Three Things I Wish I Knew Then

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Sherry (who writes for PhotoBlog) and I were talking a couple of weeks ago about the things that we wished we knew, or that someone had told us, about photography when we first got started. Those tips or pieces of advice that would have helped us to avoid confusion or mistakes when we were first learning.

Some of the things I wish I’d known are pretty universal to beginner photographers. Some of the things are incredibly obvious/dumb and I still feel embarrassed that it took me so long to figure those things out. Here are three things I wish I’d known right off the bat, when first becoming familiar with digital photography. This is sort of along the lines of being a confessional, so be kind to me in the comments!

1. Full Auto vs. Program Mode. When I first got my Canon Digital Rebel XTi, I left it on Full Auto for a very long time. In Full Auto, the camera does all of the work for you, and you have no capability to change things like white balance, or ISO. The camera also determines whether or not the pop-up flash is necessary to “properly” expose a shot. Funny, the shot was NEVER properly exposed when the flash was used, in my experience! I could not for the life of me figure out how to prevent the flash from popping up at random times, when I knew I wanted to take a picture without it. Then one day a good friend of mine patiently turned the dial one notch over onto “P”, and voila! More flexibility, still enough automation, and NO FLASH popping up to ruin my pictures. Man, I still feel dumb about how long that one eluded me.

2. JPEG vs. RAW. Up until about a year ago, I primarily shot in large JPEG format. I figured that what I lost in editing capabilities, post-processing, I made up for in the number of shots I’d be able to fit on my memory card. I have since changed my mind about that. Many people shoot in JPEG because they don’t do a lot of post-processing, and want the photo file immediately available. I happen to “touch” pretty much every photo I take, in Photoshop – even if it’s just to do some minor adjustments, or cropping, or even just viewing the photo. Since I’m going to be in Photoshop anyway, I’ve found that RAW format is a wonderful tool. I’m able to adjust such things as exposure, saturation, fill light, white balance, and the like – which would have come in very handy when I was first starting out and taking a lot of “throw-away” shots because they weren’t exposed correctly. There is a HUGE and ever ongoing debate about whether a photographer should shoot in JPEG or RAW – my take is that it’s up to the individual photographer – there is no “right” or “wrong” way. (Here is an excellent, unbiased article that discusses the pro’s and con’s of jpeg vs. raw file format.)

3. Uploading Tips for Flickr. I’ve been using Flickr since 2006 to store and share my photographs. Up until about a year ago, I was using one of their Flickr “Uploadr” tools to upload my photos. Much to my surprise, after YEARS of doing it this way, I discovered one day (mostly by accident, looking for an old photo to download back onto my hard drive) that the Uploadr tool I was using had a “default” setting that re-sized my photograph to a smaller “original” size, to make the uploading faster. Instead of the photos being the original, out-of-the-camera size of 3888×2592, they were being re-sized to a max size of 1600×1066. That’s a HUGE difference and has an immense impact on the print sizes available to me. I was shocked, and actually a little upset. Since then I use the more manual uploading method (go to the “You” menu on your Flickr home page, select “Upload Photos and Videos”), and save both the original RAW file and the full sized JPEG file in various places.

So! Those are three things I wish I’d known when I first got started with digital photography. Do you have any experiences like this to share, or any advice to give to newcomers who might be reading this article? Share your thoughts in the comments. Thanks!

Photo Credits (all): Tiffany Joyce.

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