Saturday, December 20, 2008

Camera Technique: Check Your Barrel

One of the hardest things for me to master in my shooting is the perfect exposure. I can often see the shot in my head, but I still struggle to consistently capture it in the camera.

I remember reading about a young photographer who was being tutored by an older, more seasoned professional. The older photographer kept telling the beginner, "Check your barrel." By this he meant that before you press the shutter, you check your camera settings to be certain that they are correct for the shooting situation. This was certainly very important in the film days, when you did not have instant feedback, and the cost of missed shots was significant in terms of wasted film and development time. It's equally important today for the professional, as you don't want to waste the clients' time, and you don't want to lose a good image as a result of bad camera settings.

I have taken this to heart, but I still have lapses. I will sometimes miss changing the white balance or camera mode, or keep a high ISO when going from dark to light settings. I'll fire off several shots and then glance at the viewfinder to see that I've forgotten a key setting change or light adjustment. Or worse off, I won't see it until post production and will have either lost a great shot, or set myself up for some heavy editing.

I'm trying to come up with a mantra of some kind, to remind me to check all the possible parameters: Shutter, f-stop, ISO, white balance, exposure comp, flash/lighting, and other stuff. If anyone has a good mnemonic to remind me, I'd love it. Until then, I keep saying to myself, "Check your barrel."

Today, I set out to capture images for holiday cards I'm making. This shot I set up as my wife and daughter were decorating Christmas cookies this morning. I wanted a natural light image with very tight focus, and this shot, taken at f/3.5 and 1/125 under west-facing window light, was one of my favorites. It crisply shows the center star cookie, and places it among many others, to symbolize bounty. The diagonal line keeps the image dynamic.

My wanderings today took me from light to dark indoor settings, and outdoors in very bright light. I had to remind myself to keep "Checking My Barrel", so I would not blow a good shot. I still missed some key changes, and ended up with shots that are not nearly as good as I wanted. But, the more I practice these habits on my personal shooting, the better I will be disciplined on my paid shoots. advice to all of you: Check Your Barrel!

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting advice, I will keep it in mind.