I work with some ‘young’ pho­tog­ra­phers… some young in years, some just new to pro­fes­sion­al shoot­ing. Here are some tips I just sent to some­one to improve her skill set and to real­ly get great shots at an event she is cov­er­ing for me next week.

Shut­ter Speeds:

Try to get in close and exper­i­ment with shut­ter speeds: Faster to cut the effects of ugly flo­res­cent bleed­ing into your nice flash col­or (say 1/200th or 1/250th of a sec­ond)… to drag­ging the shut­ter a bit if they are in dim­mer light with nice light behind them (say 1/30 or 1/15th of a sec­ond). That would be the Shut­ter Pri­or­i­ty on your D200.


Ummm… check the dis­play dude… bet­ter shoot a few more frames!


• Lots of Frames:
If you can do the play­ground, just shoot mul­ti­ple frames of every­thing… A series for me is nev­er less than 3 frames, and usu­al­ly 6–8 frames… some­times 20 frames as I watch a sit­u­a­tion devel­op… look­ing for the right moment.

• Con­trol the sit­u­a­tion:
Don’t be shy to ask kids to look at you and smile for some.


And look for reflec­tors in the shot! Well, this is from a series of 32 images… I’ll find a good one.

• Cam­era Feed­back:
Chimp and check your expo­sure and focus…

• Pre-check and Test:
Pre-check all of your set­tings to be sure they are decent… Test it once you get the cam­era out to be pre­pared. Test it at home the day before an event to be sure you instant­ly know where all of the but­tons are, how each set­ting affects the image, etc.

• Brack­et:
Take a few shots with dif­fer­ent set­tings in the series. Use the feed­back you get from chimp­ing (check­ing the dis­play… we look like chimps doing it…) to tweak the flash pow­er or expo­sure… I’m always chang­ing my + — set­tings on flash or ambi­ent expo­sure (when not doing flash). To real­ly nail the expo­sure.


Even with the col­or man­u­al­ly set to Flo­res­cent… it’s too Magen­ta. I’d tweak this man­u­al­ly to add some Green and maybe Yel­low.

• Col­or:
Always set your col­or man­u­al­ly… I use cloudy for the aver­age out­side shot (sun­ny is too blue still). And Flash for flash shots. Auto col­or is awful on every cam­era I’ve ever touched or read about. Even with Flash, I think it must vary the Flash col­or to take into account a bit of the ambi­ent col­or around the sub­ject… giv­ing poor col­or on the sub­ject… Yuck.

For bonus points:
when you are in a con­sis­tent set­ting, tweak the col­or even more with your menus. Often I’m adding or sub­tract­ing a bit of yel­low and in flo­res­cent light­ing, I’m always set on the flo­res­cent tube set­ting, then adjust­ing it more or less Magen­ta… and some­times more or less warm/Yellow.

• Image Qual­i­ty Set­tings:
Shoot Jpeg Fine files. A nor­mal file for me is like 1.2—1.8 megs.

• ISO Speed/Flash:
ISO around 400–500 is usu­al­ly good for indoor flash, maybe down to 200 if you are in close and/or are try­ing to have your flash over­pow­er some strong ambi­ent light like tons of flo­res­cent or sodi­um vapor.

With­out flash on that cam­era out­doors if it’s dusky, up to 800 could be OK with very accu­rate expo­sure (don’t under­ex­pose high ISO shots… you’ll get nasty dig­i­tal noise).

• Depth of Field:
Keep an eye on your focus and depth of field (how far in front and back of the sub­ject is in focus). Focus on the near­est sub­ject, or part of the sub­ject you want in focus… Depth of Field is nar­row­er in front of the sub­ject, so if you back focus, you are pret­ty much assured of soft front sub­jects… if you focus on the front sub­jects (like in a group with a front and back row), you have a fair amount of focus *behind* the front sub­ject to hold focus on the back row. And even if they are a tad soft, the per­cep­tion is of a fair­ly sharp image with the front sub­jects tack sharp.

• Fast Fast Fast:
The only thing is to prac­tice doing this over and over (and at home, at par­ties, on sim­ple shoots… doing much more than is need­ed) to be able to in 10 sec­onds, get 3 fast shots, with chimp­ing on one of them and tweak­ing the expo­sure, angle of the flash, watch­ing the back­ground, etc… Fast fast fast, so peo­ple don’t mind your stand­ing there.

• Bat­ter­ies:
Invest in a few sets of NiMH bat­ter­ies around 2700–2900 mil­iamps. I’ve been hap­py with a set of Dura­cells I got recent­ly, but that pow­er lev­el is cut­ting edge, so it’s been hit or miss on what brand is good. These bat­ter­ies are so good now that I bagged using a Quan­tum Tur­bo pack (and my tur­bo was fry­ing a flash every year from the power/overly fast recy­cle time). You should eas­i­ly get 2–3 shots off with almost instant recy­cle with good bat­ter­ies. And I rarely need more than 1 or 2 sets in a day of heavy shoot­ing.


• Cats:
Get a cat. They are warm and make you feel bet­ter after goof­ing up all of the above 😉


Unless you dis­turb their repose 😉
(Cat pho­tos by Col­in Huth)

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