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A Photographer's Checklist

Readers Respond

John from Marblehead MA recently drew our attention to the dangers of submitting photos to contests, and the importance of carefully reading the fine print before doing so. It seems that, in many instances, by merely submitting your photos you are giving ownership rights of the images to the organization running the contest and, whether you win prizes or not, they reserve the right to use your images at any future date, without compensation. Contestants beware! More details can be found at the following blog (parental advisory - the blog contains some strong language).

A photographer's checklist

A very good practice at the start and end of every game-drive is to run through a mental checklist of the settings that you change most frequently on your camera (much as a pilot goes through a checklist whenever entering or leaving the cockpit). And it helps to create a rhyme or acronym to remember your checklist. Exactly which settings are on your checklist is a factor of your own photographic technique; a few of the most common ones include:


ISO Setting: One of the greatest flexibility advantages of digital cameras is the ability to quickly change ISO setting as part of the equation to get the right shutter speed, depth of field, and picture quality. The general rule on safari is to keep the ISO setting as low as possible to minimize "noise" BUT, if it becomes necessary to increase the ISO to maintain a fast enough shutter speed for sharp focus, this takes priority.

Mode: The default setting for most shots of wildlife on safari is Aperture Priority (Av) mode, with the aperture at its widest setting (typically f/4 or f/5.6). This provides a shallow depth of field to highlight the subject, and a fast shutter speed to ensure sharp focus. But there are times when a different aperture setting will be appropriate, or when it is preferable to use an entirely different Mode, like Shutter Priority (Tv) for panning shots capturing motion, or Manual settings (M) for landscape shots.

White balance: If you shoot using JPEG format, it is particularly important to get your in-camera white balance correct because it is hard to change JPEGs during post-capture editing. Even with RAW images, it speeds up editing if the in-camera white balance is close to correct. Most safari shots will be taken using the "Sunlight" setting, but on overcast days switch to "Cloudy". Sunrise/sunset shots can sometimes also benefit from the extra warmth of the "Cloudy" setting - experiment before the safari to see what works best because you will experience some spectacular sunsets in Africa!

Picture Style: For the most part, when shooting in Raw, parameters like contrast, sharpness, saturation, etc. are best handled in post-capture editing. But, if you shoot in JPEG, it can be very handy to use your camera's preset styles (e.g. "Landscape", "Portrait", "Monochrome", etc.). These can even be customized so that, with some experimentation before your safari, you can fine tune these presets and, according to the subject, simply switch between your optimized settings for landscape shots, wildlife shots, black and white shots, etc.

Highlight Alerts ("Blinkies"): Immediately after taking a shot, your camera will show the image on the LCD screen for a few seconds. If you have the highlight alerts enabled (via the Menu), any overexposed areas will flash on and off, which can be a cue to change the exposure settings and retake the photo. The "blinkies" can be annoying when actually reviewing photos during extended playback sessions, and many photographers turn them on when shooting but then off for playback.

Auto-focus: There are certain occasions when it is best to turn off your lens' auto-focus (e.g. some landscape shots), and there are times when you have to because it just quits on you (e.g. very low contrast scenes and/or backlighting). It's important to remember to turn this feature back on before engaging your next subject.

Image Stabilization (Vibration Reduction): Landscape shots with a tripod and panning shots of moving animals are two examples of situations when it is best to turn off this feature. Again, remember to turn it back on again before the next subject.

Before and after every game-drive, I cast a quick glance at my camera's Info screen, but make a concerted point of checking my WHIMP-AI (White balance, Highlight alerts, ISO setting, Mode, Picture style - Auto-focus, Image stabilization). Practice before your safari, become familiar with your camera's settings, and develop your own Photographer's Checklist!

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