13 Things Your Camera Wishes You Knew

In Photo Basics by Jim Harmer

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.

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 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 JUST 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! You will thank me later!

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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About the Author

Jim Harmer

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Jim Harmer is the founder of Improve Photography, and host of the popular Improve Photography Podcast. More than a million photographers follow him on social media, and he has been listed at #35 in rankings of the most popular photographers in the world. He blogs about how to start an internet business on IncomeSchool.com..