I have a great camera, but…

…my pictures do not look like the images advertised.

How many of us purchase a camera because

“it takes good pictures.”

It makes sense right? The heavy hitters of camera makers throw out some great marketing campaigns along with some sample images and we go “Oh ya, I must have that camera. Look at the pictures it takes!”

I wish it would be this simple, but then there would be nothing to share, learn and teach.

So we buy these machines and NEVER take it off of Automatic mode. We become frustrated because our images continue to look so/so or ordinary. We really want to make our images look like the samples they showed us, but we just aren’t getting it.

We need to understand exposure and how the camera thinks and evaluates a scene within the frame. If we take the time to understand exposure and practice a bit, I guarantee that our images are going to start getting better and better…. Are you with me?

The most important factor of the camera is… YOU. The camera needs YOU to tell it what to do. Yes, automatic mode will give you an accurate exposure of the contents within the frame, but this exposure may not be Creatively Correct. This is where Manual Mode comes in to play. It is the M on your camera dial. M = More Control. Use it and Use it often… (I shoot in Manual Mode 90% of the time.) Once you become equipped with understanding the 4 basic ingredients of Digital Exposure:

  • ISO
  • Aperture
  • Shutter Speed
  • White Balance

you will have the ability to capture every shot confidently.

Once you are comfortable shooting in Manual Mode, there are Shutter Priority and Aperture Priority Modes that come in handy as well. I believe that it is vital to understand Manual exposure first and foremost if you want to take your photography to the next level. Once you know what the camera is doing, you can then use these other modes for certain situations.

First Topic, next post will be ISO.

Can’t leave without posting an image. This is one of my favorite images of our daughter, Bryleigh. She was going to town on a Cookie from Bethel Bakery. I couldn’t get over the way she would close her eyes as she bit into the icing on top. Her eyes tell a story of complete “blissfulness”. She was about 16 months old here. (Camera settings and post processing to follow image)
Bryleigh Cookie

Camera Info:
Nikon D3
105 2.8 lens
ISO 800
Aperture 3.3
Shutter 1/100
Manual Mode
No Flash

Post Processing:
Color Corrected
Grayscale Conversion in Lightroom
Adjusted Contrast in Lightroom
Added Film Grain in Photoshop
Resized and Sharpened for Web

Comments 5

  1. Fantastic advice. The best thing I ever did was learn to shoot manual.

    It’s still funny to me that wedding guests will tell me “Oh, my cousin’s got that same camera! I thought you’d have a fancier one.” It’s not the camera, guys.

  2. Hi David!
    I’m still shoot mainly aperture priority (or shutter priority for sports) but sometimes the camera “chooses wrong” and I don’t get the look I want. I use mainly spot metering, which seems to help, but I know I need to step up to manual mode so I can take control of all the settings. I just can’t seem to think & make the settings fast enough to capture the moments. I can’t wait for the follow up posts!
    Also, I just use the center focus point, pre-focus, then recompose. I have a D300s and feel like maybe I’m missing something by not using the rest of those 50 focus points, but when I do, it never seems to focus on what I want it to. Any suggestions?
    Last question ~ I’d love to see a post on how you get people to “not notice you.” Your documentary style is so natural, it’s like the people don’t even know you are there taking their pictures. How do you get them to be comfortable and not look at the camera?
    Thanks again for sharing your experience!

  3. Post

    Hi Missi!
    These are GREAT topics to discuss. I have made notes on all of them and will make future posts about them. This is exactly what I want to use this site for. I need to know what it is that you all struggle with and have questions. Hopefully I can shed some light and help.

    For your focus points question. I will answer with a question… What lens(es) are you using? I use my focus points but I can tell you that they are sharpest and most accurate using the points closest to center. I have noticed too that some lenses are softer than others when using the outer edge focus points. My advice is to make sure you are focusing on a nice point of contrast when using the other focus points, to insure a good focus. By contrast I mean an edge of some sort. An eye for instance on a person. Hope this makes sense. Keep the great questions coming. The D300s is a sweet camera!

  4. DB,

    This is GREAT stuff… especially since Carrie and I just bought a D60. My question was going to be very similar… “So I just bought a fancy camera, how do I use it?” We’ll be tracking along!

  5. Hey David!
    I’m mainly using my 24 -70 2.8 (which was a replacement for my 17 – 55 2.8 that was damaged in my car accident and was previously my most used lens.) I also use my 18-200 3.5-5.6, and my 50 1.4 (all Nikon’s.) Really my question about focus points is 2 fold.
    1.) Instead of composing the shot and using the selector button to move the focus point around, I find it much more natural and quick to just use the center sensor, pre-focus, and then recompose. Am I missing something? Should I be composing first and then moving the focus point in the camera? (I guess the only time I see this as being useful is if I was shooting a static subject from a tripod, which I never do. I’m generally shooting moving people hand-held.)
    2.) I really haven’t seen the benefit of using the Auto-Area AF (big white rectangle on the AF selector) where the camera is supposed to automatically detect the subject and select the focus point(s). It never seems to choose the area that I want it to choose, especially in shallow depth of field situations where I want to only focus on a small area. Is this sort of an “auto” setting that I shouldn’t be using anyway or again, am I missing some benefit of this mode?
    Hey, here’s another topic to add to your list: sensor cleaning. My original DSLR, a D40, is in serious need, but I’m scared to death to attempt it. I’m assuming that with the way you are switching lenses all the time at weddings, you do your own cleaning. Some how-to’s would be great.
    Thank you again for so generously sharing your insights!!!

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