Get it Right in the Camera

There are times when there should be absolutely no need to do any work on a photograph after it has been taken.

Get the composition right, the exposure correct and that’s it. Nothing more should be needed. No fiddling with Photoshop, no tweaking RAW files, no messing with saturation levels or curves, or straightening those wonky horizons.¬†This makes life simple and enables the photographer to spend more time on what is far more important – gathering photographs.

still life photography chair

This simple photograph was captured exactly the way it was: I moved nothing in the composition, and changed nothing after the picture was taken. For me it's a great source of please to capture such simple images and get it right in the camera first time. Photograph by Philip Dunn

Of course, this is the ideal and it is by far from the norm. Most images need some slight adjusting at least. But if you can get it right in the camera first time, you will save yourself a whole load of fiddling afterwards.

There are some basic techniques that will help you achieve this – exactly what I teach during my Photography Courses and Holidays – and it happened while I was out taking pictures this morning. The picture (right) needed absolutely nothing doing to it – even the arrangement of the composition was unaltered. The chair was just there; exactly where I might have positioned it myself if it were a still-life studio setting.

  • Camera: Nikon D700
  • Lens: Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8
  • ISO: 200
  • Shutter Speed: 1/10sec
  • Aperture: f/14
  • Exposure Mode: Manual
  • Metering Mode: Centre Weighted
  • Gitzo Traveller tripod used

The photograph was taken this morning in a wonderful new location I’ve discovered very near Kirkcudbright. I’ll be posting more pictures taken during this session very soon.

If you would like to learn how to get more from your camera Рand get it right in the camera first time Рthere are still places available on the Photography Weekend Break at The Selkirk Arms Hotel, Kirkcudbright January 27-29th. The FULLY INCLUSIVE price of just £399 covers all your accommodation, meals and full tuition.

Find out more about this PHOTOGRAPHY WEEKEND BREAK


  1. Over the past few years I’ve come to accept that shooting a RAW image as well as a jpeg is a really sensible thing to do – in particular when adjusting the very thing we are discussing – retaining detail in shadow or recovering it from burnt-out highlights..

    I (mostly) now shoot both. If I am happy with the image as it has been shot, I use the jpeg. If I need to adjust it I revert to the RAW file. I always keep the original RAW file saved. It seems to make perfect sense.

    Yes it does mean extra storage space and it does fill up memory cards much more quickly – but memory these days is relatively inexpensive.

    Sorry to have shocked you – but I am always learning and always prepared to change my ideas and adapt to new situations.

    Have a great New Year

  2. I’m shocked – I thought you preferred Jpeg and never used RAW! Is this a recent development or did I misunderstand? I confess to being too lazy to use RAW.

  3. Hello Anthony – Happy New Year to your, too.

    Everything depends on the subject – and the amount of contrast in the light and shadow.

    However, as a general rule, I do not like exposing for the shadows because I prefer rich fully-saturated colour in the lighter areas of the image. So, no, I rarely ETTR.

    In situations where there is a very High Dynamic Range of tone – for instance a landscape with deep foreground shadows and a bright sky – I prefer to resort to adjusting the RAW image in order to retain – or darken – the sky tones while lightening the detail in the shadows. In other words, basic HDR technique.

    This is not new. I used to do all this in the darkroom enlarger with film – it just took longer and was more messy.

    I do also still use gradual grey filters!

    There are many situations when digital post processing techniques are worth their weight in gold, and I am perfectly happy to use them. But the aim should always be to get it right in the camera first – IF possible.

  4. Dear Philip:

    Happy New Year…

    In the light of your blog comments, how do you feel about ETTR (expose to the right), which I always think of as the digital equivalent of ‘Expose for the shadows, develop for the Highlights’. I think of Lightroom/ACR as the ‘developer’ of course in this context.

    Obviously, using ETTR there is an essential need not to blow highlights, but the method does help mitigate blocked shadows.

    Regards: Anthony.

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