13 Things Your Camera Wishes You Knew

Your sad, old camera will start to treat you better if you learn to take care of it.

Every time I go to my nephews’ soccer games and see all the parents with their cameras on “green mode”, or attend a sporting event and see spectators using their flash from a quarter mile away, it makes me grit my teeth.  It’s all I can do to stop from walking up to them and fixing their camera for them.

This morning, I got to thinking.  If it is painful for ME to see these cameras being mistreated, imagine how the camera feels!  Canons have feelings too, ya know?  (Nikons happen to have more, but let’s not get into that).

The readers of this site tend to be a bit more knowledgeable about photography than your average shutter snapper, so I wrote this one with the more advanced photographer in mind.

Your Camera Wishes You Knew That…

Camera Tip #1: AI Focus and AI Servo are not interchangeable

Nikon cameras only have single servo (AF-S) and continuous focus (AF-C) , so you don’t have to worry about this one.  On a Canon camera, you have spot, AI Focus, and AI Servo focus modes.  When photographers are shooting subjects that will move constantly during the shot (for example, a football player running toward the camera), they need a focus mode that will continue to focus until the instant that the shutter is released.

Trouble is that most users learn whether to use AI Focus or AI Servo for this situation, and most choose AI Focus since “Servo” sounds scarier.  AI Focus tracks focus continuously until the subject stops, then it locks focus, and then tracks again if the subject begins to move.  AI Servo continuously tracks focus and never locks.  Although there are some situations where AI Focus is useful, my personal testing shows that a SIGNIFICANTLY higher percentage of all “moving target” shots are sharper using AI Servo in 99% of situations.

One writer online summarized it like this (and I totally agree):

  • One-Shot is for when neither you, nor the subject, are moving.
  • AI Servo is for when either you, or the subject, is moving.
  • AI Focus is for when neither you, nor the subject care if your focus is accurate.

Cleaning a lens.

Camera Tip #2: Lintless cloths never seem to be lintless

I bought three or four lintless cloths at varying prices to clean my camera over the years, and then I simply gave up.  Every time I cleaned the camera with the lintless cloth, it would instantly become twice as “linted.”  Part of the problem was the quality of the cloths, but the other problem is that the lintless cloth can get lint on it from your camera bag if you aren’t extremely careful with it at all times.  Then, I discovered a cheaper, easier, and cleaner way to clean my camera.  I found a little product called “Pec Pads” on Amazon.  It is basically a package of 100 disposable TRULY LINTLESS cloths.  Use once and throw it away, so you don’t have to worry about lint getting on your lintless crap.  For only $10, it’s a steal!

Camera Tip #3: Memory cards are not created equal

Without even arguing brand, let us talk about speed for a minute.  If you do not know how to check the class of your memory card, you MUST read this article on memory cards.  Suddenly, you’ll realize that it was your memory card, and not your camera, that was slowing things down.

Camera Tip #4: The camera feels more secure with the center column of your tripod down

When I go on workshops, I see about half of the photographers use the center column of their tripods to get the camera up to eye level.  Most of the time, the photographers use the center column because their tripod is too short if only the legs are extended.  When you buy a tripod, make sure to buy one that is tall enough to reach your eye level without using the center column.  Need help with a tripod purchase?  Here’s a list of tripods I personally recommend.

Camera Tip #5: Exposure compensation is the best friend of a pop-up flash

Most photographers don’t use the pop-up flash because of the horrendous light quality it produces, but all of us get in a pinch sometimes where we use it to get a grab shot.  You may not know that you can control the output of the flash by using the FLASH compensation setting in your menu.  No, it is not the same thing as exposure compensation, which has no effect on the output of the flash.

Battery grip for a DSLR camera

Battery grip. Just plugs right in to the bottom of the camera.

Camera Tip #6: A battery grip will be the best $50 you ever spend on your camera (yes, I said $50)

A battery grip is an add-on to the bottom of your camera that gives you another shutter button so you can hold the camera properly when shooting verticals.  Also, it allows you to stack another battery in there.  For some camera models, the battery pack will increase the frames per second you can capture and improves your autofocus speeds.  For every camera model, it allows you to shoot for twice as long (read: an entire wedding) without changing batteries.  Most battery packs by Canon or Nikon cost $250 or more.  Fortunately, there are many third-party batter packs available and most of them are EXACTLY as good as the Canon or Nikon battery grip.  Copy this paragraph and email it to your spouse.  Make the subject line of the email “Christmas idea.”

Camera Tip #7: You don’t need 3 pictures of every picture

This weekend, I hired 3 models and a few assistants for a MASSIVE portrait photography shoot in a studio, a soccer field, a barn, an urban city, and in a lake (yes, IN the lake).  It was a giant production that lasted 12 hours.  How many memory cards do you think I needed for that shoot?  Answer: one.  I shot a total of 420 pictures.  Why so few?  I only took one frame of each pose.  When you have the fundamentals of sharpness down, it will no longer be necessary to take multiple photos of the exact same pose in hopes of getting a sharp one.  I always tell every model I work with that they should vary up the pose slightly every time they hear the shutter snap.  If I really want to go back and work on one pose, I’ll say so.  Working this way is much more efficient, and you will save time editing.  Also, I believe I came home with more DIFFERENT poses than if I had taken multiple pictures of every pose.

Camera Tip #8: The LCD will lie like a politician


Will you please pin this on Pinterest?

Photographers call it “chimping” when someone looks at every shot on the LCD after it is taken.  The name comes from people looking at the camera and  repeatedly saying “oooh” like a chimpanzee.  Anyway, looking at the LCD all the time can distract you from shooting, but the point here is that, if you don’t check the histogram rather than the picture on the LCD, then chimping isn’t going to do you much good.  Think about it.  You already knew what the composition and lighting would look like before you took the shot. You don’t need an LCD for that, you only need a viewfinder.  The purpose of chimping, for me, is mostly to see the histogram.

Why look at the histogram rather than simply looking at the picture to determine if it is properly exposed?  The problem is that an LCD is made up of little lights!  If you look at the screen when it is dark outside, the photo will look VERY bright.  If you look at the picture when it is bright outside, the photo will look dark.  Judging exposure by looking at the picture on the LCD is a terrible habit.  When you get home and put the photos on the computer, you’ll probably recognize that many of your photos are not properly exposed.  You’ve probably heard this tip before, so START DOING IT!

Camera Tip #9:  RAW files should never be left naked

I always recommend that photographers shoot in RAW so that they have a greater latitude in post-processing.  UNFORTUNATELY, I have spent enough time on Flickr to see that many many photographers shoot a RAW file, convert it immediately to JPEG, and then post it on the web.  It is easy to spot because RAW files look totally naked.  They have no sharpening, contrast, or color pop to them.  Your camera would appreciate it if you either (1) shoot in JPEG so it can apply these things for you, or (2) never EVER convert a RAW file to JPEG without first dressing it up a little with some basic changes in Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom.  And, before you ask, the “clarity” slider in Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom is NOT for sharpening.

Camera Tip #10: Your camera doesn’t have much to do with sharpness, so find something else to blame

I have shot with almost every DSLR made by Canon, Nikon, and Sony produced in the last 5 years, and I have never seen a DSLR that is incapable of recording sharp images.  That simply isn’t the problem.  If your photos aren’t as sharp as you would like, then you should first fix your fundamentals and then determine the problem is caused by a cheap lens.

Camera Tip #11: The camera strap that came with your camera is for lynch mobs, not photographers

I survived about two weeks with the uncomfortable camera strap that came with my first camera.  One of my first purchases was a cushy camera strap.  I have gone through a couple different brands, but my current favorite is the Black Rapid camera strap.  It’s a thing of beauty.  Check out my full review of the Black Rapid strap here.  It doesn’t matter which one you choose, but do your neck a favor and buy something comfortable.  You can even by cheap cushioned straps on Amazon for as little as $10.

Camera Tip #12: Erase all images and “format card” do very, very different things

If you have been using “erase all images” then you will probably like reading this article, “9 Things Photographers Should Know about Memory Cards.

Camera tips

Camera Tip #13:  Your camera craves customization

Most higher end DSLRs (anything other than Canon Rebels and Nikon D3100s) give you the option of customizing what the buttons on your camera do.  If you find yourself constantly going through the menus to do some things, you can customize your camera buttons to do that operation for you.  Spend 10 minutes with your camera manual and you’ll have a much easier time shooting in the field.  This is how many sports and wildlife photographers do “back button autofocus.”

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  1. Libby

    Nice post and something every beginning photo enthusiast should read. Interesting point on the battery grips as far as price. My opinion was that they were all about the same as well. I guess when receiving an “off brand” product you could check the fit, tooling, etc, and it it’s just plain shoddy, just return it.

  2. Roman

    Thank you very much for the tips! Especially the one about RAW-pictures. I’m not a pro, at the moment I rather shoot JPG and publish it instead of RAW without post-processing.

  3. Rick

    I’ve wondered about #4 before. The camera just feels sturdier when that center shaft is at least 1/4 to all the way down.

  4. Author

    @Rick, I’ve noticed the same thing. There are a few tripods that seem to do okay with the center column up, but most of them seem quite shaky if the center column is used.

  5. Jeff Sinon

    A lot of great reminders even for someone who has been doing it a while. We will have to agree to disagree on the grip though. I don’t care for grips and the added weight and bulk. As good as the camera was this is the reason my Canon 1series body didn’t last very long. When hiking into the middle of nowhere weight matters.

  6. TylerIngram

    My XSi lets me kind of reprogram the buttons on it so saying other than the Canon Rebels isn’t entirely true.

    Such as flash-compensation, AEB etc. I even have my focus buttons changed. anyway..

    I do find that Nikon’s customization is better than that of Canon’s. At least with the D3s bodies I get to play with from time to time.

    As for grips. The higher-end Canon/Nikon models are environmentally sealed. Whereas the ones I’ve looked at from 3-party manufacturers such as Ansman are not sealed. So there is a price difference. The nice thing about the Ansman one was that the battery was built in and you charged the grip. Though that can also be a drawback in-case the internal battery becomes weak and looses full charge ability.

  7. A.barlow

    I agree with the tri-pod thing. I’m on the tall side and it took me forever to find one I like. I finally got one of the Slik Pro models. With the legs (only) fully extended it’s perfect at eye level. I’m ALMOST 6’4. Deff not a tri-pod for short people :)

  8. Lara White

    I loved the way this article was written from the camera’s perspective, so funny! I always have trouble restraining myself from offering unsolicited advice when I see people flashing away in perfectly good lighting conditions and/or trying to use their flash on something a quarter mile away.

  9. Todd

    Such great tips – you really nailed it! I’m in total agreement with you about the stock/OEM strap, but I chose to go with the handstrap and grip instead. I’ve heard too many horror stories about the black rapids.

  10. John Armstrong-Millar

    I’m not sure I completely agree with you on AI focus. It does have a use albeit a pretty specific one. It will track AND continually focus on a subject moving towards or away from you. You know when it’s tracking when the camera starts beeping. The problem it doesn’t always start tracking early enough, so you need to ask the model to start again. Not always an option if you are a wedding tog.

  11. Ann

    I use a newer point & shoot camera so was hoping for some tips on that. I’m struggling with the lapse in shooting when I press the shutter & am really frustrated with blurry images. I will eventually upgrade to a more advanced camera, which I used in the past but for now, this is what I’m using.

  12. LesaJustice29

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  13. Nina

    I loved these tips, but the last one is making me wonder: Do you consider Canon Rebels beginner cameras? I shoot with one, and it works almost as well as my friends Nikon d5100.

  14. Mell

    What’s the name of the camera in the 1st photo? i really want to buy one of those :3

  15. Booray-Tampa Wedding Photographer

    Great article! I love it when someone takes the time to write something like this that is so clear and concise that anyone can get it. :)

    I would like to suggest you check out the Spider Holster for strap purposes. I was a Black Rapid user for years and now I can’t imagine not using my Spider. Black Rapid is a great strap and perfect for dual carry but my shoulders were showing the strain..

  16. Jennifer G

    Re: tip #3, I read the linked article but it didn’t say anything about memory card speeds.

  17. Enno

    Great article. Just a note on the AF though. Here in Melbourne we get the F1 circus passing through once a year. I endlessly see folks trying to photograph the cars and failing (and we won’t talk about those who think an iphone is going to do anything but embarrass them). Best technique I find though is to turn off the AF completely and manually pre-focus on part of the track (white lines on the road help). The wait for the next car to come round the corner and grab my picture. With AF off, the camera will respond to the shutter much more promptly, it won’t mistakenly decide the debris fence is more interesting than the middle of the track and focus on it and if you have a rapid three shot mode or similar it might be worth thinking about. Even on tight corners things like F1 cars tend to be moving at better than 100km/h and you need to be ready and you and your camera need to be fast. But its a lot of fun. And you’ll be chimping not so much to see the pic as to see if you got any of the car in frame! :-) Even then, best not to bother and just set up for the next car to round the corner.

  18. Taylor Harris

    Cool article! I know nothing about photography, but it was a fun read!

  19. Kristin

    Do you (or anyone) have recommendations on the third party battery grips? I’ve been looking for one (cheap) but can’t find one for $50! That’d make my YEAR!

  20. Jason

    A generic battery grip is why I just had to get my D700 back from service to fix the DC/DC converter card.

  21. Norja

    Do you have experience with the Norwex Glasses cleaning cloth…I use it for my glasses and it is streak/lint free, but haven’t used it on my camera lenses yet…
    ps:(I don’t sell it, so this is NOT to promote it for my own gains…)

  22. Sami

    Very informative, but snappy/sarcastic. I felt like I was being chewed out instead of learning. No offense.

  23. BeBe

    Love taking pictures, have gotten some really great pictures but not because I had a clue as to what I was doing. Interesting information but the science of picture taking seems so difficult, I suppose the technology can be learned if you have the passion.

  24. Chimper

    Actually I believe ‘chimp’ comes from ‘CHeck IMage Preview’.

  25. Juan Jose Arias

    I like your blog and I want to recieve more in the future.

  26. Haley

    im wondering, what do you call the camera in the first picture? its an old one but its driving me crazy because I can’t remember what it’s called

  27. Susan Macon

    Could not find on the web page where to sign up for you emails. Please sign me up.

  28. Sue Rissel

    I’m glad I read this. I have been floundering lately in my shots (I also blame lack of practice) and needed to read this to understand what I needed to fix. Thanks!

  29. Johnny

    I really enjoyed your tips. I have found that I forget some of the things I once knew and think this post is a great reminder.

  30. Sapna

    Thank you for your tips and suggestions and advice…i have just started learning about photography and its so good to know that there is help at hand.
    thank you

  31. Andrea

    Please sign me up for your newsletter! Thanks for all the helpful tips!

  32. Sarah

    Great article. One question though, on #8 I’d heard not to look at my LCD but what I’m not sure of is what I want my histogram to look like. An even distribution left to right? Thanks!

  33. Ellen Finch

    Good post, covering some things that it took me a long time to figure out. My only disagreement is about the camera strap. I bought into the hype from several people I know who have the Black Rapid and love it, and the reviews, and I tried it once before buying and thought it was kind of awkward but could get used to it and I thought that the concept was an excellent one, so shelled out the bucks. Never got used to it, didn’t like it, gave it away to another photographer friend after a few months. Just another voice that says that that one strap doesn’t fit all.

  34. David

    I have almost always used AI Focus and it has been very acceptable in being sharp when it beeps in focus and with back button focus. Also, I used just center point focus and recompose the shot.I do switch to AI Servo when shooting birds in flight. I am willing to test it out with AI Servo more often to see if my results change… The draw back is that I would not get a confirmation that the lens has got focus where I want…

  35. David

    Black Rapid does make a Women’s version of their strap: rs-w1 women’s strap curved ergonomic

    I like my OpTech USA strap as it does not advertise my camera. Plus I use my tripod 90% of the time, so I can’t lose my tripod screw mount for a strap. I have seen the same style that uses the strap holes somewhere..

  36. Luke

    @Sarah, the “ideal” distribution will vary depending on what you want your exposure to look like. It’s not a simple topic to explain in “comments”, but I’d be happy to try. Do you understand what a histogram is? (Sorry if that sounds condescending. It’s not meant to.)

  37. Luke

    @Sarah, the “ideal” distribution will vary depending on what you want your exposure to look like. It’s not a simple topic to explain in “comments”, but I’d be happy to try. Do you understand what a histogram is? (Sorry if that sounds condescending. It’s not meant to.)

  38. john

    Generally, you don’t want your histogram to be too heavily touching either edge (i.e. looking like a roller coaster that starts at the top), instead you want to see a nice hill that mostly fits inside the frame. If it’s too far to the left, your image is too dark and you’ll get a lot of noise when you adjust the exposure in post. If it’s too far to the right, you’ve blown your highlights and won’t get any detail out of them.

    Use your discretion, however. If you’re taking a picture of a building and the building itself is properly exposed (big hill in center-left), it’s fine if your sky is blown out (skyscraper touching the right edge), chances are that will happen anyway.

  39. goldfries

    “Camera Tip #6: A battery grip will be the best $50 you ever spend on your camera (yes, I said $50)”

    Weight is not always a welcome. I only used a grip when I was on entry level bodies but haven’t seen the need for it since I moved to a higher grade camera body, and even so the grip part often applies to only SLR/SLT cameras.

    “Camera Tip #7: You don’t need 3 pictures of every picture”

    The example given is in a studio shoot, usually in such cases it’s 1 model and they know how to open their eyes for your camera. This is not the case for say group photo at an event, multiple shots are good.

  40. Jonathan Quimbly

    “Camera Tip #1: … Nikon cameras only have single servo (AF-S) and continuous focus (AF-C)”

    Nope, Nikons have many focus modes besides AF-S and AF-C. Area, S, d9, d21, d51 and 3d, to be specific.

  41. Pete

    A good histogram can look like a smile, a frown or even an earthquake. What you don’t want is large areas off the chart, (ideally you don’t want anything chopped off, as in too high or too low to fit on the graph.)

  42. Keith R. Starkey

    I’d take a little bit of exception to #8. First, until you really know your camera’s exposure habits, chimping isn’t bad at all for checking to see if the exposure at least looks in the range you want. Additionally, I have not found it a problem in any light to see if what I want is coming together by by looking at the LCD. I did, however, have a horrible time until I realized my stupid transition lenses were what was making everything so dark! (Boy, what a revelation that was!)

    It takes a bit of work to get a feel for your camera’s exposure habits. For example, when I meter off something just a tad darker than before, the change in exposure, however, can be drastic; the photo can end up way too bright. Only by chimping was I able to learn the camera’s nuances.

    Further, the histogram is only as good as you understand what it’s doing and what from it. If, for instance, you see more black than white in the histogram, that doesn’t mean the photo isn’t properly exposed; that may be exactly what you want (and noise isn’t always going to be an issue just because a photo is heavy on the dark side.) Until one becomes experienced enough to determine if the histogram is in agreement with one’s shot, it would be foolish otherwise to always try to get the same histogram for every shot.

  43. Susana

    I read somewhere that some people had off brand battery grips that short-circuited or something and their cameras started burning. That scared me so I have never considered buying anything off brand before. However, I recently bought a used camera and the previous owner forgot to give me the charger so I bought an off brand charger for the few days before I could go over and retrieve the Canon charger. It works like a charm. This has made me reconsider. Still, I’m nervous about buying an off brand grip although I want one very much.

  44. Jordan

    Sign me up for the newsletter good sir.
    Thanks very much for the tips and i have Pinned you on Pintrest 😉

  45. Odette

    Please do sign me up for your newsletter! Thank you very much for the great tips.

  46. Carrie

    Please sign me up for your newsletter! Absolutely loving the jam packed articles!

  47. Phil

    Wonderful! I love the slightly irreverent tone, and everything is oh so true! This is a great site … bookmarking now :0)

  48. Ashlea

    Ive been passionate about photographing for nearly a decade and would like to actively move my skills forward.

  49. Ashlea

    I’ve been passionate about photographing for nearly a decade and would actively like to move my skills forward.

  50. Lorina Dean

    Wish I came across your site sooner…..Have been having problems with AF basically Sharp picture when taking picture of children on the move and Birds in flight… Will try your tips see how it goes.

  51. Susan Sabo

    Regarding tip #7: Not so for portrait photographers, or anyone shoot people who are not professional models. With 2 people, I’ll shoot two frames. Three or more, and it’s three frames. Even with all those frames it can be hard to find one with everyone looking at me, nobody blinking or looking away or moving their lips.

    I agree; if I were shooting paid, professional models who know how to be photographed, one frame would do it. But most people don’t know how to be photographed (and most of those don’t like it), so rather than swap heads in photoshop, I’d rather take the extra frames and get a good, clean shot. Just my 2 cents.

  52. Amber Bryson

    Sure it did. In your settings menu there is a flash exposure compensation slider. Use it to change how much light your flash gives out.

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