Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Photography Tip: Make Use Of Your Camera's Custom Modes

Side note: I plan to make an effort this year to include more photography tips and reviews in my blog entries. I'm beginning with the tip discussed here and have a few ideas for reviews coming up, so stay tuned!
So have you ever wondered what those silly C1, C2, etc. settings on your newer model DSLR camera's mode dial are for and why you'd ever use them? Digging into your camera's manual (for those who actually do that) you find that they're called custom modes and are used to save a variety of your cameras vast settings. Your first thought upon reading this might be "Why is this really necessary? The camera always remembers my current settings after I power it down anyway!"

Before delving into this further, first consider the following scenario. You're about to spend the morning photographing a beautiful alpine lake backdropped by a majestic snow capped peak. You set up your camera and tripod and begin composing the scene when you notice a bald eagle swooping in towards you. Thinking this could be a once in a lifetime shot, you quickly decide to switch lenses to capture the moment. Frantically, you then begin to go through your mental checklist on what camera settings to switch. Let's see...hmmm....increase the the aperture....check....what else? what else??.....oh, switch to continuous focus....check....switch to continuous shooting...check. Whew! You've done it. Only by now the eagle has already swooped down towards the lake, plucked out a fish and begun its journey back to where it came! Still, you figure you at least need to get a shot so you aim the camera, trip the shutter, and see nothing but black in the forgot to disable mirror lock-up!! Doh!

By this point all you do is laugh it off and comfort yourself by thinking that no one else could've gotten the shot either as things just happened too fast. You revert your settings and spend the rest of an enjoyable morning photographing the marvelous scene in front of you. It isn't until later that evening that you realize you forgot to lower your iso! So not only did you miss that stupendously cool shot of the bald eagle, but you're left with noisy, high iso shots of that beautiful mountain scene. Not your finest moment as a photographer, I'm sure!! just what does all of this have to do with your camera's custom modes, you ask? Well, these custom modes are perfect for those of us who have multiple photographic shooting interests, like the nature photographer who shoots both landscape and wildlife. First, you could set up the camera with your basic landscape settings (for example....aperture priority with a base aperture setting of f/11, base iso, single shot and af mode, mirror lock-up, 2 second timer, etc.) and register these settings with custom mode C1. Then set up the camera with your basic wildlife settings (aperture priority with a wide open aperture setting, iso 400, continuous shot and focus, mirror lock-up disabled, etc.) and register these settings with custom mode C2.

Now when your out shooting landscapes all you need to do is power up the camera in C1 mode and the camera is ready to go once you've altered the aperture to suit the scene your shooting. Should that eagle swoop into your scene, all you need to do is switch your lens and click the camera over to C2 and you're ready to fire away! After the eagle has left the vicinity, click back to C1 and your ready to shoot landscapes safe in the knowledge that all your settings (including that pesky iso) are back to your baseline landscape settings. It's darned slick and helps to eliminate that frustrating human error element that's bound to occur when switching between shooting styles.

I've illustrated how this can be helpful for nature photographers mostly because it pertains to my style of shooting, but just about any type of photographer can benefit from this feature. For instance a wedding photographer could save common settings for shooting ceremonies/receptions in both natural light and using flash and quickly switch back and forth during the event. When things are happening quickly, this is of great benefit. It's up to you to figure out how you can get the most from this feature given your different styles of shooting.

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