The Magic Moment


Nothing beats being prepared when you’re out with your camera. Knowing your equipment and what settings to use go a long way to not missing the moment when it happens. Take the time to use your equipment, experiment with different settings, and really look at the results BEFORE you go on that once-in-a-lifetime trip. Few things are worse than realizing your shutter speed was too slow or the aperture was too shallow and your subject is blurry.

Review Image Data (EXIF Information)

When you’re browsing through your images, look at the EXIF data (EXIF stands for Exchangeable Image File and refers to all the settings recorded by your camera when you click the shutter button). This includes date/time captured, aperture, shutter, ISO, if the flash fired, white balance, metering mode, focal length, etc. Review this information from photos you like as well as ones you don’t. If you were on Auto, did the camera choose appropriate settings? And if not, what would you change? Did you change a setting or two? I LOVE that my camera captures all this data so I don’t need to remember it all.

Where is the EXIF Data?

On Windows, right-click on the image, choose “Properties” (usually at the bottom), then click the “Details” tab and scroll down to see all of the information. On a Mac, preview the image, then choose “Tools” along the top menu, “Show Inspector,” and click on the “Exif” tab.

With a Little Bit of Luck

When you’re ready with your camera, and you’re in the right place, sometimes it’s just luck that you’re also there at the right time. I like to call this “The Magic Moment.” Sometimes you can predict that it’s coming, but sometimes you can’t. Such is the case with the following image. I worked at Awbury Arboretum in Philadelphia as an environmental educator for many years and brought my camera to work with me on a daily basis. As I arrived one morning, the light was just right and I grabbed my camera to capture the scene. It’s been one of my absolute favorites ever since.

Woodland Halo
EXIF data: aperture: f/4, shutter: 1/135 sec, ISO: 80, focal length:17 mm, metering: center-weighted average.

If I had been much earlier or later, I would have missed the light entirely. And I never saw quite the same scene before or since.

This image is almost 19 years old (at the time of posting), taken on January 31, 2001! This was my first digital camera, a Sony Mavica CD1000, 2.1 megapixels, and images were recorded onto mini cds (185 MB capacity). Each one could hold about 150 images. We’ve come such a long way since then: today you can find cameras recording 50 megapixels and media cards that can hold 512 GB, with larger cards coming.

Nikon Camera Upgrade

I’ve been the happy owner of a Nikon D3200 since 2012. On the whole, it does what I need, is easy to adjust, and I’ve taken some splendid photos with it.

A few years ago, I bought a used D7000 from a friend (who was upgrading to a D500). Until then, I’d never had 2 SLR bodies, both in good working order. The D7000 is more of a professional-level camera with more focus points and settings available in the menus. Honestly, I didn’t use it much and never got truly comfortable with how to adjust the settings quickly and easily. I use the D3200 regularly in my classes and it’s usually the one I grab when I go out to shoot.

I took both cameras to Hawaii in 2016 and challenged myself to use the D7000 more than the D3200 during the photo workshops I attended. That helped me become more familiar with it. But when it froze during a session on Maui, I was very happy to have the D3200 nearby.

I didn’t give much thought as to WHY it froze at the time. Back at the condo for the evening, I was able to set it right just by pushing the shutter button. It never froze again during that trip. However, the same thing happened in Utah in May, 2019. I unlocked it with the push of the shutter button a minute or so later.

Back at home, I started to research why the camera was freezing. It turns out, I was quickly filling the buffer while shooting RAW in burst mode. The camera couldn’t handle the data fast enough. If I shot in JPG, this wouldn’t be an issue. Or if I shot RAW while not in burst. Maybe it was time for an upgrade.

I asked my friend about his D500 and he suggested I borrow it. We met at a local park about a week later. I brought a lens and attached it to his D500 while he shot with a D850 (full frame sensor). Off we went.

One of the first things I tested was burst and RAW. The subject didn’t matter. I quickly got 10+ photos of a robin in the grass. No seizing issues and the sound of that fast shutter click instantly made me giddy. I love that shutter noise in burst. And when there’s a whole group of photographers shooting at once — heaven to my ears!

It didn’t take long to convince me that I needed this camera. By the end of the week I asked my local camera store to order one for me (they don’t carry pro equipment). And a week later, it had arrived.

Let me be clear that this level of camera equipment really isn’t needed by all photographers. If I shot strictly landscape and never used burst mode, I would never have encountered a problem. I admit that going from 13 focus points on the D3200 to 153 with the D500 is a welcome change, too.

These are a few photos I took at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, near the Philadelphia International Airport. I was playing around with a Nikon 200-500mm lens. (Click the images to enlarge.)

I’m still learning how to use the camera and will likely notice other differences between my two cameras as I experiment.

Happy shooting!

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