10 Good Habits for a Digital Photographer

YH-Turban-Cropped-2The Throne Room can be an awfully inspiring place. Sitting on my throne this morning, I remembered Stephen Covey’s enormously popular book written in 1989 about the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey argued that there were certain basic principles of character ethics that are common to successful people. He said that if we can develop those habits, we too can be equally successful. It got me wondering whether there were any universally sound practices in digital photography that a budding photographer could emulate, and make into a habit, such that his photography can continue to improve. I believe there are, and I’d like to share my thoughts with budding digital photographers in PhotoMalaysia (ie Newbies), with the hope that these can be a good foundation upon which to build photography greatness.

I’m not talking about understanding exposure, composition or any specific techniques of photography. You’ll have to go and read and learn about that elsewhere. A good start would be to go and read Doug Harman’s The Digital Photography Handbook. If you keep a copy of that handbook in your throne room, and read a chapter a day, you can finish that book in about three weeks. I’m an old man and I’ve finished dozens of books in my throne room, and in this short burst of inspiration, I want to share with you some very fundamental habits a digital photographer should develop, which I believe could be a foundation upon which to build your photography expertise. I would like to appeal to all those established photographers out there to also list here, some of their own habits or self discovered secrets of how to repeatedly get those great shots of theirs. Perhaps Maxby, or Azrul, for instance, can tell us what are the 10 good habits of a B&W photographer. And maybe expert Birders like Chien, Lighting Guru Ted and Macro Sifu Dr Chee, can also do the same for Birding, Lighting and Macros respectively. Of course portrait master Dr Teh has already published an eBook about his secrets in portrait post processing. But I digress.

Here’s my contribution of Ten Good Habits for a Digital Photographer.

* Shoot in RAW– your digital workflow should be to have Master Files, Edit Files and Special Purpose files. Metadata processors, like Aperture and Lightroom are extremely powerful cataloging applications which double up as fast and efficient post processing tools. Editing with Lightroom for instance, will help you save Hard Disk space because a metadata processor stores only your editing instructions and not the huge PSD or Tiff files which Photoshop creates, for instance.
* With Digital, shoot a little to the right of the Histogram. That is err on the side of slight overexposure rather than underexposure. This is because your digital sensor can capture more details in the highlights than in the shadows. During post processing you will find that you can effectively recover details in what appears to be blown highlights, while noise is the result if you try to pull details out of shadows.
* Where possible, use a Tripod or a Monopod, and a cable release. Make it a habit to carry at least a light monopod. The rule of thumb is, you can hand hold a shot at a minimum shutter speed which is the reciprocal of your lens focal length. A great benefit of shooting with a tripod is that you tend to take more time in studying good angles and good composition. Because digital film is virtually free, we tend not to think carefully enough before we hit the shutter button.
* Keep lenses, filters, eye pieces and sensors clean. P&S cameras which you keep in your pocket or bag, has a propensity for collecting thumb prints on lenses, filters an eye pieces. Nothing is more frustrating than to have a great shot ruined by a greasy thumbprint on your lens.
* Use manual focus. Even though modern auto focusing systems are pretty good, very often your camera can lock focus on an inappropriate focal point, especially when there are no sharp edges within the frame. Get into the habit of using manual focus. It’s usually more accurate.
* Use Spot or Center Weighted metering and explore various exposure alternatives and depth of field options. Don’t trust the LCD at the back of your camera because what you see there is only a tiny thumbnail which usually looks good. You should check the histogram for proper exposure, which means you need to go and learn and understand what a histogram is showing. When chimping what you ought to be looking out for, besides the histogram and clippings, is to look for proper focusing points, proper composition, colour casts, angle of view, cropping or space around your subject and preferred depth of field. . If you are shooting with the intention of converting to B&W, look also for texture, contrasts and lighting.
* Use the lowest ISO setting possible. With the cheaper digital cameras that newbies usually possess, noise is a major issue when you push ISO above 300.
* Bracket, Bracket, Bracket. When shooting unrepeatable shots, always consider bracketing the exposure, by at least half a stop on both sides of the exposure suggested by your camera.
* Use Burst exposure to freeze fast action, and plan ahead for your shot.
* Take the flash off the hot shoe when shooting with flash, Attach an extension lead for your flash or better still use a remote trigger.

Of course there are more than ten good habits that you can develop to be a good digital photographer. When I am inspired again in the throne room, I’ll try and think of some more.

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