Those two words of advice might just be the answer to all of life’s unexpected obstacles, not just photography. For our purposes, however, it is often the reason for getting the shot(s) you want.
Let’s assume we’re setting out to take some stunning landscape photos – not just those uninspired, ordinary shots. With most of today’s adjustable imaging devices, we have several user-selectable modes (program, shutter priority, aperture priority and manual), and quite a few pre-programmed modes (the icon modes).
By the time we set out on our adventure, we should have a pretty good idea of which modes we’ll use. If we’re taking the “easy” route, the Landscape mode will get reasonably good results.
Putting a bit more thought into it might lead us to pre-set the camera for the Aperture Priority mode, the landscape/faithful or vivid picture style, a low ISO, an aperture that will get us the depth-of-field we want, specific focus points (AF-S or AI-Single shot/Auto) … and atop a steady tripod, using a wired or wireless shutter release or the self-timer.
If we are faced with a high-contrast situation, such as a sunset or bright light and harsh shadows, we might consider using the auto-bracket feature or manually bracketing 3, 5, 7 or 9 images at intervals of 0.7 to 1.0 EV and selecting the best image. Or, we might consider merging the images in an HDR app such as Photoshop, Affinity, Aurora HDR and any of the excellent HDR programs available.
Landscapes not your thing? Sports, action or wildlife photography is what grabs you? Now the preparations take a different tack. We can always use the “action/running person” icon, but there are better choices.
Shutter speed is critical, as is the focus mode choice. Panning with soccer players or at track events using shutter speeds between 1/60 and 1/125 will give a sharp subject and a blurred background – implying motion. But it won’t “freeze” the action for more rapidly moving subjects, such as birds flying, car races, air shows or wide receivers running downfield. To get to the shutter speeds we need, a higher ISO is in order, especially with those variable-aperture zooms having maximum apertures around f/5.6 - f/8 at the longer focal lengths.
A favorite action setting of mine is the Manual mode using Auto-ISO. By setting the lowest ISO, setting a limit on the highest ISO, the camera will select a shutter speed that will stop my chosen subject(s). It will also provide an aperture setting that will give me a desired depth-of field, combined with continuous or 3D auto-tracking autofocus. Using this technique, I am able to get an incredibly high percentage of great action shots – from birds to college football games.
Family photos or portraits turn your crank? Most recent cameras have a “face-priority” focus feature, usable in either live-view or through a viewfinder. Again, select your mode carefully – I’d suggest Program or Aperture priority using the portrait color style/picture style and single point/eye/face priority focus. The Portrait icon mode can do the job in a pinch, as long as an exact aperture can be overlooked.
For just wandering around any of our beautiful Nebraska parks, the Haymarket or out in the countryside on a bright day, Program or Aperture priority are most often my settings of choice – along with single-point focus on the subject I want.
Be prepared. Consider the subjects before you see them in the viewfinder, and choose the settings that will best capture the images you have in mind … and you will most likely capture those same images “in camera”!