March 10, 2015


Has this ever happened to you?  You go off with the family for a nice day at the park.  It’s a great day, beautiful weather and everyone’s having a good time. The kids are playing on the swings and climbing the monkey bars and you top it all off with a nice little picnic lunch. All this while you’re snapping photos left and right, hoping to get some great family shots of the day.  When you finally get home, you download your photos onto your PC only to find out that a lot of your great family shots are not even in focus?  What’s with that?

Trust me, 90’% of the time it’s not the cameras fault, it’s because the camera has locked focus on the wrong focus point. By learning to set your correct focal point and focus mode, you can avoid that from happening to you in the future. 

The problem is these days’ modern cameras can really make life too easy for you. What I mean is that the camera will set the focus point, exposure and white balance all automatically for you, almost guaranteeing a great shot every time, just by pushing the shutter button. Notice I said almost.  By learning how to change and control focus points and focus modes, you can learn how to take better control of your shots and get better photos. 

Cameras these days are actually little high-tech computers and all of them are capable of taking really awesome photos, assuming the user knows what they’re doing. That’s kind of mean, but seriously, kind of true also. I’ll bet your own camera can do plenty of things you aren’t even aware of. By learning to control little things like focus modes and setting focus points, you can concentrate on taking better images consistently.

For myself, when I’m out 
Focus Point - Joystick
shooting I want to make sure that what I want to be in focus, is always in focus when I push the shutter button. Personally, I set up my camera to use the center focal point 99% of the time. I just position my center point on whatever I want to be in focus, recompose, and fire off my shot. Pretty simple right?  You probably already know how to change your focal point and if you don’t, check out your owner’s manual.  It’s usually pretty simple and you should know how to do this quickly on the fly.
I’m a Canon shooter and the mode names might be different for various brands, but they are basically the same three:  One Shot AF, Al Servo AF or Al Focus AF.
One Shot AF is the mode I use 90% of the time. This mode is best for still subjects. When you press the shutter halfway the camera will focus once. Usually you’ll get a beep and a confirmation light in your viewfinder. While holding it down halfway the focus is locked, you can then recompose or reframe the subject and fire off a shot. If you want to focus on something else, release the button and lock it on something else. Most good DSLR’s also have a AF-ON button which will also lock focus. 

Al Servo AF is best used for moving subjects or where the focusing distance keeps changing. For example, when someone is running towards you and you want them to remain in focus. While holding the shutter button down halfway on your subject, the subject will be focused continuously. Keep in mind, most cameras will not beep even when focus is achieved and the focus confirmation light does not show up. This is also different for various brands, check your manual. 

Al Focus AF in theory is a good idea, but it’s been very hit or miss for me. It has got better over the years, but isn’t reliable enough for my liking. It's been my experience that AI Focus isn't as intelligent as Canon would like you to think.  What it’s supposed to do is to lock focus on my subject and if it starts moving, track my subject. Unfortunately, sometimes it will keep searching for a subject and in the meantime you could miss the shot? The way I figure it, if I need AI Servo, then I'll use AI Servo, otherwise, I'll use One Shot focus mode right?

For myself I usually stay in One-Shot AF unless I know I want to track subjects like at a sporting event or something, and then I’ll switch to Al-Servo AF.  My suggestion would be to train yourself in using your center focal point and see how your images improve.

For those of you that would like to know more, or get another explanation of these modes, check out Neil van Niekerks blog.  Neil is an awesome teacher and a great photographer and share's his knowledge on his Tangents Website. He wrote an article on Focusing Modes that I think you might enjoy. I hope this helps you out in your next shoot. As always, remember, keep shooting and have some fun!

February 15, 2015

Creating White Balance Presets in Lightroom

(image  # 1)
Here’s a really useful white balance tip for Lightroom users that have to make color corrections on a JPEG file. This tip will only take about 5 minutes, but it’ll save you a ton of time when you’re working on JPEG’s. I use this all the time and I think you’ll find it handy yourself when the color of your image is not quite right and needs a little help. 

Unlike RAW images where you get 8 WB choices, not counting the setting where you selected the WB in camera called As Shot. When you're working with JPEG’s in Lightroom you basically get As Shot, Auto or Custom. Fixing color on JPEG’s in Lightroom is sort of hit or miss.  I’m sure you know what I mean, adjusting the Temperature and Tint sliders to get the correct color balance, then when you open the next image, you’ve got to do it all over again. This can make working on a JPEG (or multiple JPEG’s) frustrating and very time consuming. What we really need is a good starting point with some other white balance options right?  

(image  # 2)
Here’s a little work-around for creating JPEG presets that you might find useful. It won’t give you all the power of working on a RAW image, but it’s a lot better than what comes pre-packaged with Lightroom. This tutorial will show you how to get 8 preset options to use as a starting point on your JPEG’s, plus you’ll get to see previews on the Navigator Panel when you hover over them, just like when you’re working on a RAW file! This takes only a few minutes to set up, but once you create them you can use these presets on any JPEG you need to work on in the future.

If you look at the first image  on the top of this post (image 1) you’ll see that the White Balance setting (WB) for this image is set to As Shot, but I think the image looks a little too orange for me. If you look at the choices in the menu, (image 2)  Lightroom only lets you choose As Shot, Auto or Custom. Sometimes Auto will get you in the ballpark but I’ll show you how to give yourself some more choices. On your computer, open any RAW or DNG file in Lightroom.

(image  # 3)
For this example I’m using a DNG file, but either will work just fine.  This RAW (or DNG) file is what we’ll use to create our own set of Presets to help us work on our JPEG’s. Once you’ve got your file open, tap the D key to put it in the Develop Module. Check out your WB options here.  (image 3) We’ll name our first preset Auto so in the Basic panel change your White Balance to Auto. 

On the left side of the Lightroom screen, you'll notice that I closed the Navigator tab and clicked on the Presets tab to see our list of presets. In case you didn’t know, if you right click next to the name Presets and click on Solo Mode you'll only have one panel open at a time.   

(image  # 4)
In the list of presets, right click on the one called User Presets and you’ll get a pop-out menu with two options: New Folder or Import, choose New Folder. (image 4)  

(image  # 5)
When you click on New Folder a dialog box will pop up asking for you to name this new folder, I called mine JPEG WB Settings (an easy name will make them easy to find right?) then click on Create. (image 5) You should see your new folder in the Presets panel.

Next you want to click the little plus sign + on the top of the Preset panel. When you click on that a dialog panel will open up called New Develop Preset.  Some of you are probably already familiar with creating presets, but if you’re not, just follow along. Here is where we tell our presets what we want them to do. 

When that panel opens up, in the top box it will ask you what you want to call this preset and since we had already changed our White Balance to Auto, we’ll name it Auto in the Preset Name box. Right underneath that it’ll ask for a folder to put it in and in the drop down menu, we’ll choose the one we just created.  (image 6)

(image  # 6)
On the bottom left side of that panel, click the button called Check None to clear all the check boxes. You’ll notice that this clears all of the check boxes except one, one called Process Version, make sure you leave that one checked. That step is very important. The only check box we need is the White Balance in the Settings section, so make sure this one is checked and then click on Create.   

You should notice now that you now have a preset named Auto in the new folder you created. We’re going repeat this process for all of our presets. The next one is Daylight, then Cloudy, then Shade and so on. I just went through the list and created one for every setting. When you’ve created all of those, change your RAW or DNG file back to your original White Balance settings and close it. 

(image  # 7)
To show you how this works I opened up my original  JPEG file in Lightroom, the one with the color issues. Now all I do is click on my new Auto preset that we just created and that gives me a great starting point. Check it out! (image 7)

Now we’ve got all sorts of options for working on our JPEG’s. Open the Navigator preview panel, and then take your mouse or pointer and hover over any of your new presets in the Preset panel and watch the preview change to that setting. If you work on JPEG’s often you’ll find this is especially helpful. It might not give you all the power of working on a RAW file, but it’ll give you a nice starting point and save you tons of time.  Nice huh? 

Remember, as always, keep shooting and have some fun!

© D. Gould Photography