Pre- Photography Workshop and Tour Study Guide

Please study this before your workshop -- to help you get the most from your workshop!

  • Short Version

    -Manual exposure mode

    -Spot metering

    -Single autofocus point

    -Continuous autofocus for moving subjects

    -RAW file format

    -Lens hoods on lenses

    -Good Tripod

    -Respect others in workshop

Please download the owners manual of your camera and install it on your smartphone or tablet.

Smartphone apps can help you view your camera manual in the field.  Here are some to consider:

Nikon Manual Viewer 2 (Android)

Nikon Manual Viewer 2 (iPhone)

Canon Camera Handbooks (Android)

Canon Camera Handbooks (iPhone)

Fujifilm, Pentax, Panasonic, Sony, and others

Another option is to simply download the PDF manual of your camera to your phone.

Check that you can read the manual when you have no cell phone signal (try in airplane mode).

Be able to perform keyword searches on the PDF document on your phone.

Having a copy (electronic or paper) of your camera manual in the field is wise!

Learning these settings on your camera before the workshop will greatly improve your workshop experience

  1. Be able to see the scene you are shooting on the LCD display on the back of your camera (“Live View”) AND also see the exposure histogram at the same time on the LCD display
  2. Be able to shoot multiple exposures in a bracket (“Exposure Bracketing”) of different shutter speeds.  My preference when shooting towards the sun is 7 exposures, separated by 1.0 EV.
  3. Be able to have a 2-second, or 3-second, timer fire off the exposure brackets in step 2 above.
  4. Be able to store your files in raw format.
  5. Be able to use spot metering for exposure
  6. Be able to adjust how many autofocus points you are using
  7. Be able to use manual exposure mode, with Auto-ISO turned off

Please see the information below to learn more about these settings.

Please feel free to contact me before the workshop if you need help in setting these up.

Since most of my workshops start early in the morning, in the dark and cold before sunrise, getting these settings figured out in the comfort of your home before the workshop will make your experience more enjoyable.

Exposure Histogram

  • Adjust your camera settings to show a brief (2 second) display of the exposure histogram on the LCD screen.
  • Practice glancing quickly at this histogram after taking a photo.
  • The histogram tells us a lot about the exposure of the image we just took.

What Does the Exposure Histogram Tell Us?

  • The exposure histogram displays the number of pixels that recorded a given range (bin) of light intensity.
  • The horizontal axis displays the exposure range in bins from the darkest (black) pixels on the left, to the brightest (white) pixels on the right.
  • The vertical axis is the number of pixels with an exposure in a given range (bin size).
  • A histogram that is bunched up on the left side indicates an underexposed image.
  • A histogram that is bunched up on the right side indicates an overexposed image.
  • There is no “perfect” histogram, each scene has a different histogram signature.

Rear LCD screen for a Canon 5D3 setup to display the exposure histogram.  Setup your camera so this automatically shows for 2 seconds after each image is taken.

Live View

  • Be able to view the scene you are photographing in “Live View” where the image shows in real time on the LCD on the rear of your camera.
  • Most mirrorless cameras also show you the histogram in the viewfinder (i.e. when you are not using live view).
  • For landscape photography with a tripod I find it best to compose your photograph using the viewfinder then switch to live view.
  • It is very useful to be able to see the exposure histogram on your camera’s LCD while in live view!

An example showing the histogram in live view on the rear LCD is shown here.  The histogram is in the upper right corner.

Exposure Bracketing

  • Exposure bracketing is useful when the scene you are photographing has a high contrast range (e.g. dark foreground under a bright sky)
  • The goal is to capture detail in the shadows and the highlights.
  • Know how to setup automatic exposure bracketing on your camera (usually called “AEB”, “Bracketing”, Automatic Exposure Bracketing on your camera).  We only want the shutter speed to vary between the expsoures.  The aperture, ISO, and white balance should all remain constant during an exposure bracketing sequence.
  • Whenever I photograph towards the sun (sunrise or sunset) I bracket 5 to 7 exposures, from -3EV to +3EV with 1.0EV between exposures.  I may only use some of these exposures in post-processing, however it pays to have exposures covering -3EV to +3EV.  Including the brightest exposures in the final HDR often make it look unrealistic.
  • Ideally,  you would like your camera to fire off the burst of exposures in a bracket after a 2 second shutter timer delay, or when using a remote shutter release.
  • If your camera does not have automatic exposure bracketing, no worries, we can achieve the same effect manually by quickly changing the shutter speed between shots.
  • Note that by “exposure bracketing” here we do not mean “in-camera HDR”.
  • The “brackets” (each image taken during the sequence) will be combined later on the computer using special HDR software that tone maps the exposures into a single blended image.  You can merge the exposures in Adobe Lightroom, or  Aurora HDR software.

Autofocus Settings

  • Be able to set your autofocus mode for continuous or tracking (i.e. AI Servo for Canon, AF-C Continuous for Fuji, Nikon, Sony, etc.).
  • Be able to adjust how many autofocus points are active, and which ones are active.
  • Practice switching between a single autofocus point and multiple autofocus points while looking through the viewfinder.
  • For those who own the newer mirrorless cameras (Canon R5, R3, Sony A1, A9, A7Rx, etc) which have bird-eye autofocus, please see your owner’s manual to use these advanced and highly effective autofocus settings.

The available autofocus points are shown here (Canon 7D2).  Only autofocus point is active in this figure, the center AF point.   I prefer a single AF point for bird in flight photography.  It is harder to hold a single AF point on a bird in flight than it is with a grid of AF points, however you have to be careful of AF points accidentally locking onto the background instead of the subject.

Nine autofocus points are active in this  figure. Using a grid of autofocus points like this works well when the bird is above the horizon with clear sky behind it.  Practice switching between a single autofocus point and a grid, while you keep your eye on the viewfinder.  This helps a great deal in bird photography.

Different cameras and lenses offer a range of autofocus settings that can be tuned relative to the needs of the photographer.  Here are some settings that work well for wildlife photography:

  • Turn off “Lens search when AF impossible“.  This stops the lens from doing a full focus range search when AF is lost.
  • Focussing range on the lens.  I set this normally to “Full”, which means the AF will consider ranges from close up to infinity when trying to autofocus.  If you know you are focusing on a subject far away, you can limit the AF search range to something smaller (e.g. 5 meters to infinity).
  • Back-button focus.  I prefer this custom setup which removes the initiation of the AF system when the shutter is half-pressed to a button on the back of the camera.  In this configuration the depress of the shutter has nothing to do with AF anymore.  The AF is engaged by pressing another button (the “back-button”).  To set this up please see your camera manual on how to assign a camera function to a new button.
  • Focus Priority.  Many autofocus systems allow the photographer adjust whether the shutter should release if the subject is not in focus.  This is a tradeoff between having the shutter release regardless of whether the images are in focus, or pausing the shutter until a sharp focus is achieved.  I prefer to weigh focus priority over shutter release.  In this way I have less overall images, however the ones I have are in focus.

Drive Mode

Switch between drive modes of high-speed continuous shooting, low-speed continuous shooting, single shooting, 2-second self-timer/Remote control, and 10-second self-timer/Remote control (these modes have different names across camera models).

High-speed continuous shooting (aka “burst” mode) is what we will use for wildlife action.  We will use the 2-second delay for slow shutter landscape captures, especially if you do not have a remote / cable shutter release.

Spot Metering Mode

  • Your camera will have different exposure metering modes (spot, center weighted, evaluative, matrix).  We want to use spot metering mode so we control where in the scene the camera’s light meter is measuring the exposure.
  • Learn how to set your camera’s light meter to use spot metering mode.
  • Evaluative, center-weighted, and matrix metering modes take average the exposure reading from a larger part of the scene than in spot metering mode.  It is better to know the exposure from different parts of the scene.
  • In live view mode spot metering does not work.  Instead evaluative metering is used.  As long as we can see the histogram in real time using live view we have all the information we need.

Exposure Meter

  • Know how to find the exposure meter on your camera.
  • Learn how to look at the exposure meter while looking through the viewfinder.
  • Note the exposure meter in your camera considers the “correct” exposure to be light reflected from a gray target with 12.7% reflectivity.
  • If you expose off a black surface, it will come out gray.  If you expose off of a white surface, it will also come out gray.
  • Find a grayish surface in the scene and center your exposure scale on that.

The exposure meter is shown here on the bottom center of the viewfinder.  It is measuring the exposure from the center point over the desert.

Store Images in Raw File Format

  • Be able to set your file format to RAW
  • By using RAW files we have more ability to edit the image in post-processing.
  • Storage cards with large capacities are relatively inexpensive these days.  Taking your photos in RAW format makes it significantly easier to edit your image in post-processing.
  • If you store your image files in both RAW and JPEG format it slows your camera down.  I recommend writing your images as RAW files only to your memory card.

Use the Quick Menu

  • Be able to use your “Quick Menu” or “Quick Control”
  • This is the menu that shows on your LCD on the rear of the camera and allows you to see and change the camera shooting parameters.
  • This is much quicker than having to drill down into menus

Many cameras have two memory card slots and allow you to store image files on both cards.  If you have the camera write to two cards it does slow down the camera some.  I prefer to shoot in RAW mode only and store only to one card.

Canon 7D-2 showing the shooting settings on the main LCD.

Tripods

Over the years I have noticed that many photographers are challenged a great deal by their tripod.  Either their tripod is not sturdy enough for the weight of their camera or lens, they have the wrong type of tripod head, or the screws and connections on the tripod are loose.

It is sobering to see how much a good tripod costs, especially after you have just invested in a new camera and/or lens.  The normal trajectory is to invest in good-quality camera bodies and lenses and then skimp on a tripod.  A good tripod is well worth it and will last a lifetime.

Although I have a few very expensive, and high-quality, Gitzo tripods (“systematic” model where there is no center column, carbon fiber legs, price > $1000), I have found this Innorel tripod coupled with this Innorel ball head to be a very good value.

Always keep the last (the bottom) telescopic leg section of your tripod extended, at least a few inches or more.  This habit will keep the joints of your tripod legs out of the sand, mud, and snow, and extend the life of your tripod.

When you set your tripod down on, push it down hard on it to set it firmly in place.  You will be amazed how much a tripod can wobble when it is gently placed on top of ground cover vegetation!

When out doing landscape photography I often leave my tripod extended in my vehicle.  Sunlight and lighting conditions change very quickly.  You do not want to miss the good light while setting your tripod up, yet again.

Look for tripod legs like this, that do not have a center column.  This style tripod is much more stable.

What to look for in a good tripod

  1. Carbon fiber legs.  All sections of the tripod legs to be made of carbon fiber.  The most important feature of carbon fiber is dampening of vibrations. Carbon fiber tripod legs are better at dampening vibration than metal tripod legs.  Carbon fiber legs are also lighter and warmer to hold on cold mornings.
  2. Absence of a center column.  Most tripods have a center column to adjust the final height of the tripod. Tripods with center columns are inherently less stable that tripods where the apex of the three legs goes directly to the mounting base of the tripod head.    Look for tripod legs with this design (no center column)
  3. Make sure you are using the right tripod head.  There are ball heads, gimbal heads, and panorama tripod heads.   A ball head is the most versatile.  If you only get one tripod head, a ball head is a good idea.  Make sure it will hold at least the weight of your camera and biggest lenses.  A gimbal (Wimberly type) head is meant for a long telephoto or zoom lens.  It will not work with a landscape lens (wide angle).
    • Make sure you tighten the tripod head to the tripod very well.  Use Loctite to help prevent it from loosening.  You do not want your expensive camera and lens to come off the tripod.  This happens way too often, resulting in loss of expensive equipment.
    • Setup a safety strap between a stationary part of the tripod legs and your camera.  I setup a piece of nylon webbing tied to my tripod on end, with a clip on the other end that I can clip to my camera strap.  That way if the lens foot or tripod head becomes detached the strap will catch it before it falls on the ground or into the river.

If your current budget does not allow for a new tripod, that is fine, we can mitigate vibration and movement by:

  • Not raising a flimsy tripod too high.
  • Add some weight to the hook under the tripod base to stabilize things.
  • Checking for loose connections.

Lens Hoods,Lens Caps,Lens Pouches,Lens Filters

Please use the lens hood that came with your lens.  It is designed to keep stray light from hitting the sensor, it helps keep dust off your lens objective, and most importantly it helps protect your lens from damage.  Put it on the lens and face it forward in the direct it is meant to be used.

Lens caps are meant to protect your lens and filters.  They are worthy of use.

All lenses should have a lens filter on them.  Normally this is a UV Haze filter.  This is cheap insurance for saving your expensive lens from scratches.

Lens pouches are wise investments to protect your lenses that are not being used.  Most people forget that their lenses are often more expensive than their camera body.

Fast Memory Cards

  • Use fast memory cards.
  • If your camera is bogging down in storing files to the memory card you may want to consider getting a faster card.
  • Have multiple cards with you during the workshop — you will take a lot of photos!
  • It is a good idea to avoid filling up your memory card to 100%.  Check how much room is left and switch cards when it gets 95% full.
  • Do not use your camera to delete individual photos.
  • After you have downloaded your photos from the memory card, and backed them up, then use your camera to erase the entire card and the format the card.

Use your lens hood!  It is meant to be on the front of your lens, facing forward, to block stray light, give you a better image, and protect your lens.

Useful smart phone apps

These are useful apps, however not required.

  • The Photographer’s Epheremis
    • Both the iPhone (IOS only) and web app are very useful for planning, especially the web app.
  • Photo Transit
    • Useful for planning shots where field-of-view is critical, also has a nice line of sight calculations to check if your subject will be blocked, or if your line of sight will be clear. iPhone (IOS only)
  • Photo Pills
    • Useful to see the trajectory of the sun and moon while in the field. Also has a depth of field and a hyperfocal distance calculator. Not always accurate though since it uses a magnetic compass on phone.
  • Weather Bug
    • Useful for checking weather radar and satellite imagery while in the field.
  • Theodolite
    • Very useful for measuring the angles of subjects in the field.
  • Depth of Field Master (for iPhone –> DOF Master)
    • A very useful free app, web-based and iPhone (IOS) based.  Highly recommend adding to your iPhone to help calculate what part of your composition will be in focus.
  • Hyperfocal Pro (for Android/Google phones)
    • Useful app to calculate depth of field and angular field of view

Post-Processing Instruction During Your Workshop

(One-day workshops and tours will not have post-processing instruction unless arranged in advance)

Hardware

  • Please bring a working laptop.  (Tablets and iPad will not be sufficient for our classroom instruction — you need a computer)
    • Ideally, you have plenty of room on your internal hard drive and at least 8 GB of RAM, ideally > 16 GB of RAM.
  • Please bring at least one external hard-drive and the associated cables (extras).  You will need these drives for file management and backup
  • Please bring an extension cord for your computer power supply.
  • I use a Wacom (Intuos) graphic tablet. Bring yours if you use one.  If you do not have one yet, I highly recommend them for post-processing.

Software

I strongly suggest subscribing to the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan.  The days of buying a standalone version of Photoshop are gone.  Subscription-based licenses are here to stay, like it or not.

I use the most recent versions of Lightroom Classic and Photoshop in my workshops.  If you do not have the most recent versions installed, you may not be able to follow all of what I am teaching.

Please come prepared by installing and updating your software before you attend the workshop (attempting to install new software during class is not respectful to the other students).

Required software for the workshop:

Highly recommended software:

  • Topaz Denoise AI — excellent software for reducing noise artifacts and sharpening in post-processing.  At this time no other denoise software comes close to Topaz Denoise AI. I apply Topaz Denoise AI to almost every image I process.
  • Topaz Sharpen AI — useful, but not required, for helping out of focus and blurry images.  This software is processor-intensive.
  • Aurora HDR  — although one can create high-dynamic-range (HDR) photos from multiple exposures using Lightroom or Photoshop, it is much easier and more flexible using Aurora HDR.  I use Aurora HDR frequently.

Recommended software:

  • Lumenzia — a very useful and powerful luminosity masking plugin for Photoshop.  I use this frequently in landscape photography.  Greg Benz is an excellent photographer and provides responsive support.
  • Chronosync — Mac OS X only.  Very nice file management utility for backups.  Windows users, check out your options here.

Behavior and Etiquette for Workshops

Slow Down and Move Carefully

When we rush we make mistakes.  Cameras drop, lenses fall, tripods fall over, we lose stuff, and stuff falls out of unzipped packs .  It is easy to rush when you see some exciting wildlife, or a brilliant sunrise.   Try to get in the habit of only doing one thing at a time, and favoring a focussed attitude versus multi-tasking and rushing.

  • Take the extra 10 seconds to zip up your pack and put things back in their place.
  • Focus on what you are doing.  Being distracted by conversation, or other impulses, leads to accidents and lower quality photography.
  • Establish a system that works for you.

Be Respectful of the Others in the Workshop

  • The purpose of a photography workshop is to learn, get great photos, meet other photographers, and have fun. 
  • If you already know it all, and are not interesting in learning new technique, then please sign up for a private tour instead of a workshop.
  • Please respect your fellow workshop participants.
    • Do not criticize others images, equipment, or technique, unless they specifically ask you for feedback.
    • Do not pontificate and try to overtake the lectures to show-off how much you know.   Time is precious and others have paid to learn from the instructor and follow the agenda of the workshop.
    • The purpose of the workshop is to learn, not to compare or compete with others in the class.
  • Come to Learn
    • We can all learn something new.  Those that listen, absorb, and focus on the exercises get the most from the workshops and improve their photography.   This is true for all levels of photographers, from beginner to professional.
  • Ask Questions
    • Modern digital photography is complex.  Equipment, software, and techniques are changing dramatically.  Please ask for help, or if you need to clarify something.
  • Please leave political and religious discussions at home.  They do not belong in a photography workshop or tour.
  • Please stay with the workshop group at all times.  If you need to leave the area, please let the instructor know beforehand.  This is for your safety, the welfare of the wildlife, and respect for the workshop as a whole.

Knowledge speaks, Wisdom Listens….”   — Jimi Hendrix

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