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By Kahli Hindmarsh

One lesson I wish I could have learnt the first time around, and continue to be reminded of over and over, is to get it right the first time, in-camera!

This can be a hot topic amongst photographers and often ends up getting misconstrued or sidetracked down the path of “over-photoshopping”, “faking” or “compositing” images. But that’s not really the point of getting it right in-camera. There are a few things that, if you miss it while shooting, you won’t be able to rescue in post.

If you’re lucky, some problems can be fixed in various software programs using a raw file or combination of multiple images. However, even if it can be saved, it often takes a heck of a lot longer than it would have than to just take an extra second at the time of shooting.

Photograph by Kahli Hindmarsh

The examples here are limitless, but I have noted a few key points below that are easily avoided yet make a habit of reoccurring, at least for me:

  • Clutter – This is my #1 area I’m inclined to try and cut corners during a shoot. Rather than moving an object (or a person) that doesn’t need to be in the frame, to save time in that high-pressure or time-sensitive situation, I’ll decide to rely on the clone tool later. While this works some times, it can take WAY longer and end up costing too much time.

  • Exposure – Didn’t take time to set up your camera to bracket? Or shot everything a little bit too bright? No worries, should be able to recover after the fact, right? Maybe. But even if you blow out a fraction of the sky, you now have to try and manually fix that in who knows how many shots. Take the time to check your histogram while shooting to save yourself a headache later.

  • Focus – There is nothing that makes my stomach do a backflip like realizing I missed focus ever so slightly on every frame of a certain composition. You can try every type of sharpening Plugin/Photoshop/Raw/LR has available but sooner or later there comes that moment when you accept those files can’t be used. Moral of the story, adjust your focus a couple of times per comp to be sure and don’t rely on the LCD for sharpness. If you’re shooting with a large aperture (shallow depth of field) especially, it always pays to take extra frames and focus stack so you have the option to blend images together in post if necessary.

  • Horizons and Edges – Yes, one of the easiest things to fix after the fact, but not if you were cutting it close with details close to the edges of your frame. As soon as you straighten that horizon, you have to lose some of the photo from somewhere and usually it’s a part of something important. Sometimes you can use content aware or warp to manipulate your way around this issue but it’s never as good as getting it right the first time.

  • ISO Was Too High – Good luck trying to get rid of those annoying noise pixels. All I can say is, I hope there weren’t too many darks/shadows in your shots.

  • Cropping – Another seemingly easy one to deal with after the fact. “I’ll just crop it tighter.” It can definitely save you sometimes but often you know deep down inside you’re taking a shortcut and should probably just position yourself a little closer, or re-compose. Remember the quality of your image will decrease the more you crop.

  • Dirty Sensor – Again, easily fixed, but if you’ve got 20 dust spots on every image that time quickly adds up in post.
Photograph by Kahli Hindmarsh

With the continuously evolving capabilities of editing programs, we can take a couple of shortcuts in the field, knowing it will only take a second or two on the computer to fix later.

Sometimes these changes can even be automated to make adjustments upon import of the images from your camera. But it’s important to learn when it’s acceptable to take those shortcuts vs. when you’re going to cost yourself more time in the long run. This is all easy to talk about, but actually putting it into practice can be a real challenge in the field.

Photograph by Kahli Hindmarsh

Annoyingly, this is one of these lessons where the best way to understand the benefits is to experience it for yourself and, yes, that might mean finding that your shots from a long day of shooting can’t be used!

What I’ve found from each of these experiences is that it is the basics of photography that suffer when your emotions and energy are firing! When you’re on location and the light is changing fast, you’re excited about what you see in front of you and you are moving quickly… This is when some of those simple steps listed above can fall short and cost you more time in post.

So how do you prepare yourself to get it right in camera?

Slow down, take your time and triple check. Get in the habit of asking yourself if you’ve checked for mistakes before you move on to set up your next shot. You’ll be glad you did when it saves you a couple of hours in front of the computer later on!


Kahli Hindmarsh originally wrote this article for our private online photography community here at OFFBEAT. There are dozens more where that came from. If that sounds like something you like the sound of, sign up for our community!

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