8 Things Every Camera Owner Should Know About Their Camera

8 Things Every Camera Owner Should Know About Their Camera


2210071535If you want to make the evolution from pointing and shooting to creating art, one of the things you must do is master your camera. I’m talking the kind of mastery where you can pick up your camera in most situations and begin firing quickly without too much fiddling around.

How do you do that? Practice when there’s nothing at stake. Assuming you have some down time over the holiday break, here are 8 things you should learn about your camera.

1. Where does unacceptable noise begin on your ISO range?

Your manufacturer says your camera can shoot a wide ISO range, but you won’t always want to do that. As you select a higher ISO setting, your images show more noise – bigger pixels. At what point in your camera does the noise become unacceptable? Take a series of pictures at progressively higher ISO settings and compare. Find out before it really matters.

2. Where’s the sweet spot on your lens?

This is a similar concept. Your zoom lens has a smaller range that is sharper than the outer edges. Just because the camera says 70 mm – 300 mm doesn’t mean it is sharp for that entire range. That inner limit where your lens performs best is generally referred to as your sweet spot. Do you know what that range is on your favorite lens? The only way to find out is to experiment.

3. What’s the fastest way to change your settings?

In many cameras, there is more than one way to change your metering, focus type, or white balance. If you are shooting and need to make quick adjustments, what’s the fastest way to do it? You never know when you might need to react without thinking.

4. Should you calibrate exposure?

Is your camera consistently shooting over or under exposed? Are you always having to dial in exposure compensation? This might be a good time to grab a grey card and practice getting your exposure correctly. Your default might be 1/3 stop under or over exposed.

5. How do you adjust your flash?

Yes, sometimes you will actually have to use your (gasp) flash. With most DSLRs, you can adjust how the flash fires – normal, red eye, or rear curtain – or with what intensity. Do you know where to make those adjustments? It’s possible when you need them, you could be in the dark. Always good to know where to begin fumbling.

6. Do you have a reset routine?

When you finish shooting for the day, do you return the camera to any default settings? Do you check those settings when you pick up your camera for the day? You might come up with your own “start” settings that will work if you ever need to grab and go.

For instance, at the end of a shoot, you might return your camera to ISO 400, Aperture Priority f/9, Evaluative Metering, Exposure Compensation set to 0, and Auto White Balance. If you pick up the camera and run out in a hurry, you’ll be set to get most basic shots. The last thing you want to do is start shooting and find that your camera is still in last night’s extreme set up. Establish your own routine. Is it before the shoot, after, or both? When will you reset and what?

7. What’s your accessories routine?

When do you recharge your batteries? How frequently? What’s the routine for the tripod plate? When do you empty your memory cards? Simple organization routines can help you from ending up on a shoot with a dead battery or full memory card…or worse yet, a tripod with no plate.

8. What’s your workflow system?

What’s your organization system for your pictures? It’s been a while since we used a Dewey Decimal library system, but you will need your own version for your photos. As you collect more and more pictures, a good tagging and filing system will save hours of searching later. That’s a good mindless exercise for a slow day.

Knowing your tools is often a skill that makes the difference in your photos. When I was in the Army, we had to practice taking apart and reassembling our weapons so much that we could do it in our sleep. The Army believed the point you needed your weapon most was not the time to start learning its nuances.

The same concept goes for your camera. Take the time to learn your camera when there is low pressure or expectations, like down time over the holiday break. When you’re shooting high impact events in 2012, everything should flow naturally.

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Lynford Morton is a Washington, DC-based photography coach who helps emerging and enthusiast photographer take great pictures. He also helps entrepreneurs and professional communicators use their photos in social media and marketing campaigns to build stronger brands. Follow Lynford Morton at www.photocoachpro.com.

Some Older Comments

  • eriq March 11, 2012 08:36 am

    #2 should also note the sweet spot in aperture - most lenses were designed for the middle of the aperture range and sharpness fall off and color aberrations increase as you get further away from that (generally f8 - f11)

  • Paul March 10, 2012 02:34 am

    All good advice, particularly getting into a routine and sticking to it!

  • Michele March 9, 2012 07:14 pm

    There are great suggestion/reminders on fundamental principles of digital photography.

    I just want add another suggestion : if you are happy with results obtained with your actual equipment/camera, don't be pressed to take a new one, but continue to improve and know
    all it's possibilities.

    Digital photography in my opinion has this defect: it tends to give the impression that all the matter
    is to have the latest technology, as new sensor's etc. are continously caming up...

    Best digital phot i never shoot was taken with my son 5MP compact camera few years ago,
    photography is not (only) a technology matter.

  • Tushar March 9, 2012 04:59 pm

    A pretty good article, capturing some very important points every photographer requires. Being organised I believe improves your work quality a great deal. Thanks for consolidating the list.

  • Shariq March 9, 2012 10:51 am

    No. 6 is one of the reasons I love my D7000 - which has two user settings U1 and U2, so I set each very finely. Normally I want everything back to U1 so I just have to turn the dial away and then back to U1.

  • Daniel Upton March 9, 2012 10:40 am

    #7 is so important - a clean and well structured filing system is like a fine wine...(I'm not a wine buff, but the analogy seems to work!!)

    BTW, if you can spare a minute to share your thoughts on my first wedding gig, I'd be very grateful. Happy to do the same for you :)

  • Terri March 9, 2012 10:37 am

    7 and 8 are my banes - though 8 I can live with, it just takes me longer to find things when I'm looking for them - I can't count how many times I've been without a tripod plate and a memory card.

    My suggestion to myself and anyone else who forgets the memory card - buy a spare and keep it in the bag! Tripod plates, not so much...

    I have a question about "sweet spots" though - I use a "bridge" type camera, I chose it because DSLRs can become very expensive and I don't have a lot of spare change, it seemed to give me more ability to play around at a lot less expense. I can't obviously push limits with it, but I can take a macro shot without another $500 lens. Anyhow, does the "sweet spot" still apply? I would imagine it does? What is the best way to determine that?

  • Carolyn Leyboldt March 9, 2012 09:12 am

    Great reminders! I do some automatically but needed a reminder - like check your noise tolerance.

  • sartracker March 9, 2012 08:23 am

    Great article Lynford!
    Number 6 and 7 are my biggies! I shoot many events, sometimes day, sometimes night. I recharge batteries after every shoot. Back up memory cards x 2 and format cards (if needed - I carry 8 8GB cards). I'm paranoid about losing photos so I bought a small fireproof safe for my home to keep 1 of the backups in. Doesn't help on trips but peace of mind once I get home.
    I change back to Manual, f8, 1/25 - 1/60 and auto WB and ISO. The tripod plate goes back on the tripod and I'm ready to roll the next time.
    The one thing I kept forgetting to do was reset time and occasionally date. Went to Israel, set the time/date stamp for there and when I came back home forgot to reset the time. So for 2 months my photos all are dated as if I was still in Israel. Is it a big deal? Most of the time not, but if you have a lot of photos it could potentially cause problems. And I find if I need to replace a bland sky it helps to find a photo shot around the same time, even if it's a different day. Even in the US I have to remember to change it. Going from Mountain time to East coast on Friday. Shooting two parades on the 16th and 17th (the luck of the Irish). My 2 cents worth! :)

  • Grant Wilson March 7, 2012 06:25 am

    Very useful post! Thanks so much for reminding me of things think about every so often, and others I …well… don't! :-)

  • Alexander Rose March 6, 2012 11:16 am

    One correction on the term "sweet spot".
    Usually, when people use that expression, they refer to the aperture that gives the sharpest images - not a zoom range.
    As a rule of thumb, the sweet spot usually is the largest aperture plus two stops, sometimes three.

  • gnslngr45 March 6, 2012 04:22 am

    Great Advice.
    Most of these I have never thought about.
    "Default" settings has burned be once before. Wish I had set up some default settings before that.


  • Erin @ Pixel Tips March 6, 2012 12:48 am

    I'm one of those weirdos that loves excessive grain in some images - especially black and whites. Having said that, I do agree that it's a good idea to know what your camera is capable of. Like a commenter said above, it's not only ISO that can cause grain. An underexposed image at ISO 400 can cause just as much grain as a well-exposed image at ISO 6400. Know the rules (and the limits), and then you can break 'em!

  • ChrisAdval March 5, 2012 09:19 pm

    I charge my dead batteries ASAP just in case I do need them right away once they're done charging. It's more of a big deal if event photography where I'm shooting 10+ hours straight!

  • Bharat Justa March 5, 2012 06:33 pm

    Good tips!
    It took me less than a month to know my p&s. Now I don't have to look at the camera everytime to change the settings.
    I couldn't understand the #2 though. The images are very clear(edge to edge) when I push the zoom button once. Is that the sweet spot!?

  • Kathie M Thomas March 5, 2012 07:25 am

    Love these tips. Thank you for these - I'd already started doing some of these but will print this list off to make sure I do the rest too.

  • bcmun March 5, 2012 06:37 am

    Hello #2 know the sweet spot of your lense. Is there a more detailed explanation on how to determine this. Also how do you keep track of the sweet spot when your carrying several lenses at one time.

  • cpm5280 March 5, 2012 05:50 am

    > " As you select a higher ISO setting, your images show more noise – bigger pixels."

    No, no, no. Pixel size is unchanged.

  • Lynford Morton March 5, 2012 05:38 am

    Thanks for the comments and feedback. I agree that slowing down is a good tip as well. I might even broaden that to "be patient." I have to keep reminding myself of that one.

    I'd love to hear other ideas of things you learn about your camera to help improve your efficiency. Thanks again!

  • NuAggie March 5, 2012 02:57 am

    Great list and I agree with most of it. In #8, you refer to tagging and organizing as a "mindless" activity. I don't think this could be further from the truth. An effective system is something I have struggled with. There is a serious balancing act between having enough keywords and categories and being too specific and finding this balance is incredibly difficult. As someone posted on one of my social networks recently, "I give my future self way too much credit for remembering the things I do today."

  • David Meyer March 5, 2012 12:34 am

    Great post! #6 is so very important, especially since my camera also doubles as the family camera. When my wife grabs the camera out of my bag, it's not the time to make her search through resetting everything. For just shooting the kids around the house, for now I just tell her to put the camera on the green Auto setting and that prevents batches of bad photos. I have forgotten to reset from a previous shoot and ended up shooting a series before I checked them on the LCD and realized what had happened.
    One factor I would add though: make sure you switch back to auto focus if you've been in manual. When you run to grab your camera and take a quick shot, it's not the time to forget that your auto focus is not working!

  • Mei Teng March 4, 2012 07:30 pm

    I tend to forget to the reset routine. Most times, I reset on the next photo shoot.

  • raghavendra March 4, 2012 02:59 pm

    Every camera owners must be aware of this.


  • Jeff E Jensen March 4, 2012 01:48 pm

    All good points. I would also agree with Erik that slowing down is a good idea as well.

  • Barry E.Warren March 4, 2012 10:56 am

    I set my D5000 on auto with flash off when I put it away. That way if I have to grab it in a hurry to take a photo its ready to go. But if I'm doing a project I take the time to do it manually and make the settings I want. There are alot of good points on this post.

  • Scottc March 4, 2012 09:53 am

    ISO noise is an interesting aspect to start with, an often overlooked performance factor that does varies by camera.


  • Rick March 4, 2012 06:20 am

    #9 If you had to, could you adjust basic ISO, shutter, and aperture settings in the dark? There have been a few times in my experience that being able to quickly make an adjustment is the only thing in the way of getting or not getting the shot. I completely missed the perfect moving train opportunity when I was just starting out because I had to pause and think about how to set my shutter speed. Not anymore.

  • JasonW March 4, 2012 06:11 am

    Number 1 is wrong, I think – there’s no acceptable/unacceptable threshold for noise, and you need to know how to balance the full range of ISO against shutter speed, aperture and lighting adjustments.

    Choosing, say, a shutter speed that’s too slow is much more likely to kill your shot than bumping up the ISO and doing noise reduction later.

    (sorry if this comment appears twice, for some reason my other one seems to be stuck on "being moderated")

  • Lauren March 4, 2012 06:09 am

    This gave me a good idea.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck March 4, 2012 04:21 am


    I would add...slow down! It is great to know all these settings and how to manipulate, but sometimes you just get caught in the moment and rush to grab a shot. Use of a tripod helps you to slow the work, compose, adjust and get it right the first time, like this 13 second exposure of San Diego...


  • Average Joe March 4, 2012 04:11 am

    Good stuff to think about. Definitely will have to play with this stuff over break. Thanks!

  • hubblefromthesun March 4, 2012 03:36 am

    I love the fact that this article asks the questions as opposed to giving the answers so people can learn. This also comes up naturally if you shoot and try to give feedback to yourself on how it went.

  • Henk March 4, 2012 02:17 am

    #6 is so true! Number of times I ran out with my camera only to shoot at unacceptable ISO values for the current shoot... Happily enough, I'm not shooting weddings...

    Great list! It should be engraved in all photographers' minds...

  • Robert March 4, 2012 02:10 am

    #6 is where I get "caught" every time. I do a lot of night photography and will bump my ISO to 800 only to start shooting in the daytime havent changed it. Im getting better about but still do it. Thanks for the checklist!

  • Mridula March 4, 2012 01:46 am

    I agree with everything said here. I actually go for changing a camera when I think I have exhausted it thoroughly and ultimately it is also about to conk on me. Here is a pic to share with this community before I leave-