How to take a test shot

Cornish Dusk - Test shot

• Cornish Dusk – Test shot •
Underexposed, over bright at the top, over dark in the foreground, poor focus… the test shows a need to do some work…

Click image to view large final version with corrections
• Cornish dusk • By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

Ever taken a shot without thinking?

…And regretted it later. We all have. Yet it’s simple to run through a simple check list and do a few test shots. In this article we look at setting up that procedure.

What needs doing?

I will assume you are in the right place and have your camera out of the bag, ready to go. The first thing to do is work the scene and try to see what sort of shots will serve your subject best. Find which angle looks the best through the viewfinder. Your subject is the critical item to focus on, so walk all around to get a full range of ideas of how best to frame it. Then, when you have composed and decided on your shot, you need to start considering your settings.

Approaching the settings

You will be working with the idea of ‘chimping’ now. If you don’t know what that is then read this first.

Here is the list of adjustments you need to make…

  • The first thing to consider is focus. If that is wrong you are in trouble from the start. So make sure that you can get a good focus.
  • White balance – It helps to have your white balance correct even if shooting raw.
  • ISO – Set your ISO for the light levels you are experiencing as your ambient light. If you don’t know about setting the ISO correctly then read ISO: get control of your sensitive camera!
  • Next select the mode you want to work in. You should select for…
    • Shutter speed if you want to adjust exposure length.
    • Aperture if the critical issue is depth of field (DoF).
    • Full manual if you want to work with both, or have more control overall.

Next you need to decide if you are going to work with the DoF or the shutter speed as your main consideration…

  • If working with DoF set the aperture you want to work with now. DoF is one of the primary considerations when composing a shot. Where you want your image to be sharp and where you want it to be unsharp. So play around with aperture for a while. Take a shot, chimp it, adjust the aperture, take another and so on. Once your DoF is correct.
  • If you are working with shutter speed as your main control then you need to adjust this instead of your DoF first. Again, shutter speed is a primary consideration in your shot. A long exposure will get more blur if there is any movement in the field of view. The shorter the shutter speed the more the shot will appear frozen, movement blur will tend to be eliminated.

As you set up each setting you can take a test shot of your subject. Then, by doing a bit of chimping, you can work out if you have your setting correct. You may need to take one, two, or maybe three shots to get your setting correct.

Once you get experienced working with these settings you will do them in seconds. Two things helps to achieve that. First, you will become familiar with which settings are appropriate for the conditions you are working with. Secondly you will be more sensitive to what you need to think about as you set up your shot. In particular the type of light is the main consideration. That in turn leads you to get a feel for what settings you need.

Some issues to note…

If you are working with landscapes you will need to do a bit of ranging to get your focus right. When working with longer distances the DoF and the focus vary. As your focus point gets further away from you the distant edge of acceptable sharpness rapidly goes into the distance. It is not always easy to determine DoF control precisely at long distances. There are methods but I will discuss them in another article. Just remember that from f11 you will effectively get sharpness right through the shot.

If you are working with an on-board (pop-up flash) then the camera will sync automatically to your camera settings. When working with off-camera flash, adjust that at the same time as the shutter speed. Normally your camera will have a ‘sync-speed’ to work with your flash – it maybe 200ths sec or 250ths sec depending on the camera. So you will need to consider that too.

Working with a tripod? Make sure you turn off all electronic motors in your camera to prevent tripod vibrations (Vibration compensation, auto-focus). This means you will have to manually focus the lens.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
See also: Profile on Google+.

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