Get to know the innermost workings of your camera so it’s like second nature. Learn all the dials and switches on your camera so well that you can work them without looking at them. Don’t get stuck fumbling around trying to locate and change the settings while something great is happening right in front of you and you can’t pull off the shot! I just had to say that……. There, now that I feel better, let’s move on!
Camera Set-up – Initially, let’s start by discussing how to properly set up your DSLR camera internally. Shoot in RAW whenever possible – RAW contains the most file information and range of colors available, with no compression as is the case when you choose JPEG. JPEGs are “compressed” in the camera, which means that many of the similarly colored pixels are discarded in favor of a smaller file size, reducing overall image quality, somewhat. If you need to have JPEGs, select both RAW and JPEG in your camera settings and it will record both for you. Simply store away your RAW files to use later if you intend to print. Set your color space to Adobe RGB, (not sRGB) which will match the Adobe PhotoShop 1998 setting. Adobe RGB contains millions more color variations than sRGB, and you can convert the image to sRGB later if needed.
White Balance – When shooting in raw, I personally set my white balance (the color temperature of the light in the image) to 5560 Kelvin in the camera, which simulates the old film days where the true color of the light in the early or late light turns warm. This setting does not affect the actual raw file, only the view colors on your camera’s rear monitor. If you cannot set your camera’s white balance to 5560, set it to the “Flash” setting (5500) which is only a little off from the 5560 Kelvin setting. Automatic white balance (where the camera determines the correct white balance) also works quite well in most situations. All these white balance settings can be corrected later on in an editing software such as PhotoShop CS, Elements, Lightroom, etc. in raw format, but not so easily in the jpeg setting. It is more important to get your jpeg white balance settings more accurate than in the raw format.
Histogram – Use your Histogram! This tool is invaluable and is your exposure’s best friend! Keep the histogram graph favoring the right side but don’t let it “hit” (this is called “clipping”) either left or the right side of the graph on the screen. This will result in a good exposure with nothing blown out in the highlights, while keeping as much detail as possible in the shadows or dark areas (left side of the histogram) of the image. I also use my “blinky” which is a highlight overexposure setting on the camera that blinks black and white on the monitor if an area in the photo is over-exposed (in conjunction with the histogram).
In Camera Sharpening – I don’t do any sharpening in the camera. PhotoShop and other editing programs (Lightroom, Elements, Aperture, etc.) do a much better job of this after the fact. Besides, this is the last thing you do to your image based on size output and resolution before you save and actually use the image.