Tag Archives: digital photography tips

5 Camera Settings to Improve Your Photography

Compelling images don’t just happen, they are created. By initiating the 5 simple camera settings listed below, you will noticeably improve the quality of your photographs. Refer to your camera’s Owner’s Manual for specific instructions.

Shoot RAW Files

Shooting in RAW format is perhaps the single most important setting a serious photographer can make. (See my article ‘Why Shoot RAW Files.’) RAW files produce the greatest possible visual information and offer you the most creative latitude in post-production. RAW files are your digital negative and require a RAW converter such as Adobe Camera Raw or Capture One Pro to process the image. There is a bit of a learning curve to using this processing software, but the time investment is well worth your effort. You can fine-tune every aspect of the photograph, and correct issues like chromatic aberration, vignetting, and lens distortion. If your interest is black and white imaging, the RAW format offers the greatest tonal control. You will find many fine tutorials online.

As always, get the exposure right in-camera. Avoid the ‘fix it in post’ mentality. This is counter-productive and diminishes your workflow. In most cases, I spend less than 5 minutes processing an image.

Shoot in Manual Mode

Shooting in Manual Mode gives you complete and total control over the final image. Make photographs rather than take snapshots. By allowing the camera to make your creative decisions, you are limiting yourself to a pre-determined (and average) set of parameters, which will most often yield average results. Dynamic images are never average. Take control of Exposure, Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO, and Depth-of-Field.

Set your camera to Manual Focus. Don’t rely on the Automatic Focus setting. More often than not, your images will be out-of-focus because the camera is unable to decipher what elements are important. By focusing manually, you control depth-of-field, as well as selectively focusing on the key areas in the photograph, like a subject’s eyes in a portrait.

Select the Adobe RGB Color Space

Set your camera’s color space to Adobe RGB (1998). Most cameras are set to sRGB by default. sRGB was created to ensure consistent color reproduction as an image is transferred from the camera to a device, such as a monitor or printer. It is the smallest color space, and yields the least amount of color information. Consequently, some colors in an image are discarded and won’t reproduce when printed. Adobe RGB, on the other hand, has a much larger color gamut (spectrum of colors).

Set the White Balance Manually

Set your White Balance manually based on the light source in which you are shooting. Each lighting type has its own color temperature and color cast. A proper white balance setting assures accurate color reproduction in an image. White balance can be fine-tuned in post.

Use a Low ISO Setting

By using the lowest possible ISO setting, you minimize the amount of digital noise in an image. Digital noise generally equates to a degradation in image quality, and while noise can be used to creative effect much like the grain in film, it is more often undesirable. Shoot at ISO 100 whenever possible. If this means having to use slow shutter speeds, consider a tripod. If you need to freeze action in low-light condition, you may have to boost your ISO setting, but try to keep it at ISO 400 or lower. By shooting in RAW format, you have a Noise Reduction slider which renders a viable solution to the problem.

I hope this article has been helpful in the on-going quest to improve the quality of your photographs. Please contact me if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions. Until next time…happy shooting!


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Why Shoot RAW Files

RAW Files vs JPEGs

RAW files are your digital negative. Like film negatives, RAW files contain the greatest range of visual information and offer the greatest latitude in post-production. RAW files are uncompressed, unlike the highly compressed jpeg file, which discards information to reduce file size. Once that information is lost, it cannot be retrieved. RAW files offer a much greater dynamic range (the ratio of brightest tones to darkest tones) and allows for greater detail in both highlights and shadows. An 8-bit RAW file contains 16.8 million possible colors, whereas a jpeg contains a mere 256 colors. That is fine for web images, but unacceptable when printing or publishing images.

Fontana Theater JPEG

Unprocessed JPEG












Fontana Theater RAW File

Optimized RAW File

RAW files require a RAW converter such as Adobe Camera Raw or Capture One Pro. I have used both, and while there is an argument for each, I choose to use Adobe CC because it is what I am most familiar with, and also I use other programs in the Adobe Suite like InDesign and Premiere Pro.

8-Bit or 16-Bit Depth

As previously mentioned, an 8-bit image contains 16.8 million possible colors, which would seem more than adequate when printing an image, but there are situations in which tonal differences are so subtle that even this many colors doesn’t produce a smooth transition. This step from one tone to the next can create a noticeable effect known as banding. Saving the processed file as a 16-bit image produces a staggering 281 trillion colors and greatly reduces the incidence of banding. This is beneficial in rendering smoother and more subtle tonal transitions in large continuous areas such as a blue sky. Be aware that a 16-bit file is twice as large as its 8-bit counterpart. Save your optimized image as an uncompressed TIFF file.

Unprocessed JPEG

Unprocessed JPEG

Optimized RAW File

Optimized RAW File

Why Convert to DNG Files

RAW files are proprietary to the particular make of camera in which they are shot. Canon RAW files (CR2) are different than Nikon’s (NEF), which are different from Olympus files (ORF). As software continues to evolve, these various formats eventually become obsolete and unusable. The DNG format is Adobe’s attempt to standardize the RAW file so that it can always be opened regardless of a camera’s make or when the file was created. Whenever I work with a RAW file, I convert it to a DNG file and save it in its own folder. That way, I have a workable file ten or twenty years down the road.

I prefer to shoot RAW files + large jpegs (See your camera manual). This gives me a ready-to-use image right out of the camera that I can immediately send to a client if necessary without having to post-process the photograph. It also aids me in making early editing decisions, such as eliminating out-of-focus shots or comparing image composition. Always strive to properly expose the image in-camera. Meter using an 18% gray card, then bracket. This will greatly reduce the amount of time you spend optimizing an image—and that equates to more time in the field actually creating photographs. Backup all your files regularly. Redundancy is king. Store your files on multiple hard drives (at least two), and store one of those devices off-site to protect you, heaven forbid, from fire or natural disaster. A safe deposit box is optimal.

I hope you find this article informative—and if you aren’t already shooting in RAW format that it has convinced you to start doing so.

Please contact me with any questions, comments, or suggestions. Until next time, happy image-making!


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Shooting Action Photography

action-photography-1Action can be described as any scene which incorporates movement. Action can be as slow-moving as a person walking, or as fast-moving as a race car barreling down a straightaway at 200 miles per hour. Capturing action’s peak moment is a combination of experience, artistic vision, and desired result.

Action photography requires preparedness and doesn’t wait for the photographer to ready her- or himself. Before leaving the house, I like to go through a mental checklist of the equipment I will need for an upcoming session. This might include items like a speedlight and portable light modifiers, polarizing and neutral density filters, lens hoods, a tripod or monopod, spare memory cards, and extra batteries for both camera and flash. Be prepared for any emergency. Do you need a second camera body or second flash in the event one fails? If you don’t own a spare, consider renting from a reputable company such as BorrowLenses. Be certain your gear is clean—particularly lens elements and view finder. Anticipate all the possible shooting conditions and adjust camera settings accordingly ahead of time—white balance, ISO, shutter speed, and aperture—then fine-tune as required once you’re at the event. Is the day clear and sunny? Is it overcast and threatening rain? Will you be shooting indoors or under stadium lights at night? This may seem obvious, but more than once I have begun a session with the incorrect white balance or shooting mode only to discover my error after the fact.

One of the big advantages to digital photography is the ability to take test shots and view the results immediately. Arrive early if possible to make any final exposure adjustments and select a vantage point. Use an 18% Gray Card to determine accurate exposure. If your subject is a high-speed race car or an Olympic diver, it is a good idea to position yourself so that the subject is entering the frame as opposed to exiting it. Apply the rule of thirds, and avoid placing your subject in the center of the frame. This accentuates the action, and is generally more visually appealing. If you want to freeze action, use fast shutter speeds (1/500 second or faster). If depth-of-field is critical, use small apertures (f/8 or smaller). Keep ISO settings as low as possible (ISO 100-800) to minimize unwanted noise. I always recommend shooting in RAW format, as this allows for the widest range of image optimization possibilities in post-production. The RAW file is your digital negative, and requires some kind of image-editing software such as Adobe Camera Raw. I shoot everything in RAW + Large Jpeg (See camera manual). This way, I have a workable image without having to expend the time required for processing RAW images.


Crisp, sharp images are not always the most desirable or aesthetically pleasing, nor do they necessarily best convey action and sense of motion. Slow, hand-held exposures are a very effective way to communicate motion. Experiment. Try very long exposures (1 second or more) while panning. If you are shooting in bright daylight, you may need to use a variable neutral density filter to reduce the amount of light entering the lens. I use a Tiffen Variable ND filter. This also allows you to use larger apertures, which enable you to isolate your subject while blurring the background. If you have a zoom lens, try zooming in or out during a long exposure. Using a flash in combination with slow shutter speeds at night offers a variety of interesting effects, and the results can be quite dramatic. Be sure to turn off image stabilization when panning or zooming. Most of all, get out and shoot as often as possible—anything and everything. You will become a far more competent photographer as a result.

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please contact me. Until next time, happy image-making!


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Backcountry Photography Tips


My Faithful Marmot Tent












Hello, I am writing from the confines of my tent and listening to the sharp staccato of raindrops pelting the fabric just inches from my ears. It has been raining for the last three days, with only brief and intermittent breaks in the precipitation. I have been camping on the North Fork of the Sacramento River for over three weeks now (the same place I camped for five weeks last Summer), and I am wanting to photograph this special area that has been my home for several weeks. Backcountry photography requires the right gear, and experience using that gear. Equally important is the willingness and mental preparedness to endure Mother Nature’s sometimes lengthy inclement bouts, for they almost always provide outstanding photographic opportunities, but patience and a sense of humor is key.

Staying safe, warm, and dry is primary. Your comfort will dictate how productive your photo efforts will be. Shelter for most people means a tent. Choose a small, quality, lightweight model—large enough to accommodate you, your pack, and your camera gear, yet light enough that you’ll actually carry it. Condensation on the tent’s interior is a natural occurrence and poses a challenge to staying dry, even when it isn’t raining. The ability to vent the space can help to alleviate this problem. Keep clothing and sleeping bags away from tent sides, and avoid bumping the fabric as much as possible. Dress in layers—and absolutely NO cotton! Cotton retains moisture and has no insulating value. Be prepared for any kind of weather regardless of the season. Don’t rely on forecasts. Mount Shasta has seen snow on the Fourth of July.


North Fork, Sacramento River, Northern California

With today’s sophisticated electronics, camera’s are far more vulnerable to the elements than the manual film cameras of old. Even with a weatherized pro-level camera system, precautions need to be taken. Weather-resistant carrying cases add a level of insurance. I have a Lowepro Toploader Zoom 50 AW II for my Canon EOS body and moderate zoom lens. I also have small protective soft cases for each of my lenses.

I am a minimalist in everything I do. I rely on experience more than gear, particularly when camping in the backcountry. Unless I absolutely need it, I don’t carry it. I have the same attitude regarding camera gear. I bring only what I need to do the job. That means a camera body and two lenses—a 10-18 mm ultra-wide zoom and an 18-55 mm zoom. This covers the majority of shooting situations and keeps weight and space requirements to a minimum. I also carry a fully-charged spare battery and second memory card. Occasionally I use a circular polarizer or neutral density filter, but I find with digital photography that I am less prone to using filters.

Maidenhair Fern, Northern California

Maidenhair Fern, Northern California

A tripod is an essential piece of equipment. Some of the most compelling image-making happens after sunset. Many fine, lightweight tripods are available. I recently purchased a Davis and Sanford Traverse with a BHQ8 Ball Head. Turn off any image-stabilization when using a tripod. Use a remote shutter release or self-timer to avoid camera-shake. Use a lens hood to protect the front lens element from precipitation, as well as the occasional bump.

Sometimes it’s the little things that mean the difference between an enjoyable outing and a disastrous one. I always carry a large, heavy-duty trash bag in my pack. They’re light and offer excellent rain-protection in the event of a sudden downpour while hiking on the trail. That has kept my pack, clothing, and camera gear dry on numerous occasions. Also, pack a couple of one-gallon zip-lock storage bags for water-proof security. They serve as a rain-guard in drizzly conditions. Plastic film canisters are one of the greatest storage containers ever conceived. They are water-tight and pack easily. Keep memory cards, lens tissue, and/or your Bic Mini safe and dry.

Accidents do happen! When I recently purchased a new Canon system, I enrolled in the SquareTrade 2 Year Drops and Spills Protection Plan. At $92 for the two years, it’s cheap insurance. Canon will repair or replace damaged equipment, as long as the item isn’t lost or stolen.

Please contact me with any comments, questions, or suggestions. Until next time, happy image-making!


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Black and White Photography Basics

Black and White Photo Tips













Black and white photography is very much its own art form. The process of creating black and white images requires the photographer to think and see differently. Even the viewer’s experience is a different one. Black and white is an especially dramatic and impactful medium. By applying a few basic principles, you can create stronger, more compelling black and white imagery. Digital cameras offer so many creative possibilities and black and white imaging benefits greatly with today’s technology.

Black and White Photo Tips The first step to improving your photography is to shoot in a RAW format, whenever possible. The RAW file is your digital negative and it gives you the most creative control over the final image. Adjust your camera’s white balance, as this is particularly important with black and white imaging. Shoot in color mode, then convert your image to grayscale in post. Use the lowest ISO setting possible. This helps keep detail sharp and noise to a minimum.

Composition is fundamental to strong black and white image-making. Be mindful of the rule of thirds, but don’t apply it mechanically. Use visual weight to create balance or tension in your composition. Look for interesting patterns and textures, strong converging lines, and contrasting light and shadow. Think and see in black and white. Look for scenes with a wide range of tones. Does a particular shot call for a shallow depth-of-field or is sharpness throughout the image a preferable choice? Experiment. Try different lens focal lengths. Bracket your shots. Many digital cameras allow you to do this automatically.

Neutral Density Filters reduce the amount of light entering the camera and increase exposure times. They are used to create the veiled effect of flowing water and soft clouds. ND filters decrease depth-of-field by allowing wider apertures. They are also used to decrease the ISO setting in bright situations. A Neutral Density filter can reduce the light up to several stops, permitting very long exposures. Use a tripod on any exposure longer than 1/30 second, and lock up the mirror and use a cable release or self-timer to eliminate camera shake. Also, be sure all image-stabilization is turned off whenever the camera is on a tripod. This will give you the sharpest possible detail.

I welcome your questions, comments, and suggestions. If there is a particular topic you would like to see covered, please contact me and I will attempt to address it in a future post.

Until next time, happy image-making…


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