Common Camera Mistakes

Author:  Larry Mason

We’ve all made simple camera mistakes – some great and some small – but there are some that creep up a bit more frequently than others.  Here are the top 10 most common camera mistakes that most photographers make at some point and how to avoid them.

No. 1: Lens cap still on
This is a classic error and nothing makes you feel dumber than some smart-Alec pointing out guythat the camera works better when the lens cap is off.
Most of us manage to laugh it off only thinking of the retort ‘actually I’m just taking a dark frame for my noise removal protocols calibration. Don’t you do that?’ much later in the day. And inside you’re kicking yourself.

Try to get into the habit of tipping the camera up as you lift it towards your eye so that you can check if the lens cap is on. I leave mine off most of the time will shooting and rely on a lens hood and UV filter for protection.

No. 2: Wrong sensitivity selected
If you’ve been shooting in low-light indoors without flash and then you head out into brighter conditions (or vice versa) there’s a danger that the selected sensitivity setting will be wrong for the light conditions.

In some cases you may notice that the aperture or shutter speed values are flashing in the viewfinder to let you know that the maximum or minimum value is not sufficient, but on other occasions the settings may stay within these limits.
They key is to stay vigilant and keep an eye on the exposure settings and if you are shooting a landscape in aperture priority mode with an aperture of f/16 and you find that the camera is suggesting a shutter speed of 1/2000sec, check the sensitivity setting.

You may still get a correctly exposed image, but it will be noisier than it needs to be.
Conversely if the sensitivity is too low when you head indoors the shutter speed won’t be fast enough to freeze any movement.

No. 3: Flat battery
Is there anything worse than flicking the power switch of your camera to discover that it’s completely lifeless? In some cases this can be followed by a few moments of panic batteryduring which the hapless photographer desperately tries to operate every control in a frantic search for life.
And then it dawns on them…it’s the battery, the battery is flat.
It doesn’t matter how many times you flick that switch on and off, the battery is out of juice and the only way you can take any shots is to charge it up for a couple of hours.
The best way out of this photographic hiatus is to have two batteries, one in the camera and the other in your bag and fully charged, ready to roll.

Then as soon as the opportunity comes along to charge the flat battery you do so. Don’t leave it, do it straight away.

No. 4: Wrong white balance
If you always shoot with the white balance setting set to automatic this probably won’t be a major issue for you, but if you take care to get the very best result you can in-camera and set the white balance to match the shooting conditions, then this is something to look out for, especially if you are shooting JPEG.

Using a white balance value that’s designed for rendering warm indoor light neutral when you’re outside will make the world look very cold. Conversely, using a daylight white balance under artificial lighting can results in a very warm, almost orange image.
Your camera’s LCD screen is your savior here, checking your image in it should alert you to any color problems.

If you’re shooting outside in bright conditions don’t just give the LCD a cursory glance to check for exposure warnings, shade the screen and have a good look at the image color, maybe even check the color channel histograms to see if there are any unexpected peaks.

headshot

If things don’t look right, the chances are that the white balance needs adjusting.

No. 5: Spot metering still on
A camera’s spot meter can be extremely useful because it lets you take very precise light measurements from small areas within the scene and ensure that your subject is correctly exposed.

However, if you leave it on and pick up your camera expecting the general purpose Evaluative, Matrix or Multi-zone system to be in action you are likely to get some very varied exposures.

metering

If the metering spot (which may be linked to the AF point) falls over a very bright area the camera will reduce the exposure so that you get a very dark image and if it falls over a very dark part of the scene you will get a very light image.

The obvious way to avoid this situation from arising is to try to remember to switch the camera to the metering setting that you normally use before you put it away, but that’s easier said than done.

If you find that the camera is saying that the image will be correctly exposed, but the results look very wrong, check that the metering isn’t set to spot metering. On my Canon, I have put on the viewfinder and exclamation point to remind me I am using the spot meter.
No. 6: Memory card full
The comparatively low price of memory means that we can now afford larger capacity cards, but this can lull us into a false sense of security.sd cards

Eventually, if you don’t clear the card you will run out of space.
This situation is slightly less problematic than having a flat battery as memory cards, especially the SD or CF variety are widely available on sale, but if you’re miles from the shops that’s not much comfort.

It’s also bad practice to walk around with a collection of cards that are full with images.
Those cards are small and easy to misplace and it’s easy to lose track of which images have been downloaded and which haven’t.

The solution is to get into a routine of downloading your images (and backing them up to a second hard drive) as soon as possible after a shoot and then formatting the card in-camera so that all the images are erased and the card is ready for use next time.

No. 7: Shutter speed too fast for the flash
This can catch you out when you’re shooting portraits outside with a fairly larger aperture to blur the background and you decide to use a bit of flash to fill in the shadows.

In some cases the camera refuses to fire because it has recognized that the shutter speed is too fast for the exposure to sync with the flash firing.

In this situation also usually gives you a clue by flashing the shutter speed in the viewfinder.shutter speed

In other instances, however, the shutter will fire and the image has a black section because the shutter wasn’t fully open when the flash fired.

If you want to stick with the same aperture the solution is to use a neutral density filter on the lens to take out some of the light and allow a longer shutter speed. Also, check into High Speed Sync which lets you flash at high shutter speeds.

No. 8: Missing tripod quick release plate

Quick release plates are very useful because they allow you to mount and un-mount a camera on a tripod in a jiffy.

plate

The problem is that they are quite small and unless you always leave one on your camera or always make sure that the plate is clicked properly back onto the tripod head after use, they are prone to going missing.

In an emergency a camera can be attached to a tripod head with elastic bands or even Gaffer tape, but it’s some way off ideal!

Another option is to look around to see if there’s anything else that can be pressed into service. Can the camera be rested on a wall for example?

Also consider pressing the camera onto the side of a tree or convenient post to help reduce some of the wobble.

You may need to push the camera’s sensitivity setting up a little to allow a safer hand-holding shutter speed.l plate

If none of this works look to see if you can introduce more camera movement to make a creatively blurred image.

And if that’s not on, put it down to experience and head to the shops to buy a quick release plate for every camera you own. I have them on my camera’s, my tripod, and all my lenses.

Have you ever had your Quick Release come unscrewed? This happens a lot. A solution to this is to get an L Bracket made specifically for your camera.

No. 9: Dust marks
Most modern SLRs and CSCs have a dust removal system that keeps loose dust at bay, but they are not infallible.

spots

A few little specks of dust here and there aren’t a major problem and will only take a few seconds to clone out on a computer, but keep an eye on the situation so it doesn’t get out of hand.

If the cloning starts to run to minutes then it really is time to clean the sensor. It’s not as tricky as you might fear, but if you really don’t fancy it contact your nearest camera servicing center.

Before you make a print, check the whole image carefully at 100% (Actual Pixels) on screen to make sure that that there are no spots, specks, or hairs that will spoil the end result.

A mark might look quite small and insignificant on-screen, but it will scream at you from the wall once the print has been framed and hung on display.

On some cameras, there is something called ‘Dust Delete Data’. You can fire a shot off at a white piece of paper in front of your lens. It will detect the dust and remember where it is. It will then remove those dust specs for all your pictures.

No. 10: Wrong focal length
Okay, so you’ve consulted the maps, checked the weather forecast and headed out before dawn to photograph a landscape that you’ve already visited to find the perfect vantage point.

The camera battery is freshly charged, with a spare nestling in your bag along with a collection of formatted memory cards.

You’ve checked and cleaned the sensor and the glass of your favorite wide angle lens is spotless.

The sun begins to rise, the image you have imagined appears before you and you get the shot. Perfect, everything is just as you planned it would be.

But then, a magnificent stag appears from the shadows. It turns and looks directly at you with its antlers beautifully side-lit by the rising sun and its breath creating billowy steam.

It injects a little more interest into your already enchanting landscape shot, but to make the best of it you really need to switch to a 300mm lens.

focal length

The lens you left at home because you were going out to shoot landscapes.
Fair enough that’s a pretty extreme example, but it illustrates the point that no matter what you are heading out to shoot, it’s often worth sticking another lens or two in your bag just in case.

Larry Mason is a trip leader for Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.

The Photographer’s Guide to the Grand Canyon

Larry Mason
Author & Image Copyright

The Grand Canyon is one of the most iconic landscapes in the United States and is, of course, a favorite destination of many photographers. Although there are endless amazing photographic opportunities at the Grand Canyon, some planning is needed to get the most out of your trip, and in this guide we’ll take a detailed look at Grand Canyon in a way that will help you to get the most out of your time there.

Two of the main reasons why it is so important to plan ahead are the massive size of the canyon and its surrounding areas, and the seasonal changes that take place at this area of Arizona. The canyon itself is 277 miles long and up to 18 miles wide. Much of the area around the canyon is a part of Grand Canyon National Park. Many of the popular locations at and around the Grand Canyon are actually quite spread out, and driving from one area to another (such as the north rim to the south rim) can take a considerable amount of time. With this is mind, you’ll want to know exactly what spots and locations are most important so you can plan accordingly. Likewise, the weather is also a factor that will impact your visit and it should be accounted for. The north rim is closed for the winter.

Mather Point Photo of Mather Point during the Winter Jan 2016

BEST PHOTOGRAPHY LOCATIONS AT THE GRAND CANYON SOUTH RIM
Landscape photographers can find beauty just about anywhere at the Grand Canyon, but some spots are more popular than others. While it is a good idea to get off of the main roads and trails to get more unique and interesting views, here is a look at some of the locations you may want to consider in your planning.

SOUTH RIM VIEWPOINTS

YAVAPAI POINT
Yavaipai Point
Yavapai Point is near the south entrance of the park and provides a spectacular view of the canyon. Because of the panoramic view it is a good location for both sunrise and sunset.

MATHER POINT
When entering Grand Canyon National Park from the south entrance, Mather Point is one of the first viewpoints. It is also the location of the visitor’s center and starting point for the shuttle buses. From Mather point you have a view of Vishnu Temple.

Mather PointTo the east of the Grand Canyon Village is Desert View Drive, which is the main road that extends for 25 miles and includes several major viewpoints. This road is open to private vehicles, and shuttles are also available. The five viewpoints listed below are located on Desert View Drive.

SHOSHONE POINT
Shoshone point
Shoshone Point is not one of the major viewpoints, and that is part of the reason I recommend it. It is not marked on the road or on most maps, but it is not all that hard to find. It is about 2 miles southeast of Yaki Point. There is an unpaved road that leads to it, but most of the time that road is gated off and closed to vehicles. You’ll have to hike about one mile from the parking lot to reach Shoshone Point. You can park on the north side of the road around mile marker 245 where there is a small parking lot.
This is a good location for sunset photos, partly because you won’t have to deal with many other people. When I was there for sunset there were about 5 other people in the general area. If you do go for sunset be sure to bring a flashlight for the hike back to the parking lot.Shoshone Point is sometimes used for private events, including weddings, so there is a chance you will run in to that, but I have no idea how often that would be.

YAKI POINT
Yaki Point
Yaki Point is also a little bit off the main road, and during the summer you will need to take the shuttle to reach it, as the road is closed to cars for the busy season. Yaki Point is also the location of the South Kaibab Trail, one of the main trails in the park. Hiking down the trail, even just part way, gives you the opportunity to view the canyon from a different perspective as compared to the viewpoints at the rim. If you’re looking for unique photos this is a great way to do it.

GRANDVIEW POINT
Grandview Point is one of the major viewpoints on Desert View Drive and is also the starting point of the Grandview Trail. The trail is very steep.

NAVAJO POINT
Navajo Point

Navajo Point is just a few minutes drive west of the Desert View Watchtower and it provides a nice view of the tower, and of the canyon itself. Navajo point is the highest point on the south rim (aside from the top of the watchtower).

DESERT VIEW WATCHTOWER
Desert Watch Tower
At the far east end of the south rim of the canyon is a the Desert View Watchtower, a 70 foot tower that overlooks the canyon and the surrounding desert. The tower itself is an excellent subject for photos, and it also provides views for photos of the surrounding area. The tower is easily accessed by the main road from Grand Canyon Village, but it is a 20 mile drive. As you go east from the village there are many different viewpoints and trails, and the tower is at the last of the major stops.

HERMIT ROAD
Hopi PointHermit Road runs along the west end of the Grand Canyon Village at the south rim and it includes several viewpoints like Maricopa Point, Powell Point, Hopi Point, Mojave Point, the Abyss, Pima Point, and Hermit’s Rest. Hermit’s Rest is the last point (at the far west end) and is about 7 miles from the village. Hermit Road is closed to cars except in the months of December, January, and February. The rest of the year it can be reached by the shuttle buses, on foot, or by bike.
The Rim Trail follows the rim of the canyon along the road and if you are up for some short hikes you can easily walk between the viewpoints. In some areas the trail is paved and in other areas it is just a dirt trail.

GETTING AROUND:  CAR AND SHUTTLE
The park areas are accessible by private vehicle in most places. Hermit Road, to the west of Grand Canyon Village at the south rim, is closed to private vehicles except in December, January, and February. The shuttles are free and make it easy to get the the various viewpoints along Hermit Road, and if you’d like you can also walk on the trail for the 7 mile road.

Desert View Drive, to the east of Grand Canyon Village at the south rim, is accessible by private vehicle except for a small stretch that leads to Yaki Point. To get to Yaki Point you’ll need to take the shuttle. The shuttle does not run to the far east end of Desert View Drive, to the watchtower, so you will need to drive or have other transportation to get there.

HIKING
In order to get the shots that you want you will most likely need to do at least a little bit of hiking. The park is full of trails, and in many areas you can simply walk away from the viewpoints to get a different view and to avoid a crowd.
The South Kaibab Trial is one of the major trails and is easily accessible at the popular south rim. If you plan to hike all the way to the bottom you will need to plan to camp overnight. You can easily hike down part way and then hike back up during the same day. In order to reach the trail head you will need to take the shuttle bus to Yaki Point.

TIPS FOR PHOTOGRAPHING THE GRAND CANYON
So now that we have looked at some of the best locations, when to visit, and how to get around, let’s look at some general tips to get the most out of your time photographing the Grand Canyon.

1. PLAN AHEAD
Plan ahead and pick out the locations that are most important to you, and the difficulty of getting to each place will also factor in. One of the nice things about the south rim, even though it is popular and can be crowded, you can still easily access many different viewpoints and trails and pack a lot into a short visit.
2. RESEARCH
Part of the planning process involves research, and hopefully this article has helped with that research. You can find plenty of forum threads and blog posts where people list their favorite spots at the canyon, and that’s how I found out about the unmarked Shoshone Point.
3. GET AWAY FROM THE MAJOR VIEWPOINTS
At the south the vast majority of visitors will be at the main viewpoints where the shuttles stop and with the biggest parking lots. If you find some less popular, but often equally amazing, spots you can have photos that most visitors will never be able to get. Most visitors congregate at the area by the parking lot or shuttle bus stop, but at most viewpoints you can explore a little (be careful because the only safety rails will be at the viewpoint) and get some very unique views and have some space to yourself.
4. CHANGE YOUR VANTAGE POINT
Most photographs of the Grand Canyon are taken from the rim. Changing your vantage point, even if it is only a little, can make a big difference. As you hike down one of the trails you get different views all the way down. You can also change your vantage point by getting higher, either at the Desert View Watchtower, or on a helicopter or airplane.
5. USE FOREGROUND ELEMENTS
Some of the most captivating photos of the Grand Canyon, and landscapes in general, involve a foreground element. Look for opportunities to use rocks, trees, plants, and even people as foreground elements to add interest to your compositions.
6. GET PERSPECTIVE BY INCLUDING PEOPLE IN YOUR COMPOSITIONS
The Grand Canyon is an amazing sight and capturing the size is very difficult to do with a photograph. One of the ways you can achieve perspective and to show the size of the canyon is to include people in your composition.
7. PAY ATTENTION TO THE WEATHER
The weather can be a major factor when visiting and photographing the Grand Canyon. Even in the summer the temperature can change drastically in the evening, and then if you factor in the elevation changes temperature can vary even more. Storms can provide excellent opportunities for beautiful photos at the canyon, but always take safety precautions. This is especially true if you are hiking or camping or visiting one of the more remote locations. Winter, of course, brings its own challenges.
8. LOOK FOR DETAILS
One of the challenges of photographing the Grand Canyon is knowing what to include in your composition and what you want to accomplish with the photo. Just about everywhere you look there are amazing views and the sheer size of it can be overwhelming. One of the best ways to get great photos is to focus on specific details. It could be objects at the rim or textures and patterns at the bottom of the canyon.

GEAR FOR PHOTOGRAPHING THE GRAND CANYON:

1. LIGHTWEIGHT TRIPOD
To get the best shots you’ll need to do some hiking or walking, and you’ll want your tripod to be as light was possible. Hiking up the canyon trails is challenging enough without the tripod and your gear, so the last thing you want is a heavy, bulky tripod. Tripods from Manfrotto, Gitzo, Really Right Stuff, Oben, Slik, Benro, and Vanguard tend to be excellent choices.

2. WIDE ANGLE LENS
A wide angle lens will help you to capture the vastness of the canyon. Canon’s EF 17-40mm f/4L USM and Nikon’s AF-S NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G are good options.

3. TELEPHOTO LENS
Don’t forget a telephoto lens for capturing detail of items within the canyon. The Sigma 150 – 600 (for Canon and for Nikon) will give you plenty capability.

4. GRADUATED NEUTRAL DENSITY FILTERS
Lighting can be a challenge at the grand canyon. The canyon walls cast a lot of shadows and you are likely to need graduated neutral density filters to for shots where the sky is drastically brighter than the foreground. Filters from Lee Filters, Cokin, Hoya, B&W and Singh-Ray are all excellent options.

5. FLASHLIGHT
Sunset and sunrise are great times to be photographing the canyon, but many of the best locations are not right next to a parking lot where you can quickly jump back into your car after the sun sets. To get the shots that you want there is a good chance you will need to walk or hike before sunrise or after sunset. Be sure to have a flashlight and some spare batteries in your bag.

6. CIRCULAR POLARIZER
A polarizer can help to enhance the skies of your photos, and at the Grand Canyon the skies can often play a significant role in your compositions. B+W, Hoya, Tiffen, Lee Filters, and Singh-Ray produce quality polarizers.

7. LENS WIPESwipes
With all of the dust in and around the canyon you will want to have some lens wipes, like Zeiss pre-moistened lens wipes, to keep your gear clean.

8. WATER
While it is not photography gear, having water with you is essential. In the summer the heat can quickly take a tool, and throughout the year if you are hiking you are sure to need water. Water is not available in all locations, so be sure to always have some with you. In the village there are some water stations where you can fill up your own bottle.

Larry Mason is a trip leader with Arizona Highways Photo Workshops.