Readers, friends and family alike always ask questions about what they’re doing wrong with their camera that is making it not perform to their satisfaction. Some of these things are almost common-sensical with regards to electronics but others may not seem that easy to figure out. Here’s a couple of things to keep in mind so that the new camera you get for the holidays will last you a bit longer.
1. Don’t Leave it in the Car
Besides the simple reason that your camera may get stolen, if you leave your camera in the car the electronics inside will get fried or frozen. Inside of your camera is an imaging sensor that can overheat or freeze up. Allowing this by keeping it in the car (the equivalent of a icebox or a sauna) you expose all the electronics to nature’s fury. This will cause the LCD to not work, the sensor to malfunction and a host of other problems. Don’t do it, no matter what.
2. Take It Off Auto White Balance
If you ever take a photo and it comes out too blue or too orange, it could be because you’re shooting with auto white balance. While in auto white balance mode, the camera does its best decide the color temperature, otherwise known as white balance. To avoid this, take it out of auto white balance and change up the settings a bit. Consider the type of light you are in and use one of the camera’s presets.
Indoor tungsten lighting is the worst for auto white balance. Cameras really have a tough time getting it right, so set the white balance to the little bulb to make that very orange light a little closer to white. Most cameras’ white balance presets can get you pretty close to the right color balance. If you want to get precise though, you can use a custom white balance tool like ColorRight or Expodisc.
3. Don’t Turn it On and Off (Let it Go to Sleep)
Turning your camera on and off will essentially kill the battery. The reason for this is because activating the electronics, the LCD, the sensor cleaning system and moving the lens all requires the most power from your camera’s little battery. As efficient as it claims to be, this will quickly kill it. Instead, let the camera go to sleep on its own. Check out this list of tips on how to conserve your battery life.
4. Don’t Shoot One-Handed
This is possibly the biggest reason I’ve seen for out of focus/blurry photos and the most occurrences of dropped cameras ever. Always hold your camera with two hands no matter what. If you want a picture of yourself and someone else, give the camera to someone so that it will get in focus, not be blurry and it won’t fall out of your hands.
5. Calibrate Your Viewfinder
We all don’t see the same, this goes for wearers of glasses and those that see perfectly clear. I know this as a blind photographer. The reason why your images aren’t coming out in focus when you’re manually focusing (or you aren’t seeing clearly when autofocusing) is because you probably haven’t calibrated your viewfinder perfectly. Use the diopter and keep focusing. Adjust the diopter until you finally achieve perfect focus while manually moving the focusing wheel on your camera.
6. Don’t Keep Your Camera Out Around Alcoholic Beverages
Back in college, the most common problem I saw with cameras was being dropped in the cup that was just used for beer pong, or dropped on a hard floor as a result of excessive consumption. If you’re feeling a bit tipsy, keep that camera away. Chances are that it will end up to be as much of a mess as you will at the end of the night. The tougher cameras can take the abuse a bit better, but they will only take so much.
7. Don’t Use Gimmick Modes
When I took photo classes, the women around me were ecstatic to be able to shoot in black and white mode vs having to do it on their computer. Unless you’re shooting RAW + JPEG, this is unacceptable as it doesn’t allow you to get the best shot you possibly can. Similarly, other modes like portrait and sports should only be used until you learn how to use aperture priority and shutter priority modes. (To learn how to use those modes, take a look in your camera’s manual or check out the excellent book by Bryan Peterson, Understanding Exposure.) Further, digital zoom will always mess your photos up by reducing the resolution.
Practice good habits and don’t make bad ones. What tips do you have to add?
I always shot in Auto White Balance mode, because I’m shooting RAW. You should have mentioned, that your suggestion not to shoot Auto WB is only valid vor JPEG shooters.
As a RAW shooter I can leave in Auto WB all the time and don’t need to care about. If the Color Temerature isn’t what I am expecting, it’s easily corrected in the RAW converter.
@sonorman – While your point is well taken about the flexibility of making corrections in post processing when shooting in RAW and Auto White Balance, I think this tip still applies for RAW shooters as well.
Isn’t it better to get it right in camera than having to make corrections in post processing? I too shoot in RAW format all of the time; however, I often use a custom white balance setting with ColorRight or Expodisc, which means there’s just one less thing I have to do to process the image after-the-fact.
I agree with Sonarman. Auto White Balance on my Canon 40D is usually 75-80% correct. Now, that means that most of the time I don’t even have to think about it. In the other 20-25% I find that it takes about 2 seconds to correct in Lightroom, the Canon utility, or Photoshop. Because the menu for White balance takes a a few button clicks to get to the correct setting, I find that I can miss the shot all together. The only time I set the White Balance is when I’m shooting LOTS of pictures in the Same Room. (such as a wedding or corporate event) That’s just because even 2 seconds adds up to a lot over 600 pictures. I leave it at auto for most everything else. I ALWAYS use auto when shooting outdoors since shadows here-and-there change the balance in every shot.
Your suggestions for 1, 3 and 7 are dead on. I can’t believe how many people leave a digital camera in their car in the middle of winter and the hottest days of the summer.
I realise you shouldn’t, but I’ve left my D50 in the car across the entirety of an Australian summer, pulled it out sometimes and it’s been too hot to hold, but she continues to happily fire away. Depends on the quality of the product really ;)
Though because it can, it shouldn’t. Just wanted to say :P
Kenneth Hoffman says
While tramping in the woods or hiking up a mountain, use a wrist strap
so you can feel safe while jumping over rocks and paddling up a stream.
George E. Norkus says
One thing that was forgotten.
Smash a bug with it!
Here are some reasons.
Go ahead if…
1 you are deathly afraid of the bug.
2 someone else owns it.
3 it’s already broke and the replacement camera is in your backpack. (Something to fake people out with.)
4 your not really a photographer.
5 you need food for your pet turtle.
6 the bug is on your enemy’s head.
7 it’s not the brand, (or model), you normally use.
8 the camera is forever breaking anyways.
9 your trying to gross someone out!
10 (You can fill out the rest!)
Steven Bray says
I learnt a big lesson by leaving my camera in the car overnight due to been busy. Some little ?????? broke the window and stole it with all my accessories. I only got it a week before in America. and I didn’t have time to put it on my insurance. Two points guys, don’t leave it anywhere but safe and insure it straight away.
George E. Norkus says
To all who are mis-reading my former comment. It was meant purely as a joke, not something to belittle anyone.
My “humor” came from a long time ago when I slipped while hiking a hill. My camera had landed on a bug, or at least a former bug. It was such a mess. When I proceeded to wash it off, the camera stopped working. (It was a friend’s camera.)
Funny things happen when you least expect it.
Never leave your camera strap hanging over the edge of a table, countertop, desk, etc… Seems like common sense, but it’s easy to get sloppy.
I caught my strap by accident and pulled my camera off the table and onto a hard chair – snapping of the external flash in the process. This could have easily been curious kids pulling on the strap, pets, or just someone rushing up against the strap as well.
Two repairs later – one for the camera (fix the pop-up flash which stopped working), and one for the flash (to replace the hot shoe mount that snapped off), I was back in business – a couple of hundred dollars lighter in the wallet – and a bit wiser.
Ashley Groome says
When traveling overseas, don’t use a camera strap – use instead a light metal chain. Thieves will frequently walk up from behind you and then cut your camera strap using a very sharp knife and make off with your camera. If you use a light chain – they are out of luck and you will probably return complete with camera.
I would add never try to take a shot through a car windshield with the lens directly on the glass in the rain with the car running and the windshield wipers going. Oh and don’t try it under any circumstances while plastered. The wipers will invariably knock the camera out of your hand and onto the ground thereby smashing the lens. Happened to me last night. Gosh darn it.
A simpler formulation of this rule would be: Don’t be drunk and stupid around your gear. Sort of a variation on what not to do #6.
Tim Marman says
Never let your carry on camera bag get put underneath the airplane. This happended to me because there was no room. When I got to my final destination 2 planes after my bag was lost. Over $12,000 in equipment and an entire wedding was shot on it.
I thought it was lost forever. 7 days after I landed, it was fine and all there and returned to me. All becuase of how they had written the tag going on the bag.
It was 7 very scarry days and a huge headache.
Solution: know what your airlines will cover in lost bags. Usually not over $3k, and they won’t cover electronics. So tell them when they are trying to take your bag if they want to be HD responsible of thousand of dollars. They will let you carry it on.
Joy Butler says
I had no idea that turning your camera on and off could make your battery die faster. It seems like a common response to turn off your camera to prolong your battery life. Letting my camera sleep could not only prolong my battery life but it could also help your operating system run faster.