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10 Tricks You Didn’t Know Your Camera Could Do (and How to Make Them Happen)

By Tanya Goodall Smith on March 10th 2014

Welcome to Time Out with Tanya, where I’ve put my fast paced graphic design career on hold in favor of adventures in motherhood. I’m capturing every moment on camera and you can come along, if you’d like. Sign up for my weekly email here so you’ll never miss a Time Out.

10 tricks you didn't know your camera could do and how to  make them happen

Zach Sutton’s informative article, 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Your Camera, on Tuts+ caught my eye last week. He brings up a few special functions available on most digital cameras these days that some of you might not know how to use. Here’s his list, with links to some of my favorite tutorials explaining how to make them happen:

1. Bracketing

Bracketing is a function I used to use in my old film days when I wasn’t quite sure which shutter speed to use for a proper exposure. Basically, the camera automatically takes three different photos with three different f/stops. This is also the concept behind creating HDR (high dynamic range) images. Pye explains the bracketing process in this excerpt from the SLR Lounge HDR Workshop.

2. Back Button Focus

I recently started using back button focus and, while it took a couple weeks to get used to, I’m now wondering how I ever got along without it! I found this video by wildlife photographer Steve Perry to be very helpful. You may have to check your owners manual for info about how to set the back button focus function on your particular camera.

3. Picture Styles

I shoot primarily in the RAW format, so I never really paid much attention to the picture style options on my Canon 5D Mark III. But, in this video, Matthew Saville explains why you might want to experiment with picture styles (picture controls, for Nikon users) when shooting in RAW. Using Adobe Lightroom and the SLR Lounge Preset System, Matt shows how to capture an ideal exposure and edit a landscape, using in camera picture styles as a guide.

4. In-Camera HDR

The In-Camera HDR function in newer DSLRs is designed to save you some post processing time when creating HDR images. Here’s another excerpt from our SLR Lounge HDR Workshop, with tips for using this function.

5. Double Exposures

This is another function harkening back to film photography. With a film camera you can achieve a double exposure by simply not advancing the film after taking a picture. Then you expose that same frame once again for some funky effects. The great thing about creating an in-camera double exposure digitally, is that you can view your first exposure on your LCD screen while composing your overlapping exposure. It’s really fun! Here’s a tutorial by Sara K Byrne, creating a multiple in-camera exposure using the Canon 5D Mark III.

6. Advanced Focusing Modes

Cameras these days can have some pretty high tech, specific focusing modes designed for various shooting situations. Check out your users manual (or consult Google) for an explanation of the different modes on your particular camera. If you’re struggling with nailing the focus on your images, I highly recommend you read SIX TIPS FOR BETTER DSLR AUTOFOCUS AND SHARPER IMAGES and for some helpful tips on mastering focus.

7. Lens Calibration

Honestly, I’ve never calibrated a lens and don’t know much about it, but I think I need to do this for at least one of my lenses. You’ll need a calibration tool like the LensAlign MkII Focus Calibration System, which is basically a ruler used to test the focus. Here’s an explanation of the whole process by Matt Granger.

8. Image Lock System

This feature is pretty self explanatory. Basically, the image lock system allows you to lock images to prevent them from being accidentally deleted from your memory card. Check your manual for instructions.

9. Rating Images

On the newest Canon cameras you can rate your images with a 1-5 star rating, in-camera. I suppose this might come in handy if you’re filtering through your images with a client right after you shoot, but I personally don’t like culling my photos while viewing on a tiny LCD. I’d rather load them into Lightroom 5 and rate them while viewing on a larger monitor.

10. Rear Curtain Flash Sync

Using rear curtain sync with a flash will allow you to capture motion blur and freeze motion in the same frame of a photograph. This is a pretty advanced technique, which I didn’t realize was available in the camera settings of some DSLRs with built in flash units. Whether you have a built in flash or use an external unit, this is a fun technique to play with. Here’s an easy to understand tutorial from Adorama.

What are some hidden functions of your camera that have changed the way you shoot? Do you have a question about a particular function? Leave a comment and I’ll we’ll answer it for you. Happy shooting!

Via Tuts Plus

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Tanya Goodall Smith is the owner, brand strategist and commercial photographer at WorkStory Corporate Photography in Spokane, Washington. WorkStory creates visual communications that make your brand irresistible to your target market. Join the stock photo rebellion at

Q&A Discussions

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  66. Timothy Courtemanche

    These really are not tricks, but rather features of the camera. So many people seem to be putting out their lists of “tricks” or “hacks” for things that are really nothing more than a feature that you may not have known about.

    Back Focus: I have worked with the back button focus in that past and while it may work great for some, I found it to be a real disconnect to the point that I would rather return to manual focus than use the back focus button.

    Bracketing: As someone who shoots in manual 95% or more of the time, an in camera feature to do this actually takes more time than doing it manually.

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    it was useful.thank you.

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  70. Konstantinos Xatzis

    The AF-ON tip really made my day.Thank you a lot for your advice

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  71. Robert Ryder IV

    I like the ability to reassign buttons on my 5D III, i.e. using the AF-ON button for employing back-button autofocus, but I’ve gone a bit further by changing the depth-of-field preview button, as well, so that it activates AI-Servo focusing mode for when the subject becomes a moving target…this way, I can have the focusing mode set to One-Shot normally, but on the fly, I can switch to AI-Servo instantly by holding down the depth-of-field preview button (while, of course, I’m also holding down the AF-ON button.) it might sound somewhat complicated, but really, it’s a great setup…works quite well.

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    • Tanya Smith

      I think I might have to try this one, too! It’s nice to be able to customize those buttons on the 5DmIII.

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  72. Brian

    I don’t think there are any ‘hidden features’ in my camera although there are features I don’t use.
    I read the manual and I don’t think the folks at Canon have hidden anything. Many of the features are irrelevant since I shoot in RAW.

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  73. Crystal

    I think the rating info is only relevant if you use DPP. I’ve rated images in-camera, and the rating doesn’t come up in Bridge

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  74. Picture Zealot

    Always read the manual–first thing.

    And buy a Canon 5D Mark III (which I can’t afford).

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  75. Dave Andrade

    I agree with some of the other commentors. These aren’t really hidden. I’m really surprised about the bracketing and picture styles. I mean, if you didn’t know those already, maybe it’s time for a new career/hobby :)

    Ok ok, I’m joking. Still surprised though.

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  76. Paul Carter

    Rear curtain sync is the only way I shoot with flash! I’ve heard about lens calibration but the guys at the camera store act like it’s this huge process and want to charge way too much to do it, jerks… I knew about back button focusing but I think I’ll give it another look, it might be useful!

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    • Tanya Goodall Smith

      I’m loving the back button focus! It took awhile to get used to, but now I don’t think I’ll ever go back to the shutter button focus.

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  77. Rick

    I’m probably in the minority, but before I bought my EOS 6D, I read the manual cover-to-cover. That how I learned about these features.

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    • Tanya Goodall Smith

      Rick, you have more patience than most :) I generally only consult the manual if I can’t figure something out. I always say, “I need to read the manual…” and it never happens. Good job!

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  78. shamb

    Here’s one most people either know about, or know about but don’t know where it works best: Apical Iridix.

    Every modern camera has it, although it goes by several names depending on your camera (Sony:DRO, Pansasonic/m43rds:iDynamic, etc).
    It uses realtime tonemapping to extend visible dynamic range. Although it doesnt add additional information that you could not achieve using a good stills post-workflow, it is useful if you are shooting video.

    In particular the fact that Iridix comes before the video encoder in the camera processing path means you can do things in-camera that are impossible in video-post. For example, Iridix’s propensity to lift shadows helps if you are using AVCHD, because it eliminates AVCHD shadow macro-blocking (and retains deep colors, which is crucial in post).

    Downside is additional noise. Use it at a high setting close to base ISO only (otherwise set it to low).

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  79. Chris Warkocki

    I was really hoping to see a comedy skit where we would be using the camera as a hammer or a paper weight.

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  80. Carsten Schertzer

    Not to be a Debbie downer but I knew about all of these and use these things on a regular bases.

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    • kim j

      thanks for this! can’t wait to try that style of double exposure!

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    • سئو سئو سایت

      I actually added your blog to my favorites and will look forward for more updates. Great Job, Keep it up.

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