The next morning, it’s likely we won’t remember how the camera’s settings were left at the end of the prior day. That can result in photographs which need extensive retouching and repair, totally blown shots which can only be discarded and missing great shots all together.
At some point this happens to everyone, but it is avoidable.
A young woman from New Zealand, emailed me this past summer. She told me she had been taking fireworks photos in New York, during her visit to the States, she used manual focus, following my suggestion. They turned out great, but the next morning it wasn’t until she took several dozen photos in Central Park that she realized she was still in manual focus, and her morning photographs were too blurry to salvage.
Last week, a friend on an Alaska cruise, asked me if I knew of some software which could salvage some of his photos taken in Denali. One evening he had been experimenting with some available light photography. His ISO setting was 1600. The next morning, before he realized it, he had taken many photos at Denali with the same high ISO setting of 1600. The photos were extremely noisy, and unsatisfactory. Fortunately, he will be able to substantially fix them in Photoshop, with a plug-in.
The way to avoid problems like those is very easy, but it takes discipline. You’ve got to go through a Pre-Shoot Checklist.
You’ll need to develop your own Pre-Shoot Checklist, as every camera is different. You want your checklist to help you reset your camera’s settings to start off each shoot with your preferred settings, so that every setting is as you expect it to be. You don’t want any surprises which could kill a great photograph.
This is my Pre-Shoot Checklist for my DSLR, which you can use as the foundation for your own (some of these settings may have no meaning for you and your camera):
- Check the batteries — You want to know how much capacity is left in them. You don’t want to be surprised while shooting.
- Check to make sure there is a memory card in the camera and how much room it has left in it — You don’t want to be in the middle of shooting an event, and have to swap memory cards, only to miss a great photographic opportunity while you’re fiddling with your camera.
- Check the ISO setting — I try to keep my ISO setting as low as possible to produce photographs with the highest quality possible. My starting point is set to 100 ISO.
- Check the Quality (RAW-JPG– and any sub settings) settings — I rarely change this setting, but there are a few circumstances for which I do. I start the day in RAW, the highest quality setting for my DSLR.
- Check the White Balance setting — This is a setting I change often to accommodate the lighting conditions at the time. I start with white balance set to automatic, in case a photographic opportunity arises quickly, with no time to carefully set it. That way my white balance will be close enough that I can use Photoshop to fine tune it.
- Check the Metering mode (Matrix, Spot, (I never use Center)) — Having the meter behaving differently than you expect can make it difficult to get the right exposure for your photograph.
- Check the EV (Exposure Value) to make sure it's at its standard setting which for me is -0.3 — My meter generally needs to be dialed down a notch, but during the course of the day, I may alter my EV setting according to conditions.
- Check the Focus mode (Single, Continuous, Manual) — Having focus set to manual, while you think it’s in an auto focus mode, is the most typical problem causing the first shots of the day to be ruined.
- Check the Auto Focus Area (Single, Group Dynamic (I don't use the other settings)) — I start my focus area as a single focus.
- Check the Shutter Mode (Single vs. Continuous) — I start in single mode.
- Check the Camera Mode (Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual (I don't use the other modes)) — I start with aperture priority.