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Learn Photography

Beecher's Handouts >

7 – Camera

1 – The #1 Reason for Bad . . .

. . . photographs is not having a camera.

Take your camera with you.

2 – Camera Is Grab-able

You've got your camera with you.

But, if you have to fuss to get at your camera, you won't take as many photographs.

Your photography will suffer.

Get a camera bag with a flap secured with Velcro.

3 – Focus

Multi-point Focus

Your camera probably chooses where to focus.

This feature is often called Automatic Focus Area Selection.

If you're happy with the results, don't change the setting.

However, you may find the camera doesn't always focus where you want it to focus.

If so, consider changing the setting to focusing only in the middle of the viewfinder.

Lock in the Focus

If your camera is set to focus in the middle area of the viewfinder, and you're photographing something that's NOT in the middle, the focus will be off.

Let's say you're photographing twins.

Your camera will focus on the background between the twins.

To focus on the twins, point the center of the viewfinder at one of the twins.

Press the shutter release to focus, and keep the shutter release depressed.

The focus remains locked as long as you keep the shutter release depressed.

Then, with the focus locked in, move your camera so both twins are in the frame.

Depress the shutter release fully.

Four Types of Focusing

You can set your camera to focus four ways.

Camera manufacturers use different names for these focusing methods.

Check your instruction manual.

#1 – Manual focus

You have to focus by turning the lens.

You may need to use manual focus if the light is very dim, making it difficult for autofocus to function well.

The "M" Confusion

If you're using digital SLR or a mirrorless camera, there are probably two Ms's on the camera.

There's a switch on, or near, the lens, that's often marked M/AF (manual focus/autofocus).

The other M is on the exposure-mode dial.

This second M stands for manual exposure.

Don't confuse manual focus with manual exposure.

#2 – Single Focus

The camera focuses, and will remain at that focus, if you keep the shutter release depressed slightly.

#3 – Continuous Focus

The camera focuses continuously as long as you keep the shutter release depressed slightly.

#4 – Servo & Predictive Focus

When photographing moving subjects, the camera will predict where the subject will be when the shutter opens.

4 – Shutter Release

Single or Continuous

You can set your camera to take only one photograph when you press the shutter release.

This setting is often called S, for single.

If you set your camera to the C setting, which stands for continuous, the camera will take one picture after another as long as the shutter release is held down.

Check your instruction manual for variations of these settings.

Shutter Delay

There is a slight delay between when your brain tells you finger to press the shutter, and when the shutter actually opens.

When photographing movement, you must press the shutter release just before you think you should.

Practice by photographing cyclists or joggers in a park.

Try to photograph them when they're at a certain place in the scene.

You'll quickly get a feel for when to press the shutter release.

Shutter Release &

Slow Shutter Speeds

A slow shutter speed, generally, is a shutter speed slower than 1/60th of a second.

If you're using a slow shutter speed, the camera has to be on a tripod or other support.

Otherwise, you may get camera shake.

The photograph is blurred by the movement of the camera.

Pressing the shutter release by hand may cause camera shake, even when the camera is on a tripod or other support.

If it doesn't matter when the photograph is taken, such as a landscape, use the self-timer to trip the shutter.

When the timing is important, such as an eagle landing on her nest, use a remote release.

Image Stabilization

Your lens may have a switch for image stabilization (vibration reduction).

Image stabilization allows you to use slower shutter speeds without a tripod or other camera support.

5 – Two Viewfinder Problems

There are two problems associated with camera viewfinders.

You can improve your composition if you're aware of these problems.

Viewfinder Problem #1

Viewfinders are not accurate.

What you see through the viewfinder is not what you get in the photograph.

You see less of a scene in the viewfinder-and more of the scene when you look at the photograph.

You may have looked at one of your photographs and disliked something distracting near one of the photograph's edges.

Perhaps there was an elbow sticking into the frame.

You may have wondered, "Why didn't I see that?"

You didn't.

The distracting element didn't appear in the viewfinder.


You have to do an experiment to compare your viewfinder view with what actually appears in your photographs.

Photograph something with well-define edges, such as a painting.

Place the edges of the painting exactly on the edges of your viewfinder.

Then, look at the photograph of the painting, and note where the edges of the painting are no longer on the edge of the frame.

Viewfinder Problem #2

This problem occurs with digital SLR cameras-not with mirrorless cameras.

The problem involves an important photographic tool called depth-of-field.

If you're a beginner, you may want to return here when you've learned more about depth-of-field.

When you look through the viewfinder, what's in the background will probably be out-of-focus.

That's because the aperture is physically large, say f/4.

With the aperture wide open:

1) There's lots of light entering the camera.

You can see the scene well in the viewfinder.

2) There's very little depth-of-field.

The background is fuzzy.

The problem is that we don't pay attention to fuzzy backgrounds.

So, if the background is ugly, you may not notice.

When you press the shutter release—what was fuzzy in the viewfinder—may become sharper in the photograph.

When you look at the photograph, you may wonder, "Why didn't I see that telephone pole sticking out of her head?"

You didn't.

The depth-of-field changed when you tripped the shutter release.

If it's a sunny day, your camera may select f/16 as the best aperture.

When you press the shutter release, the aperture goes from f/4 to f/16.

The depth-of-field changes.

The background went from being fuzzy in the viewfinder—to sharper in the photograph.


1) Keep an eye on backgrounds in your viewfinder-especially when they're out-of-focus.

2) Use depth-of-field preview.

Press this button, if your camera has this feature.

You'll see the actual depth-of-field that will be used in your photograph.

The image in your viewfinder may be dark.

Give your pupil time to adjust.

If you're outside, block the light from the sky that is striking your eye with your hand.

6 – Select the File Format

Your camera is set, by default, to save photographs using the JPEG file format.

The JPEG file format is useful for making prints, e-mailing, and for websites.

JPEG files are compressed.

Unimportant image information is thrown away.

You can select different levels of quality, based on how much compression is implemented.

Editing JPEG Files

Each time you make a change to a JPEG file, and save it, more of the image information is thrown away during compression.

So, JPEG files deteriorate with repeated editing.

You must reserve the original JPEG file, and use a copy for editing.

Raw Files

When you press the shutter release, the camera sensor records raw information.

Your camera then develops the raw information into a JPEG.

Your camera makes creative decisions about exposure, contrast, and color.

You can set your camera to save the raw information.

This is called shooting raw, but should be called saving raw.


You develop the raw information.

You're better at making creative decisions than is your camera.

Shadows are more easily edited.

White balance can be changed.


Raw files are huge.


• Fill up memory cards more quickly.

• Are saved more slowly than JPEG files.

If you're shooting quickly, such as sports or dance, save your photographs as JPEG's.

More about Raw Files

Go to the Photoshop Elements menu on my website.

There, look for Raw Files > Raw v. JPEG.

7 – Default Settings


Beginners should come back to this section later.

There are numerous default settings on your camera.

We'll change two of them to make photography easier and better.

With the three subsequent default settings, you'll have more control of your camera for better photography.

1 – Change the EV Stop Increment

Change this default setting so your thumb won't have to work as hard.

If you use aperture-priority or shutter-priority exposure modes, you may find yourself scrolling through innumerable numbers to change the exposure.

Most cameras are set by default to change f/stops and shutter speeds by 1/3-stop increments.

While this is a noticeable change, the change is small.

You probably don't need to change the exposure settings by 1/3-stop increments.

Look in your camera's menu, such as in the custom settings menu section, for the way to change the EV stops to a 1/2-stop increment.

If you need to fine tune an exposure, you can always bracket your exposures by 1/3 stops using the exposure compensation feature (described later).

2 – Display a Viewfinder Grid

Some cameras can be set to display a tic-tac-toe grid in the viewfinder.

The grid can be used to apply the rule of thirds guideline (described later).

The lines also make it easier to photograph level horizons, formal gardens, interiors, and buildings.

Your camera may also have a floating horizon line in the viewfinder.

When the line is level, your camera is level.

3 – Disable Automatic Focus Area Selection

As described above, your camera is probably set by default to choose where to focus in the frame.

The feature works—but not all of the time.

For example, let's say you're photographing a gathering in a living room.

The camera may focus on the nearest person to the camera, rather than the entire group of people.

You may want to set the focusing area to the center of the frame.

Then, you can focus where you want to focus.

Once the focusing system is set that way, do the following.

1) Focus where you want to focus, and keep the shutter release partially depressed.

2) Recompose your photograph if needed.

3) Press the shutter release all the way down.

4 – Light Meter

Your camera has a light meter that measures the amount of light in a scene.

What this light meter "sees" can be changed.

There are three light meter settings:

• Multiple points

• Center weighted

• Spot

Multiple Points

When using the multiple-point light meter setting, the light meter measures many points on the frame.

The setting is called matrix metering on Nikon cameras, and evaluative metering on Canons.

Before the shutter opens, the data from these many areas is compared to exposure algorithms stored in your camera's computer.

If there's a match between the pattern of the scene you're photographing—and one of the algorithms—the computer will base the exposure setting on the matching algorithm.

The reading at the focus point will be given greater weight, as this is probably the subject of the photograph.

Therefore, when you're using multiple-point metering, set your focusing system to where the focus point is decided by the camera.

The multiple point light metering setting works well—but not all of the time.

Where setting the best exposure may be tricky—compare multiple-point metering with center—weighted or spot metering (described below).

Tricky Exposure Situations

Contrasty scenes and backlighted subjects can confuse the multiple-point meter setting.

Your judgment may be better than that of your camera's computer.

Use the center weighted or spot light meter settings.

Center Weighted & Spot Metering

Center Weighted

With center-weighted metering, the light meter measures most of the light (60 to 75% depending on the camera) in the central area of the frame.

For example, if you're photographing a landscape, and you don't want a bright sky throwing off the exposure, point the central area of the frame down, removing the sky from the frame.

Lock in the exposure using the autoexposure lock button (AEL button on Nikon cameras and others, asterisk-icon button on Canon cameras).

Then, recompose your photograph in the frame.

Spot Metering

With spot metering, the light meter measures a small area in the center of the frame.

This area may be from 1% to several percent of the entire area of the frame.

On some cameras, you can adjust the size of the area.

For example, if you're photographing an eagle nest against a bright sky, point the center of the frame at the nest.

As described above, lock in the exposure using the autoexposure lock button.

Then, recompose your photograph in the frame.

None of the Above Work for This Situation

All of the above metering systems will fail if you're photographing:

• A subject that's very light colored or toned.

• A subject that's dark colored or toned.

Your judgment will be 100% better.

For example, if you're photographing snow in the sun, all of the above metering types will underexpose (too dark) the snow.

Similarly, if you're photographing the face of a gorilla, all of the above metering types will overexpose (too bright) the gorilla's face.

You have to measure the light in the scene on a surface that's medium colored or toned.

This is covered in detail in the Light Meters Are Stupid section.

8 – Checklist

Make it a habit to check the following when you pick up your camera:

• Battery

• Space on the memory card


• White balance

• Exposure compensation is at 0.0.

A +/- icon will appear on the LCD screen if the exposure compensation is not set to 0.0.

• File format (JPEG and/or raw) and the JPEG

• Location of focus area

9 – Clear Filter

UV, haze, and skylight filters are useful for protecting the lens.

Because lenses already have UV filters inside, UV filters don't block any more UV light than what is already blocked by the lens.

Screw the filter on carefully and don't tighten it like a lid on a jar.

10 – Lens & Sensor Cleaning


Sand and lenses don't go well together.

Take an old camera to the beach, or else be careful.

Consider using a soft-plastic underwater housing.

Cleaning Lenses

Use a microfiber lens cleaning cloth.

You can be fastidious, but you need not be.

A little dust will not affect your photographs.

However, dust on the rear element, the end of the lens normally inside your camera, will degrade your photographs more.

Fingerprints should be removed promptly.

If there's more than dust on your lens, blow the debris off using a blower (described below), before using a cloth.

Don't use compressed air.

The propellant may spray from the can, damaging your lens.

Dust Visible in the Viewfinder

This applies to digital SLR cameras.

If you see dust when looking through your viewfinder, the dust is on the mirror or on the focusing screen.

The focusing screen is located above the mirror.

The dust won't affect your photographs.

Remove the lens, and use a blower (described below) to remove the dust.

Don't touch the mirror with a brush, or anything else, as the silvering may be on the surface of the mirror, not below a layer of glass.

Don't use compressed air, as the propellant may spray from the can, damaging the mirror.

Cleaning Sensors

If you notice that the same defect appears, in the same location, in every photograph, then there's probably dust on the sensor of your camera.

Because photons are being converted to electrons, the sensor surface becomes charged, which attracts dust.

Even if your camera has a sensor cleaning cycle, check for dust periodically.

How to Check for Dust

To check if there's dust on the sensor, photograph the sky or a plain white wall, at the following settings:

1) Set your lens to manual focus and defocus the lens.

2) Use the A or Av exposure mode, and set the aperture to f/22.

Enlarge the photograph, and scroll back-and-forth, and up-and-down, looking for defects on the photograph.

You can increase the contrast with Photoshop Elements, or other software, to make the dust easier to see.


To clean the sensor, follow the directions of your camera manufacturer.


1) Follow the manufacturer's directions carefully to avoid damaging the sensor.

2) Use a blower, such as the Giotto Rocket Air Blower.

3) Do not use a blower with a brush, as the bristles may damage the sensor.

4) Do not use compressed air, as the propellant may damage the sensor.

11 – Deleting Photographs

Avoid using your camera to delete photographs.

Let's look at two reasons.

#1 – LCD Screen

You can't always make judgments using the LCD screen.

The screen is small, has low resolution, and may have inaccurate color

Some photographs look highly delete-able when they're only 2 inches wide, but look delectable when viewed on a monitor.

#2 – User Error

If you're tired or hurried, you may inadvertently delete all of the photographs on the memory card.


Yes, do delete the obvious duds, if you wish.

But wait to delete other photographs until you're at your computer.