The Camera’s LCD.                

Of all the modern technology conveniently packed into our DSLRs there is one major trap DSLR users should be aware of when attempting to find a correct exposure. And that, in my opinion, is relying on the camera’s LCD.

That little picture screen will lead you astray faster than believing a politician’s promises. It should never to be trusted.

This past week I talked to two different photographers that were wondering why their photos were improperly exposed when they downloaded them into their computer. However, when they handed me their cameras in hopes I would correct some programing error I immediately saw their problem.

The LCD is great for previewing and checking for closed eyes and composition, but it’s never completely trustworthy, and committing the following three transgressions are a sure way to give yourself an unpleasant surprise when you download your images for processing.

I’ll begin with the LCD’s Brightness. If you leave your camera on auto it will change the brightness based on ambient lighting and that can be confusing when one reviews images.

I suggest setting the LCD’s brightness manually for a more reliable way to judge the image. Some photographers even change it for different events so they know exactly how their image is meant to look for different ambient light levels. However, for most of us, a static setting will be just fine. Whatever brightness we our LCD to, it’s going to be better than auto.

My next thought goes to the Histogram. Even with the LCD set to manual brightness, many still only rely on that JPEG preview without paying attention to, in my opinion, one of the best features on digital cameras; The Histogram. The histogram gives a mathematical bar graph representation of the image’s tones. It is also a quick and easy indicator of an under or over exposed capture. And most importantly when the graph shows clipping on the far right or far left, that the photograph is losing detail.

Reading the histogram may be a bit daunting at first, but it’s just a simple bar graph and with a little research and practice reading the histogram will become second nature.

And finally the Highlight alerts. Highlight alerts are a flashing overlay that can be set up to alert when there are clipped highlights. This means that some areas of the photograph are to bright and have no detail recorded at all. The flashing areas on the LCD that many affectionately call, “blinkies” show us where the detail is missing.

It is important to remember that what we are looking at is, in fact, a JPEG preview and hopefully you are shooting raw and won’t actually lose that all that data when opening the image to post-process. However, if a large portion of the image is flashing your camera is alerting you that much of the data may not be recoverable.

If the subject is a bride and her white gown is flashing on the camera’s LCD, you’re in trouble and need to dial back your exposure or face a very angry bride when she sees her expensive gown is reduced to a wash of pure white.

Every camera should come with an instruction manual. The Instruction Manual is one of the most important accessories you have with your camera. And if the camera was purchased second hand it is very easy to find the instruction manual on line. The instruction manual will help you understand and control the three important LCD features I have dicussed.





Photographers: Take the camera off “P” mode and read the instructions.

I am sure some inspired individuals who have purchased a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera might say, “Why did they waste all that paper on an instruction manual? They could have saved the trees, and I don’t need to read it anyway because the pictures are just fine with the camera set on program mode, and if some pictures don’t work, I’ll just delete and try again till everything looks good.”

I have written about this very topic in the past, but I am continually disappointed that it still comes up while talking to amateur photographers and sometimes even with those who make claims like “I shoot weddings”.

After removing their new camera they likely toss the box with the instructions aside, fumble around looking for someplace to stick in the memory card, spy a dial, select the letter P or A, turn on the camera, and start making pictures. If lucky, the on-camera flash is default programmed to pop up and flashes in low light environments and the magical technology produces usable pictures with factory settings in spite of the photographer’s lack of knowledge.

These new DSLR-toting photographers never move that dial off the P mode, and wonder what all the fuss is about for confusing modes like “aperture” priority, or “shutter” priority, and/or “manual” mode, and rationalize their opinion by saying, “I am not a professional and my pictures are mostly for me, my family and friends, and, anyway, the instructions are confusing.”

I hear stories about photographers that complained loudly that their new cameras aren’t working as they think they should, and angrily return their camera to the store they purchased it from, only to be shown by a patient sales clerk the section in the manual that solves the problem. Again as I wrote, it’s disappointing that they hadn’t taken the time to read their manual.

When a photographer comes to me asking for help with their new DSLR I begin with the suggestion, put the camera on P and shoot away, but only for one week. That’s right .…. only one week! And while that week passes my advice is to start reading the instruction manual that came with the camera, it is the best way to change that new camera from an expensive point-and-shoot into an amazing tool, and will help those interested in transforming their personal photography.

The instruction manual will have a chapter on “exposure Modes” with details regarding Aperture priority – a good place to start. Do more reading, and select aperture priority on the camera, focus on something and make the numbers change that appear in the viewfinder or LCD screen. The aperture controls the amount of light the lens is letting into the camera.

Practice with the new DSLR, get used to it, and experiment with everything in its menu, learning to use not only Aperture priority, but also Shutter priority and Manual modes. I have to emphasize that new owners should read their instruction manuals, re-read, and read again, and then try using another mode.

Photographers that own a DSLR need to understand when and why to use different exposure modes and reading the manual that came with that new camera allows them to set the menu to their personal shooting priorities. My camera manuals are all dog-eared, full of post-its and notations. That should be the norm for photographers that are serious enough about photography to learn about their camera.