Quick Tips for Making Great Photographs

Promoting excellence in photography

The ideas and suggestions below offer quick tips to help you get better results. We hope they are useful to you, and if so let us know. If you find updates or corrections are needed, or you can offer additions, please let us know. Happy shooting!

Index of Tips

General Equipment Tips

Digital Photography Tips

Techniques and Methods



General Equipment Tips

Keep filters in a multi-filter pouch

Filters in individual cases or stacked with end caps take time to access and return. MC Photographic makes a great unfolding, padded filter pouch that holds 8 filters up to 82 mm, including Nikon's monster 77 mm polarizer. It's the quickest way I have found to access and store filters. I like the red one because it is impossible to misplace. It is available from B&H Photo. -- Roy Sewall   [Index]

Watch out for unzipped photo backpacks

At least once many photographers have hoisted up their backpack, discovered too late that it was unzipped, and then watched helplessly as lenses, bodies, and filters rolled out and fell four feet to the ground. There will be occasions when you might want to close the backpack but not zip it up, such as when shooting for more than a few moments in a dusty environment. In such instances, leave something dangling out of the pack, like a neck-strap or bright red filter pouch, to provide an obvious visual cue. -- Roy Sewall   [Index]

My "rule" for myself with my camera backpacks is this: always assume it's open and check it before moving. This is not hard to remember if you just imagine the scene Roy describes above... with your own precious and fragile gear tumbling onto the ground. Learn from others' mistakes. -- Tom Field   [Index]

Replace the collar ring on your Nikon 300 mm f4 AFS lens

The stock collar ring does not operate smoothly and requires juggling back and forth for precise rotation. It is also clumsy to tighten. Kirk Enterprises makes a replacement collar ring that really works well. -- Roy Sewall   [Index]

Check the status of your batteries before every outing

I have now made many battery-related errors (and others are certainly waiting to pounce): my batteries ran down during a shoot, I forgot the batteries in the charger back home, and I left the charger back home in the U.S. while traveling in Iceland. Few things in life are more frustrating than dead or missing batteries. Make a conscious effort to think through your batteries' status every time before heading out the door with your gear. I know this seems obvious, but I'll bet that batteries will get you someday -- if they have not already. -- Roy Sewall   [Index]

Using Tripods in Shallow Water

Water can be the enemy of certain tripods, especially Gitzo models that use phenolic sleeves inside the friction clamps of leg extensions. The legs jam and cannot be extended or collapsed, apparently because the phenolic absorbs moisture, swells up, and locks tight. If this happens, wait for the moisture to evaporate (several days?) at which point operation should return to normal. That might be a good time to disassemble the clamps and clean all of the parts.

But there is an easy way to avoid this when you must place your tripod in shallow water. Extend your lowest (smallest) leg section far enough to keep the friction clamps out of the water. This keeps the phenolic sleeves out of the water so they don't swell up and jam. Later, wait to collapse the legs until you've dried them thoroughly, or you'll slide residual moisture right into the phenolic sleeves.

Two more things to watch out for: leaky leg sections that fill up with water (remove leg and dump it out before the water gets into the joints), and tipping the tripod over with your camera attached (tighten leg locks firmly, and plant tripod firmly into the bottom). -- Tom Field   [Index]


Small Items: Good to Have Along

Keep these Recommended Small Items in your Camera Bag

Here are some lightweight items that won't take up much room in your camera bag. A miniature flashlight (key ring size) can be very handy to see equipment controls or find dropped items at twilight or in the dark. Two or three lint-free paper towels tucked into an inside pocket are valuable for mopping raindrops and dirt, or wiping DEET (bug repellant) off hands before touching plastic (which it melts). For lens and filter cleanup, have a microfiber cleaning cloth on hand. A Ziplock storage bag can be a temporary container (e.g., broken parts) or lens / filter case (if lens cap or filter case is lost). White trash liners offer emergency protection (for your equipment or yourself) from rain, dust, and strong sunlight. A permanent marker writes on film canisters but is generally useful, even for writing notes or phone numbers... on anything (skin if nothing else). Tiny bottles of sunblock and bug repellant always live in my bag during warm-weather nature photography. I've also shown a hotshoe camera level: tiny and light, often useful, and yet rarely found in camera bags. -- Tom Field   [Index]

Use a lens hood -- but NOT in every circumstance!

Most good lenses are designed with a hood, or lens shade. If it's not included with your lens, buy it separately. In a pinch, you can make your own hood from rigid opaque material such as cardboard. The hood attempts to prevent light sources outside the field of view from entering the lens, especially the sun or other bright lights.

Why? Because the stray light will bounce around inside the lens (off the internal optical elements). Some light will find its way to your film or digital sensor. There it degrades contrast by casting diffuse light into areas that should remain dark -- subtly fogging your image -- or causing outright flare spots. Even the highest quality coated-optics lenses are susceptible to this stray light, and front-mounted filters can make it much worse.

However, there are times when you don't need a hood, such as shooting with the sun at your back or at night when there are no bright lights outside the field of view. And the hood can hurt your images: if you're shooting in windy conditions, a big hood acts as a sail, tugging against your lens at the most vulnerable point: the unsupported end. The result is camera motion during the exposure, which can degrade your image far worse than stray light (depending on shutter speed and lens magnification). So remove the hood if it's windy! -- Tom Field   [Index]

Don't Buy a Color-Correct Lamp for Print Review

When you make your own fine art prints, whether black and white or full color, you should review and critique them using lighting of the same color temperature as they will be displayed. Otherwise, the color will appear different when you hang them. In most cases, the best compromise is to use color-correct light at about 5000°K, either normal daylight or light from a special 5000°K lamp that you can purchase. But don't buy a color-correct lamp if you already have a small light box for viewing slides. All good transparency light boxes have color-correct lamps inside. Simply mount the box temporarily on a wall or ceiling, or just hold it up, to review your prints. Save money and, if you're all digital like me, put that old film relic to good use. -- Tom Field   [Index]



Digital Photography Tips

Get a digital SLR for the family and start the inevitable transition from film.

I acquired a Nikon D100 digital SLR (6 megapixels) in 2003 for family use and to start experimenting with digital photography. Equipped with the Tamron SP 24-135 mm f/3.5-5.8 lens, the D100 is a fantastic family and travel point-and-shoot camera. And the digital SLRs blow away the digital compacts. Our family photos are now organized into electronic slide shows on CDs. It's much more enjoyable to view a photo on a large PC monitor than on a 4x6 print. We'll probably never print another 4x6 or buy another family album. -- Roy Sewall   [Index]

Using studio flash with digital

Studio flash once required a considerable amount of expertise: balancing multiple light sources for best effect, using a flash meter, sometimes combining strobes with existing light, etc.

Now digital comes to the rescue with instant review: equivalent function to the Polaroid backs used by serious pros. The pros know how to get what they want from experience, but the determined amateur with a digital camera can get excellent results with a little trial and error. Set up the lights, make a test shot, adjust the camera and/or lights, repeat. You immediately know what you've got, without guesswork and waiting for the film to be processed. -- Tom Field   [Index]



Techniques and Methods

Placing your Camera Bag

Placing your camera bag in front of you when shooting in a fixed position (as with a tripod) prevents two Bad Things: you step backwards and trip over your bag or crush the contents, or some unknown person decides your bag is too heavy and "lightens" it for you while you're occupied with the camera, or carries it away altogether. For example, here's Roy Sewall shooting with his bag in front of him. -- Tom Field   [Index]

Hang Weight from your Tripod for Stability

Some tripods come with a hook (or you can add one) to hang a weight for added stability. This can really steady up some flimsy or under-loaded tripods. You can bring a drawstring bag and fill it with rocks or sand at your destination, or you can hang your camera bag (which has the side benefit of keeping the camera bag off wet or muddy ground). But watch out for wind: camera bags have less density than a bag of rocks, and if the wind swings your bag it can really sway the tripod. In a high wind, lower the bag (rocks or camera) until it lightly touches the ground to prevent swinging. An adjustable strap makes this adjustment easier. -- Tom Field   [Index]

Bungee Down your Tripod for Stability

Here's an even easier idea for keeping your tripod stable: strap it down with a strong bungee cord. Use a short bungee for light weight, then add an adjustable nylon strap for longer reach and adjustable tension. You can loop the strap around a rock or branch, or just step on the loop with your foot or knee (careful not to let go by mistake!). Unlike a weight bag, it's really quick to setup and will be unaffected by wind. The strong elastic can even be pulled to one side to offset a strong wind or an unbalanced rig in difficult tripod situations. If your tripod doesn't have a weight hook, you can still use this method because the bungee has its own hooks. Also put the bungee cord to use lashing things to your camera bag, such as rain gear. -- Tom Field   [Index]



Updated 20-aug-11   Contents copyright © 2001 - 2011 PhotoCentric.Net, All Rights Reserved