When I first upgraded from my Canon EOS 300D to the 5D Mkii, one of the first things I had in mind to do was to sit down and set up the three custom shooting modes. In the end, they were a feature I barely used. Now, five or so years on, and a camera model later, I’ve finally found a use for them.
I should note that I typically shoot manual, with a single “one shot” AF focal point (joystick controlled, assigned to the shutter button). I have the automatic “preview” turned off, meaning I have to press the “play” button to view each image I take. All of this works extremely well for me when actually shooting portraits. I find it best for control, for the appearance of control and for battery conservation.
However, before I can get to shooting those strangers I have to find a background. And for doing that, my standard settings are a nightmare.
You see, when shooting strangers for my 100 Stranger Project, increasingly at night, I’m walking around with a light stand and shoot through umbrella in one hand, with a reflector or two tucked under it, and the camera in the other. I can shoot one handed, with the camera on a black rapid strap, pre-focusing it on the ground, but if I recompose it’s too easy to refocus on the background and have to “reset” it by pointing at the floor again. Moreover, with only one arm, it’s a nightmare to preview the background, juggling kit to get a straining finger tip to the preview button.
On a recent trip to Northern Ireland, I finally got around to testing custom shooting modes for this, and it works fantastically. I now have my manual mode set up for my favoured settings – “one shot” AF, no preview, etc. C2, however, is set up with my usual night exposure settings with my portrait lens, the 100mm f/2.8 L IS macro (f/3.2, 1/50, ISO 1600), with automatic preview on, with focusing moved to the back button and deactivated on the shutter button.
It sounds like a small thing, but it’s transformed my night portraits. I can now whistle around freely, at pace, casually shooting and testing backgrounds whereas before I would decide not to test some on account of the juggling act of gear. I guess we sometimes build up the custom shooting modes in significance – decide they should have some very important task or emergency application – but what I’m finding is that in fact small, apparently trivial tweaks like this are delivering massively and making my photography more enjoyable again.