11 Master Exposure Compensation
Although the metering systems of most cameras get the correct exposure in most situations, there are still times when you’ll need to use the +/- Exposure Compensation feature.The basic rule when using this feature is that if the scene is mainly dark you’ll need to under-expose by setting Exposure Compensation to a negative setting. For mostly bright subjects, you should over-expose by setting the compensation to a positive value (check out our photography cheat sheet on mastering exposure compensation).
12 Expose for the highlights
Lost highlight detail is more difficult to recover using editing software than shadow detail, particularly in JPEG images. Burned-out highlights also look more unnatural than completely dark shadows, so when shooting in high-contrast conditions it’s generally best to set your exposure so that the detail in the highlights is preserved.
13 Use Auto ISO
Auto ISO is often overlooked, but used in conjunction with Manual mode it’s a great way of maintaining specific shutter speed and aperture settings in changing light conditions. This is perfect if you are shooting sports or action, where you need a particular shutter speed to freeze the action, and aperture for depth of field. Auto ISO will allow the camera to alter the exposure if the light changes (What is ISO? Click here to find out everything).
14 Use Auto Exposure Bracketing (AEB)
If you’re faced with difficult lighting, and aren’t sure whether you need to over- or under-expose to get the best results, try bracketing. To do this, simply take a number of shots (usually three) – one at the ‘correct’ exposure as indicated by the meter, then a further two images that are under- and over-exposed. You can then choose the best image (learn step-by-step how to use auto-exposure bracketing to conquer high contrast).
15 Use a filter
Even in our digital age, using a traditional lens filter, such as a Neutral Density (ND) grad, polariser or straight ND, can be the quickest, and sometimes the only, way of getting great shots. The high contrast between the sky and foreground when shooting at sunrise or sunset can be corrected in seconds using an ND grad filter (for more, see ND Grad Filters: what every photographer should know). Meanwhile, a polariser is essential for removing reflections on non-metallic surfaces.
16 Try in-camera HDR
If you don’t have Neutral Density (ND) grad filters, or you are shooting a subject where the position of the brightest and darkest areas make it impractical to use a grad, try converting to HDR in camera. Canon’s system is called Auto Lighting Optimizer (it’s known as Active D-lighting on a Nikon) and these are activated through the shooting menu (or if you’re using software, check out our guide to making realistic HDR in Photomatix).
17 Use the right autofocus mode
Autofocus works well on modern cameras, but for the most reliable results you need to choose the autofocus mode to suit the type of subject that you are shooting. For static subjects, choose One Shot mode on Canon or Single (AF-S) on Nikon. For moving subjects, try AI Servo for Canon and Continuous (AF-C) for Nikon (find out more about how to choose the best AF mode for your camera).
18 Use ‘back-button’ focusing
Normally, your camera will focus when you half-press the shutter release button. When you are tracking fast-moving subjects it can be difficult to time this with pressing the button fully to take a shot. In these situations, you’ll find it easier to set up your camera to allow you to use another button to activate the focus. This is normally set through the Custom Functions menu, and allows you to set the AE-Lock button on the back of the camera to activate the autofocus, rather than the shutter release button.
19 Get to grips with autofocus points
One of the best ways to get the most from your camera’s autofocus system is to take control of the AF points. To do this, select the Manual or Single Point AF mode on your camera, then use the controls to select the AF point that corresponds with your main subject, or the area you want to be in focus – as in the image above.
On models such as the Nikon D7000, EOS 7D and above you can also select a group of points, as well as individual ones, which is great for shooting fast-moving subjects such as motorsports. In these situations you know approximately where the main subject will be positioned in the frame, but using a group rather than an individual point allows you extra flexibility when the subject is moving.
20 Master manual focus (Live View)
When shooting macro subjects or in low light, manual focus will give you more accurate and reliable results than relying on autofocus. Rather than just using the viewfinder to check that you’ve got the focus spot-on, switch to Live View and zoom into the image to make sure you’re focused properly.
For more on manual focusing, see our in-depth guide Manual Focus: what you need to know to get sharp images.