Outdoor Studio Session during a 5 day Chiang Mai Photo Workshop
Camera: Nikon D800, Lens: 105mm, Settings: f6.3, 1/200 sec, ISO 400

How to Be Better Prepared to Take Great Photos

by
Kevin Landwer-Johan
Kevin Landwer-Johan

The short answer is “You can’t be!” Not always, not for every situation. No matter how organized you. No matter how many times you have checked your photo sesssion preparation checklist. Being prepared is more of a long-term commitment to knowing how to use your camera blended with your ability to interact with and respond to your environment.

Chaing Mai Photo Workshops Poi Sang Long Festival
Camera: Nikon D800, Lens: 35mm, Settings: f5, 1/20 sec, ISO 100, fill flash

Know Your Camera

Being prepared means knowing your camera and how to adjust the settings quickly whenever you need to. I need to know how to adjust my DSLR camera settings for different situations as they occur. This does come mostly through practice, but initially, it comes with some study of your camera. If you have a new camera get the manual out and read it while you have your camera in your hands. Doing this you will learn where all the controls are – especially those used to make a well-exposed photograph – your shutter speed, aperture, ISO and exposure meter controls. Once you have studied these and are familiar with how they function, practice using them. Before long you will be able to set your camera quickly without having to think which way the dials turn to increase or decrease the exposure. You will be able to choose your settings and make a well-exposed photograph every time.

Whenever you head out to take some photos be sure to set your camera to the approximate correct exposure for the lighting conditions – even before you lift your camera to your eye. If you have your settings close to where they need to be you can make adjustments quickly if you need to. When you change locations and the light is significantly different be sure to adjust your settings again so you can be ready to shoot.

Monk teaching school students at Wat Umong, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Camera: Nikon D800, Lens: 35mm, Settings: f2.8, 1/160 sec, ISO 1600

Recently I was shooting in the underground tunnels at Wat Umong and had my camera set for the dark interior of the tunnels. As we emerged from the tunnels I was busy teaching a customer during a travel photography workshop and did not make the adjustment to my camera’s settings to be ready to shoot outside.

As we approached the steps a monk walked in front of us and was nicely isolated against the dark background of the large trees. I’ve got lots of photos of monks they are great subjects, but these days I don’t photograph them unless the situation is particularly photogenic – this one was.

As I brought my camera up to my eye I realized my exposure settings were still set for indoors and a long way off for the light outside. Quickly I brought my shutter speed to 1/500th of a second and altered the aperture a little to f2.8 and took two shots. When I looked at the image on the camera monitor I thought it was too underexposed, maybe 1/250th or 1/125th of a second would have been a better shutter speed choice.

Post Processing Rescue

A few days later I decided to see if I could rescue the image, so I began to work with it on my computer. I lifted the exposure value and highlights a little and dialed down the blacks, to get the background nice and dark. I cloned out a few minor distractions and selectively darkened the path. I am pleased with the results.

I only managed to get this one shot before the monk walked down the steps and his feet and legs were no longer visible to me. If I had set my camera as we came out of the tunnels so it was prepared for the outside lighting conditions I would have had more chance of shooting at least one or two more frames. I told myself again “Kevin, be prepared!”

Buddhist monk walking at Wat Umong, Chiang Mai, Thailand

Please take a look at our Manual Camera Settings Cheat Sheet Infographic for Photography Beginners. This can be used with any cameras – Nikon DSLR, Canon DSLR, Olympus mirrorless, Sony camera, Fuji, Lumix … whatever camera system you own. This ISO, aperture, shutter speed chart pdf will be of great help to you as you begin to understand your camera settings. It’s almost like a camera tutorial for beginners as it shows you clearly how to adjust the settings. This cheat sheet will guide to choose things like your f stop for low light and your shutter speed for a moving subject.

If you are interested to learn more please sign up for our newsletter and receive a free enrollment to our beginner’s photography course, Ten Top Tips – How To Be More Creative With Your Camera. This course covers ten aspects of photography I’d wish I had known when I was starting out over 35 years ago. These are essentials which are still relevant today, that’s why I produced the course and give it away. I want to encourage you and see you improve your photography.

Our newsletter is always informative and encouraging, with tutorials, articles, videos and other free photography resources. Please fill in the form below to sign up today.

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Equipment I used to make these photos.

Nikon full frame camera body. I use an older model D800. This link will take you to view the Nikon D850 which is the upgrade model.

Nikon AF FX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.4G 

Nikon AF-S VR Micro-NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8G 

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