How to take good photos: 03 Ensure your basic camera functions are set correctly
Although you might think your camera’s already ‘set’ from the last time you were out shooting, it’s always worth checking a few of the basics.
The most obvious starting point is your memory card. First of all, is it actually inserted? It may sound obvious, but there’s nothing worse than heading out with an empty camera having assumed it has ‘always’ got a memory card in it.
Having checked you’ve got your card (and packed at least one spare), it’s time to wipe it clean.
Formatting it using your camera’s menu system will better prevent any data corruption than simply erasing the pictures on the card, so always choose a full Format rather than Erase.
Next, set your file type: JPEG if you want print-ready files from the camera; or raw if you anticipate any post-production.
If you choose to shoot JPEGs, you also need to check the file size. Set the largest image size, with minimum compression, for optimum image quality.
Finally, don’t forget to check those often-overlooked settings, such as exposure bracketing, the AF mode and focus point selection, and especially any colour modes or picture styles you may have selected.
If your camera remembers your previously used settings, it’s easy to find yourself starting out with strange combinations from a recent shoot, so reset the camera.
It’s good practice to do this at the end of every shoot – your camera is then ready whenever you spot the perfect photo opportunity.
10 common exposure problems every photographer faces (and how to avoid them)
How to set up a camera for the first time: 11 things you need to do first
24 camera features every beginner photographer should memorize
10 common camera mistakes every photographer makes
How to take good photos: 04 Use aperture to control depth of field
Aperture is one of the most important features your camera has. Not only does it regulate the amount of light coming through the lens, but it also controls the depth of field (how much of your image appears in sharp focus).
Technically, almost every lens performs at its best at an aperture setting two stops from its minimum (usually around f/8-f/11), and if you want optimum sharpness, this is where to start.
However, it’s important not to confuse ‘optimum’ with ‘only’, and while getting the sharpest image is a worthy goal, a wide aperture setting (such as f/3.2) and shallow depth of field can be a far more powerful device for concentrating attention on a subject.
Blurring the background and/or foreground will make it obvious what the subject is and draw in the viewer’s eye, and can also help disguise potentially distracting or messy backgrounds.
Conversely, a small aperture (such as f/36) will let you tell the full story in a picture, revealing everything from the nearest point to the furthest with equal clarity.
This is something that landscape photographers rely on to ensure that both foreground and background detail is distinct.
Your camera’s Depth of Field Preview is a great feature for checking this through the viewfinder.
But don’t be afraid to flout convention. Doing the unexpected can create images that are just as striking.
For example, shooting a landscape at f/4 may give you a unique sliver of sharpness across the scene.
DoF defined: controlling depth of field in photography
Photography basics: how to add depth to your photos
Focus stacking: how to increase depth of field in your photography
Depth of field: what you need to know for successful images