Rule 33: Check Your Settings


Sometimes I let enthusiasm get the best of me. Case in point: yesterday, I hit three cemeteries in one afternoon, ’cause, hey, I love a good cemetery. There was only one small issue: Well into shooting at the third cemetery, I realized that the shutter speed was suspiciously high, even taking into account the broad daylight on gray and stark white stones. Since the last time I’d used the camera was a couple of nights before to shoot a school play (no white stones, low light), I’d had my ISO on 1600 the whole time.

That doesn’t seem like a big deal at first, since 1600 is within acceptable limits as far as noise goes for my particular camera, and you’re not going to see too much noise in daylight anyway. When you stop to think about it, though, the higher ISO leads to loss of detail, which is hard enough to get sometimes when the light is harsh, and which is also a bad thing when you like your photos sharp.

So. Before you shoot, check your settings. During your shoot, check your settings. Oh, and by the way: after you shoot? Check your settings.

Taking a camera in and out of a camera bag can lead to things being inadvertently set to something other than what you would’ve wanted, especially if, like me, you’re all thumbs. All those buttons, knobs and dials are great when you need to set something on the fly, but it also means that it’s that many things that get poked, turned, or prodded unintentionally. Suddenly, you’re shooting on manual focus at an insanely low shutter speed with a wide-open aperture, when that wasn’t what you wanted at all.

The kicker is when it’s not even your fault. Sometimes, due to a camera’s firmware, changing one setting can lead to a cascade of other settings changing, as happens with mine when I go from JPG to RAW and back; all of a sudden, the camera decides that I’d like to shoot smaller, lower-quality JPGs, when I have other thoughts on the matter.

But then, sometimes you’ve nobody to blame but yourself. I haven’t yet had the chance to go over every last photo from today’s shoot. And if push comes to shove, I could go back to any of those locations and reshoot. But let’s face it: on one hand, that isn’t always going to be possible. Sometimes you only get one shot. On the other, even if and when you can go back, that’s taking time away from other places you could be exploring instead. Don’t do that to yourself. Make sure you’ve got your settings right the first time.

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