How to Be Better Prepared to Take Great Photos

How can you always be prepared to take your next best ever photograph?

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 photoshoot 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.

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, ThailandRecently 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.

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 … what ever 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.

View The Cheat Sheet