu

 

All of the above information – and much, much more – can be found in Canon 5D Mark III Experience, my latest Full Stop dSLR user’s guide e book, which goes beyond the manual to help you learn the features, settings, and controls of the powerful and highly customizable EOS 5D Mk III, plus most importantly how, when, and why to use the functions, settings, and controls in your photography.

Written in the clear, concise, and comprehensive style of all Full Stop guides, Canon 5D Mark III Experience will help you learn to use your Canon 5D Mk 3 quickly and competently, to consistently create the types of images you want to capture. The e-book is available in either PDF, EPUB, or MOBI format for reading on any device.

Learn more about it, preview it, and purchase it here:
http://www.dojoklo.com/Full_Stop/Canon_5DMkIII_Experience.htm

As one Canon user has said about Full Stop guides, “I don’t know how I could fully take advantage of all the features the camera has to offer without this publication! It’s well-organized, easy to understand, and succinct enough to keep your attention while still containing a wealth of information to get the most out of your camera.”

Take control of your 5D Mk III, the image taking process, and the photos you create!

Canon 5D Mark III mk 3 book ebook manual guide tutorial instruction bible how to dummies field EOS

 

Taking Advantage of the Canon 5D Mark III / IV Autofocus System

The autofocus systems of the Canon 5D Mark III and Canon 5D Mark IV are incredibly powerful and versatile, with their 61 AF Points, various pre-set AF “Cases,” and its Custom Function settings and redesigned menus to help photographers take advantage of its features.  The AF systems are designed to better enable you to lock onto and track moving subjects, so that when you take the shot the subject is ideally in focus, even when using Continuous Shooting to capture multiple shots.

For the basics of the Canon AF system, including the AF Modes, please see this other post first: Taking Control of Your Canon Autofocus System.  This post here will then address the additional features and options of the 5D3 and 5D4 AF system.  Most of the text below is excerpted from my e-book guides Canon 5D Mark III Experience and Canon 5D Mark IV Experience, where I write extensively about the 5D3  and 5D4 autofocus systems, including the numerous and important Auto Area Selection Modes.

Please note that some of the menu numbers, names, and options may vary slightly between the two cameras.

Canon 5D Mark III mk 3 autofocus auto-focus auto focus manual guide book
Antigua, Guatemala – simulated view of Canon 5D Mark III viewfinder and AF Points

All of these settings will apply when working in AI Servo Autofocus Mode.

First you will need to set the Autofocus (AF) Menu AF2: AI Servo settings to match your priorities:

AI Servo 1st Image Priority and AI Servo 1st Image Priority:  

Setting for Release priority will prioritize shutter release, or immediately capturing the initial shot and subsequent shots at the possible expense of exact focus.  Generally when taking a photo, you are supposed to half-press the Shutter Button, allow the camera to focus, then continue the full-press of the Shutter Button to take the image.  If you simply “mash” down the Shutter Button, this setting will cause the camera to take the photo without bothering to focus first.  Sometimes when photographing sports, news, or events, capturing the “decisive moment” may take priority over exact focus.

Setting for Focus priority will prioritize focus for the first shot and subsequent shots, ensuring that the subject is in focus before the picture is taken.  So when you fully press (or hold) the Shutter Button, this setting may cause a brief, perhaps micro-seconds delay while the camera confirms focus before actually releasing the shutter.

Equal priority is a slight compromise between Release and Focus priorities.  It allows a brief (perhaps micro-seconds) pause for the camera to possibly find focus before releasing the shutter.  It does not guarantee that the image will be in focus, but merely gives it more of a chance to find focus.  It generally seems to make more sense to choose Release or Focus based on your priority.

Then choose the AF Area Selection Mode that will best enable you to keep track of your subject.  Choose the some that is most accurate yet allows for the proper amount of lee-way if you are unable to keep the subject under your selected initial point at all times.  These settings include Single Point AF, AF Point Expansion 4 or 8 surrounding points, etc.  I will not go into detail about them here, but they are fully discussed in my guide.

Then find a “Case” setting which closely matches your needs

Case 1 – Versatile multi purpose setting

Tracking sensitivity:  0
Acceleration/deceleration tracking:  0
AF point auto switching:  0

Case 2 – Continue to track subjects, ignoring possible obstacles

Tracking sensitivity:  -1
Acceleration/deceleration tracking:  0
AF point auto switching:  0

Case 3 – Instantly focus on subjects suddenly entering AF points

Tracking sensitivity:  +1
Acceleration/deceleration tracking:  1
AF point auto switching:  0

Case 4 – For subjects that accelerate or decelerate quickly

Tracking sensitivity:  0
Acceleration/deceleration tracking:  1
AF point auto switching:  0

Case 5 – For erratic subjects moving quickly in any direction

Tracking sensitivity:  0
Acceleration/deceleration tracking:  0
AF point auto switching:  1

Case 6 – For subjects that change speed and move erratically

Tracking sensitivity:  0
Acceleration/deceleration tracking:  1
AF point auto switching:  1

These are the various options of these Cases which you can tweak for your specific needs:

Tracking sensitivity – This is the speed at which the AF system will switch from the initial subject to another subject when a new subject enters the focusing field of view or passes in front of the initial subject, or if you momentarily lose the subject that you are trying to keep positioned under a selected AF point. If you wish for it to quickly lock onto a new subject that enters the area you are focusing on, or rapidly switch intentionally between subjects at various distances, set for +2. If you wish to retain focus tracking on the same subject and ignore new or obstructing subjects set for -2. If your objective is somewhere in between, set accordingly at +1, 0, or -1.

Acceleration/deceleration tracking – AI Servo Autofocus Mode works in part by predicting the potential location of a subject based on the subject’s current speed and direction. In order to make these predictions more accurate, use this setting to tell the camera if the subject is accelerating/ decelerating at a steady pace, or if it is changing its speed more erratically. For subjects that move smoothly set for 0. If the subject moves erratically and may very suddenly speed up, slow down, start, or stop set for 2. Or set for 1 if the subject’s movements are somewhere in between these other options.

AF point auto switching – When you are using Auto Selection – 61 AF Point, Zone AF, or AF Point Expansion Autofocus Area Selection Modes this setting will adjust the speed at which the AF Points change to track a moving subject as it travels across the frame. Setting 0 is for a slow, gradual speed at which the surrounding AF Points will pick up and start tracking the subject if it moves away from the initially selected AF Point. Setting 1 will somewhat rapidly switch to a different AF Point, and setting 2 will most rapidly switch to a different AF Point. So for example, if you began tracking a subject with a selected point and the subject was quickly moving between it and the surrounding eight points, setting 0 would retain focus at the initial point expecting the subject to soon return to that primary point. Setting 2 would mean the surrounding points would immediately activate, pick up the moving subject as it entered their area of focus, and be used to focus on it.

Again, there is much more to the AF System and its Autofocus Modes, Autofocus Area Selection Modes, and Menu and Custom Function settings.  Please have a look at my e-book guides Canon 5D Mark III Experience and Canon 5D Mark IV Experience to learn more!

Taking Control of, and Possibly Understanding Exposure

Whenever a new photographer wishes to learn about exposure, shooting modes, and working in Manual or Aperture Priority Mode, most photographers recommend the Bryan Peterson book Understanding Exposure.  It has become the go to guide because it offers explanations that no other book seems to cover as well or as thoroughly.  However, many people aren’t the biggest fans of it and wish there was another guide with a slightly different approach – perhaps an easier, less confusing way to present some of the material.

Understanding Exposure has been updated for the current digital era, but it may be better to toss many of the old notions and methods that have been carried over from film, start from scratch, and approach the subject in a practical manner that applies fully to digital SLR cameras – cameras with histograms and instant feedback of the image and the exposure settings via the rear LCD screen, not to mention the ability to head straight to your computer and study and analyze your results and EXIF data.

While I contemplate writing an exposure book for the digital era, I will begin with a quick-start tutorial to exposure and metering with a dSLR:

First, don’t start with M mode yet. Start working in Av or A – aperture priority mode.

Set the camera on Av / A (aperture priority). Go into the menus and turn off Auto Lighting Optimizer and Highlight Tone Priority on a Canon and Active D-Lighting on a Nikon.

Set the ISO to an appropriate setting based on the lighting of the scene.
outdoors in sun: 100
less sun or shade: 200-400
more shade or darker: 800
indoors: 1600-3200

Set your aperture setting to whatever aperture setting you desire based on how much depth of field you want. Want a lot of depth of field with everything in focus from near to far? Set for f/16 or f/22. Want very shallow depth of field with just the subject in focus and cool background blurring? Set for f/2.8, f/4, or f/5.6.

Aim your camera at your subject, press the shutter button halfway, and see what Shutter Speed the camera selected. Is it slower than 1/125? (such as 1/80, 1/30) Then increase your ISO setting to a higher number. If you can’t or don’t want to increase ISO, use a wider aperture setting (a “lower” F number like f/4, f/5.6).

Is your shutter speed now about 1/125 or faster? (for still subjects – use perhaps 1/500 or 1/1000 for moving subjects). Take the photo.

Now, if the exposure is not coming out how you want, use exposure compensation to adjust it and then re-take the photo.  Adjust it to the positive side to make the exposure lighter, and to the negative side to make the exposure darker.

Sound easy? It is! But of course, it all gets more complicated from here. For example, how did the camera determine what the proper exposure was? You can learn more about that, and how to better control the camera’s determination of exposure with Exploring Metering Modes.

And then now that you have the basics, and can move on to learning more about controling your autofocus system, locking focus and exposure – independently, how focal length and distance affect depth of field, composition, white balance, etc, etc!

You can learn all about these settings and functions in my e-book camera guides for Nikon and Canon dSLRs, such as Nikon D5100 Experience and Canon T3i Experience.  Click the image below to see all the available guides and to learn more:

full stop dslr photo photography camera manual guide for dummies canon nikon

 

Free E-Book from Craft and Vision

Craft and Vision, publishers of many fine photography e-books, has just introduced a new, FREE e-book!  It is a collection of articles from various talented Craft and Vision authors/ photographer, and is intended, of course, to introduce you to their thoughts and writings and entice you to buy all the other Craft and Vision books!  This is not a bad thing, as the books are all excellent, and I’m certain you will find at least a couple, if not a handful that will appeal to you as well as help you improve your photography.

The FREE e-book, 11 Ways You Can Improve Your Photography, is available by clicking on its title or the image below.  You will be taken to the Craft and Vision site where, after getting your free book, you can view (and purchase!) all the other books.

The free book has several excellent articles discussing numerous aspects of making a photograph and improving your results including composition, exposure, making prints, self-assignments/ projects, and capturing the moment.  And it is no pamphlet…67 spreads, as in 134 magazine pages!

Authors include: David duChemin, Piet Van den Eynde, Andrew S. Gibson, Nicole S. Young, Alexandre Buisse, Stuart Sipahigil, Eli Reinholdtsen and Michael Frye.

To read my reviews or intros to other Craft and Vision books, have a look at my post Developing Your Photographic Vision as well as the other posts tagged “Craft and Vision.”

A Brief Introduction to Exposure Bracketing

If you have begun to take control of your camera’s functions and settings and are understanding the basics of exposure, and perhaps are working in Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority Mode, you may still find that sometimes your images are coming out lighter or darker than you desire.  This could be due to an unusual lighting situation, a scene that contains a wide range of bright and dark areas, a subject that is back-lit, the camera metering from the “wrong” area of the scene, or a number of other reasons.

In this situation hopefully you have begun experimenting with exposure compensation.  If not, exposure compensation can be the solution to these types of problems by enabling you to “over-ride” the camera’s exposure decision and making the next image lighter or darker as desired.  And since most all the functions and settings of a dSLR are inter-related, the use of other metering modes such as Center-Weighted or Spot metering can also be part of the solution (or part of the problem) – but those are topics for other posts!  I’ve written one about Exploring Metering Modes, and should probably tackle some exposure issues soon.

exposure compensation auto exposure bracketing aeb canon nikon dslr
Figure 1 – French Medieval Storefront Carving, Gloucester, Mass. – Three bracketed exposures of the same scene:  the “proper” exposure as determined by the camera (Center-Weighted Average Metering Mode) in the center; over-exposed +1 stop on the left; under-exposed -1 stop on the right.  The desired exposure, for my eye, lies somewhere between the “proper” exposure and the darker under-exposure, where some highlights on the figure remain but the color and detail of the wood can be seen in those areas.  Center exposure:  Shutter speed 1/60 aperture f/2.8, ISO 200

If you have begun to make use of Exposure Compensation, or wish to start, a technique called exposure bracketing can expand upon that or perhaps help you to learn and understand over- and under-exposures.  Exposure bracketing is when you take at least three photos of the same scene, one at the “proper” or desired exposure, one under-exposed, and one over-exposed (see Figure 1).  For example you may take the second and third shot with the exposure compensation set at +1 and then -1.  This is done to ensure that you capture exactly the right exposure you desire or to experiment and see the results of varying your exposure settings.  A common feature of dSLR cameras called Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB) can even automate this process for you.

In the days of film, exposure bracketing was a helpful technique – especially for critical situations – since one didn’t have the immediate feedback of the image on an LCD screen and a histogram.  It can still be used today for critical situations or for test shots when determining the right exposure settings.  The Auto Exposure Bracketing feature of digital SLRs automates this process by automatically changing the exposure settings between shots.  You set the amount of under- and over-exposure desired (such as +1, -1 or +2/3, -2/3) and then take three images in a row.  The camera automatically adjusts the exposure for each shot so that one is taken at the “proper” or baseline exposure, another shot is under-exposed, and the other is over-exposed.  If your camera is set on continuous drive mode, you can just hold down the shutter button and the camera will take the three shots in a row.  Or if you have it set on single shooting, you click the shutter three times in a row, ideally of the same scene.  Many cameras even allow you to dictate the order that the images are taken, and whether or not AEB cancels itself after one use or when the camera is turned off.

Or you can perform this process yourself, by either using exposure compensation between shots or by working in Manual Mode and adjusting the aperture or shutter speed setting between shots.

auto exposure bracketing canon nikon dslr aeb
Figure 2 – Weaver Constructing the Keshwa Chaca, Huinchiri, Peru – Three bracketed exposures of the same scene:  the “proper” exposure as determined by the camera (Evaluative metering mode) in the center, under-exposed -2/3 stop on the left, over-exposed +2/3 stop on the right.  The desired exposure in this case, for my eye, lies somewhere between the “proper” exposure and the over-exposure.  With auto exposure bracketing you can often customize the order that the bracketed images are taken, for example proper/under/over or under/proper/over.  In this example they were taken proper/under/over, so they are displayed here in a different order than actually captured.  Center exposure:  Shutter speed 1/1000, aperture f/5.0, ISO 100

Exposure compensation and bracketing are also used in HDR (high dynamic range) photography to take three or five or more photos of the same scene at various exposures.  All the images are then combined by the photographer, using HDR software, into a single image which will contain a much broader dynamic range of light and dark than is possible with a single image.

The basic principles of exposure as well as all of the other important functions and controls of a dSLR, such as Metering Modes and the Autofocus System, are explained in my e-book Ten Steps to Better dSLR Photography, as well as in all my other dSLR camera guides to specific cameras such as Nikon D5100 Experience and Canon T3i Experience.  Click on the titles or the cover below to learn more!

dslr learn improve autofocus exposure aperture shutter priority for dummies

 

Don’t Let the Locations of the AF Points Dictate Your Composition

I began to discuss the autofocus modes of various dSLR cameras in previous posts including Taking Control of Your Canon Autofocus System and Taking Advantage of the Autofocus Systems of the Nikon D5100 and the Nikon D7000

In this post I wish to go into more detail about one of the reasons it is important to take control of your autofocus system, namely not allowing the locations of the AF Points in your viewfinder to dictate your final composition.

As I mentioned in previous autofocus posts, one of the essential steps in taking a successful photo is controlling where the camera focuses.  If you allow the camera to auto focus by choosing its own focus point(s), it typically focuses on the closest object.  This may or may not be what you want to focus on, so you should select where the camera focuses using the Auto Focus Points.  For example, you often want to focus on a subject’s eyes, but if you allow the camera to choose the autofocus point itself, it may select another part of the face, or somewhere else on the body, or even a raised hand that is nearer to the camera than the face to focus most sharply on.

In addition, there are reasons to use the outer focus points and not just focusing with the center AF point and then recomposing.  First, if you are taking several shots of the same subject and framing, you will not have to re-focus with the center point and recompose between each shot.  And by controlling exactly where you focus, you then have greater, more precise control over the use of dramatic depth of field.  Also, if you use the center point and recompose, you have swept the camera in an arc to recompose, and are thus always focusing at a distance behind the subject.  This may not be as noticeable when the subject is further away, but for a close subject – especially when using shallow depth of field – the difference is critical.

One of the additional critical reasons to take control of your autofocus system is so that you don’t let the location of the AF Points dictate your composition. What happens when the subject you want to focus on is not located exactly under one of the AF Points? Even with 9 or 19 or more AF Points to choose from, they will not always be located exactly at or near where you need them to be.  Recomposing or re-framing your shot is often necessary so that you can capture exactly the image you wish to and not one dictated by the locations of the AF Points as you see them in the viewfinder.

Canon 7D 5D mark II 60D T3i 600D autofocus system AF point choose select set setting
Figure 1 – The desired framing and composition of the shot I wish to take, yet no AF Point, including the selected lower right point (the larger point shown in red here) is located exactly at the woman’s head where I wish to focus. (Canon 7D viewfinder shown)

Canon 7D 5D mark II 60D T3i 600D autofocus system AF point choose select set setting
Figure 2 – Image is temporarily framed to place the selected AF Point over the woman’s head, Shutter Button is pressed half-way and held to lock focus at that distance, image is recomposed to the desired framing of previous Figure 1, and Shutter Button is fully pressed to capture the image.

Figure 1 shows the desired framing and composition of the shot I want to take, but the woman is not located under an AF Point. This composition is desired for me because it captures the entire window along with some space around it, as well as some space in front of the woman for her to “walk into” – but not an excessive amount of space. So I manually select the lower right AF Point (using Single-Point AF Mode), temporarily frame the image to place the selected AF Point over her face or head, press and hold the Shutter Button half-way to lock focus at that distance (Figure 2), and see the Focus Confirmation Light illuminate in the viewfinder. I then recompose back to the final framing I want (Figure 1) and press the Shutter Button fully to take the image. Even though the subject is moving, I do not need the sophisticated tracking of AI Servo (Canon) or Continuous Servo (Nikon) Focus Mode to keep her in focus. I can quickly lock focus using One Shot (Canon) or Single Servo (Nikon) Focus Mode, recompose, and take the image without the camera-to-subject focus distance changing significantly.

With the example images above (Figures 1, 2), focusing on the wall would not have been tragic because the distance between the subject and the background is small, and if a medium or narrow aperture such as f/8 or f/16 is used both the wall and the subject may be in acceptable focus. If the background was further away, and/ or a wide aperture such as f/2.8 was used – especially with a telephoto lens, and if the image was enlarged, you would clearly see that the camera focused on the wall and not the woman. Not to mention the fact that the wall is a somewhat consistent area of color and the AF system may have difficulty properly focusing on it. So it is best not to take shortcuts such as focusing on the wall and hoping the subject will also be in focus, because in many other situations you will not have this option. It is best to take the photo properly and to learn and practice the habit of working in the more rigorous manner if you want all your photos to be sharp.

If you would like to learn more about the autofocus systems of your Canon or Nikon dSLR camera, as well as learn to use the other features of your camera including metering modes, Aperture and Shutter priority modes, all the menus and Custom Function settings, and more, have a look at my Full Stop e-book camera guides. In addition to explaining the features and settings, the guides clearly explain when and why to use them in order to capture the images you desire.

Take control of your camera and the images you create!

Learn more about the e-books by clicking on their titles or on the banner below:
Canon 7D Experience
Canon T3i Experience
Your World 60D
T2i Experience.

Nikon D7000 Experience
Nikon D5100 Experience.

full stop dslr photo photography camera manual guide for dummies canon nikon

For those with other cameras, check out my Ten Steps to Better dSLR Photography which also discusses taking advantage of any dSLR camera’s autofocus system.

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Taking Control of Your Canon Autofocus System

This article mostly applies to the 9 point autofocus system of the Canon 60D and the Rebels including the T5i / 700D and T4i / EOS 650D (and their predecessors), as well as to the new Canon 6D and its 11 AF points.  The Canon EOS 7D also shares the same Autofocus Modes discussed below, but it adds Autofocus Area Modes to the mix as well as additional Custom Functions affecting the AF system, so I will have to address those additional capabilities in the future (or you can learn all about them now in my Canon 7D Experience e-book).  I have written a separate post that addresses the AF system of the Canon 5D Mark III.

You can learn much more about using these cameras with my Full Stop e-book camera guides for Canon dSLR cameras.

Using Auto Focus
One of the essential steps in taking a successful photo is controlling where the camera focuses.  If you allow the camera to auto focus by choosing its own focus point(s), it typically focuses on the closest object.  This may or may not be what you want to focus on, so you should select where the camera focuses using the Auto Focus Points.  This does not mean you have to manually focus the camera, it means you tell the camera exactly where to autofocus.  For example, you often want to focus on a subject’s eyes, but if you allow the camera to choose the autofocus point itself, it may select another part of the face, or somewhere else on the body, or even a raised hand that is nearer to the camera than the face to focus most sharply on.  If you are capturing an image of a bird in a tree, the camera has no idea you want the autofocus system to zero-in on the bird so that it is in sharp focus and not the branches or leaves near it, or the leaves closest to you.

Autofocus works by looking for contrast, so try to focus (place your AF Point) on a detail with a strong line or strong contrast between light and dark.  It may not be able to focus on a large area of consistent color – such as a white wall or blue sky or even an evenly colored and lit shirt – or on a subject that is too dark.  It can be disrupted by regular patterns or confused when looking through close objects to objects farther away, such as looking through a fence.  And it sometimes fails to work as well in dim light, though the AF-Assist Beam can assist in this situation.  When photographing people, always try to focus somewhere on the face, ideally on the eyes or eyebrows, then recompose the framing of your image if necessary.

Select an Auto Focus Point, or AF Point, using the Multi-Controller or using the AF Point Selection Button and the Cross Keys (depending on your camera).  If you have a model with the Multi-Controller (such as the 60D with the thumb-pad or the 7D or 5DII with the thumb-joystick), be sure to set the Custom Function setting for AF Point Selection Method so that you can directly change the AF Point without pressing the AF Button first.

Canon 60D T3i 600D autofocus system AF point select choose set setting
Figure 1 – The selected AF Point is located over the subject’s eye in order to ensure the camera autofocuses where desired.  (Canon 60D viewfinder shown, T3i/600D viewfinder similar)

To see how autofocus point selection works, make sure the switch on your lens it set to AF and your Autofocus Mode, as seen on the top LCD Panel or rear LCD screen, is set to One Shot, then:

•    Tap the Shutter Button with a half-press to wake up the camera.
•    Looking through the viewfinder, use the Multi-Controller or Cross Keys to select the focus point that is nearest to where you want to focus.
•    Place that point over your intended subject.
•    Press and hold the Shutter Button halfway down and see that point blink red.  The Focus Confirmation Light should light up in your viewfinder.  You have locked the focus.
•    Keeping the Shutter Button pressed halfway, recompose if necessary, and take the shot by fully pressing the Shutter Button.

There are reasons to use the outer focus points and not just the center one all the time.  First, if you are taking several shots of the same subject and framing, you will not have to re-focus with the center point and recompose between each shot.  And by controlling exactly where you focus, you then have greater, more precise control over the use of dramatic depth of field.  Also, if you use the center point and recompose, you have swept the camera in an arc to recompose, and are thus always focusing at a distance behind the subject (think of an arc that is your focus distance, and the tangent line off that arc that is the focus plane which now runs behind the subject after re-composing).  This may not be as noticeable when the subject is further away, but for a close subject – especially when using shallow depth of field – the difference is critical.

It may sound difficult to select the focus point each time, but it is actually very quickly done and should become instinctive.  You may even start to set your focus point as you approach a scene before even bringing your camera to your eye.

Focus Modes
The 60D and T3i (and 5D/ 5DII and 7D) have different focus modes to choose from, typically depending if your subject is still or moving, or if you wish to track its movement.

One-Shot AF
Use this mode when your subject is still and not going to move, or if your subject is not going to move very much, or if the distance between you and the subject is not going to change between the time you lock focus, recompose, and take the shot.  Lock focus on the subject and recompose if necessary.  This mode can even be used for moving people or objects if you quickly take the shot after establishing or locking focus.

Focus on your subject by pressing the Shutter Button halfway.  The active or selected AF Point will be displayed or will illuminate, and the Focus Confirmation Light at the lower right in the Viewfinder will illuminate as well.  Continue to press the Shutter Button all the way to take the shot.  If you half-press the Shutter Button to lock focus on your subject, the camera will remain focused at that distance as long as you keep half-pressing the Shutter Button.  You can recompose the shot as you wish and then full press the Shutter Button to take the photo.

As just noted, if the Focus Confirmation Light does not light up and the camera does not take the photo, the camera may not be finding enough contrast to focus on, you may be too close to your subject for the lens to focus, or the lighting may be too dim for the AF system to work properly.

However, if you are photographing a subject that is approaching or receding from view at a relatively constant rate, or photographing fast or erratic or unpredictably moving subjects, or photographing sports, action, or wildlife you will usually want to use AI Servo Focus Mode.

Canon 7D 5D mark II 60D T3i 600D autofocus system AF point choose select set setting
Figure 2 – Use One-Shot AF mode and select your desired AF Point to capture still or moderately moving subjects.  (Canon T3i viewfinder shown – 60D similar)

AI Servo
AI Servo mode is used for tracking and focusing on moving subjects, and is ideal for capturing sports and wildlife including birds.  If the subject is moving towards you or away from you the camera will keep evaluating the focus distance as long as the subject remains under the focus point that was originally active and the Shutter Button is kept half-pressed, and if the subject is moving from side to side or throughout the frame the camera will track it as it passes from one AF Point or Zone to the other ones (if you started tracking with the center AF point on the 60D and T3i or any selected AF point with the 7D).

If the subject is going to be moving across your field of view, set the camera to automatically select the focus point using all the AF points (this is one of the few times you will not be manually selecting the auto focus point), focus on the moving subject with the center focus point, and then as long as the Shutter Button remains half-pressed the camera will track the subject to the other focus points if it moves to them.  Thus when the image is taken, the subject is in focus.  This will even work in conjunction with continuous shooting.  If you keep the Shutter Button fully pressed and continue to take photos, the camera will keep focusing on the moving subject.  As you can imagine, this is ideal for tracking a player running across a field, a dog running toward you, or a bird moving across the fame.  Note that when shooting with Continuous Shooting Drive Mode not every shot may be in sharp focus as the camera sometimes can’t keep up and accurately predict the subject’s speed or location.  But you should be able to capture many sharp images with this technique.  The more sophisticated Canon 7D will allow you to start tracking moving subjects with any selected AF Point and not just the center AF Point.  These are the types of advanced capabilities you are paying for (and should take advantage of!) with a more expensive dSLR.

As you will see, when using AI Servo mode your compositions will be partially dictated by the positions of the autofocus points in your Viewfinder.  The subject needs to be at one of these AF Points in order for the camera to maintain focus on it.  This is why in some situations becoming skilled at quickly using One-Shot AF – even for action scenes – will give you much more ability to control your compositions.

AI Focus
This mode is a hybrid of the two other focus modes.  It starts in One-Shot AF mode then changes to AI Servo mode if your subject starts moving.  Why shouldn’t you use this all the time, then?  Well, it is typically not the best of both worlds.  If you are focusing and then recomposing, as you may often be doing, your movement of the camera may fool it into thinking that the subject is moving and then activate subject tracking AI Servo Mode, and your resulting focus may not be where you intend it to be or may not be as accurate as it could have been with One-Shot AF.  And in AI Focus Mode it may not be as quick to respond to a moving subject as it would in AI Servo Mode.  Typically you know if your subject is still or moving so it is better to select one of the other two AF Modes.  Plus that way you always know which AF Mode you are working in and can either lock focus where you want it or begin tracking a subject without wondering what mode the camera is in and if it will suddenly change.  But there may be situations that call for this combination mode such as a still bird or animal that may start moving unexpectedly, so keep it in mind.

How do you remember which mode is which since the terms “AI Servo” and “AI Focus” tell you nothing that makes sense?  Although I listed them in a different order above to explain them more easily, on your camera they are listed:

ONE SHOT
AI FOCUS
AI SERVO

Remember that One-Shot AF just focuses once and doesn’t change once you lock it in, and AI Servo AF is the other extreme – continuous focus used for moving objects. And AI Focus AF is listed in the middle, between the two, because it is the hybrid, combination of the two.

Checking Focus
You can review your images on the rear LCD Monitor of your camera to try to determine if they are in focus, especially by zooming in as close as possible.  But be aware that this screen has only about one million dots or pixels, while your actual image has about 18 million pixels.  That means that many images will appear to be in proper focus on your LCD screen, but you might discover that the actual images are not really so sharply in focus.

Before continuing, I want to mention that much of this text is excerpted from my dSLR guides for the Canon EOS 6D, Canon 70D, Rebel T5i / EOS 700D, Rebel T4i / EOS 650D, and the Canon EOS 7D. If you would like to learn more about the autofocus systems as well as all the other features of your camera including metering modes, Aperture and Shutter priority modes (Av and Tv), all the menus and Custom Function settings, and more, have a look at my Full Stop e-book camera guides. In addition to explaining the features and settings, the guides clearly explain when and why to use them in order to capture the images you desire.

Take control of your camera and the images you create!

Learn more about the e-books by clicking on the banner below:

full stop dslr photo photography camera manual guide for dummies canon nikon

 

To learn about another important reason why you need to take control of your autofocus system, and why the two example photos above actually weren’t my final compositions, see the next post:

Don’t Let the Locations of the AF Points Dictate Your Composition

What do you do when, with your desired framing, your subject is not located exactly under or near an AF point?  Even with the 19 or 39 points of an advanced Canon 7D or Nikon D7000, this will often be an issue.  For example in Figure 2 above, I actually wish to capture the entire window and more space around it within the image frame, but moving the camera and framing for that composition leaves me with no AF Point at the woman where I wish to focus.  Have a look at the above post to learn why this is an issue and how to resolve it.

Focus and Depth of Field

Many functions of dSLR cameras are related to some degree or another, and Focus and Depth of Field are two of these.  The depth of field, based on your aperture setting (and thus related to exposure…) expands forward and back from your point of focus.  Thus, one important aspect of controlling your depth of field begins with focusing exactly where you want to.  To begin learning more about depth of field, have a look at my post Depth of Field Simplified.

Was this post helpful?  Please let others know about it by clicking the Facebook or Twitter sharing buttons below, linking to it from your blog or website, or mentioning it on a forum.  Thanks!  Want to help support this blog with no cost or effort?  Simply click on the Amazon, B&H Photo, or Adorama logos on the left side of this page to go to those sites and make your purchases.  They will then give me a little referral bonus!

Understanding and Using Exposure Compensation and Bracketing

One of the key elements for obtaining the proper exposure of your images when working in Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority modes is making use of Exposure Compensation.  Although all the exposure related settings of a dSLR are intimately intertwined (such as aperture, shutter speed, ISO setting plus the exposure metering mode you are using, etc.) and it is challenging to speak of one without addressing the others, I will focus here on exposure compensation and when and how to use it.

The following text is excerpted from my e-book guide Ten Steps to Better dSLR Photography, where you can learn more about exposure compensation plus apertures, shutter speeds, exposure metering modes, composition and more.  Click on the cover at the end of the post to learn more about the guide, preview it, or purchase it.

Why Exposure Compensation is Needed

If you take an image that turns out to be darker or lighter than you desire, based on reviewing the image and/ or its histogram on your rear LCD screen, you can use exposure compensation in the non-Auto shooting modes to “override” the exposure that the camera is selecting, in order to brighten or darken the next image’s exposure.  You may want to do this if you have seen that your highlights have run off the right side of the histogram and been blown-out, resulting in complete loss of detail in those areas of the image.  Consult your manual to determine how to adjust exposure compensation on your specific camera.  With some Canon models, you press the Exposure Compensation [+/-] button and turn the Main Dial.  With other Canon models you use the Quick Control Dial to adjust this setting.  With Nikon, Sony, Pentax, and Olympus models you typically press the Exposure Compensation [+/-] button and turn a dial.  You will then see the exposure compensation amount change in your viewfinder and/ or on the top or rear LCD screen.  If the exposure level indicator in one of these places is not changing, press the shutter button half-way to first wake up the camera, or move/ press the Lock switch/ button near the rear dial on a Canon.

Putting Exposure Compensation to Use

If you have taken a photo that is too dark and you wish to retake the image and make the next exposure of the scene lighter, adjust exposure compensation in the positive (+) direction.  To make the next exposure darker, adjust exposure compensation in the negative (-) direction.  Try changing the Exposure Compensation by perhaps 1/3, 1/2, or 2/3 in the direction you desire, retake the shot, and see if your exposure problem is solved.  Increase or decrease the exposure compensation as needed.  Remember to set the exposure compensation back to zero when you are done with that situation and move on to take different images!  This is one reason why you should check your camera’s settings often – to make sure you haven’t left the camera on the settings from a previous situation.  This can often happen with the ISO setting and exposure compensation setting.  Check your current settings on the top or rear LCD display or in the viewfinder.

To remember how to compensate – which direction to turn the dial – think of the histogram peaks on the graph.  If you wish to shift the peaks to the left, to the darker side, to make the image darker, turn the dial so that the exposure compensation level moves to the negative side (-1, -2, etc.).  If you wish to shift the peaks to the right, to the lighter side, to make the image lighter, turn the dial so that the exposure compensation level moves to the positive side (+1, +2, etc).  Curiously, some cameras put the negative side of the exposure level indicator on the left, and others put it on the right, so look in the manual or viewfinder to see how yours operates.

Bracketing

Exposure compensation can also be used to “bracket” an exposure.  Bracketing is when you take at least three photos of the same scene, one at the “proper” exposure, one under-exposed, and one over-exposed (see the image below).  For example you may take the second and third shot with the exposure compensation set at +1 and then -1.  This is done to ensure that you capture exactly the right exposure you desire.  In the days of film this was a helpful technique, especially for critical situations, since one didn’t have the immediate feedback of the image on an LCD screen and a histogram.  It can still be used today for critical situations or for test shots when determining the right exposure settings.  Digital SLR cameras typically have an auto exposure compensation feature so that this process is more automated.  You set the amount of under- and over-exposure desired (such as +1, -1 or +1 2/3, -1 2/3) and then take three images in a row.  The camera automatically adjusts the exposures for each shot in order to bracket the second and third shots.  If your camera is set on continuous drive mode, you can just hold down the shutter button and the camera will take the three shots in a row.


Weaver Constructing the Keshwa Chaca, Huinchiri, Peru – Three bracketed exposures of the same scene:  the “proper” exposure as determined by the camera (Evaluative metering mode) in the center, under-exposed -2/3 stop on the left, over-exposed +2/3 stop on the right.  The desired exposure, for my eye, lies somewhere between the “proper” exposure and the over-exposure.  With auto exposure bracketing you can often customize the order that the bracketed images are taken, for example proper/under/over or under/proper/over.  In this example they were taken proper/under/over, so they are displayed here in a different order than actually captured.  Center exposure:  Shutter speed 1/1000, aperture f/5.0, ISO 100, focal length 105mm.

Exposure compensation and bracketing are also used in HDR (high dynamic range) photography to take three or five or more photos of the same scene at various exposures.  All the images are then combined by the photographer, using HDR software, into a single image which will contain a much broader dynamic range of light and dark than is possible with a single image.

Beyond Exposure Compensation

As I mentioned at the start, exposure is determined by a number of controls and settings on your dSLR.  If you are consistently taking images that are under- or over-exposed, you may wish to explore the other metering modes, to ensure that the camera is metering your exposures exactly where and how you want.  Have a look at my previous post on Exploring Metering Modes to learn more about this, or have a look at my e-book guide Ten Steps to Better dSLR Photography to learn about all the aspects of exposure and how they relate.

 

Ten Steps to Better dSLR Photography

Ten Steps to Better dSLR Photography is an e-book guide to help digital SLR photographers take control of their camera and the images they create.

tips tricks photography dslr learn use manual instruction tutorial for dummies guide

Capturing great images with your dSLR should not be the occasional result of chance and luck.  By taking control of your camera, its functions, and its settings you can begin to work with consistency and intention and take the photos you desire.

Readers of my popular dSLR camera guides such as Nikon D5100 Experience and Your World 60D have benefited from the clear and concise explanations of digital SLR photography functions and concepts. With Ten Steps to Better dSLR Photography all photographers can learn these essential elements necessary for taking full advantage of a dSLR including how, when and why to use the camera’s various functions and settings.

With this guide you will learn:

  • Controlling Your Autofocus System – focus where you want for sharp photos of still and moving subjects.
  • Understanding Apertures and using Aperture Priority Mode to capture dramatic depth of field.
  • Understanding Shutter Speed and using Shutter Priority Mode to freeze or express action.
  • Choosing the Metering Mode, Adjusting Exposure Compensation, and Using the Histogram for proper exposure in all lighting situations.
  • Determining proper ISO Settings and White Balance Settings.
  • Selecting JPEG or RAW image file format to save your images.
  • Improving Image Composition.
  • The Image Taking Process – a tutorial making use of all the steps learned.
  • …and more!

These are not simply photography “tips and tricks” but rather clear, concise, and useful explanations and examples of the fundamental functions, settings, and concepts of digital SLR photography. This 54 page illustrated PDF guide can help the novice or intermediate photographer better understand their camera and how to use it to its full capabilities to consistently capture better images, whether you shoot with a Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sony, or Olympus dSLR camera.

Author:  Douglas Klostermann
Format:  PDF – Instant Download
Page Count:  54 pages, illustrated
ISBN:  978-1-4524-4764-3
Price: $8.99 new release sale!  $6.99
secure payment with PayPal or Credit card (via PayPal)
(plus 6.25% sales tax for residents of Massachusetts)

Buy Now with PayPal  or  Buy Now with your Visa/MC

 

Other versions of Ten Steps to Better dSLR Photography are available:

The Kindle edition is available on Amazon
The Nook version is available at BarnesandNoble.com
The iPad and iBooks version is available through iTunes or through the iBooks App on your iPhone/iPad

Take control of your dSLR camera and the images you create!

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Full Manual Exposure Control, Video, Live View, and the D5100

I recently received some interesting questions from two different readers on my posts about the Nikon D5100, Nikon D5100 vs D7000 vs D90 etc. and Nikon D5100 vs. Canon T3i.  Both questions point out interesting issues with the Nikon D5100 that may be important considerations if your shooting needs required these functions, or that might not affect you and your shooting at all if, like me, you never use manual exposure control in video and/ or you don’t use Live View (and M mode) when shooting stills.

Here is the first question and my reply:

Question 1:

I wanted to ask about a major differentiator, if its true and useful for someone trying to learn a bit of manual photography. Below link and video talks about D90 and D5100 not having the ability to do manual control in video. Is it true? Does it really matter. Please advise.

(video is no longer available on YouTube)

I would also like some instructions on how to use manual control – when, why, how.

Nikon D5100 mode dial video manual exposure a s m aperture shutter
Mode dial of the Nikon D5100

My Answer:
Yes, the lack of full manual control in video mode is a very real deficiency of the of the Nikon D5100, especially for people who wish to seriously use it for video.  To answer your question “does it really matter?”, yes, it really matters if you wish to have straightforward, full manual control while shooting video.  I know that sounds like a smart-ass response to the question, but it is kind of like “if it isn’t an iPhone, it isn’t an iPhone,” blatantly stolen from “if you had invented Facebook, you would have invented Facebook.”

Wait a minute, I just realized that I was ahead of the curve and I wrote this similar smart-ass phrase before that movie even came out:
“If the 5D Mk II fits your expanding and demanding needs as a photographer, you would already pretty much know that you needed a 5D.”
See, look here, I said that earlier than August 26, 2010, and the movie came out Oct 1, 2010, and I didn’t even see it until a couple months ago!

Anyway, if you need full manual control in video, you know that you need full manual control in video based on your experience and needs, and then you need your camera to have full manual control in video.  Simple, right?  But…do you not know yet but wonder are you going to need it in the future if you grow and develop as a photographer/videographer?  That is the big unknown that no one can answer but one needs to figure out on an individual basis!

However, there is a “work-around” for this shortcoming of no full manual exposure control with the Nikon D5100.  To manually set your shutter speed, you must set the camera on Shutter-Priority Auto Mode (S) and set your desired shutter speed before going into Live View mode, use exposure compensation to obtain the aperture setting you want, and use the AE-L/AF-L Button to lock that exposure (set Custom Setting f2 for AE-Lock Hold).  If you wish to first set the aperture setting, you must set the camera on Aperture-Priority Auto Mode (A) and set your desired aperture before going into Live View mode, use exposure compensation to obtain the shutter speed setting you want, and use the AE-L/AF-L Button to lock that exposure (set Custom Setting f2 for AE-Lock Hold).

See this video I came across on YouTube for a demonstration:

As far as instruction in manual control (for still photography), see my Full Stop dSLR camera guide e-books, of course!  I don’t go into a lot of detail of full manual (M) because I don’t feel it is necessary for most beginner or intermediate photographers in most situations.  I don’t believe in M for the sake of old-school, full control, “look, I’m a skilled photographer/ martyr ‘cuz I use full manual.” It just adds an extra step (setting BOTH aperture and shutter speed rather than just one) to each photo that isn’t necessary.  Let the camera do it for you.  Pick your priority:  Aperture or Shutter Speed.  Are you concerned with depth of field (aperture) or with freezing or blurring action (shutter speed)?  Set your aperture in A (Av) mode or else set your shutter speed in S (Tv) mode, and let the camera take care of the other setting.

I know that many photographers like working in M mode, but if you are wondering if you need to use it: if you haven’t encountered a need for it, you don’t have a need for it. The aperture setting is typically my priority, hence I use Aperture Priority Mode.  Here is a detailed explanation of how I use Aperture Priority in the real world:  Deconstructing the Shot.

As my e-books say about possible situations for using M:

“There are times you may wish to use Manual Exposure Mode.  For example, if you are taking several photos to stitch together into a panorama, you want them all to be taken with the same exposure so that the lighting is consistent across the entire scene. Or if you are working in a studio setting and the lighting will remain consistent, you can set the exposure once and then not worry about it. Or in any other situation where the lighting or your desired exposure will remain consistent such as an indoor performance or sunny day portrait session where the lighting does not change.”

And I know that other situations also demand or benefit from M mode, including macro situations, but many of those situations fall under the “any other situation where the lighting or your desired exposure will remain consistent” category.  Readers, please defend M to me and tell me why you use it!

Question 2:

When I used the Nikon D5100 at a nearby camera store in Live View and Manual (M) mode, it never quite seemed to register ANY of the changes I made to shutter:  the image is supposed to go dark as the shutter speed increases right? (I was in a moderately lit room).  The weird part is that the actual image captured was dark (like it should be) but not the preview!  Is there some setting on the Nikon that is wrong on the piece I tested?  If the camera can’t display the changes it is making during Live View – leaving me to approximate the changes I’m making, then that is a deal breaker for me. I am wondering if this is a bug that was only on the piece that I saw at the showroom, or if you saw it too.

My Answer:

That is a really great question! These are the kinds of features one really has to dig into the camera, menus, or manual of a new dSLR model to determine if it is actually going to meet your needs.

It turns out that no, it is not possible to see actual exposure simulation with the Nikon D5100 in Live View while in Manual M shooting mode. However, in the P, A, or S shooting modes, the live view image will lighten or darken to simulate the exposure settings or the exp. compensation that you set. And to add insult to injury, there is no exposure meter displayed on the Live View screen, so to check your exposure you will need to temporarily leave Live View and switch to the control panel view by pressing the [i] Button.

The Canon 60D and Canon Rebel T3i both have Exposure Simulation in all modes during Live View. On the 60D you can turn this feature off and on. On the T3i it is on automatically while in Live View.

Conclusion:

Now, if you are thinking of buying a Nikon D5100 and after reading this you are suddenly concerned that it is lacking important features that you might need…be sure to first determine if you, indeed, really even need these features.  They shouldn’t be anything to worry about if you are never going to use them and never going to encounter these issues.  For example, I would never encounter the first issue, the lack of full manual control in video, because I don’t shoot video.  If you plan to use the camera to shoot production quality, professional video, this is pretty important.  If you plan to switch over to video and shoot a kid’s sporting event, it is unlikely you are going to shoot this in Manual and so it doesn’t matter.

Regarding the second issue, do you plan to use live mode AND manual shooting mode (M) AND need to preview your image exposure at the same time?  I rarely use M mode and I rarely use Live View and I rarely preview my exposure in Live View if I do use it, so for me and my photography, it will be “rare x rare raised to the rare power” (or (rare x rare) rare or is it merely rare x (rare) rare ?) that I need to use Live View AND M mode AND preview what my exposure will be.  If I needed to, I think I could get by with A mode instead, where the Exposure Simulation in Live View functions on the D5100.  But, if you are like the reader who had this question and you have a real need for this, say shooting cool macro shots of flowers and insects, then you will need to consider the Nikon D7000, Canon T3i, or Canon 60D instead.

Exposure Lock, Focus Lock, and Back-Button Focusing

When I got my first dSLR camera, I went through the manual and tried to absorb how and why to use all the buttons, controls, and menu items.  I was about to head off to Peru for three months and I wanted to make sure I was going to be able to use it properly and get the most out of it right from the start.

For some reason it seemed odd to me that when you pressed the shutter button half-way both the focus AND the exposure were locked in.  I had never used an auto-focus SLR before (I went from a Canon AE-1 to a digital point and shoot and missed the whole EOS film SLR era) and always thought of focusing and setting the exposure as two separate acts.  Based on my experience with a digital point and shoot, I knew I often focused on the subject with the static middle square (this was several years ago, before face detection and moving auto-focus areas) and then recomposed to take the final shot.  With a dSLR, I thought to myself, wouldn’t the exposure change between the framing where I locked in the focus and exposure, and the final framing?  Even if using the other focus points of the dSLR and not just the center focus point, I found that my subjects rarely sat right under a focus point and I was often recomposing in order to get the composition I wanted.

I asked a few dSLR users about this, and they looked at me as if I had a Rocket Blower growing out of my head.  They didn’t seen to encounter or consider this problem.  So I dug into the manual and the very helpful David Busch digital SLR guide and discovered I could overcome this issue with exposure lock.  Indeed, this was a real issue that was addressed by dSLR controls, and I wasn’t out of my mind!

Canon 7D 60D T3i exposure lock focus lock back button focus Nikon D5100 D7000 AE-L AF-L
The Exposure Lock (*) Button and AF-ON Button of the Canon 7D

There are typically a few different ways to separate exposure lock and focus lock with current dSLR camera.  As described above, you can use the exposure lock button to first lock exposure, and then deal with focusing.  With a Canon this is done by pressing the button marked “*”.  With a Nikon, you can set the AE-L/AF-L button for auto exposure lock (hence AE-L).  But since Nikons by default don’t typically lock exposure with a half-press of the shutter button, you really don’t have to worry about it for the same reasons that you do with a Canon (such as when you are recomposing a shot, since the Nikon only locks focus and not exposure with a shutter button half-press, and then determines exposure when the shot is taken, exposure should be correct).

For a Canon you can also set it so that the half-press of the shutter button will lock exposure but not focus, and then use the AF-ON button to lock focus (the T3i does not have this button, thus it is done differently).  This is one method of what is called back-button focusing.  This can also be done with a Nikon using the AE-L/AF-L button for auto focus lock (hence AF-L).  You typically have to dig into the custom function settings on any of the cameras to change these settings and button functions.  The terminology can be confusing, so you may want to have a look at any of my e-book user’s guides which all discuss how to accomplish exposure lock and focus lock with the specific cameras.  So far I have guides for the Canon 60D and Rebel T3i, and Nikon D5100 and D7000.  You can learn more about them all here on my Full Stop e-book website.

For example with the Canon 60D, I explain how you can go into the menus and set the Shutter Button to Metering+AF Start and the AF-ON Button to AF Stop.  This setup will allow you to use the camera as you always have, in the default manner of the Shutter Button locking focus and exposure when pressed halfway.  The “*” button functions as before, locking exposure at any time when pressed.  But this also gives you the option of locking focus independent of exposure metering.  It is the best of both worlds.

Learning to use back-button focus and even exposure lock can be awkward at first, and you may not fully understand why it is necessary.  But I highly recommend starting to experiment with it, then hopefully getting in the habit of using it all the time – especially if you shoot a lot of action scenes or situations where you are rapidly taking lots of photos (perhaps a wedding and reception).  You may soon find it indispensable and wonder how you once managed without it!

Canon has an article about back-button focusing which explains all the various options here:

http://www.usa.canon.com/dlc/controller?act=GetArticleAct&articleID=2286

It is not specific to any camera, so you may have to determine how to implement it on your camera.

Taking Advantage of the Nikon D5100 Autofocus System

Learn How to Use the Nikon D5100 Autofocus System

The autofocus system of the Nikon D5100 may not be quite as complicated as the 39 point AF system of the Nikon D7000, but it does offer many of the same capabilities and options, and can be a little confusing to figure out.  The autofocus system includes not only the three Focus Modes used in various combinations with four Autofocus Area Modes, but also includes a few Custom Settings as well as the optional AF-L or Autofocus Lock Button.

Nikon D5100 autofocus system AF focus mode autofocus area mode
Image by author – copyright 2011 – please do not use without permission!

You will first want to set up the autofocus Custom Settings so that the AF system functions how you desire.

a1: AF-C priority selection – This setting determines if attaining focus is top priority when you are in Continuous-servo AF mode (AF-C autofocus mode), or if you just want the shots to be taken even if exact focus is not attained for each shot.  If exact focus is your priority, set on Focus.  If getting the shots at all costs is the priority, set for Release.

a2: Built-in AF-assist illuminator – This is used to enable or disable the autofocus assist light, to assist you in autofocusing in low light.  Note that the AF-assist lamp only works in AF-S mode or when the camera is in AF-A and choosing single-servo (not always under your control), and when in Auto-area AF area mode or only with the center AF point in other AF area modes.

a3: Rangefinder – This setting is used to help obtain focus when you have turned off autofocus and are using Manual Focus mode (MF) and manually focusing.  (Be sure to also set the autofocus switch on your lens to M)  The exposure indicator in the viewfinder is used to indicate if the subject is correctly in focus.

f2: Assign AE-L/AF-L button – This is to assign the function of the AE-L/AF-L Button., which gives you the option to use this button to lock focus or to initiate focus, and this separate those functions from the Shutter Button.

This should get you started, and I go into more detail about each of these Custom Settings, as well as all the other D5100 Custom Settings in my e-book guide Nikon D5100 Experience.

Using Autofocus
The information below is also excerpted from my e-book user’s guide Nikon D5100 Experience, so I hope you have a look at the guide in order to learn more about the AF system as well as all the other functions and controls of the D5100.

One of the essential steps in taking a successful photo is controlling where the camera focuses.  If you allow the camera to autofocus by choosing its own Focus Point(s), it typically focuses on the closest object or human subject.  This may or may not be what you want to focus on.  So you should choose where the camera focuses using the autofocus Focus Points and selecting a specific AF point.  This does not mean you have to manually focus the camera, it means you tell the camera exactly where to autofocus.  But you also need to select the desired Focus Mode and Autofocus Area Mode, based on your subject and its type of movement (or lack of movement).

Focus Modes

The D5100 has three different Focus Modes to choose from, typically depending if your subject is still or moving.  It also has four different Autofocus Area Modes (see below) to specify how many of the AF points are active and how they track a moving object.  You can set these two functions in various combinations.  First the Focus Modes.

Single-Servo AF (AF-S)
Use this mode when your subject is stationary, or still and not going to move, or if your subject is not going to move very much, or if the distance between you and the subject is not going to change between the time you lock focus, recompose, and take the shot.  Lock focus on the subject and recompose if necessary.  When using AF-S, you can select from two Autofocus Area Modes, either Single-Point AF where you select the AF point, or Auto-Area AF, where the camera selects the AF point(s) for you.  I suggest you nearly always select your own desired AF point so that the camera focuses exactly where you want it to.

Continuous-Servo AF (AF-C)
Use this mode when your subject is moving.  If the subject is moving towards you or away from you, the camera will keep evaluating the focus distance, as long as the Shutter-Release Button is kept half-pressed.  You will need to use this in conjunction with the Autofocus Area Modes to determine if and how the camera tracks the subject laterally to the surrounding AF points, or if it will only track the subject if it remains at the initially selected AF point.  Single-Point AF will only track the subject’s distance as it moves near or far if it remains under the selected point.  It will not track lateral movement if the subject leaves the selected AF point.  If the subject is going to be moving somewhat unpredictably and may leave your selected AF point before you can react, use the Dynamic-Area AF mode so that the surrounding AF points are used to maintain focus while you realign your selected AF point with the subject.  If the subject is going to be moving across your field of view, set the AF-Area Mode to the 3D-Tracking mode so that the camera tracks it in any direction as it moves to the other AF points.

Focus on the moving subject with the selected AF point when using Dynamic Area Mode or 3D-Tracking Mode, or let the camera select the AF point in Auto-Area AF Mode, and then as long as the Shutter-Release Button remains half-pressed the camera will track the subject to the other focus points if it moves to them and as it moves closer or farther in distance.

Auto-Servo AF (AF-A)
This mode is a hybrid of the two other focus modes.  It starts in Single-Servo AF (AF-S) mode then changes to Continuous-Servo AF (AF-C) mode if your subject starts moving.  Why shouldn’t you use this all the time, then?  Well, if you are focusing and then recomposing, as you may often be doing, your movement of the camera may fool it into thinking that the subject is moving and your resulting focus may not be where you want it to be, or may not be as accurate as it might be if you are using Single-Servo AF.

Manual Focus
Sometimes you may be taking several photos of the same subject from the same distance, or for some other reason want to keep the same focus distance and not have to keep re-focusing and re-composing.  Or you may be taking multiple photos for a panorama.  In these situations, turn off the auto-focus with the autofocus switch on the lens itself (set to M) and change your camera’s Focus Mode to MF (Manual Focus).  Just remember to switch them back when you are finished.  You may also wish to do this if you want to precisely manually focus with the focus ring on your lens.  (Note that for lenses with “full time manual focus” you don’t need to switch to M in order to manually override when slightly tweaking the autofocus with the lens focus ring.  These lenses will have M/A and M on the lens focus mode switch instead of A and M.)  Use the Rangefinder feature of the D5100 to assist with manual focus – Custom Setting a3.

Autofocus Area Modes

The Autofocus Area Modes are used to set if just a single AF point is active or else how many AF points surrounding your selected AF point will be used to track a moving subject if you are using AF-C or AF-A Focus Modes.

Nikon d5100 autofocus af auto focus system lock point area mode
Selecting an AF Point using Single-Point AF and locking focus

Single-Point AF
Only one AF point will be active, and surrounding AF points will not become active to track a subject that moves away from the one selected point.  This is typically used along with Single-Servo AF (AF-S) to focus on a stationary or still subject, or in a situation where you will be reframing the shot after you lock focus at a specific distance.  It can also be used with accuracy with AF-S mode for moving subjects if you take the photo quickly or if you recompose and take the shot quickly after locking in focus, especially if the camera-to-subject distance does not change at all or very much in that period between locking focus and taking the photo.  Use the Multi Selector to choose your active AF point as you look through the viewfinder and use the OK Button to quickly select the center AF point.  If you choose Single-Point AF with Continuous-Servo AF (AF-C) or Auto-Servo AF (AF-A) for tracking moving subjects, it will only track the subject as long as it is positioned at the selected AF point, and it will not be tracked laterally to the other, surrounding points.  As noted above, the single AF point you select will track a subject if it moves closer or farther away, but the AF system will not track the subject if it moves left, right, up, or down and away from your selected AF point.  To do this, you use Dynamic-Area AF mode or 3D-Tracking mode.

Dynamic-Area AF
With the Dynamic-Area AF Mode, you select an AF point to tell the camera where to autofocus, and if your subject briefly moves away from that point to a neighboring point or if you lose the subject from your AF point while panning, the camera will use the surrounding AF points to help maintain focus on it.  Select Dynamic-Area AF when you are photographing moving or potentially moving subjects using Continuous-Servo AF (AF-C) or Auto-Servo AF (AF-A).  These modes are ideal for a subject moving closer or further from the camera but which may also move laterally away from the selected AF point faster than you can react in order to keep it located at that point, or for when you are panning and following the subject and attempting to keep it located at the selected AF point, but may have a little or a lot of difficulty doing so.  Remember that you need to keep the Shutter Button half-pressed in order for the continuous focusing at the initial point or the surrounding points to occur.  Note that the camera may pick up and start tracking a new subject that falls under the selected AF point if you lose your initial subject.

The Dynamic-Area AF Mode is not used to track and maintain focus on a subject that is moving across the various AF points in the frame, but rather is used to stay focused on a moving subject that you attempt to keep located at your selected AF Point.  To track a subject that is moving across the frame, intentionally passing from one AF point to the next, use 3D-Tracking.

3D-Tracking
This mode is used for subjects moving across the frame in any direction, or subjects moving erratically from side-to-side in the frame, and they are tracked by areas of color.  This is used when you don’t wish to necessarily pan or follow the subject to keep it located in the same part of the frame, but rather when you wish to keep the camera relatively still as the subject moves across the frame.  You may select this option when you are tracking and photographing moving subjects using Continuous-Servo AF (AF-C) or Auto-Servo AF (AF-A).  Again, you choose the initial AF point to locate the subject and begin the tracking.  If the area of color you wish to track is too small or if it blends into the background, this mode might not be very effective.

Auto-Area AF
The camera uses all 11 AF points to detect what it thinks is the subject and automatically choose the appropriate AF point(s).  Typically, the camera will select the nearest subject or a human in the frame, so it may not focus on exactly what you wish to focus on.  That is why it is best to use one of the other modes and select the AF point yourself.  However in certain situations such as quick sports or action scenes you may have to make use of this.

Locking Focus

The next step is to learn to lock focus independent of locking exposure, typically through the use of the AE-L/AF-L Button as noted in the f2 Custom Setting above.  But for that, and numerous other important functions of the D5100, you are going to have to have a look at my e-book, Nikon D5100 Experience!
Nikon D5100 book user guide manual download ebook

I’ve put together a video introduction to the D5100 autofocus system to compliment this article:

To learn about another important reason why you need to take control of your autofocus system, see the related post:

Don’t Let the Locations of the AF Points Dictate Your Composition

What do you do when, with your desired framing, your subject is not located exactly under or near an AF point? Even with all the AF points of an advanced Nikon D5100 or D7000, this will often be an issue.  Have a look at the above post to learn why this is an issue and how to resolve it.

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Taking Advantage of the Nikon D810/ D610 / D7100 / D5300 Autofocus System

This was originally written for the Nikon D7000, but as the Nikon D7100, the Nikon D7000, the Nikon D610 / D600, the Nikon D810 / D800, and the Nikon D5200 / D5300 all share a similar Autofocus system, most of this information will apply to all of them.  And even though some of the models have 51 AF Points instead of the 39 AF Points of the other cameras, all the same settings and actions apply.

The Nikon D7100, the Nikon D7000, the Nikon D610 / D600, the Nikon D810 / D800, and the Nikon D5200 / D5200 dSLRs all share very similar, and quite sophisticated autofocus systems – especially if you are coming from a D90, D5100, or earlier camera.  With their 39 AF points or 51 AF points that can be used independently or together in a variety of ways, its Autofocus Custom Settings that affect many of the functions of the AF system, and the three different Autofocus Modes that are used in various combinations with the four different Autofocus AF-Area Modes, it is no wonder that users are having difficulty figuring it all out. (Plus the D810 offers an additional Group Area AF Area Mode!)

Nikon D600 D7000 autofocus af system 39 point auto focus control learn use how to dummie book guide manual
Some of the Autofocus controls of the Nikon D600, located near the base of the lens (to the left of the FX badge and below the Lens Release Button).

First, the Autofocus Controls on the D810/ D800, D610/ D600, D7100, and D7000 are a bit different than previous cameras.  You can change the Autofocus Mode and AF Area Mode by pressing the AF Mode Button (located inside the Focus Mode Selector switch) and then use the Command Dials to adjust the settings as you view them on the top LCD Control Panel or in the Viewfinder.

Focus Mode Selector – This switch is used to turn on or off autofocus. Set to AF for autofocus and M for manual focus. Be sure to set the similar switch on the lens as well. If your camera does not seem to be autofocusing, be sure to check this switch and the one on your lens.

AF Mode Button – This button, located inside the Focus Mode Selector switch, may be confusing at first to those who have not previously seen or used it on the Nikon D7000 or D600, though you should quickly find that it is a convenient design. It is used to select the Focus Mode as well as the autofocus AF-Area Mode. Press this button and turn the rear Main Command Dial to select the Focus Mode, such as AF-A or AF-C, while viewing the setting on the top Control Panel or in the Viewfinder. Press this button and turn the front Sub-Command Dial to set the AF-Area Mode, such as Single-Point AF or 39-Point Dynamic-Area AF. Again, you can view the selected setting on the top Control Panel or in the Viewfinder. The autofocus system including the Focus Modes and AF-Area Modes will be explained below.

Next you will need to set up some of the autofocus Custom Settings to begin to customize how the AF system functions for your needs (Some of these options may not be available with the D5200):

AF-C priority selection – This setting determines if attaining focus is top priority when you are in Continuous-servo AF (Auto-Focus) Mode (AF-C), or if you just want the shots to be taken even if exact focus is not attained for each shot.  If exact focus is your priority, set on Focus.  If getting the shots at all costs is the priority, set for Release.

AF-S priority selection – This is similar to above, except that this setting is for when you are working in Single-servo AF Mode (AF-S), typically used when your subject is not moving.  Since AF-S is typically used with subjects that are not moving, it makes more sense to make sure focus is attained, thus you should typically select Focus for this setting.

Focus tracking with lock-on – This setting determines how the autofocus system reacts to sudden, dramatic changes in the distance of the subject when you are working in AF-C or AF-A modes.  Decide if you wish to have the camera quickly refocus on a new or closer subject (1-Short), wait awhile until it ideally picks up the intended subject again (5-Long), somewhere in between, or immediately refocus on a new subject at a large distance from the initial subject (Off).  Keep this option in mind with the various AF-C and AF Area Mode configurations, as it may change depending on your subject and situation.  Sometimes you don’t want the camera to quickly refocus on a closer or more distant subject, while other times you do.

AF point illumination – This is used to set whether or not the selected autofocus point (AF Point) is illuminated in the viewfinder.  Since you pretty much always want to know where your camera is focusing, this should be set for On.

Focus point wrap-around – This determines if the AF Point selection will “wrap around” to the other side of the screen when you reach an edge.  In other words, if you are selecting your AF Point (as you should be doing at almost all times) and you reach an AF Point on the far right, when you click right again, do you want to “wrap around” to a focus point on the far left, or do you wish to stop at the edge and not continue to the other side?

Number of focus points – This setting determines the number of autofocus points that are available for selection in your viewfinder.  If you are always selecting your AF Point (as you typically should) you may find that it is quicker and easier, at least at first, to limit the number of AF Points to 11 – AF11.  If you prefer to have all the AF Points available for your selection, set this at AF39 (or AF51 with the D7100).  If you set to 11 AF points your selection will be limited to those 11 AF points, but the additional surrounding AF points will still be active to be used by the camera in the AF-Area Modes and in subject tracking, so the camera is still taking advantage of all the AF points of the autofocus system.

Built-in AF-assist illuminator – This is used to enable or disable the autofocus assist light.  Turn this On to assist you in autofocusing in low light, but be sure to turn it Off if you are working in situations where it will be distracting, unwanted, or unnecessary.

and

Assign AE-L/AF-L button (f4 on the D600 and D7100) – This is to assign the function of the AE-L/AF-L Button.  You may want to use this in conjunction with the Function or Fn Button and use one to lock exposure and the other to lock focus.  In that case, you would typically set this to AF lock only to use this button to lock focus.

I go into much more detail about each these Custom Settings, how you may wish to set them up, and recommended settings in my e-book guides for all the current and previous cameras including Nikon D600 Experience, Nikon D7100 Experience, and Nikon D5200 Experience – but this should get you started.

Nikon D600 book ebook camera guide download manual how to dummies field instruction tutorial     Nikon D7100 book ebook manual tutorial field guide how to learn use dummies

 

Using Autofocus
Now on to using the AF system.  (All of the information below is also adapted from my e-book user’s guides, so I hope you will have a look at them to learn more.)

One of the essential steps in taking a successful photo is controlling where the camera focuses.  If you allow the camera to autofocus by choosing its own Focus Point(s), it typically focuses on the closest object or a person in the scene.  This may or may not be what you want to focus on.  So you should choose where the camera focuses using the autofocus Focus Points.  But first you will need to select an appropriate Autofocus Mode and an Autofocus Area Mode, based on your subject and situation.

Autofocus Modes
The D7100, D7000, D600, and D5200 each have three different Autofocus Modes to choose from, typically depending if your subject is still or moving.  They also have four different Autofocus Area Modes (see below) to specify how many of the AF points are active and how they track a moving object.  You can set these two functions in various combinations.  First the Autofocus Modes:

Single-Servo AF (AF-S)
Use this mode when your subject is stationary, or still and not going to move, or if your subject is not going to move very much, or if the distance between you and the subject is not going to change between the time you lock focus, recompose, and take the shot.  Lock focus on the subject and recompose if necessary.  When using AF-S, you can select from two Autofocus Area Modes, either Single-Point AF where you select the AF point, or Auto-Area AF, where the camera selects the AF point(s) for you.  I suggest you nearly always select your own desired AF point.

Continuous-Servo AF (AF-C)
Use this mode when your subject is moving.  If the subject is moving towards you or away from you, the camera will keep evaluating the focus distance, as long as the Shutter Button is kept half-pressed.  You will need to use this in conjunction with the Autofocus Area Modes to determine if and how the camera tracks the subject laterally to the surrounding AF points, or if it will only track the subject if it remains at the initially selected AF point.  If the subject is going to be difficult to follow or is moving across your field of view, set the AF-Area Mode to one of the Dynamic-Area AF modes or to the 3D-Tracking mode.  Focus on the moving subject with the selected point if using Single-Point, one of the Dynamic Area Modes, or 3D-Tracking, or let the camera select the AF point in Auto-Area AF, and then as long as the Shutter Button remains half-pressed the camera will track the subject as it moves closer or farther in distance.  Depending which AF Area Mode you are using, the camera may also maintain focus or track the subject to some or all of the surrounding focus points if it moves away from the initially selected point.  More about this in the Autofocus Area Modes section just below.

Auto-Servo AF (AF-A)
This mode is a hybrid of the two other focus modes.  It starts in Single-Servo AF (AF-S) mode then changes to Continuous-Servo AF (AF-C) mode if your subject starts moving.  Why shouldn’t you use this all the time, then?  Well, if you are focusing and then recomposing, as you may often be doing, your movement of the camera may fool it into thinking that the subject is moving and your resulting focus may not be where you want it to be, or may not be as accurate as it might be if you are using Single-Servo AF.

Nikon D600 autofocus 39 point af system use learn tutorial how to auto focus mode area
The arrangement and position of the 39 AF points of the Nikon D600, shown with the optional viewfinder grid display.

Manual Focus
Sometimes you may be taking several photos of the same subject from the same distance, or for some other reason want to keep the same focus distance and not have to keep re-focusing and re-composing.  Or you may be taking multiple photos for a panorama.  In these situations, turn off the auto-focus on your lens by switching from AF to M with the camera’s Focus Mode Selector switch and with the A/M switch on the lens itself.  Just remember to switch them back when you are finished.  You may also wish to do this if you want to precisely manually focus with the focus ring on your lens.  For lenses with “full time manual focus” however, you don’t need to switch to M in order to manually override the autofocus with the lens focus ring.  These lenses will have M/A and M on the lens focus mode switch instead of A and M.

Autofocus Area Modes
The Autofocus Area Modes are used to set if just a single AF point is active or else how many AF points surrounding your selected AF point will be used to maintain focus or to track a moving subject if you are using AF-C or AF-A Autofocus Modes.

Single-Point AF
Only one AF point will be active, and surrounding AF points will not become active to maintain focus or to track a subject that moves away from the one selected point.  This is typically used along with Single-Servo AF (AF-S) to focus on a stationary or still subject, or in a situation where you will be reframing the shot after you lock focus at a specific distance.  It can also be used with accuracy with AF-S mode for moving subjects if you take the photo quickly or if you recompose and take the shot quickly after locking in focus, especially if the camera-to-subject distance does not change at all or very much in that period between locking focus and taking the photo.  Use the Multi Selector to choose your active AF point as you look through the viewfinder and use the OK Button to quickly select the center AF point.  Also, remember that Custom Setting a6 allowed you to choose between having all 39 AF points available or to limit the camera to 11 AF points.  If you are just starting out with manually selecting a single Focus Point, you may wish to limit them to 11 now, and when you get the hang of it or when you are using one of the other AF Area Modes described below, increase it to 39 to take full advantage of all the AF points of the D7000 autofocus system.  If you choose Single-Point AF with Continuous-Servo AF (AF-C) or Auto-Servo AF (AF-A) for tracking moving subjects, it will only track the subject as long as it is positioned at the selected AF point, and it will not be tracked laterally to the other, surrounding points.  In other words, the single AF point you select will track a subject if it moves closer or farther away, but the AF system will not follow or track the subject if it moves left, right, up, or down and away from your selected AF point.  To do this, you use Dynamic-Area AF Mode or 3D-Tracking.

Dynamic-Area AF
With the Dynamic-Area AF Modes, you select an AF point to tell the camera where to autofocus, and if your subject briefly moves away from that point to a neighboring point or if you lose the subject from your AF point while panning, the camera will use the surrounding AF points to help maintain focus on it.  Select one of the Dynamic-Area AF options (below) when you are photographing moving or potentially moving subjects using Continuous-Servo AF (AF-C) or Auto-Servo AF (AF-A).  These modes are ideal for a subject moving closer or further from the camera but which may also move laterally away from the selected AF point faster than you can react in order to keep it located at that point, or for when you are panning and following the subject and attempting to keep it located at the selected AF point, but may have a little or a lot of difficulty doing so.  Remember that you need to keep the Shutter Button half-pressed in order for the continuous focusing at the initial point or the surrounding points to occur.  Note that the camera may pick up and start tracking a new subject that falls under the selected AF point if you lose your initial subject, in part determined by your setting for Custom Setting a3.

9-Point Dynamic-Area AF will use the immediate surrounding AF points to help maintain focus on a subject that briefly leaves the selected AF point.  This can be used with predictably moving subjects, like a runner or vehicle moving towards you or one that you can easily follow laterally by panning.

21-Point Dynamic-Area AF will use even more of the surrounding AF Points, more than half the total AF Points, to help maintain focus on a subject that briefly leaves the selected AF point.  This should be used for more unpredictably moving objects, like sports players on a field, which may quickly move further away from your selected AF point before you have a chance to realign that point over the subject.

39-Point Dynamic-Area AF (or 51-Point Dynamic-Area AF with the D7100) will use all of the 39 AF points (or 51 points) to help maintain focus on a subject that briefly leaves the selected AF point.  It can be used for very quick and unpredictably moving subjects, like pets, birds or other wildlife, and all 39 AF points will be used to maintain focus on the subject as you attempt to realign the selected AF point with the subject.

The Dynamic-Area AF Modes are not used to track and maintain focus on a subject that is moving across the various AF points in the frame, but rather are used to stay focused on a moving subject that you attempt to keep located at your selected AF Point.  To track a subject that is moving across the frame, intentionally passing from one AF point to the next, use 3D-Tracking.

Nikon D5200 autofocus af system viewfinder 39 point how to use learn manual guide book instruction dummies tutorial area mode dynamic
A simulated image of the Nikon D5200 viewfinder, showing the autofocus focus points active with 9-Point Dynamic Area AF area mode, when the center AF point is selected. (Image shown at 50% opacity to better view AF points.)

3D-Tracking
This mode is used for subjects moving across the frame in any direction, or subjects moving erratically from side-to-side in the frame, and they are tracked by areas of color.  This is used when you don’t wish to necessarily pan or follow the subject to keep it located in the same part of the frame, but rather when you wish to keep the camera relatively still as the subject moves across the frame.  You may select this option when you are tracking and photographing moving subjects using Continuous-Servo AF (AF-C) or Auto-Servo AF (AF-A).  Again, you choose the initial AF point to locate the subject and begin the tracking.  If the area of color you wish to track is too small or if it blends into the background, this mode might not be very effective.

Auto-Area AF
The camera uses all 39 AF points to detect what it thinks is the subject and automatically choose the appropriate AF point(s).  Typically, the camera will select the nearest subject or a human in the frame, so it may not focus on exactly what you wish to focus on.  That is why it is best to use one of the other modes and select the AF point yourself.

Group Area AF
The Nikon D810 and D4s include the Group Area AF autofocus area mode, which makes use of a group of 5 AF Points arranged in a cross-shaped pattern. And instead of selecting a primary point with the surrounding points being “helper points,” you will actually be selecting the group of five points, which will all be used to attempt to focus on the subject. Unlike the other AF Area Modes with multiple points, the Viewfinder will actually display the four outer points of the group, but for some reason not the central point – perhaps so that you can better view the subject.

Keep in mind that with the other somewhat similar Dynamic Area AF modes, you choose a primary point and attempt to keep the subject located at that point, and the surrounding points act as “helper” points if the subject happens to move away from the primary point. But with Group Area AF you select the entire group of AF Points, and they all work equally to focus on the subject. This mode can be used similar to Single Point AF but when it might be challenging to locate the subject under an individual point. When working in AF-S Focus Mode and using Group Area AF, the selected AF points will give priority to faces if they are present, otherwise they will focus on the closest subject.

 

The next step is to learn to lock focus independent of locking exposure, and customize the camera’s controls to perform these functions how you wish.  But you are going to have to have a look at my e-book guides Nikon D7100 Experience, Nikon D7000 Experience, Nikon D600 Experience and Nikon D5200 Experience to learn about this and many other important functions of your sophisticated Nikon D600, D5200, or D7000!

Nikon D600 book ebook camera guide download manual how to dummies field instruction tutorial      Nikon D7100 book ebook manual tutorial field guide how to learn use dummies

 

To learn about another important reason why you need to take control of your autofocus system, see the related post:

Don’t Let the Locations of the AF Points Dictate Your Composition

What do you do when, with your desired framing, your subject is not located exactly under or near an AF point? Even with all the AF points of an advanced Nikon D7000 and D600, this will often be an issue. Have a look at the above post to learn why this is an issue and how to resolve it.

Still need to purchase your D7100, D7000, D5200 or D600.  Please use my links to have a look at them on Amazon:

Nikon D7100 24.1 megapixel DX format dSLR camera

Nikon D7000 16.2 megapixel DX format dSLR camera

Nikon D600 24.3 megapixel full-frame FX format dSLR camera

Nikon D5200 24.2 megapixel DX format dSLR camera

Was this post helpful?  Please let others know about it by clicking the Facebook or Twitter sharing buttons below, linking to it from your blog or website, or mentioning it on a forum.  Thanks!  Want to help support this blog with no cost or effort?  Simply click on the Amazon, B&H Photo, or Adorama logos on the left side of this page to go to those sites and make your purchases.  They will then give me a little referral bonus!

Developing Your Photographic Vision

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you will know that I’ve written several times about humanitarian and travel photographer David Duchemin.  His blog, books, podcasts, and images were all extremely helpful and inspiring when I was starting my own journey as a humanitarian and culture photographer, and he continued to inspire me as I expanded into writing and ebooks.

David’s focus is on photographic vision rather than “gear” or equipment.   While he is an admitted gear junkie and agrees that “gear is good,” he constantly stresses that “vision is better” for working towards and achieving your photographic goals and for enjoying the photographic process.

In addition to the three books he has written Within the Frame – The Journey of Photographic Vision, Visionmongers – Making a Life and Living in Photography, and Vision and Voice – Refining your Vision in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, (and the upcoming Photographically Speaking – A Deeper Look at Creating Better Images) David has written a number of ebooks in his Craft and Vision series.  Each one is full of beautiful images plus instructional and inspirational text that can help you in your photographic journey when you seemed to have reached that point where the images that are coming out of your camera aren’t matching up with the vision you have of them in your mind.  Whether your challenges are due to composition, subject matter, post-processing technique, or lack of inspiration, there is a Craft and Vision ebook there to help!

Craft and Vision also offers ebooks by other photographers and authors who share a similar perspective or are experts on other techniques such as video or black and white photography.  The latest offering is called The Power of Black and White in Adobe Lightroom and Beyond, by Piet Van den Eynde.  I just received my copy and plan to write a bit more about it after I have a chance to delve into it, but in the meantime you can learn more about it on the Craft and Vision website.  Oh, and did I mention, all of the Craft and Vision ebooks are only $5 each!  But don’t think this is some brief e-pamphlet – The Power of Black and White is 100 spreads!  That would be 200 pages in a “real” book!

Craft and Vision David Duchemin The Power of Black and White

 

 

What Works for You

When one is getting more and more into photography, learning about different techniques and equipment, they may start to think – or get the impression from reading various books and blogs – that there is the “right way” or the right piece of equipment to use to achieve the best images.   For example there are dozens of flash modifiers and diffusers available, and you might start to think that one of them works the best, one of them is the one that the pros use, if you could only find the right information and figure out which one it is.  But the truth is, when it comes to photography, there is sometimes no one right way to do something.  You just have to look at all the options, experiment, analyze how you work and your resulting images, and then figure out what is going to work best for you.

Delilah and the spring

I recently got sucked into a discussion on a forum about whether or not to use a UV protective filter on your lenses.  I contend that it is always a good idea to use one.  But that is because I feel it is a wise thing to do for the way I work and photograph.  It may not be necessary for others who work differently.  I work out in the field traveling, or out-and-about in a city.  I take off my lens cap when I start working for the day and put it aside until the end of the day.  My camera is slung over my shoulder and is exposed to being banged around, touched by kid’s fingers, and to dust and mystery spots that need to be quickly cleaned off.  I don’t mind quickly wiping some dust off the front of my filter with my shirt, a blast of air with the Rocket Blower, or a quick brush and clean with the LensPen, but I would not want to do that so quickly and often with the actual lens and risk scratching it.  I feel that replacing a $100 filter is a better idea than risking a several hundred dollar repair with 4 weeks down time on a lens.

Other people walk around, carefully carrying their camera in a case between shots, or replacing the lens cap after each shot or between situations.  Or perhaps they take out their camera, put it on a tripod, and take landscape shots.  They may not need a protective filter in those uses, and may not wish to risk any minor degradation in image quality.  (If you get a coated or multi-coated UV filter like a B+W brand one, your loss of image quality will be less-than-negligible.  If you use a cheaper Tiffen filter, you risk having some issues.)  If the risk of damage to their lens is small, then it works for them not to use a filter.  However, I was in a camera store yesterday, and a woman was replacing her UV filter because her camera dropped and the filter was shattered.  The filter’s ring was dented, but there was no damage to the lens at all.  She did not intend to drop her camera – that was not part of the way she worked – but it happened.  A few dollars for a new filter saved her hundreds of dollars in repairs and the loss of her lens over the holidays.

Before you invest in various accessories that sound like they might improve your images or assist you in how you work, put some thought into it first.  If they are a hassle to use or don’t fit into your process, you may end up putting them aside and never really using them.  Analyze your needs first and then find a product that matches them.  You may read about someone touting a white balance device that seems like it almost magically improves all their photos.  You want better photos, so why not give it a try?  But have you really come across the need for it?  Are you prepared to custom set your white balance every time you enter a new lighting situation?  Or do you typically work outside in daylight or inside in standard incandescent light and really don’t need to set a custom white balance at all?

So, all that being said, there are several accessories I find helpful, or even essential – at least for the way I work!  I talk about them in this previous post, Equipment for Travel (and Everyday) Photography.

Deconstructing the Shot – Photo 3

This post is the third in an occasional series in which I describe the making of a photograph, from both a technical and artistic standpoint. I’ll go through the camera settings and why they were chosen, as well as the thought processes going through my head regarding composition and the creation of the image. These types of posts will be concrete examples of a previous post of mine called How Pros Photograph, which describes the various decisions that may be going through a photographer’s head as they work a scene and make photos. The first post in this series can be read here, and the second post is here.

This one can be called the Aperture Edition or Depth of Field Edition, as you will learn below.

Douglas J. Klostermann Photography
Men on Avenida el Sol – Cusco, Peru – 2008

The Photo: The photo I’ve selected for this example (seen just above) is one I took in Cusco, Peru in June 2008, called Men on Avenida el Sol. It was taken during the Cusco Week festivities, which is a series of events, dances, parades, and performances leading up to Inti Raymi, the Inca Festival of the Sun that occurs each year at the solstice. The wonderful thing about this week of activities is that it offers so many opportunities for a photographer to capture cultural, dance, and people photos. And because they are all public events where people expect, and even enjoy being photographed, it eliminates the difficulties and hesitations many photographers have about approaching individuals for photographs – although that is something any serious photographer needs to overcome, and it is actually quite easy. You approach the subject, make direct eye contact, and ask, “Do you mind if I take a photograph of you?” If they speak another language, hold up and nod towards your camera with a cheerful, inquisitive look on your face. They will either agree or not – problem solved!

Although I took hundreds of photos of the events over the week, I selected this one for this exercise because I learned something very definitively in the process of capturing it. More on that later. Although great subjects and action are directly in front of you during a parade or performance, there is a bit more to capturing good photos than just clicking away. I write a bit about that, with some tips and suggestions, in this post Cambridge Carnival.

This particular event was a parade down a main street of Cusco leading into the central plaza. I’ve created some strips of photos to show a selection of images as I worked this scene:

process01

The Process: I was heading back home after taking dance photos in the plaza, and made my way down Avenida el Sol looking for additional quick shots. Most of the people and groups were standing about, waiting to move forward to perform or parade through the plaza, where the spectators were, so there were not many interesting opportunities. However, this group of older men captured my attention due to their wonderful expressive faces and their colorful traditional outfits. My intention was merely to capture these faces and subjects. However, they were a bit bored, just standing around waiting, so you can see most of the images do not really stand out.

I was using a Canon Rebel XT with a 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 II lens. I stood on the sidewalk near the group, and set my camera on Aperture Priority mode (Av on Canon, A on Nikon). This was so I could control the depth of field and call attention to single or multiple subjects and make the background a bit blurry and less distracting. I experimented with various aperture settings, ranging from f/4.5 to f/13 depending on if I wanted one of the men to be in focus or a row of two or three of them to be in focus. A wide open aperture such as f/4.5 will have a narrow depth of field so that just one of the men is in focus, where a narrower aperture such as f/8 or f/11 will have a deeper depth of field so that the entire row of men might be in focus. With the wide apertures, I focused on the eyes of the man I wanted in-focus, and with narrower apertures, I focused about 1/3 or 1/2 way into the area I wanted to be in focus, meaning if there was a row of three faces, I focused on the middle one. The ISO was set at 200 which allowed the camera to choose fast shutter speeds of around 1/1000 s. This is because I had been capturing dance and action scenes, and wanted to be ready for the same. The metering mode was set on the general Evaluative Metering, which did a decent job of capturing the proper exposures. A couple images were mysteriously overexposed, possibly due to where I locked exposure while I was locking focus – which is why I now use a back-button focusing technique and/or lock exposures separately from focus. White Balance was set on Auto, but would have worked on Sunny as well.

As you hopefully know by now, depth of field is controlled by the aperture setting. I write more about it in these posts Depth of Field Simplified and Mastering Depth of Field. Since your specific depth of field in any situation will vary based not only on the aperture setting but also on the lens focal length and your distance from the subject, it is often difficult to predetermine what exactly is going to be in focus in the resulting image. You can try using the depth of field preview button on your camera, but it is difficult to see in the tiny, dim viewfinder what the preview is showing. You can also use your rear LCD and trial and error to view a series of experiments. But again, this is only a small screen with relatively low resolution, so it is difficult to see the precise results. And in many situations you simply don’t have the time for these methods. You just have to get a feel for your lenses and their different apertures through experience and studying your results. But one thing is certain: to get minimum, shallow depth of field and thus maximum background blurriness with any lens, zoom in as close as you can, (for example, zoom to 200mm on a 70-200mm lens) situate yourself as close as you can to your subject while still obtaining the framing you want, and use the widest aperture possible (for example f/2.8 or f/4). Work back from that if you wish to increase the depth of field – for example to have a slightly deeper depth of field in focus, use an aperture of f/5 or f/5.6, or increase your distance away from the subject, or remain close but use a shorter focal length like 28mm or 50mm.

As you can see, most of the images are very “busy,” with a lot of extraneous and distracting background people and activity. I wasn’t very pleased with the images, but I continued to take basically the same image over and over. I knew the faces, outfits, and colors were interesting, and I hoped the resulting images would be as well. I zoomed in as close as I could with most of the images, working in the 75mm to 105mm range of my lens. However, without a lens that had the 100mm to 200mm range, I could not zoom closer and could not obtain the “compression” I was looking for, where the more distant faces would appear to be closer behind the closest subject.

process02

What I didn’t do that I should have been doing, instead of trying to take the same photo over and over, was to change my position and point of view. Doing so would change the backgrounds, perhaps make them less busy or distracting (such as the spectators and the white sign), and would allow for the camera to be on the same level or looking up towards the subjects rather than looking slightly down at them.

I took a series of 60 images over a period of 7.5 minutes. Besides the selected image, only a couple other ones are mildly interesting. I knew I wasn’t capturing what I wanted, my companion was becoming impatient, and eventually I decided to move on. But then I took a few final images. My point of view had slightly changed. I was directly to the side of the men and slightly closer. The last image finally got what I had wanted. It stands out dramatically among all the other ones. It is more simple and straightforward, less cluttered, and the subjects fill the frame.

process03

The Post Process: To create the final image, I adjusted the color and contrast in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) and in Photoshop (PS). As you can see by the unprocessed images, the color and contrast is a little dull and lifeless straight out of the camera. The original file was a JPEG file, and the Picture Style was Standard (I hadn’t started using RAW yet). In ACR, the Blacks were increased to about 7 or 10 to give it the nice deep blacks, which helps to make the bright colors pop even more. Some Recovery was used to bring back the overexposed highlights on the man’s face. Clarity and Vibrance were used to give it some, well, clarity and vibrance. In Photoshop, the contrast was increased with Curves using the preset setting of Linear Contrast. In Levels, the midtones were darkened to .93 to give a deeper more realistic color to the faces. I did some additional burning on the faces to try to reduce the hot-spots. The image was sharpened using Unsharpen Mask, probably at Amount: 85 or 100, Radius: 1, and Threshold: 4. I may have used the Hue/Saturation to reduce the saturation and lightness of the red color, though I should have done that a little more, as you can see by the man’s face which appears too red and the rear hat where the red is blown out. The Rebel XT sensor, and other digital SLR sensors often overexpose the color red. It is similar to blowing out the highlights, where the color red is blown out and there is just red and not other detail in those areas. You can use the RGB histogram rather than the brightness histogram to monitor for this on the camera’s rear LCD screen while reviewing images. I didn’t crop the image at all, as you can see. It is best to try to get the framing you want when you capture the photo, especially when using an 8 megapixel camera that doesn’t allow for much cropping! (A cropped image would have much lower image quality because the resulting resolution would be much less – it would not allow for much manipulation, and would appear pixellated when enlarged.)

The Final Image:
Douglas J. Klostermann Photography
Canon Rebel XT, 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 II at 93mm, ISO 200, f/5, 1/1000s

The Lesson: We should always learn from our photos, so that next time we are in a similar situation, we can create an even better image. The valuable lesson I learned in this situation, in addition to perhaps always grabbing one final frame, is to make a change when the composition is not working. Change your perspective, angle, or point of view. Zoom in or out to change the framing. Don’t continue to take the same image that isn’t working, over and over again. If the subject is interesting, there is an interesting composition that can be found to best express that subject. Mentally envision the scene from a variety of positions and angles, and move around the scene as much as possible to see the options. Some other improvements I could have made to this image include using a polarizing filter. Because I was working in the bright, harsh mid-day sun at a high altitude, this could have improved the exposure, color rendition, and contrast of the original image. Since it was overexposed a bit, causing hot-spots on the subject’s face, I should have paid more attention to my histogram and adjusted the exposure compensation accordingly, or used a different metering mode such as Partial or Spot to meter directly off the man’s face.

So hopefully you can see from this explanation and from my previous posts that photographs don’t necessarily just happen. They are created through a combination of thought processes, a series of decisions, and the application of camera settings based on these decisions and on the situation at hand.

See the Related Posts section just below for links to parts 1 and 2 in this series.  And learn more about how to take control of your camera and the images you create with my Full Stop e-book camera and photography guides.

Full Stop photography e book camera user guide Nikon Canon dSLR

“Available Light” Book Free Give-Away!

I am giving away a free copy of an excellent book about photographing in natural light, Available Light: Photographic Techniques for Using Existing Light Sources by Don Marr!!  Read on to see how to take part in the give-away.

CONTEST CLOSED!  The contest ended Nov. 8, 2010.  I will go to Random.org and have it select and announce the winner tonight (Nov. 9).

I recently came across this book and found it incredibly helpful.  Unlike most photo books that merely tell you about front lighting or side lighting or diffused overcast lighting and then don’t go into much practical detail, this book actually explains how to seek out, modify, and use natural light – in all its forms – to take better photos.  It demonstrates that off-camera flash is not necessary for better photos, even in less-than-ideal lighting situations.  I wrote much more about this book in my Essential Digital Photography Books post.

available light book
This book can be yours!The free copy of Available Light by Don Marr, donated by Amherst Media, photographed on my floor in the available window light.

I liked the book so much that I contacted the publisher, Amherst Media, and asked them for a copy that I could give away on my blog here.  They enthusiastically agreed, and I have just received the book from them.

How to Enter:
Just leave a comment for this post.  If you don’t see the comment form immediately below the post, look under the title of this post and click on where it says “… comments.”  Or just click HERE.  Put in whatever comment you want.  If you wish, let me know how you came across my blog (Yahoo/ Google search, Twitter, regular reader, etc.), and if you are a regular reader or plan to become one, let me know what you enjoy reading about here and what photography topics and/or equipment you would like to read more about.

I will leave this post open for comments for three weeks, until Monday November 8 at 11:59pm.  At that time all the comments will be numbered in the order they were received and posted.  They may not be published immediately as I have to approve them – in the order received – to prevent spam.  I will then use the True Random Number Generator on Random.org to choose a random number and select the winner.  Decision is final!  Contest is open to those with United States mailing addresses only! Good luck!

If you don’t win or just wish to check out the book Available Light on Amazon, you can click here or on the cover:

Also, while I have your attention, be sure to check out my new eBooks:

Your World 60D – The Still Photographer’s Guide to Operation and Image Creation with the Canon EOS 60D.  You can read more about it and purchase it in PDF format (also iPad compatible) here on my blog, or it is also available in the Kindle version on Amazon.

T2i Experience – The Still Photographer’s Guide to the Canon Rebel T2i / EOS 550D.  Learn more about it a purchase it in PDF format here, or in the Kindle version on Amazon.

Douglas J. Klostermann Photography Douglas J. Klostermann Photography

Coming Soon: Photo Book Give-Away!

Sorry, the give-away is now over!

If you read yesterday’s post about Essential Books for Digital Photography, you will see I am pretty enthusiastic about a couple photo books in particular.  One of them that I think is really wonderful, and which really opened my eyes recently, is Available Light by Don Marr.  I discussed it in depth in yesterday’s post, so I won’t repeat that here.  But anyway, I liked it so much, I contacted the publisher (Amherst Media) and asked them to send me a copy to use as a free give-away on my blog.  And they enthusiastically agreed to this!

So stay tuned for the free photo book give-away, which I will initiate as soon as I have the book in hand, hopefully sometime around Oct. 15.

Here is a photo I took immediately after reading the book, putting what I learned to use.  Notice the amazing glow of the 100% natural, available light.  This was taken on an afternoon with bright sunlight, by placing the subject under an overpass to control the direction and intensity of the light.

LSS natural light

Essential Digital Photography Books

There are countless books available about digital photography, ranging from general over-encompassing guides to specific texts on lighting or composition. Many of them discuss basically the same topics, and after reading and absorbing a few, you begin to pick up only a few new tips or pieces of knowledge here and there.

But I’ve put together a list of what I think are the best books for digital photography out there. These are the ones I believe you should read first, the ones that will give you the maximum bang for the buck, and which are consistently full of solid, useful information. They are divided into categories of Camera Guides for specific cameras, Digital Photography Guides for general information and composition, Lighting and Flash, and Post-Production for Photoshop and Lightroom.

You can click on each title to take you directly to Amazon.com. If you purchase through these links Amazon will reward me with a small referral fee, so I appreciate you helping to support my photography work and my effort of creating all these links!

Sections:

Digital Photography Guides
Camera Guides
Lighting and Flash
Post Production

 

Digital Photography Guides

Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson
I recommend this book throughout my blog for anyone who is new to digital SLR photography or ready to take their camera off Auto or Program and needs to learn and understand the relationship between aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. It is the go-to book to help you learn these essential settings, take control of your dSLR and image making process, and start to use aperture priority and shutter priority modes.

Learning to See Creatively by Bryan Peterson
By the same author as above. Once you have control of your camera after reading Understanding Exposure, you will quickly discover you need to learn how to make better compositions in order to take better photos. This book can help start you on this process. His best piece of advice is to think about and use different, more dynamic points of view in your photos. Taking a photo of a flower? What would the image look like from the flower’s point of view? Simple but brilliant.

The Photographer’s Eye: Composition and Design for Better Digital Photos by Michael Freeman
As I just said above, once you get control of your camera and its settings after reading some of the other camera and photo guides, you may wonder why your photos aren’t improving as quickly as you had hoped. That is when you need to turn to this book. It is a unique book for teaching photographic composition – which is an often difficult concept to teach beyond the basics. Most books explain concepts such as the rule of thirds or depth of field, but this book takes it to a whole new level. And he walks the reader through the example images describing the process and decisions he makes as he works a scene (which must be what inspired my Deconstructing the Shot series of posts!) It is a challenging book, and it takes some experience with working at photography and applying the basic composition techniques and experiencing specific problems and frustrations before one can get the most out of this book. So if it is too heavy for you at first reading, come back to it after you have worked at it some more. This is perhaps my favorite photography book, and I wish there were more out there that were as helpful as this one. I re-read it every few months to set these concepts into my brain.

The Photographer’s Mind: How to See and Shoot Better Digital Photos by Michael Freeman
Every time I read Freeman’s The Photographer’s Eye, I lament, usually aloud, “why doesn’t he have more books like this?” Then I did some more research and discovered an older book of his, Achieving Photographic Style, from 1984. It blew me away – it is just as good as Photographer’s Eye, but a bit dated in many ways, as it discusses the photographic trends of that period and it is pre-digital. Again, I lamented, “why can’t he update this book for today?” Well, my pleas appear to have been answered. His next book The Photographer’s Mind has just come out. I haven’t seen it yet, but I immediately ordered my copy from Amazon.

Pro Photographer’s D-SLR Handbook by Michael Freeman
This is a comprehensive handbook for everything about digital photography from equipment, lighting and accessories, to technical explanations of settings and concepts, to post-production including Photoshop and printing. It covers a lot of topics, but gives good, solid information. Like its title says, it is a handbook that is extremely handy to have as a reference guide for everything related to digital SLR photography. Essential for any serious intermediate dSLR photographer, whether you desire to be a pro or just have the knowledge of one.

The Digital Photography Book (Volume 1) by Scott Kelby
Scott Kelby’s series of books are good for the beginning or intermediate dSLR photographer. Some claim that everything they know about digital photography they learned from Scott Kelby. Other reviewers on Amazon don’t think he’s so great. Never-the-less, he doesn’t get caught up in technical explanations, but rather just tells you what settings and equipment to use and how to do something. The page-by-page brief topics each give starting points for anyone confused about the variety of subjects they may be trying to absorb from all the other books. For example, every Photoshop book explains Unsharpen Mask, but then leaves you totally clueless as to where to even start with the three sliders. Kelby simply tells you what numbers to use. (Actually that may have been from one of his Photoshop books, but that is the type of info he provides.) Keep in mind, all of his advice is intended as starting points. His word is not gospel, it is to help you begin and then you can experiment and learn from your own experience after that. These are not books to teach you the basics of digital photography, but are rather a collection of various, almost random tips about a wide variety of photo topics. Keep in mind, his instructions are not the only way to do something, and sometimes they are actually very round-about ways of doing things that can be done much more simply. His humor is annoying to some and the equipment he uses may be totally unnecessary for how you work, so take what you read with a grain of salt. As a studio photographer, Kelby is especially knowledgeable about flash and lighting. There are three books in this series, which can also be bought as a set, as seen below.

The Digital Photography Book, Volume 2 by Scott Kelby
See above description of The Digital Photography Book.

The Digital Photography Book, Volume 3 by Scott Kelby
See above description of The Digital Photography Book.

Scott Kelby’s Digital Photography Boxed Set, Volumes 1, 2, and 3 by Scott Kelby
See above description of The Digital Photography Book.

National Geographic Photography Field Guide: Secrets to Making Great Pictures, Second Edition by Peter Burian and Bob Caputo
This is a great general guide to photography, with insightful and useful nuggets of information from some of the best Nat Geo pros, like Sam Abell and Michael Nichols. However, it is a bit dated, from the films days at the verge of digital. But I feel it is still worth reading because the essentials of image making remain unchanged. The updated version is below, but I have not yet seen it, and it may be all new with different content. Maybe see if your library has this one.

National Geographic Ultimate Field Guide to Photography: Revised and Expanded by National Geographic
I haven’t yet seen this updated version, but based on the previous edition as well as the Travel Photography version, it is bound to be good.

National Geographic Ultimate Field Guide to Travel Photography by Scott Stuckey
This is an excellent introduction to most everything you need to know to work as a travel photographer with helpful information for both beginner and more advanced photographers that isn’t found in most other travel photography books. And it contains valuable contributions from several professional travel photographers like Bob Krist and Catherine Karnow. However, its title is annoying because it is not in any way a field guide. It is not designed as a quick and easy reference to any of the topics it covers, as the term field guide would imply, but rather it is a book to read before your travels, and a book to read to learn the realities of working as a travel photographer. It is also a book about how to take travel photos in the visual and editorial style of Nat Geo Traveler magazine. I highly recommend this book for someone who is truly interested in becoming a commercial travel photographer, as it competently and thoroughly covers numerous aspects of this vocation – technical, logistical, and perhaps most importantly, learning how to tell a story through photographs. Or if you don’t wish to become a pro travel photographer but want to learn to capture better travel images, it will be most helpful for someone whose travel style truly accommodates the time and effort if takes to make great travel images.

Within the Frame: The Journey of Photographic Vision by David DuChemin

VisionMongers: Making a Life and Living in Photography by David DuChemin

Rick Sammon’s Complete Guide to Digital Photography 2.0: Taking, Making, Editing, Storing, Printing, and Sharing Better Digital Images by Rick Sammon

Rick Sammon’s Travel and Nature Photography by Rick Sammon

 

Camera Guides

First, of course, I have to mention my e-book user’s guides! So far I have written one for each of these cameras:

Nikon D7000 Experience
Nikon D5100 Experience
Canon T3i Experience
Your World 60D
Canon 7D Experience
Canon T2i Experience

full stop dslr photo photography camera manual guide for dummies canon nikon

Plus a book for all other dSLR owners, Ten Steps to Better dSLR Photography

dslr learn improve autofocus exposure aperture shutter priority for dummies

You can learn more about them at my Full Stop ebook bookstore, (www.dojoklo.com/Full_Stop/). These guides go beyond the manuals to help you learn to use your powerful camera to its full potential so that you can improve your photography and consistently take better photos. The guides cover the settings, functions and controls of these advanced dSLR cameras, plus explain when and why to use them to improve your photography and your images. Aimed towards intermediate photographers, they also clearly explain basic dSLR camera functions and exposure concepts for those new to digital SLR photography. Take control of your camera and the images you create!

These guides are available in PDF versions as well as Kindle, Nook, and iBooks/ iTunes versions.

 

Canon 7D: From Snapshots to Great Shots by Nicole S. Young
This series of camera user’s guides explains everything in a way that is clear and easy to understand and put to use. They don’t get bogged down in confusing technical explanations, but instead present everything in a straightforward, user-friendly manner. The books explain not only how to use the camera, but how to use it to take better photos. Recommended for someone relatively new to digital SLR photography who wants to quickly learn to use their camera and improve their photography.

Nikon D5100: From Snapshots to Great Shots by Rob Sylvan
see above description for Canon 7D: From Snapshots to Great Shots.

There are also From Snapshots to Great Shots guides for every other camera out there including the Canon 60D, Canon G12, Nikon D7000, etc.

David Busch’s Canon EOS 7D Guide to Digital SLR Photography by David Busch
David Busch’s camera guides are all excellent books, and will help you really get to know and understand all the features and functions of you camera. They are clear and straightforward enough for the beginner, yet are also in-depth and technical for the intermediate and advanced dSLR user. Recommended as a more comprehensive and easy to understand manual than the one that comes with your camera.

David Busch’s Nikon D7000 Guide to Digital SLR Photography by David Busch
This is an all-encompassing bible for the D7000. If you wish to learn every single feature, setting, menu item, option, etc., this is the place to look. If you wish to learn all the essential features, how to use them in the real world, and be up and running with your D7000 quickly, start first with Nikon D7000 Experience before delving into this tome.

David Busch of course has guides for every other dSLR camera out there including the Canon 60D, Canon T3i / 600D, Canon 5D Mk II, and the Nikon D5100.

See all the David Busch Digital SLR Camera Guides.

 

Lighting and Flash

Available Light: Photographic Techniques for Using Existing Light Sources by Don Marr
This is a simple, straightforward book that immediately changed the way I see light and the way I photograph using natural light.  You often hear the idea of “taking your photography to the next level.”  This book doesn’t itself make that claim, yet it is one of the few photography books that can actually deliver that result.  It is short, easy to read and to understand, and immediately applicable to your work.  Many books discuss light – it’s direction, intensity, quality, softness, color – and you think, “Yeah! I’m keenly aware of different light and how it falls on my subject.”  But did that knowledge suddenly help you to take better photos?  Many books never fully take it the next step and really explain how to seek out, modify, and use this light.  You may or may not be able to then figure it all out on your own.  I thought I had until I read this book.

It actually guides you in exactly the right direction and truly helps to open your eyes to the intensity, direction, and quality of natural light, and then teaches you to work with it and modify it to create the softness/ hardness, direction, color, and intensity you want, whether you are working on an overcast day, at high noon, inside, outdoors, or any other type of situation.  It makes one suddenly aware of the existence and potential use of natural reflectors everywhere which will help give you the lighting you want:  a wall, the ground, a pole.  And it explains the important concept and effective practice of subtractive lighting, used to even-out or create the desired lighting instead of turning to flash to artificially add to existing lighting.  The concepts in this book are so obvious and intuitive I didn’t even write down a single note while reading it the first time.  Then the next week I used what I learned and took one of the nicest, best lit spontaneous portraits I have ever taken.

While many are happily joining the Strobist camp, this book offers a refreshing and viable alternative to that never-ending accumulation of lighting equipment and techniques, and should be read by off-camera-flash fans as well so they can learn to look for beautiful natural lighting alternatives that will give them as-good or even better images, before setting up their lighting equipment and knocking down the natural light in order to rebuild it artificially.  However the author is not against the (limited) use of flash, and certainly not against reflectors, and discusses their use in different situations.  I highly recommend this book to photographers of every level.  It is a wonderful book for beginners or intermediate photographers so that they can be aware of, understand, and use these concepts from the start, and it is just as helpful for advanced photographers who may intuitively practice some of the techniques, but will certainly become aware of even greater potential and opportunities in the use of available light.

As you can see, I’m pretty enthusiastic about this book. I even contacted the publisher and asked them for a copy that I could use as a free give-away here on my blog, and indeed they are sending me one! (The free give-away is now completed.)

On-Camera Flash Techniques for Digital Wedding and Portrait Photography by Neil van Niekerk

The Complete Guide to Light & Lighting in Digital Photography by Michael Freeman

 

Post-Production

The Adobe Photoshop CS5 Book for Digital Photographers by Scott Kelby
Scott Kelby is the founder and head of NAPP, the Photoshop users’ organization, so I don’t have any qualifications with the Photoshop and Lightroom recommendations as I did with his photo books above.

The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 Book for Digital Photographers by Scott Kelby

Adobe Photoshop CS4 How-Tos: 100 Essential Techniques by Chris Orwig

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 How-Tos: 100 Essential Techniques by Chris Orwig

And of course in able to make use of the Photoshop and Lightroom books, you are going to need the software!
Adobe Photoshop and/ or Adobe Lightroom 3 are the latest versions. Photoshop CS4 has the amazing and revolutionary content aware fill, which takes cloning and spot healing to a whole new dimension. And Lightroom has quickly become the tool of choice for photographers to work on their images.

(Descriptions of some of the above books still to come!)

The Difference Between f/4 vs. f/2.8

This weekend I followed my own advice, and rented a lens to try out before deciding whether or not to buy it. As I suggest in my post Why You Shouldn’t Buy the Kit Lens, if you are considering purchasing an expensive lens or want to compare a couple similar lenses to decide which one to go with, rent one or both of them for a day or a weekend, and see how you like using them. Check with camera stores near you, or look into online lens rental sites that mail the lens to you, like LensRentals.com. I went to Calumet to rent, since there is a store near me and it’s pretty cheap for the weekend rate.

(click on any product links in the text to view the lenses on Amazon.com)

I rented the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L since I’m curious how it compares to the Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS. While they have a similar focal-length range and can each serve as a great walk-around lens for everyday use, they have some differences that make it difficult to choose between the two. The 24-70mm is larger, significantly heavier (2.1 lbs. vs. 1.48 lbs.) and extends externally as you zoom. The 24-105mm has an internal zoom mechanism, and also has image stabilization (IS). But a major difference is the maximum aperture: f/2.8 vs. f/4.

side by side bokeh
click here to view these images larger on Flickr – from the garden at the Longfellow House, Cambridge, MA

The wider maximum aperture of the 24-70mm makes it a “faster” lens, allowing it to be used in lower light, although the IS of the 24-105mm can make up for that shortcoming. Visually, the wider maximum aperture allows for shallower depth of field (dof) which provides more dramatically blurred backgrounds, or bokeh. While I have resisted using the term bokeh in my writing, I can’t really avoid it in this discussion because the difference between f/4 vs. f/2.8 is all in the bokeh. The above image demonstrates what that means. It refers to the “circles of confusion” of the out-of-focus areas of an image – their size, shape, edges, and quality. Both of the images are taken with the 24-70mm lens – at f/4 on the left, and f/2.8 on the right. You can see that while they both demonstrate dramatically shallow depth of field and background blurring, the image taken with the aperture set at f/2.8 shows a smoother blend of the background colors and contrasts. The images are from the garden of the Longfellow House in Cambridge, MA.

When I got my Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens, I chose the f/4 version rather than the f/2.8 IS version because it was smaller and significantly lighter, and I knew I would not dread using it on a long day of shooting as I feared I would with the 3.24 pound f/2.8 IS version. Three and a quarter pounds! (According to the Canon website. I’m not sure if that is right – Amazon says it is 2.9 lbs.) Anyway, that kind of weight might be an important consideration for someone traveling with a lens or using it for consecutive full days of shooting. I know it is a consideration for me. So, even though I got the f/4, I’ve wondered what I have been missing image-wise by not being able to open up to f/2.8. So I took these two images with the 24-70mm to see the difference, and it is more considerable than I had thought it would be.

I was very pleased with the 24-70mm. I had been concerned that I would want more range on the telephoto end, and I did end up with a lot of images taken at the 70mm focal length, but I didn’t usually feel like I needed or wanted to zoom in any closer. It really is a great range for everyday use. It is a big lens, but other than the weight, it feels great and is comfortable to use. You can’t deny its image quality, the bokeh is wonderful, but the weight is still a consideration and may dissuade me in the end.

Here is a great site at The-Digital-Picture.com to compare lenses, side by side. You can compare test images taken at various focal lengths and apertures. I will leave all the pixel peeping and debating of the merits of the 24-70mm vs. the 24-105mm to the forums, and just share a few photos I took with the 24-70mm at the Harvard Museum of Natural History and the adjoining Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. All the images are hand-held, without flash, in very low lighting. The leaves and flowers in the images below are from the world renowned glass flower collection. Yes, they are made entirely of glass! Even those fall leaves. It is mind boggling, especially when viewing them in person.

If you are considering buying any of these lenses from Amazon.com, please use the links above, and I will get a little something for referring you. Or use this link to go directly to Amazon.com. I appreciate your support!

HMNH cat

HMNH bird-hawk

HMNH bird-dove

HMNH autumn leaves
glass leaves above, glass flowers below. yes 100% made of glass!
HMNH purple flowers

HMNH snake

HMNH fish fossil

HMNH Peru map

HMNH Mayan stones

HMNH Indian diorama

HMNH Indian diorama 2