Whether you’re a budding photographer using an interchangeable lens camera for the first time, or an enthusiast who knows the ins and outs of a camera, there are many simple tricks and cheap gear one can incorporate into their workflow, regardless of experience level or where you shoot. They can help you capture a better image, get through a long day of shooting with suffering back pain, or accidentally turn on a function without knowing.
To get some effective pointers, we went straight to professional working photographers.
We spoke with three pros – Caio Guatelli, Adrian Henson, and Scott Mead – to share their tried-and-true tips and inexpensive gear they’ve used from years of shooting. Depending on what you like to shoot, not all of these suggestions may apply to you, but incorporating them could help simplify your photography workflow, so you can pay attention to framing your shots.
Don’t let your camera’s screen confuse you
Checking the shot’s result on your camera’s LCD is an impulsive reaction, but this behavior can betray you, says Caio Guatelli. The Brazilian-born photographer specializes in shooting high-speed sports such as Formula One racing and the Track and Field. “Most outdoor photography is shot in lighting conditions where the camera’s screen doesn’t faithfully represent the tonal details, especially in the image’s shadows. Reflections on the camera’s screen or the surrounding lights or darkness can create the sensation of incorrect exposure. The photographer is betrayed by the misrepresentation of the shot and instantly adjusts the controls to make the scene lighter, exposing the image more than necessary.”
He recommends using a photometer at the spot-metering mode. “Choose the lighter side of the scene to set the metering. If you don’t have spot-metering mode, try underexposing by 2/3 and don’t follow your camera’s screen results. Wait to check it at your computer, inside a low-light room. The correct exposure gives the photograph more saturated color, better contrast, and has much more room to be processed, although an image like this almost doesn’t need any manipulation.”
Tape those switches
Gaffer’s tape offers infinite uses in the photography world. “One of my most consistent uses is to cover the switches on my lenses,” says Adrian Henson, who photographs everything from high school senior portraits to commercial work. “Camera manufacturers have gotten much better about making switches on lenses with a low profile, but there are still plenty of lenses that have raised switches. I cover these with a small piece of gaffer’s tape so that they can’t inadvertently be switched away from your desired setting. Shooting a session with the lens set to manual focus when you thought it was in auto can be disastrous. Prevent that disaster, tape those switches ASAP!”
Velcro the remote shutter release
A remote shutter release is a must when shooting from a tripod, says Scott Mead, a landscape and nature photographer based in Maui, Hawaii (see our profile here). But fumbling for a dangling cable or pocketed wireless remote can mean the difference between getting or losing a shot when the light is changing fast. “By attaching a piece of industrial strength Velcro to the top of a tripod leg, and the back of the remote, you’ll always know where your remote is, and it’ll be close at hand.”
Henson often uses colored gels on his flashes. He will buy a few of the Rosco Cinegel Swatchbooks, for about $2.50 each, so that he then has every color imaginable. “The problem is that once you disassemble the swatchbook, the gels are impossible to keep up with. So to manage my gels, I write the color code on the gels with a fine point Sharpie and then use a business card organizer to store, protect, and organize them. I also pre-cut bits of gaffer’s tape to the size I use when attaching the gels to my speedlight (flashes) and stick it all over the outside of the organizer. This system ensures that I always have the gel color I want and the tape I need to attach it.”
Less is more
Photographers shooting in sometimes dangerous situations have to sometimes move quickly. The equipment must be light and easy to carry. Guatelli says to try to figure out what you are going to use during your shooting; make a concise choice of lenses and other equipment. “I usually choose two lenses, a 35mm and a telephoto zoom of 70-200mm. If the frame doesn’t fit the subject, I move backward or use a naturally cropped frame. If the subject is too far for my lenses, I try to accept it at the size it appears, or simply wait for something better to shoot.”
Keeping things at level ground
“When shooting on uneven terrain, it’s sometimes difficult to optically set a level horizon,” Mead says. “Acratech makes a neat Double Axis Spirit Level that slides into the hot shoe of your camera, making leveling your camera an easy task.”
It’s all about the apps
“There’s a plethora of photography apps available for Apple and Android devices, but there’s one that’s a must for every nature photographer: The Photographer’s Ephemeris,” Mead says. “With its sun and moon calendar working with Google Maps, it gives photographers satellite views of their location, with overlays of the sun and moon’s path anywhere in the world. It’s a must for setting up a shoot, when getting to the site a day early to scout the location isn’t possible.”
Guatelli says to vary your composition; try to fill your frame with useful information. “Don’t fix your eyes on the subject or at the center of the image. Think before shooting, move your eyes through the edges of the rectangle and move the camera. Perhaps try to change the distance to include the detail that can balance the composition. If the field depth is shallow, try to shoot with unfocused elements that are close to the camera and not just with those that are in the background.”
Enable flashing highlights
“I always want as much detail as possible in my images, and this requires that the exposure be as bright as possible without blowing the highlights,” Henson says. “While the histogram is useful information, I find that the flashing highlight feature in almost all cameras is more useful for attaining maximum detail in my shots.
“I will generally push my exposures right to the point where the highlights start to flash, then back off my exposure 1/3 of a stop for my final shot,” Henson adds. “This creates a file with the most information possible for the scene at hand.”
Change your camera settings
“Before you start shooting, you can change the factory configurations of your camera,” Guatelli says. “Set your camera’s contrast, sharpness, saturation, and tonal adjustments. It’s almost the same thing that old-school photographers used to do when choosing a specific kind of film. Some used to have richer reds, others had more contrast, and others were grainy. Each situation requires a different set of contrast, saturation, etc. Getting used to it can push your creative possibilities.”
Take a load off
Early in his career, Henson realized how terrible wearing a camera around his neck made him feel, even after a short period of time. “When I began shooting weddings my gear got larger, heavier, and more abundant. One day after a wedding, my back was killing me and I felt horrible. That night I took my camera straps off and never put them back. It took some adjusting to and I have to think ahead and manage my gear better, but it was the best move I ever made.”
As a solution, he acquired a Spider Pro Belt. “It is a fantastic alternative to traditional camera straps. Mine holds two cameras, and I can wear it all day with both cameras on it and still feel great when we wrap up at the end of the session. Most days I just hand hold my camera, but when I need to carry 2 or need a place to put one when I am not shooting, a camera belt is definitely the way to go. Whatever you do though, get that load off of your shoulders. Your back will thank you.”
Keeping the elements out
Mead says shooting from a boat poses a few challenges, especially keeping your camera dry. “There are a lot of waterproof camera sleeves available, but they’re pricy, and many nylon versions cover vital controls. Luckily, a couple affordable options are available: Op/Tech USA makes a clear, 18-inch rain sleeve with a drawstring lens opening that easily accommodates pro DSLRs with a 100-400mm lens. Considering you get two per pack for about six bucks, it’s a great deal.
“In a pinch, you can also use clear wastebasket bags. Just poke a hole in the bottom with your finger, and gently stretch the plastic to accommodate the end of the lens for a $.15 solution,” Mead adds.