Very often dismissed with a smile as a rookie mistake, this even happens to professionals from time to time: They start shooting with wrong camera settings, when they had been working in a different scenario before. The first images get wrong. They are to bright or dark, have heavy noise, are blurred or unsharp.
When I went out for a real estate shooting recently my first image was totally underexposed. I raised the exposure a little bit and the next image turned out to be overexposed in a way that I didn’t expect. Then I remembred that on my last shooting I was out on the nightly streets of Berlin and took some bracketing shots. Hereby you make a series of images of the exact same subject with the first image being underexposed and then raising the amount of light until the last image is overexposed. (Thus in the end you can choose the photo with the best exposure or composit the best exposed parts of the image on the computer later.)
While the unexperienced shooter worries about his camera or doubts his skills, the professional knows instantly: He forgot to zero out his camera. That means: After the last photo of a session the main settings of the camera have to be set back to their initital values. For professionals this is actually part of their normal workflow, because they know that resulting image mistakes are hardly to be corrected on the computer. The exception proves the rule like in my own example – a sudden rain shower lead to an abrupt end of the shooting, thus zeroing out was completely forgotten.
Methods for Zeroing Out
Every photographer knows his preferenced standard settings. They may vary extremely according to the photography genre. Modern digital cameras can be changed more than 50 different parameters that influence an exposure. To zero out a camera there are several methods.
Photographers who often shoot similar scenarios have a list of initial settings in their head (or on paper or in their smart phone). The most used variables are:
- Exposure mode
i. e. Aperture priority A / Av, Shutter priority S / Tv or Manual mode M
for Aparture priority or Manual mode
for Sutter priority or Manual mode
- Sensor sensitivity
i. e. a fixed ISO value or Automatic with limits
- Focus mode
i. e. Single focus S, Continous focus C or Manual focus M
- Light metering
i. e. Matrix metering, Center weighted metering or Spot metering
- Image quality
i. e. RAW or JPEG fine, normal, basic
- Image size
i. e. L, M, S
- White balance
i. e. Automatic, Tungsten or Daylight
i. e. for a series of exposures or white balances of one and the same subject
- Exposure compensation
intended over or under exposing
TIP: When a camera offers an individual menue it is advised to safe the most frequently changed values there. For a reset you have all important parameters on one screen and don’t need to browse all the different menue pages and items.
Saving the Initial Camera Settings
Some cameras offer to save the basic settings on a memory card and download them from there if necessary. Depending on the camera model not all of the settings may be saved this way. With this method a reset is resolved quickly and uncomplicated. I use an old memory card with a small capacity (64 MB), which is otherwise not of use anymore. Here we have another advantage. This way the settings of several cameras of the same type can be reset at once.
Some camera models offer to save frequently used configurations inside the camera. They are reset by pressing one button (or two). This seems to be the most comfortable method.
Top 10 Camera Settings
For professional real estate photography of interiors I use the following basic settings:
Since the camera is mounted on a tripod any shutter speed can be set automatically and the exposure will not be blurred.
Shooting with a wide angle lens this aperture already produces a good depth of field. And for many lenses at this value starts their range of the highest quality.
- ISO 200
This sensitivity is low enough to prevent image noise which would occur at higher ISO values.
- Matrix metering
This way as much light as possible is being metered.
- Manual focus
In conjunction with LiveView at the camera screen and a dept of field calculator the range of sharpnes can be set more accurately.
With this data format you get enough leeway for later corrections on the computer.
With this image size you receive the most image information and enough leeway for later enlargements of crops.
- Automatic white balance
The many different qualities of light at interior shoots make it difficult to examine a correct white balance. The camera takes over, corrections will be done on the computer.
- Bracketing off
Thus you get one correct exposure for a start (or what the camera thinks to be correct).
- Exposure compensation off
Hereby the image is exposed just the way the camera has metered.
Starting from this configuration the settings for each image will be adjusted.