Wednesday, 14 August 2013

20 Common DSLR Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

DSLR Cameras
DSLR Cameras

DSLR is the short form for digital single lens reflector camera; it is the most versatile tool for capturing images as per your perspective. It is capable of adapting to almost any shooting conditions for enhancing the quality of the image. A DSLR is a natural path for amateurs to get graduated in to professional photography. A step up from a simple compact camera to one that allows the use of interchangeable lenses and an assortment of accessories for complete control as per the scene can be quite daunting.

Changes of all types can be painful in the beginning; some homework and enthusiasm can definitely enable you to master DSLR and capture far better images. Here’s a list of some of the most common mistakes photographers new to DSLR cameras make and how to avoid them. The following twenty observations are the most common factors where beginners err; this is a collection of my own experiences as well as those have come to my notice.  

1. Spending far more on a camera body than the lens

Camera manufacturers keep on bringing newer models every few months, with promises of better performance and image quality. And in order to lure photographers to invest in these high end gadgets they include many features (most of which might not be useful for your kind of work).

Most beginners find this urge difficult to resist and fall in to the manufacturers’ trap. When you have purchased one; it would have become ‘outdated’ as per the same maker who has come out with yet another ‘newer, latest and improved’ model!

Please read this before taking a decision; quality lenses are costly but they last for a lifetime; unlike DSLR cameras they don’t get outdated after a couple of years.
Picture quality is going to be only as good as your lens performance, no matter how expensive the camera is.

So invest wisely, do invest in a better camera if only really needed;  but make sure you have quality optics to match the performance of your camera, else the camera will highlight any flaws in the lens and will end up with much degraded picture quality!

2. Not reading the user’s manual

Most beginners don’t make use of the user’s manual, in fact most even do not take it out from the box, they only take the camera, battery, strap and may be bundled software cd’s and leave the rest safely in the box. This is by far the most crucial mistake one could make. Usually one insert a charged battery, memory card, put the camera in any auto mode and fire away.

Those who are serious about photography should sit with the manual, go through the pages, familiarize the menus and buttons and understand their functions.

Try some test pictures and go through the sections again until you are convinced that you know your camera and its settings well.

Believe me; the camera manual contains all the basic info and advise to get you started, presented in a neat and tidy manner with illustrations wherever necessary. It is also not a bad idea to take the manual with you for some weeks, so that it could be referred if in doubt.

Now days most camera manufacturers have digital copies of user’s manual in their websites which you could download and use in your smart phone or ipad.

3. Not holding the camera properly

It might sound silly, but knowing how to hold the camera properly will go a long way in improving your photography. And nothing screams amateur photography louder than a wrongly held DSLR. 

The right method to point your DSLR is to hold the camera's handgrip in your right hand and cradle the camera body or lens with the left. Keep elbows propped lightly against torso to provide some additional support. 

Placing one foot half a pace towards the front and towards the side (just like shooting stance) will keep your upper body stable. Keep the viewfinder pressed firmly against your face; this is a steadier position than holding the camera away from face.

4. Forgot to charge the batteries

Perhaps the most frequently committed mistake in the history of photography; it can lead to missed opportunities, disappointment and frustration. To avoid it make sure you have charged your batteries fully and do carry fully charged spare batteries with you. One thing to remember is that even if you fully charge a battery and keep it for some time it slowly looses charge, so if you are heading out for a shoot after a long time it is advisable to fully recharge all your batteries once again the night before the shoot.

5. Shooting without memory cards

Most DSLRs have a feature that helps disable shooting if a memory card is not present in the slot; always turn this option on.  If not the camera will allow you to take a picture, you can review it in the LCD, but it is never stored anywhere. The whole efforts may end up with no fruits. Just imagine the agony; suppose it was some important event that you had covered that day!

6. Didn't check the memory card properly before formatting

Double check everything, your card, computer, backup location etc to make sure you have successfully transferred each and every picture before formatting the memory card. After ascertaining all files are safe, use the camera and (not computer) to format the card. 

Using the computer to format memory cards increases the chances of the card getting corrupted. If after all these precautions you find some important images missing, do not shoot again with the formatted card and use some image recovery software to recover the files.

What happens is when you format the card the images are not actually deleted, they are only marked as deleted and the space is made available for re-use. When we take pictures one by one the older files are permanently deleted and replaced with new ones, not shooting again with that card improves your chances of recover your photos.

7. Shooting in Fully Automatic mode; All the Time

Many beginners have this fear of getting out of the fully automatic modes and committing mistakes. And they also feel they are getting acceptable results in auto mode. But shooting in Fully Automatic Mode deprives you of many of the advantages that your expensive DSLR offers: like the ability to control depth of field, control blur, etc. 

But this doesn't mean you should only use the fully-Manual Mode either. Instead, take advantage of the semi automatic modes: Aperture Priority (AV), Shutter Priority(TV), etc. it should be re-assuring for beginners that some of the top photographers in the world rely on these as their easy mode to shoot.

8. Blurry pictures

You’d be shocked to see those sharp images seen in the LCD monitor appearing completely blurred in the large computer screen.  Yes it is true that in a small LCD screen everything looks sharp!The trick to find out if whether an image is truly sharp is to magnify it in the playback and check it for sharpness at 100% zoom.

The major reason for blur may be shutter speed not being fast enough. Remember that when shooting handheld; shutter speed should be at least one over the focal length of the lens being used. 

When shooting with a focal length of 200mm make sure to have at least 1/200 as the shutter speed.For shooting with a crop sensor camera, do consider the crop factor and calculate shutter speed based on effective focal length and not the one that is displayed on the lens. If the lens is equipped with image stabilization feature make sure it’s turned on.

9. Camera unbalanced with telephoto lens

When long telephoto lenses are mounted; camera becomes heavier towards the front this can cause the tripod head to dip down when mount and set. The trick to avoid this  is to use the tripod collar to mount heavy lenses rather than using the camera mount. 

Using a tripod collar ensures that the weight is equally distributed between front and back. Another advantage of using a tripod collar is that you could easily shift from landscape to portrait orientation simply by loosening the knob on the collar. Also when the tripod collar is used to mount the lens and when you twist the camera to portrait mode the camera and lens is right on top of the camera rather than tilted toward one side providing more stability.

10. Chimping

‘Chimping’ is the word used to describe the process review, sort, and delete process to which photographers gets addicted to. The use of LCD monitor this frequently is more of an addiction than necessary and many times photographers loose very precious moments while they are busy chimping. Keep your on- site reviewing to minimum; you could do that at the convenience of your home in a much larger and better calibrated computer monitor.

11. Shot in JPEG instead of RAW

Shooting in JPEG won’t hurt much if you have nailed exposure and white balance just right. But if not then you will certainly curse yourselves for not shooting in RAW instead of JPEG. RAW image gives you much more power and flexibility while editing; a proper knowledge to handle the RAW image may make it easier to work with a batch of RAW files. These are many good reasons for why you should opt for RAW and not JPEG. If you are inclined towards JPEG’s, try RAW + JPEG mode for safety.

12. Shooting the sun or other bright light sources directly

Never attempt to shoot or even look through the viewfinder when your camera is pointed directly at the sun. You will damage both your eyes and the sensor if proper ways are not followed. For safe capturing of the sun do some research online and follow experts advise precisely to ensure you don’t end up with a fried sensor!

13. Changing lenses in dusty conditions

Even though modern DSLR has automatic sensor cleaning features, it is not a good idea to expose sensor to dust or moisture. Never attempt to change lenses in dusty circumstances. If possible carry a second camera with a different focal length lens so you can switch cameras instead of lenses.

It would be better to change the lenses in a car or vehicle; if in emergency make the shift as quick as possible with camera pointed downwards.

14. Set the wrong ISO speed

Experienced photographers always take note when they find unusually fast shutter speeds / narrower apertures possible at any given lighting condition. That is not the case with beginners; they may not be able immediately identify mistakes like wrong ISO settings, or they simply forget to revert to lower ISO’s after the previous shoot. Always double check ISO settings before any shoot to prevent losing precious images to noise.

15. Forgot to reset Exposure Compensation

Have you ever felt clueless as to why pictures are coming out either too dark or too light in spite of your best effort?  You've almost certainly forgot to reset the exposure compensation after your last shoot, or you've accidentally changed it to an off-the-scale value. Check and make sure your exposure compensation settings are set to neutral (center point (0)).

16. Not Nailing the Focus

Compact cameras and their tiny sensors almost always produce photographs with large depth of field. So any focusing error is not very apparent. But when you shoot with a DSLR equipped with fast lenses you don’t have any margin for error and if you do not nail your focus perfectly you will end up with a non usable picture. Choose the right focusing mode for your situation and make sure you have focused on the right part of your subject / scene.

17. Distorted portraits

Wide angle lenses exaggerate and telephoto lenses compress elements in a frame, and using either ultra wide angle lens or super tele photo lens to capture humans will most likely end up with some distorted and funny figures. For portraiture use focal lengths ranging from 70mm – 200mm (corresponding to full frame) and avoid distorted figures.

18. Converging verticals

Converging verticals otherwise known as keystoning is the perspective distortion caused by using ultra wide angle lenses. For example;  shooting a building with an ultra wide angle lens, the base of the building will look much wider than its top, when the entire building is included in the picture a viewer might get the feeling that the building is about to topple over.

The trick to avoid converging verticals is to keep the camera sensor parallel to the is the act of tipping the camera upwards that brings the unwanted perspective. You could also try to shoot from further back without need to tip up your camera; either using a longer lens or cropping the frame in post production. Image editing software has controls to correct perspective distortions. 

The key to success when shooting buildings is either purposefully use the effect of converging verticals or avoid it completely, as slight keystoning may be taken for accidental.

19. Flare

Flare is caused by non image forming light that bounce around inside the lens causing reduced contrast and sharpness. Flare is especially an issue when a light source is present inside of the frame. Typically wide angle lenses are most prone to flare. The easiest way to avoid flare is to change your shooting angle or to use a lens hood. Using a lens hood helps block unwanted light from entering the lens or you may even use your hand or cap to block out the stray light just as you use them to shade your eyes.

20. Failing to keep your gear clean

Most beginners take out their camera with one or two lenses, shoot some possible objects;bring it back and keep it just like that. When taken out for shooting you are exposing the camera to elements that could potentially damage the camera, sensor or lens.Make it a habit to clean your camera, blow away any dust with a rocket blower, wipe it down with a clean cloth, check the front and back lens elements for dust or smears caused by fingers accidentally touching them and clean them.

Smears, dirt on lens or on the sensor, moisture or condensation etc can all either degrade image quality or cause permanent damage to your expensive equipment. In the tropics and other humid regions; a dry cabinet is a must to keep your camera and lenses safe from dust, moisture and fungus.