3. Try Auto White Balance
White balance can make or break your shot. I like to use the Cloudy setting for my landscapes to add a nice, warm color to the image, and I use Daylight white balance to photograph people to keep skin tones more neutral. But what happens when you photograph a high-school basketball game or a live performance indoors? Sodium, fluorescent and incandescent lights might all be used in the same room. How do you fix this lighting stir fry? Try auto white balance.
Auto white balance relies on the camera to determine the correct white balance for a scene. Auto white balance works fine outdoors, but where it really shines is indoors. I regularly shoot indoor spaces on assignments, from arenas to small office spaces filled with mixed lighting sources. Auto white balance is uncanny in its ability to get the correct white balance. The next time you encounter an interior with mixed lighting sources, try your auto white balance.
4. Use Autofocus For Action
I’ll admit it, I use manual focus a lot. Call it old school, but I like to use manual focus on landscapes and portraits. My eyes are still good enough to ensure sharp focus, and it just feels right twisting that focus ring while shooting. But what happens when you’re trying to photograph a soaring bald eagle from a moving boat? Enter autofocus.
There are three important settings when using autofocus for moving subjects. First, turn on the continuous servo focus. This tells the camera that the subject is moving so the camera is constantly refocusing to freeze the subject.
Second, choose the dynamic focus pattern to activate more focusing points in your camera. This pattern will vary camera to camera, but I like to use a 9-point group pattern for subjects that are moving in a predictable direction. For erratic-moving subjects, choose a larger group pattern.
The last thing to set is the frame rate. Choose the fastest frame rate you can. I use a Nikon D3 and set the camera to Continuous High for 9 fps.
Every summer, I photograph grizzly bears along the Katmai coast in Alaska. When I first started photographing the bears, before autofocus, I was manually focusing a 500mm ƒ/4 lens. That resulted in more blurry shots than sharp ones. Last summer, I photographed bears using advanced autofocus. Now it’s uncommon to get even a single blurry shot!
5. Turn On High-Speed Flash Sync
TTL flash photography has had huge advancements in technology and capabilities in recent years. With a pair of flashes and using your on-camera flash as a commander, you can shoot wirelessly and create stunning portraits anywhere you travel. Make sure you learn how to operate your on-camera flash in wireless mode, both as a commander and a remote flash.
Take things a step further and set your camera to high-speed sync. With Nikons, this setting can be found in the custom function menu; with Canons, this option is found on the flash itself. Turning on your high-speed sync allows you to shoot at shutter speeds faster than 1?250 sec. (the standard sync speed for many cameras).
Imagine this scenario: You’re shooting by the pool at midday in bright sun, and you’d like to use some flash and an aperture of ƒ/2.8 on your subject. This aperture will give a pleasing blur behind your subject and eliminate the busy background. The camera tells you the correct shutter speed to use is 1?1000 sec. for the right exposure. High-speed sync will allow you to shoot at this fast shutter speed and still add flash to the shot.
6. Use Sensor Cleaning
On an average day processing images, I spend about 45 minutes eliminating dust spots. If I work on images three days a week, that’s more than two hours per week. By the end of the year, I’ve spent nearly two weeks of eight-hour days cleaning dust spots—not good!
Luckily for photographers, camera manufacturers saw the need for in-camera dust cleaning, and most new cameras now have a sensor-cleaning function. There are generally two opt
ions: Clean the sensor when the camera is turned on (or off); or clean the sensor manually by selecting this option. I like to clean my sensor manually every time I switch lenses, since this is the moment that new dust can enter the camera. If I’m working in a very dusty environment, I may turn the sensor cleaning on more frequently. Chances are, dust may already be in my camera, and this will help eliminate the spots.