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In relation to this week’s tip, I stand accused and admit my guilt. Because I repeated the “crime” a number of times, unfortunately, I qualify as an authority. By sharing my words, I hope I can save you the same heartache and frustration I endured. Rather than have you learn from the mistakes I made, heed my message so every time you pick up your camera, you’ll walk away with great images.


Camera Viewfinder

© Russ Burden


Awhile back I received an email from one of my photo tour participants. For the sake of the article, I’ll call her “Frank.” Frank shared a story about how an amazing situation unfolded before her with two mule deer bucks. Frank shot 60+ pictures before noticing that the aperture was set to f22 which resulted in too slow of a shutter speed to get a sharp image. By the time Frank noticed, the best was over. Have I done the same when I was starting out? Absolutely - but I’ve since learned to Know My Viewfinder. As a result, I take notice of those little numbers, letters, and read outs found within. I make an immediate scan of the ISO, shutter speed, aperture and exposure compensation settings and if any of them aren’t appropriate for what I’m about to photograph, I make the necessary changes. 


Shutter Speed

© Russ Burden


Most cameras show the following information inside the viewfinder: aperture / shutter speed / ISO / metering mode / exposure compensation / focus point. To activate the read out, simply press the shutter half way. A quick glance will provide you with all the necessary feedback to make sure your settings are appropriate for the situation. As was the case with Frank, each time she pressed the shutter to fire off another capture, she was informed that the aperture/shutter combination was wrong, but it went unnoticed. My message to you is to not let that happen. A fraction of a second of prevention along with a quick change of the settings may net you 60+ great images as opposed to all deletions. 


Exposure Compensation

© Russ Burden


Scenario 1: the subject contains a lot of white. You take a test shot and notice the blinkies are flashing so you dial in some minus compensation. The needed amount to get the histogram to look right winds up to be minus a full stop. Your shoot lasts for just about an hour. Upon completion you put all your equipment away feeling great about what you photographed. A few days later you see a black bear in your backyard and grab the camera. Without hesitation, you fire off 60+ shots but when you review them, all get deleted in that they are significantly underexposed. The Moral: the minus 1 stop compensation you dialed in a few days ago went unnoticed even though it was displayed in the viewfinder. Always take an extra second to scan the read out in the viewfinder.  


Scenario 2: the subject you want to photograph is moving fast. But for your sunrise session you were photographing landscapes and needed a lot of depth of field. Additionally, you set the ISO to 100 to get a noise free file. This presented no problem in that the camera was on a tripod and the slow shutter speed didn’t matter. So the fast moving subject just happens to appear as you’re walking around the dunes that looked great in the morning light. Excitedly, you pick up the camera, switch it to motor drive and fire off 60+ shots. Disappointedly, you delete them all upon seeing the subject is blurry. The Moral: the settings you dialed in for the sunrise scenics that forced a slow shutter speed  went unnoticed even though they were displayed in the viewfinder. Always take an extra second to scan the read out in the viewfinder.  


Scenario 3: you just finished attending a class sponsored by the Digital Photo Academy and learned all about the rule of thirds. The instructor showed you lots of examples illustrating how it is better to not center the main subject. He or she then had you play around with the focus point in the viewfinder showing you how to move it around. When you put the camera down, the focus point that was left active was in the upper right third of the viewfinder. Your next shoot finds you photographing subjects that all appear on the left side of the frame. You fire off your 60+ shots and wind up deleting all in that the background is tack sharp but all the subjects are out of focus.  The Moral: the camera did exactly what it was supposed to do - focus on the background which was in the upper right - the exact area where you last left the active focus point - bummer. The active focus point went unnoticed even though it was displayed in the viewfinder. Always take an extra second to scan the read out in the viewfinder.  


Again, I’ve been burned in the past. So was Frank. Here’s hoping Frank and I can prevent you from becoming toast!


To learn more about this topic, join me on one of my Nature Photography Tours. Visit www.russburdenphotography.com and click on the NATURE PHOTO TOURS button for more information. Also, pick up a copy of my book, Amphoto’s Complete Book of Photography. To purchase a signed copy, contact me at   rburden@ecentral.com


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