Professional Photography Confessions

The true confessions of a photographer, “I screwed up”!

How is that for a statement? Actually, I didn’t screw up big time but a recent incident made me fully aware of potential issues with our modern digital cameras and, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened to me! I thought I would share this with you and hopefully everyone can learn something here.

Take a look at the two small images below; what do these all have in common? If you guessed that the colour balance is “way” off you are correct. If you said they are just “bad” photos you might also be correct but let’s not go there!

What  has happened here? The bottom line is that I didn’t check my camera settings for quite a while. On some date in early January I likely changed my ISO a number of times and at some point pushed the WB button instead. Knowing the weather, there’s a possibility I might have had gloves on at the time. Over a period of over one month I shot close to 4,000 photographs with the white balance set to FLASH.

What surprises me a little is how good about 98% of these images are. Most of them require only a small amount of colour balance tweaking but definitely some of them are not right. This is what finally clued me into the issue once I started viewing images on my cheap notebook computer om my latest trip. For those of you that shoot JPEG’s only you would have a huge problem as colour correction with JPEG’s isn’t easy if it’s far off. Fortunately I shoot RAW so changing the white balance is common procedure anyway. A lesson to be learned here?

Similar problems have happened before. On the Nikon D300 which has been my main camera for the past few years the ISO, quality and white balance controls are located on top of the left side of the camera (see the image at left). I rarely change the white balance and never change the image quality (always RAW) but constantly change the ISO settings, often dozens of times every day.  Often the ISO changes are happening when I’m shooting towards dusk as the light levels are dropping or when I’m doing more  journalistic work, perhaps moving from the street to building interiors on a regular basis. Within minutes I might be shooting with ISO settings of anywhere from 200 – 1,600. This presents a few issues in itself, on the odd occasion I start shooting in bright sunlight only to notice that I’m shooting at 1,600 ISO. Fortunately this normally causes an error message and I catch this quickly.

What I don’t catch quickly is if I inadvertently change the white balance or image quality. Unfortunately the menu items are very small that provide information on these changes and no error messages will turn up showing problems. These problems will only be noticed when I view the images on a big monitor or look very closely at the menu screens on the camera.

I mentioned that similar problems have occurred before and in both cases I inadvertently hit the quality button and started shooting TIFF files instead of RAW. This was when I first purchased the camera and was getting used to having controls in different positions. At least it wasn’t low quality JPEG’s!

Is there a lesson to be learned from this? You bet; keep a close eye on those settings, they can be changed without your knowledge. Interestingly, I shot with a Nikon D2X for years and still do on occasion and “never” had an issue with this type of problem. The ISO, WB and QUA controls are located on the back of the camera away from other buttons. I’ve noticed all the modern Nikon professional cameras like the D3X use the same layout as the D2X so maybe it’s less error prone?

Anyway, I shoot in the Nikon RAW format so this really doesn’t matter but it’s a wake up call. A lesson to be learned for all! Do you have any similar experiences to share?

Jet with slightly better colour!

Jet with slightly better colour!



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2 Responses to “Professional Photography Confessions”

  1. Susannah says:

    We’ve had similar problems, mostly in the winter when we’re wearing gloves. My man and I are just amateurs, with cheap cameras, so it’s not white balance that causes the problem. For my man, it was switching to photo review; for me, it was a too discreet on/off switch.

    I put the tiniest drop of hot glue onto each button. It forms a tiny peak that we can feel even through gloves. Problem solved!

    In your case, a dot on the ISO button should really help.

    kevin Reply:

    Hi Susannah,

    Thanks for the information. That’s an ingenious way to deal with the problem. I’ll get my glue out and give it a try!

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