There’s a little ritual that I like to perform on my cameras after every shoot and I call it “zero’ing out the camera”. Put in other words I am setting a baseline or starting point for the next assignment. Let me teach it to you and tell you how I learned to do it.
I was taught to do this little exercise in camera management by a local press photographer called Les Flannigan. Les recently passed away, but back in the day, he was a freelancer for my local rag the Ayrshire Post. I was fortunate enough to spend time shadowing him and it was on one of these particular adventures that Les explained to me why I should “zero out my camera” after every job.
In those days the Post had a full time staffer called Robin Christie, Les was a freelancer, but on a monthly retainer with the paper. Then there was me and a few other snappers who picked up the rest of the work that could not be covered by Robin or Les.
Now Robin was a Nikon shooter and he was an old school “S.O.B” who I kinda respected on the one hand, but loathed on the other, mainly because I wanted his job and as far as I was concerned he was an old “has been” who should of retired long ago.
In fact I got so hacked off with him, I used to dream of planning his demise! I kid.. The editorial department was upstairs at the offices in Nile court and many times I wished I had laid fishing line across the top of the stairs for Robin to trip over. Then I might of had a chance of getting his job. Looking back on it though, he did me a huge favour.
Anyway, Robin was a grumpy old man who tooled up with a Nikon FM2, Motor-drive, 28mm F2.8 lens, and a Metz-45. That was it and in the whole time I worked at the post. I don’t think I ever saw him use another lens. Oh and I was told. Don’t ask him for any advice or tips because all you would get in return was a mouthful…
Anyway, hindsight is a wonderful thing and now I see Robin was a smart man without a sore back. He knew the 97% of the shots he would take from day to day were cheque presentations and required the photo-copier approach to photography. Nuke it at 1/60th @ f8 and your done.
So why bust your butt on something when the picture editor is A: Going to Crop it to Hell B: Get it printed on paper that “Charmin” would reject for the toilet. I did see him take one good picture once! It was shot down a coal mine and was a good mixture of available head lamp light and the trusty Metz off camera. He made a good frame that day and they used it well in the paper.
Les on the other hand was a Canon shooter and he sported a Canon T90. Although even at that time it was not new model, it was way cooler than anything I had in my bag. Les also used a Metz as did we all, but he liked to mix it up a little in the lens department with a bit of zoom action and he was not scared to crack out a long lens now and again either.
You have to remember auto-focus was the new kid on the block and zoom lenses were seen as the devils glass. So Les was pretty cutting edge for an ex-police snapper who was by that time in his 50′s.
He was also very generous with his knowledge and was a natural teacher. At that point I was really green around the gills and I would say Les probably saved me from many a mistake and it was with his guidance that I learned to reset my camera after each assignment and thats what you are going to learn today.
Now the reason why you “zero out your camera” is so that you start with a clean sheet. Whether you shoot for fun or shoot for a living it does not matter. If you are going into different situations where the camera settings are going to be altered. It pays to start at the same point every time you are beginning a new shoot and because you did at the end of the previous shoot, you don’t have to worry about all the settings. Ya see! Clever stuff…
This consistency will help you to make better pictures and give you piece of mind that when you pick up the camera you know your starting point. (This is a little baised towards Nikon shooters, but if you shoot with another brand you will get the idea) So here are the ten settings I go through every time I finish a shoot. On modern cameras there are others, but these are the important ones for you.
#1 – ISO
Firstly, I reset the ISO which is pronounced “EYE SO” and not “I.S.O”. I only discovered that last month. The Nikon’s working range is 200 to 6400. So I start at the lower end of the scale ISO200 as that’s going to give me the least amount of noise. I can then work up from there.
#2 – Aperture Priority
I spend 90% of my time in “Aperture Priority” mode and I dial in exposure adjustments using the EV compensation button that sits right next to my trigger finger.
The shooting mode goes back to “Aperture Priority” and also the EV compensation button gets set to “0.0″ so that there is no EV adjustment. I also make sure I start at f5.6 because this is a good mid point aperture to have the lens set at incase you need to turn the camera on and start shooting without your brain engaging first.
#3 – White Balance
When I was shooting Canon I used to set the White Balance to cloudy because it gave me a pleasing skin tone and the Auto WB was inconsistent on the EOS10D. But now that I am a Nikon shooter, I mainly stay in Auto-WB because not only is it accurate, but also very consistent. I then move over to cloudy or shade for effect when shooting. The newer Canon’s are also way more consistent and can be worked in this manner as well.
#4 – Auto Focus
Next, I make sure my focus point is reset to the centre of the focus grid. On the Nikon you can double click the button in the middle of the focus selection pad that sits to the right of the LCD display. I also check the focus mode and make sure its in single servo focus and that I also have the dynamic area focus switched on.
#5 – Metering Pattern
I never budge out of “3D Color Matrix” but there is the odd occasion that I use “Spot” metering, so I always check this is back on to the “Matrix” icon. Just incase!
#6 – Shooting Mode
I used to be a “1 click” single frame maker, but I now go for the highest frame rate possible. On the D700 thats 5fps without the vertical grip, and around 8fps with the v-grip. Shooting in short bursts of 2-3 frames at a time increases your success rate for a shot thats sharp, so I like this way of working.
Just don’t go fully automatic and rip 50 frames at a time is all I am saying! Sometimes I need to go back to single shot for product stuff, so checking this is a good thing for me.
#8 – Image Quality
This never comes off the RAW setting. Sometimes I go for RAW+FINE (Jpeg) but usually RAW on its own. As I can easily process a Jpeg from Lightroom.
#9 – Battery
The battery is checked and if there is at least 60% power available its left in the camera. But anything lower than 60% gets swapped out for a spare and the used battery recharged. You can never have to many spare batteries…
#10 – Format Card
I always download the images, back up twice and then reformat the card back in the camera. This means that I am good to go at a minutes notice and this readiness has paid off for me time and time again. I can pull the camera from the bag, turn it on and know that any adjustments made are coming from these start up settings.
Give it a go for yourself because practise makes perfect!