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Canon D-SLR Skills Canon Tutorials: 24 DSLR
tips for getting more from your EOS camera

Canon Tutorials: 24 DSLR tips for

getting more from your EOS camera

Your Canon EOS camera is packed with sophisticated features and functions
that make the technical side of photography a breeze. But how many of these do
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you use regularly? Do you know which settings give you bags of control, but
ensure you grab high-quality pictures with zero fuss? Are you using all the EOS
camera short-cuts that make photography fast and fun?
For this essential Canon tutorial, weve put together 24 expert DSLR tips that
will make sure youre not missing out on some of your Canon cameras biggest
tricks. From setting up your EOS camera to streamlining menus and matching
the right shooting mode to the right subject, theres a stack of advice for Canon
photographers of all abilities to take away and start shooting like a pro with
your EOS camera, whatever it may be.

Tip 1: Raw + JPEG

We always bang on about shooting RAW les, as they enable you to make lots of
edits without degrading picture quality. JPEGs are less tolerant to editing, but
theyre often perfectly usable straight from the camera. Choose the RAW+JPEG
setting (under Quality on your Canon cameras rst Shooting menu) for the
benets of both: JPEG for speed and RAW for back-up. Bear in mind that as
youre doubling up on each picture, memory cards will ll up faster; you can
reduce the resolution/quality of both RAW and JPEG les on higher-end EOS
bodies like the 60D and 7D, so capacity becomes less of an issue.

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Tip 2: Highlight Alert

Your EOS cameras Highlight Alert blinkies give you an at-a-glance guide to
areas of an image that are likely to be overexposed, enabling you to reduce the
exposure before taking another shot. Highlight Alert is an optional feature that
can be switched on and o through the Playback menu (you can also do this
through the Quick Control Screen during playback mode if youve got an EOS
60D). The ashing highlights warning is visible in both the full-screen preview
and the array of information screens, although they disappear if you zoom in.

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Tip 3: Tone it down

If pictures that look ne in-camera seem a little dull on your computer screen,
its probably because the brightness of your EOS screen is set too high. To
calibrate your LCD, take a test shot using the Standard Picture Style and best
quality JPEG setting. Copy this to your computer, without deleting it from the
memory card, and open the le in Photoshop. Now press Play on the camera
and compare the two images. If the image on your EOS appears lighter or
darker than the one on your (calibrated!) computer monitor, use the LCD
brightness scale in your Canon cameras Setup menu to adjust it.

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Tip 4: Lets get it AF-ON

Half-pressing the shutter release to lock both autofocus and exposure is a
simple system that works. So why does Canon put a separate autofocus button
on the back of many of its EOS DSLRs? Because operating AF independently of
metering and exposure can be useful. Take action photography, where the
AF-ON button lets you switch o focusing if a subject is temporarily obscured
by an object. Its handy for portraits too; you can focus on an o-centre subject,
then take your thumb o AF-ON to recompose without the focus shifting.
Tip 5: View clipping in colour
As well as using the brightness histogram to help you judge exposure when
reviewing a shot, you can call up a set of more precise RGB colour histograms.
Digital images are created from the three primary colours of light red, green
and blue and the RGB histograms enable you to check if any of these colour
channels are clipped. As with the brightness histogram, if data falls o the left
or right of the graph, that channel is clipped, and picture detail in a bright red
coat for example can be lost. Note that these histograms reect in-camera
settings; if you shoot RAW, youll capture more highlight and shadow detail than

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Step 1: Call up the RGB histogramsStrongly saturated subjects, such as this

rose, can often cause one of the colour channels to blow. To check if it has,
repeatedly press the INFO or DISP button during image playback until you
reach the RGB histograms screen.

Step 2: Spot the problem channelYou can see that the brightness histogram for
our shot indicates a good exposure, but the red channel is clipped. The
histograms are dierent shapes, but thats down to the relative colour mix and
brightness of the image.

Step 3: Adjust the exposureYou need to ensure that detail in the most
important colour channel isnt overexposed or underexposed. As red was most
important here, we reduced the exposure and shot again. Its still clipped, but
more detail is retained.

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Tip 6: Highlight tone priority

As the name suggests, Highlight tone priority (HTP) prioritises detail at the
right side of the histogram, preserving up to one stop of extra detail in the
highlights for optimum brightness without underexposing the rest of the
picture. HTP is disabled by default, but its a useful feature to enable (via the
Custom Functions: Image menu) when photographing high-key scenes, such as
sunsets, snowy landscapes or a bride in her wedding dress. Its in these
situations that highlights could typically blow and lose all their delicate detail.
HTP has a subtle eect though, and one trade-o of using it is that you cant
select the lowest ISO setting while its active.

Tip 7: Bracketing
Taking a series of shots at dierent exposure values aka bracketing is a
tried and tested way of guaranteeing that you capture at least one usable
picture of a scene in tricky lighting conditions, particularly if youre shooting
JPEGs. Sometimes a slightly darker or brighter take on a subject can be more
aesthetically pleasing, too. Although you can take a sequence of exposures
manually, your Canon cameras Autoexposure Bracketing (AEB) feature oers a
much more eicient route. The bracketing options are identical on most Canon
cameras, enabling you to shoot three frames with bracketing of between +/- 1/3
to 2 stops, applied in 1/3 or 1/2-stop increments. The 60D and 7D oer an
increased bracketing range of up to +/- 3 stops.

Step 1: Select the incrementSet the exposure level increments in the custom
function menu you get a choice of 1/3 or 1/2 stops (1/3-stops oer more
accuracy). Next, scroll to the Exposure comp./AEB setting in the shooting menu,
and youll see this screen.

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Step 2: The compensation optionIn Av, Tv and P mode you can set both
exposure step size and exposure compensation, so the sequence will be centred
on the exposure compensation thats applied (useful if youre likely to want to
under- or overexpose a scene).

Step 3: Choose the bracketing orderIn addition to controlling the exposure step
size you can also set the order of bracketing in the Custom Functions menu.
Using the sequence -, 0, + is often a benet when it comes to processing a
sequence of HDR shots.

Tip 8: Compensation
Canons Evaluative metering may be sophisticated, but it isnt foolproof. It may
end up brightening up a dark scene (overexposing it) or darkening a lighter
scene (underexposing it). Using exposure compensation is a way to tame hot
highlights or bring back the detail to blocked-up shadows. Whether thats
achieved by pressing the +/- button and turning the main dial, or simply by
rotating the Quick Control Dial depends on your EOS camera model.
The result is the same: pictures that hold more detail. Its rare that youll need
to dial in more than two stops of exposure compensation. Always remember to
reset your exposure compensation to zero after each shoot; its easy to forget,
and you could end ruining your shots next time youre out!

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Tip 9: Metering modes

The metering modes common to all EOS cameras are Evaluative, Centreweighted Average, Partial and Spot (although the latter is unavailable on the
1100D). Each covers a progressively smaller portion of the image, with the
default Evaluative metering mode taking multiple readings across the entire
frame to create an exposure it calculates as the best possible. Evaluative is
reliable, but be prepared to check the histogram and dial in some
compensation. Centre-weighted, as the name suggests, biases its reading
towards the middle of the frame, so its a good choice for portrait shots. For
precise exposure readings, use Partial or Spot metering in conjunction with the
Exposure Lock (AE-L or asterisk) button.

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Tip 10: Auto Lighting Optimizer

Canons ALO dynamic range booster is available in all current Canon DSLRs.
Essentially, ALO attens out the contrast in an image, revealing shadow detail
(and a touch of noise) without having a marked eect on highlights. Its a great
solution for photographing backlit portraits without ash, or if youre shooting a
high-contrast subject in bright light. ALO can be applied in three strengths or
switched o altogether, and its eects are only applied to JPEGs. You can,
however, apply an ALO setting when converting compatible RAW les in DPP.

Tip 11: How to get perfect focus

Canon EOS cameras have three basic autofocus modes: One Shot, AI Servo and
AI Focus. One Shot locks the focus once: even if you have Continuous Shooting
enabled, the focus wont shift unless you take your nger o the shutter
release, so its good for stationary subjects such as portraits and landscapes.
AI Servo is Canons focus-tracking mode: the camera will constantly autofocus,
so its perfect for following moving subjects, especially when combined with
high-speed continuous shooting. AI Focus rolls these two modes into one, so its
worth trying if youre photographing wildlife that might leg it/take ight at any
moment, although its not quite as quick to pick up a moving subject as AI

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Tip 12: Customise Canon Picture Styles

Whether you want to capture a faithful representation of a scene, or a more
vibrant version, the Picture Styles menu can help you achieve it. However, apart
from Monochrome theres not a lot between the default settings. Try
customising them for extra impact, or cook up your own recipes and store them
in one of the User Dened slots (just go easy on the sharpening). If you shoot
JPEGs, youre stuck with the setting that was active when you took the picture;
if you shoot RAW, you can alter the Picture Style setting when processing the
image in-camera with compatible models, or with DPP.

Tip 13: Controlling shutter speed

Time Value (Tv on mode dial) autoexposure mode, aka Shutter Priority, is the
opposite of Aperture Priority: you choose the shutter speed, and the camera
sets a complementary aperture for the conditions. Shutter speed becomes the
priority if youre photographing moving subjects and want to control whether
the action is frozen (such as when photographing sports) or exaggerated (if you
want to blur the movement of water).

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Tip 14: Forget about Full Auto mode

New to digital SLRs? Then Creative Auto mode (CA) is a good way to start
taking over some of the decision making from the camera. Functionally, it sits
somewhere between point-and-shoot Auto (the green box) and Program mode
(P). Hit the Q button with CA mode selected, and a simplied set of controls is
displayed on the rear screen, enabling you to change the degree of background
blur, drive mode, ash and image tone.

Tip 15: Find the best aperture

Aperture Priority (signied by Av for Aperture Value on the mode dial) is a
widely used autoexposure mode that gives you control over how much of an
image appears in sharp focus. You manually select the aperture (the size of the
hole in the lens) and the camera matches it with an appropriate shutter speed
to create a balanced exposure. Wide apertures let in more light, but crucially
also give the image a shallower depth of eld, which can be useful for blurring
distracting backgrounds in portraits and wildlife shots. Small apertures have
the reverse eect, giving extended depth of eld thats perfect for landscapes
and macro work.

Step 1: Small for landscapesTo get as much of a landscape shot as possible in

focus, youll need a small aperture so stick to the large f-stop numbers, such
as f/16 and f/22. This might lead to long exposure times, so increase ISO if
youre shooting handheld.

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Step 2: Watch the settingsAs you turn the dial to alter the aperture setting, you
can monitor the changes through the viewnder or top-plate screen, if your
camera has one. You can also tweak the aperture through the Quick Settings
screen (shown here).

Step 3: Use the previewThe image in the viewnder is always shown at the
Canon cameras widest aperture. To ensure that youre getting everything
crisply in focus, use the depth-of-eld preview button to stop down the lens to
your set aperture.

Tip 16: High ISO noise reduction

This custom function is available on all current EOS cameras, and oers three
noise reduction settings Standard, Low, Strong, plus O. These do a decent
job of removing chroma speckling that can plague high ISO shots. There are
compromises to be made, though, the biggest of which is that ne detail is often
softened. Stick with Low for the most part, and avoid Strong unless you really
cant face editing a shot later. High ISO noise reduction can also reduce the
cameras shooting speed, as it takes longer to process each shot.
Tip 17: Canon Auto White Balance
Your Canon EOS cameras Auto White Balance (AWB) setting can be relied on to
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give neutral results in most situations, so colours will be captured as you saw
them. Shooting under articial lighting often presents a challenge though, and
pictures can end up with a colour cast as the system struggles to compensate. If
you shoot JPEGs, its at times like these that you should reach for one of the
white balance presets for a more faithful result theres a reason Canon
includes them, after all. However, for total accuracy and consistency, you cant
beat a Custom White Balance. Heres the process for creating one on a Canon

Step 1: Dont rely on the presetsYour Canon cameras white balance presets
have their limits, as not all light sources are created equal. Here, using the
Tungsten preset has still resulted in an image that appears too warm.

Step 2: Take a reference shotFor more accurate results, take a reference shot
of a piece of white paper or card in the prevailing light. Now select Custom
White Balance in the Shooting menu and scroll through to your shot.

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Step 3: Save the WB settingPress SET to store the neutral reading from your
reference shot as a Custom White Balance setting. To use it, go to the White
Balance menu and select Custom. Its a bit of a fa, but worth it!

Tip 18: Autofocus points: man vs machine

When should you manually select an autofocus point, and when should you
leave it to the camera to do the job automatically? Well, automatic selection is
commonly used in conjunction with AI Servo Focus for photographing moving
subjects. If the subjects framed against a clean backdrop (such as a bird ying
in the sky), then automatic selection does a ne job. But if the subject moves
against a detailed background, you may well nd that the camera refocuses on
the background instead.
For more accurate results, choose an AF point manually, and then track the
subject with the point positioned over it. The centre AF point is the most
precise, so start with that one. Its also a good idea to select a focus point
manually when shooting portraits you want eyes to be sharp, not noses!

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Tip 19: Using Live View

If you want the most precise focus, then make the most of your Canon cameras
Live View. It might not be as responsive as the traditional viewnder system,
but the big advantage is that you can zoom in to check sharpness on a bright
screen and ne-tune accordingly, making it a great option for low-light
landscape photography. The vari-angle LCDs on the 600D and 60D enable you
to use the camera at seriously awkward angles, too, whether thats at ground
level for macro shots or held above your head for shooting over crowds.

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Tip 20: Cool the ash

As with your cameras ambient light meter, its ash metering system is reliable
but not infallible. It measures the light reected back from the subject, and
switches o the ash when it calculates that its received enough. However,
dark subjects can cause it to pump out too much light, leading to overexposure,
while bright subjects and reective backgrounds can cause it to kill the ash
too early, underexposing the subject.
By dialing in ash exposure compensation, you can increase or decrease the
ash power to remedy this. You can do this through the Quick Control Screen,
or by assigning the function to the SET button. Creatively, you might also want
to dial down the ash power so as to provide just a little ll light, rather than
making it the dominant light source.

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Tip 21: SET button

By default, the SET button on the back of your camera has no function during
shooting. Its denitely worth giving it one though, and you can do this via the
Operation custom function menu. The 60D, for instance, has no white balance
button, but you can assign the white balance sub-menu to the SET button.
Similarly, the 1100D has no dedicated depth-of-eld preview button, but you can
register this function to the SET button. It doesnt half speed things up.

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Tip 22: C mode

Canons Custom Mode, available on the 60D series upwards, lets you congure
the camera to your liking and then store the settings under C on the mode
dial; used well it can help you to speed up reaction times for spur-ofthe-moment situations. To register a Custom mode, choose your preferred
exposure mode and set up the camera accordingly, then head to the Setup menu
and choose Camera User Settings. The EOS 60D lets you register one Custom
mode, while the EOS 7D and 5D Mark II can store up to three.

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Tip 23: Q button

The Q button gives access to all the major parameters of your camera on the
rear LCD, enabling you to adjust key settings fast. You can navigate to the
feature you want to change and press the SET button to open up a sub-menu, or
you can simply rotate the Quick Control Dial with the feature highlighted on the
Quick Control screen to change the setting.

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Tip 24: My Menu

Fed up of icking through lots of menu options to nd a favourite function?
Create your own custom set of frequently used controls in the My Menu tab
(head for the nal menu page, indicated by a star). You can add up to six items
to use in the Creative Zone modes, and by enabling the Display from My
Menu option you can make these appear rst when you press the MENU
button. It does a similar job to the Quick Control Screen triggered by the Q
button, but you dont need to navigate a ddly control panel.

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