General “Stuff” – All those questions that you need answered

Through my newspaper column, I share a variety of tips each month, which collectively is a lot of photographic information.  Occasionally it takes a little thinking to decide what to share next.  This is a general collection of tips I offer my students in during seminars. 


Metering for a subject that is far away from you: In many cases you’re shooting a subject that is in the same lighting situation as you are, so rather than trying to zoom in on your subject to get a good meter reading, meter yourself.  Most times I’ll hold up my hand to face the sun in the same way as my subject is facing the sun.  Then I’ll point the camera at the back of my hand and get a meter reading.  From there I’ll switch to Manual mode on the camera and lock in the settings from that reading. 


Color Correct Shooting: Get a gray card from your local camera store.  Shoot the gray card in whatever light situation you’re shooting under.  Learn to use the “Custom White Balance” function on your camera.  The gray card provides and ideal target for setting up a custom white balance that will help you maintain color correctness in your photos.


Steady Your Camera: If you have a good tripod put it to work.  You may be surprised at the improved results.  In many cases you don’t really have enough light to get a fast enough shutter speed for your subject.  Using the tripod to steady the camera may capture a far better image than you can imagine.  If you don’t have a good tripod (or monopod), put your camera down on a stable surface, like a table, rock, bench, etc.  Then use your self-timer to fire the camera.  This gets you away from the camera and avoids camera shake when the photo is taken.


Handle your camera correctly: Holding your arm out away from your body is not a steady way to handle your camera.  Turn off the LCD screen and use the eyepiece to setup your shots.  This keeps your arms closer to your body which will provide a much more stable foundation for the camera.  It is also easier to see the image when you are in a bright environment.


Secure your strap: Your strap should be secured around your wrist tightly.  This prevents your camera from dropping very far should it get knocked out of your hand.  Hanging the strap around your neck will still allow the camera to fall a foot or more if you lose control.  If there’s a handrail or table top nearby, you’re likely to damage the camera or lens with such a drop.


Steady yourself: Sometimes it’s tough to keep yourself steady while your taking a photo, and this can cause a blurry image.  Turn your feet at a right angle to each other to help keep your body steady.  You can also lean against a tree, post or table to give yourself more stability.  In very low light I sometimes will kneel on the floor or ground to take a shot.  This is of course assuming I don’t have my tripod handy.  I’ve done this many times in museums where I’m not allowed to use a flash.


Squeeze the trigger: One of the principles of firing a gun accurately is to squeeze the trigger and not jerk it.  The same principle applies to your camera; squeeze the shutter release button slowly and evenly so you don’t jerk the camera while firing the shot.  By the way, you’re right hand should be doing nothing but squeezing the shutter release, all of the weight of the camera should be held in your left hand.


Use fill flash: You might be amazed at how much a little flash can add to your photos outdoors.  Just because you’re outside taking photos doesn’t mean you have enough light on your subject.  First, you do not want to have people facing into the sun, which will just cause them to squint.  Secondly, you might have a lot more light on the background than you do on your main subject.  Adding the fill flash will create much more balance in your photo.


Save your images: DON’T take your memory card to a local store and stick it into some machine that you’re going to trust with all of your photos.  Take the card home and transfer those images to your own computer.  This is extremely worth learning since you have no idea who used that kiosk before you got there.  It’s not uncommon for those machines to get damaged by misuse and your memory card could wind up being the victim.  Once you’ve copied your images to your computer you can then take them to the store for printing (or take advantage of an online service like that offered by  Besides, if you look at your images on your computer first, you may find some that just aren’t worth printing, while others may deserve something more than a standard 4 x 6.


If you want to learn more about using your camera, have a look at my seminar offerings at


© 2009 Jeff Cowell,


~ by jrcowell on March 31, 2009.

One Response to “General “Stuff” – All those questions that you need answered”

  1. These are great tools…I’m glad you are doing this.

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