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Transparency with my business and teachings is very important to me. Granted, I don’t need to disclose everything, but I like to show that I am human from time to time. The life we tend to share online is usually oftentimes showing be the highlights of our lives, much of it good, and we usually don’t share the not-so-perfect stuff.

A few years back a photographer colleague of mine, David duChemin, wrote an article titled “Confessions of a So-Called PRO“. This article really resonated with me. I’m definitely not perfect, and thought I would share some of my “dirty photography secrets” as well.

I use Auto White Balance.

For as long as I can remember, I have been shooting in Auto White Balance (AWB). There are some pretty amazing third-party tools to help get accurate color in-camera, including the Expodisc and the ColorChecker Passport. However, for my photography, I don’t really find them necessary. Cameras have come a long way in their ability to create accurate color from the get-go, and since I photograph in RAW and don’t need to completely recreate exact color in my photos, it’s easier for me to just let the camera do the work while I’m shooting. And then I can make minor adjustments in post after the fact.

I shoot in Aperture Priority.

Sure, I pop the camera into manual mode from time to time (or Bulb, when photographing long exposures). But for the most part, with hand-held photographs (or even my on-a-tripod food photography), I prefer to use Aperture Priority. I even wrote an entire post about it! Basically, I let the camera do the thinking for me (in other words, I choose the aperture and let it balance the meter by selecting the shutter speed for me). Then, I make exposure adjustments by adjusting the Exposure Compensation up or down. The way I see it, I’m saving myself time by letting the camera make the exact same decision I would make, without letting it distract me from creating photographs.

I don’t use a histogram.

For the most part, I rarely check the histogram on my camera. Instead, I use the “blinkies” on my Canon to look for overexposed spots. Plus, a perfectly-shaped “mountain” in the histogram doesn’t always mean that the photograph was properly exposed. Sure, I’m not getting all the information that way, but it has worked well for me so far!

Sometimes my camera gets lonely.

Yep, that’s right. There are times when I will go days, or even a few weeks, without using my camera. It’s easy to get chained to the computer (especially when writing blog posts and eBooks is what helps pay the bills!). I’m not proud of it, but I’m also not going to pretend that I’m out shooting every single day (even though I wish I were). After moving back to Portland, I definitely have gone out shooting much more regularly, as there are just so many beautiful places in Oregon, so hopefully I’ll be able to minimize the amount of time in-between outings from here on out.

I don’t put clear filters on my lenses.

If I’m going to spend hundreds of dollars on a lens, I’m not going to lessen its quality by putting a sub-par filter in front of it. I prefer to keep the front of my lens naked, so to speak. Sure, filters protect the glass, but I have never broken any of my lenses (knock on wood!). I still use filters, such as circular polarizers to cut through reflections, or ND filters for long exposures, but that is about all I will stick in front of my expensive glass.

My day-to-day food doesn’t usually look as good as what I photograph.

When I eat something beautiful, I usually photograph it. When I cook specifically for my food photographs, I make it look amazing. But when I eat just to eat, it’s pretty boring. I’m also not afraid to admit that I eat canned soup from time to time (gasp!), and I can eat the same food every day for a very long period of time without getting tired of it.

I can’t remember the last time I cleaned my sensor.

When I lived in Utah, I would regularly take my camera to Pictureline and have Nick clean the sensor for me. There’s something about doing it myself that just worries me … I prefer to leave it up to the “professionals”. I don’t have any major issues with sensor dust, but I see dots in my images from time to time (that are pretty easily fixed with Lightroom’s Spot Removal Tool). Maybe one of these days I’ll garner the courage to clean it myself. ;)

lavender-square-150pxNicole S. Young is a professional photographer living in Portland, Oregon. She is the author of several print books and eBooks, and runs her own online store for photographers, the “Nicolesy Store“.

You can read more of Nicole’s articles HERE, and view her work and website HERE.

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Join the conversation! 18 Comments

  1. Very interesting read – I sin in many of the same ways although I use manual fighting against over exposure

  2. I agree that using Aperture Priority is very fast and convenient but the problem I face often is getting an incorrect shutter speed. I’ve had moments when the light is well and subject is still, still the shutter speed becomes slower than necessary, making the image look blurry. I’ve faced this situation more than once. That’s why I choose to use manual all the time. Yes, at the moment when I need to shoot something fast and I don’t have the time to tickle with the settings, I’ll grab shutter priority or aperture priority depending on what I’m shooting, but for most shoots, I prefer manual (including manual ISO, because when external flash is used, camera apparently doesn’t know it and puts a high ISO).

  3. Hi Nicole, great to learn some of your tricks and strategies for real life! I also enjoyed reading your post on aperture priority. I’m just starting to learn more about my camera and admit that I had already started to think that I must learn how to shoot manually. This is probably why it’s taking me so long to learn as I produce so many terrible photos! I’m resolved now to be a bit kinder to myself and wrap my head around aperture priority well and truly.

  4. If you ever do want to clean your sensor yourself, I highly recommend the Sensor Gel Stick. I believe it is only sold on PhotographyLife.com. Great product, very easy to use, nice video tutorial so you don’t have to be scared. I have no investment in company, just think it is a great product.

  5. Thanks for being transparent with us. We each use arte cameras a little different to get the same results once the fundamentals are down.

  6. It is nice to know great photographers are like everybody else!

  7. I do use ND filters all the time, living as I do in New Mexico. If you could see what my windshield looks like after getting caught in a single sandstorm, you would, too. I don’t use cheap filters, though, and I feel that the expenditure is well worth it. Even the most expensive filter is nothing compared to what most of my lenses cost and all but two are DX.

    I also find that aperture-priority is a good way to shoot most of the time. That’s a trick I picked up from a pro.

    I’m anything but a pro.

  8. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who commits some of the “heinous crimes” that a lot of photogs get so bent about. ;) I shoot 90% of the time in Aperture mode, almost never look at my histogram, and rarely move my WB from Auto. When I do, it’s only to another WB preset… never to a custom setting. I also have gone weeks without picking up my camera. I’m sure I do a lot of things “wrong”, but I think if a shooter is having fun, learning and improving… then they’re a success. Whatever little bad habits they’ve formed don’t matter. Just keep doing what you’re doing Nicole… seems to be working for you!

  9. Thanks for the honesty, great to hear from real people.
    Yes, we all cheat from the manual setting.

  10. You are so honest about the your photography. Most of the photographers get so technical and get caught up in it so much that some times I wounder if they enjoy photography or they just want to show every body how smart they are. Ron

  11. Thanks Nicole, you have just validated many of the things I also do, and sometimes get funny reactions from others for. Just one thing – dive in and clean your sensor. I also avoided it for many years fearing the worst. I even had a cleaning kit sitting in the drawer for well over a year. But one day, I just couldn’t put up with the dust bunnies any longer and I decided to clean the sensor. It took me two or three tries to get it just right, but really no longer than a half hour.

    Just do it!!

  12. Nice article… glad to read that my sins are only venial….lol

  13. I absolutely love your professional manner but more importantly? The way you took the time to answer my question…….from some stranger in Florida who had the sense that you would take that time to assist me. Thanks for that and thanks for articles such as this one. BTW, I am not sure about shooting in any mode OTHER than manual. For me, it just keeps my attention always on the subject at hand.

  14. Great article re aperture. Thanks What do
    You feel is the main advantage or reason to shoot in aperture ?

    • Most of my creative decisions (especially with hand-held photography) are with the aperture. Other than that, the shutter speed just needs to be fast enough to hand-hold, and so there’s no point in bothering with manual mode to have to change the setting every time the light changes. So, all in all, the main advantage is speed (fewer decisions to make).


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About Nicole S. Young

Photographer, author, entrepreneur. I love photographing food and landscapes, and have written several how-to books on Photography, post-processing, and creative inspiration. You can find more about me on my blog, online store, as well as on Google+ and Twitter.


Inspiration, Photography


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