Camera operation: other camera settings and features
A feature most newer DSLR’s have is what some call “blinkies.” This is a nickname for “highlight alert.” (This may be named differently on non-Canon cameras). Somewhere in your camera’s menu this can be enabled. When it is on and you view a shot on the rear LCD screen, an area of the image will blink if you have overexposed that part of the image (i.e., you’ve blown the whites). If you are taking a photo of a white bird and it is the bird that is blinking on the LCD screen, you may want to change settings so that less light enters the lens. This of course, can be done by adjusting either shutter speed, ISO, aperture or exposure compensation. If you are taking a shot of a brown bird, say, and the sky is showing blinkies in the LCD screen, then it may not be as crucial for you to adjust exposure since the sky has no detail and may not be the most important part of the picture—especially if it will be cropped out during processing.
Each brand of camera has its own threshold as far as when blinkies are displayed and you are being warned of an overexposure. I find that with my 7D and my 5D Mark III, if I see a small amount of blinkies, even on a bird, it is very possible that I will be able to recover what appears to be lost detail in the whites, according to the blinkie warning, during post-processing in Lightroom. In other words, sometimes the camera will warn you of an overexposure but the overexposure is just barely over the limit, and if you’re shooting in RAW format especially, you can probably fix it with a slight exposure tweak in your RAW converter program. Experience will tell you if this is the case. This is part of getting to know your equipment.
Since I don’t shoot in JPG, I cannot say whether the same image (in JPG) as in the above example would be fixable in an image editor. I do believe that the chances are better on a RAW image.
Histogram—brightness, not RGB display
This is a good place to talk a little about the histogram. A histogram is a graph that displays either how bright an image is (brightness histogram) or what levels of RGB colors are present in the image (RGB histogram). Your camera is probably capable of displaying either histogram on its LCD screen. I recommend setting it to display the Brightness histogram—not the RGB histogram.
For wildlife shooting, I’m personally more interested in making sure my exposure is correct in the camera (I can worry about colors in post-processing). So by displaying the brightness histogram, I can visually see if my image is overexposed and to what extent.
I have my camera set so that after each exposure, the image, it’s exposure data (exif info), and the histogram is displayed. You want the graph data to reach the bottom right corner of the graph, which is the brightest you can be without overexposing the image. If there is no blank space between the graph data and the right side of the histogram, you have an area of the image that is overexposed and there is no detail in those whites. The opposite is true on the lower-left corner of the graph. If the graph data extends past the left side of the histogram, you have areas in the image that are underexposed to the point where there is no detail—just black. In theory, you want the graph data to come as close to the right and left sides of the graph without going past. In this situation, all parts of the image have detail.
But, recall a few paragraphs ago where I said that sometimes you can push the lights and the darks a little past the right and left sides of the graph in the camera and still be able to recover what supposedly was white and black portions of the image that had no detail in your RAW converter software or photo editing software. [Take a big breath after that sentence!] 🙂
Sometimes you’ll have an image where it doesn’t matter whether portions of it are pure white or pure black. An example might be a bird with a white sky background. Since the white sky has no detail to show anyway, it can be overexposed without too much negative impact on the image as a whole. The histogram will still report an overexposure but you may be able to ignore it. Take this into consideration when you read the histogram for that sort of image.
There’s a term called, “Expose to the right,” that some photographers encourage the use of and live by, as opposed to exposing to the left. The idea behind it theorizes that in general, it is better to overexpose an image a little bit rather than to underexpose it. The reason is that darker areas of the image tend to contain more visible noise than do lighter or overexposed areas. This noise is sometimes difficult to deal with and may be impossible to completely remove from the image (depending on the image) while still retaining sufficient detail in those darker areas. A noisy image will be a lower quality image. I generally try to expose to the right as I believe there is something to the idea. When I shoot, I try to get the right side of the histogram just past the level of overexposure because I know my RAW files (and associated software) will allow me to recover any details in the whites that I theoretically lost. If I end up wanting more blacks or dark areas in my image I can increase my blacks adjustment a little without adding too much noise. Once you get comfortable reading histograms and adjusting them with your camera’s exposure settings, give the ‘expose to the right’ theory a try! Correctly exposing shots is okay, too! 🙂
White Balance is a setting that attempts to correctly display white as white in your image. Different light sources can cause yellow, red, etc., casts and cause whites to be discolored. Your camera has lots of different settings for white balance. I leave my white balance setting set to neutral since most lighting I use comes from either the sun or my external flash. I can easily adjust for any white balance in my RAW images in Lightroom if I need to. Try different settings and choose what works best for you.
Most cameras have the ability to shoot in sRGB and Adobe RGB 1998 color spaces. sRGB is the standard color space for color images on the Internet. When I post an image to the Internet, I make sure the image has an sRGB color profile. Using sRGB on your posted image will make its colors look as close to correct on the most monitors. sRGB has a smaller color gamut than does Adobe RGB. This basically means that it has a smaller pool of colors from which to draw for an image.
Adobe RGB 1998’s color gamut extends beyond those of sRGB. My camera manual states that this setting is not recommended if you do not know about image processing. Hopefully, this series of articles you are reading will encourage you to go deeper into processing images and you’ll consider yourself one who ‘knows’ about image processing.
Since I already decided to use RAW format, I was actually excited about learning processing tricks to make my photos stand out a little more than they would have without them. Long story short, I always shoot in Adobe RGB 1998 color space. Since I use Lightroom and Photoshop, there is no problem matching those workspaces up to the Adobe RGB color space. If you decide to shoot in Adobe RGB, plan to use processing software that allows you to work in that color space while you are editing photos. I hope to touch on this more in the software portion of this series.
If you end up not wanting to work in Adobe RGB, it’s not like the world is going to end. You can still shoot amazing photos in sRGB. After all, that is the color space we convert our images to when we display them on the Internet.
Shutter operation while no memory card inserted in camera
There is a setting on most DSLR’s (at least Canon’s) that allows you to operate the shutter when there is no memory card installed in the camera. To me, this is awful dangerous. I suggest always disabling this capability so that you don’t go out in the field one day, spend 6 hours getting some great shots, only to come home and realize that none of your 500 shots got recorded on a memory card because you forgot to install the card. Wouldn’t you be ticked? I would. Disabling this function is a good idea.
Most DSLR’s have three AF modes, One Shot, AI Focus, and AI Servo (specific names may differ depending on brand of camera). A short explanation follows for each.
One Shot – the camera focuses one time for each press of the shutter button.
AI Servo – causes the camera to refocus automatically if the focusing distance changes, i.e., the bird moves or flies toward or away from the camera.
AI Focus – the camera will be in One Shot mode if the subject is still. If the subject starts moving, the camera will automatically kick into AI Servo mode.
All of these are activated by pressing the shutter button down halfway. For those of us who have reprogrammed the camera to focus with a back button, pressing that button activates these AF modes.
I prefer to use AI Servo for all my shooting. Birds and animals make sudden movements and this mode just seems to perform better for me in most situations. Test them out and make your own choice.
This is the mode that controls whether you shoot high or low speed bursts, one shot at a time, or select the camera’s self-timer. For birds, we must always have fast burst capabilities at our fingertips. So I always shoot in my fastest burst mode. I would have never gotten this shot if it hadn’t been for burst mode at my fingertips. Click on the thumbnail for a larger view.
I’m not saying that I shoot bursts of, say, 10 frames everytime I press the shutter button. Most shots where there is no action I’ve learned to really baby the shutter button so that just the number of frames I want fire.
I’ll talk a little about Exif Data in the next section, Part 14.