Digital camera tips: 1. Straighten up
The word horizon is found in the word horizontal, and that’s precisely what it should be. If your digital camera’s got an in-camera level, use it. If not, invest just a few pounds or dolloars in a hotshoe-mounted spirit bubble. It will save you hours correcting your shots in Photoshop later. Most DSLRs and mirrorless cameras now have a grid that can be activated and superimposed over a Live View image on the rear LCD screen, making getting level horizons a breeze.
Digital camera tips: 2. Double-check your kit
It might sound obvious, but check your camera bag if you’re going to be shooting away from home. You may have your camera, lenses and tripod, but if you use a quick-release tripod head, is the base-plate attached to the camera or the tripod? Have you got the right diameter adaptor ring if you use Cokin or Lee system filters. It’s these small things that are more likely to scupper a trip than the major elements of your kit.
Digital camera tips: 3. Autofocus or manual focus?
It’s all too easy to become over-reliant on your camera’s autofocus, and there are some situations where focusing manually is definitely a better option – pre-focusing to photograph a fast-moving subject on a race track, or focusing precisely for a detailed macro shot, for example.
Digital camera tips: 4. Which AF point(s) should you use?
DSLRs and mirrorless cameras may have a bewildering number of AF points to choose from as well as a wealth of focusing modes, from simple single point AF to much more advanced focus tracking. Make sure you spend time getting to grips with your camera’s AF system as this can prove invaluable before a big and important shoot.
Digital camera tips: 5. Buying lenses
A bad lens will always be a bad lens, no matter what DSLR or mirrorless camera you attach it to. So before you decide that you’ve ‘outgrown’ your camera and need a ‘better’ one, ask yourself if investing in a new lens might be a better option instead? A few extra pixels and smarter features might sound enticing, but a faster maximum aperture and higher optical quality could go much further in helping you take better pictures with the camera you already have.
Digital camera tips: 6. Manual lenses
There are thousands of lenses left over from the days of 35mm film, and as many DSLRs are ‘backwards compatible’ (most notably Nikon and Pentax) they can still be used in the digital age, while there are numerous adapters available for mirrorless cameras. Moreover, as many of them are dirt-cheap it’s a great way of expanding your focal length repertoire. But there is a downside.
Some lenses perform better than others, and the only real way of weeding out the good from the bad is to give them a go. In general, zoom lenses and wide-angle focal lengths tend to be the worst performers. In addition, there is the need to focus manually, and in-camera exposure metering can be unpredictable and unreliable.
That said, there are some cracking manual focus lenses out there, and in certain situations they can actually outperform contemporary low-cost zooms in terms of sharpness.
Digital camera tips: 7. Focal length
Wide-angle lenses can give the impression of increased distance between near and distant elements, while telephoto focal lengths appear to compress perspective. Consider this when you’re framing a shot and position yourself to use the focal length that’s best for the image, rather than simply choosing a focal length that fits everything in.
Digital camera tips: 8. Use the hyperfocal distance
If you want to maximise the depth of field in your shot at a given focal length, then focus manually at the hyperfocal distance; the point at which everything from half the hyperfocal distance to infinity will appear sharp.
Digital camera tips: 9. Check the frame edges
The majority of viewfinders don’t provide you with 100% coverage, so it’s easy for unwanted elements to creep into a shot. The only way to be certain is to check your camera’s LCD screen once the shot is taken. If there’s anything untoward in the frame, simply adjust your composition and shoot again.
Digital camera tips: 10. Shoot more than you need
Even with static subjects, consider shooting a burst of frames using your camera’s continuous shooting mode. Subtle variations in the light as clouds move across a landscape, or a portrait subject changing expression, are both examples of a ‘perfect moment’ that could be missed with just a single shot, so shoot a burst and pick the best frame later.