Zeroing Out

Ever get to the Magic Kingdom and your family rushes up to get their photo taken in front of the Main Street Train Station. You snap a few shots and head into the park. You are half-way down Main Street USA when you take a peek at the photos and they are all overexposed. We have all been there. Photograph something and forget about all the changes made to get the exposure right the last time you used the camera and get bad exposures the next time you use it. So, in an effort to save you future aggravation, I want to tell you about Zeroing Out your camera.

Main pool at the All Star Sports resort, Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida
Forgetting to change your camera setting can lead to overexposed photos like this.

Zeroing Out is a process of going through the most used settings on a camera and putting them back to the start settings BEFORE using the camera. Some people call this their base settings or starting point. After I zero out my camera, I take a couple of quick snaps and review the photos on the camera’s LCD screen before leaving the house or, if at Walt Disney World, before leaving the resort area. If the photos look bad or the photo’s Exif data is wrong, I probably forgot to zero out. Kind of a fail-safe procedure. By doing this, I know I am starting at a point I am very familiar with and can easily make changes as needed from there. If I am taking a lot of photos or the light changes dramatically, I might zero out my camera on a few occasions during the shoot or day.

The advantage of Zeroing Out before you start shooting is huge. Much easier to do in the calmness of your home or hotel room than when you notice you have taken ten photos that are over or under exposed and you can not retake them again because the opportunity is gone. Worse, trying to fumble around to find which setting needs to be changed while someone is waiting. Talk about pressure. Imagine if that person is a bride or a Disney character and your daughter with a line of families behind you. Guilty on both accounts. I learned the hard way and still need to remind myself.

What are these settings I am talking about? That depends, the blog writer says with a broad smile. The ones most of us need to be aware of is Shooting mode (P, S (Tv), A, M), ISO, Exposure mode (matrix, center-weighted, spot, etc.), White Balance, Image Quality, Exposure Compensation (EV), Shutter (Single or Continuous) and Focus Area. You might have more or less settings depending (there’s that word again) on your camera and what you consider important. For Point and Shoot cameras, it might be as simple as putting the camera back to full Auto mode from another mode or scene used previously.

Another thing to be aware of is if you use a Vibration Reduction (Image Stabilized) lens. Make sure its settings are where you expect them to be after mounting it on the camera. I set mine to ON and Normal mode.

On a recent thread about this subject of Zeroing Out on a photography board I read, each photographer had different zero out settings. Just as each of you will, too. Doing so will allow you to get better photos from the first click.

Main pool at the All Star Sports resort, Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida
After Zeroing Out my camera, I got a much better photo of the All Star Sports Main Pool.

Scott's "Photographic Innoventions" blog focuses on intermediate to advanced photography concepts and techniques relevant for Point and Shoot and Digital SLR cameras.

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One Reply to “Zeroing Out”

  1. Thanks for the reminder Scott! We’ll be there next week (!!!!!) for the first time in about 14 years and I’m really stressing over getting all the good photos I want. Thankfully I’ve made it into the digital age where at the very least I can get instant basic feedback on whether or not I’m set up correctly for the conditions.

    Scott replies: Have a great trip, Josh! Take lots and lots of photos! Digital is great! Should be a lot of new things to see and experience for you and your family. Enjoy!