A Few of my Favorite Things – Ten to be Exact

Grain & Color by Dale Scherfling

My ten favorite things – or thoughts – in photography are all tools and techniques designed to help me capture what I see and what I look for when shooting a subject.  They are:

1. Single Red Dot Focusing.  I paid big bucks for these cameras and I want that superb technology. When the dot is over the most important part of the scene I don’t want to fiddle with the focus.

2. Center-Weighed Metering.  Your meter should be reading the same area as the focusing dot. Ideally, when you get one, you get the other. Love that little ‘chirp’ when the camera says ‘Gotcha!’

 

3. Camera Customization.  The capabilities of color control in digital photography are fantastic today, especially in the ability to shoot sometimes subtle or sometimes saturated color, for portraits, mood or graphic effects. My personal pre-set adjustments include slight in-camera boosts for sharpening, saturation and contrast. I like these settings and make little tweaks and adjustments as I shoot but these are my pre-set perimeters.

4. The Automatic Mode Settings for convenience.  especially the sports setting, even when I’m not shooting sports. I keep it on sports for two reasons: (1) it selects the faster shutter speeds to eliminate camera movement; and (2) it shuts off the automatic flash my camera keeps trying to turn on. I hate flash. Flash washes out things that look better naturally lit. Flash takes away interesting shadows and highlights. Flash announces my presence in a scene where I don’t want to be noticed. I am shooting the scene, not my advertising my presence in it.  The Automatic Mode (sometimes referred to as the ‘Dummy Side of the Camera) is anything but dumb, especially if you are moving in and out of continuously changing the light. It allows you to concentrate on framing and composition. Once again, you paid big bucks for that equipment – let it do some of the work.

 

5. The Automatic Mode for Feedback.  Here we have a very sophisticated light meter. Shoot some automatic settings and check your results to see where you’re at. Get your basic light-meter readings and take them with you when you switch over to the Manual or Creative Side of your camera. Plug in those basic settings and start your ‘serious’ shooting from there.

6. Single Image Display.  a wonderful feedback/monitoring/adjustment tool. Mine is set to show at a glance the previous photo, a side-by-side histogram, aperture and shutter speed, ISO and over/under exposure increments.

 

7. ISO and Over/Under Exposure Increments.  As stated above, I like the creative use of color to emphasize mood, texture, feel, patina, etc. I tend to slightly under-expose for soft saturation, and a bit more for harsher, graphic color. I also tweak the ISO upward a bit as I shoot, or the contrast in post-production, looking for that ‘grainy’ or sometimes exaggerated graphics feel. When I get grain or patina, it’s a plus; when I get noise and artifact, a minus. I keep pushing the boundary – and the boundary changes every time I shoot. That keeps things from getting dull.

8. Image Enlargement Button. This is what I use most often in final monitoring (when a slight break in the shooting permits). I click up to see how the image holds together and know from personal experience with my particular camera and my particular way of shooting that if it is still holding together at the maximum enlargement on the monitoring screen I can reasonably expect a pretty good 11×14 print, a reasonably good 16×20 or an acceptable rendition at a larger size. I usually don’t shoot for big blowups though, since I prefer editorial or photo essay pieces over enlargements and display but it’s nice to know what you’ve shot and what you’ve got.  The first eight items are physical tools – things that you’ve bought and paid for with hard-earned cash. The final two are the tools you just can’t buy with cash. They come from experience, dialog with other photographers and just plain looking at the work of others for the pure joy of it.

 

9. Open-Shade Lighting.  Keep the faces out of shadow; keep them out of harsh over-exposure. Cloudy conditions are better than sunny, backlighting often better than front lighting, etc. But learn to look and distinguish which is which and which is better – before and during your shoot.

10. Shooting with a Theme in Mind.  I don’t shoot people as much as I shoot people in conjunction with something – the lighting, the movement, the tools of the trade, graphics looks and design, etc. I have certain themes I come back to time and again (some say I use them too much but I prefer to think of it as further exploration and continued education), such as Neon Portraiture – a sort of an environmental portrait shot in a garish, carnival, stage-lighting sort of way. I often do the same with motion, shooting with slower shutter speeds and panning to capture a ‘feel’ of movement.

 

Yes, I bought some good gear and I want it to work for me. But all that gear has one purpose only: to help me capture what I see.