Getting it right, every time : F-QMAASS

I shoot in manual mode, and the only thing I ever float is my ISO.  However, sometimes while shooting, I diverge and start changing settings to accommodate for the conditions of the scene. Now, as an extreme hobbyist nature photographer.  I say ‘extreme’ because I make a small amount of money doing this, but mostly I do it as an altruistic pursuit, a vocation.  Ok, enough about me….sometimes when I am shooting I forget to check my settings and then I blow an entire set or even an entire location.

I developed QMAASS as a way for me to always do a sanity check whenever I am shooting. I run through this checklist every time I change “sets”.  A “set” is a group of photos from a locational scene. So, when I am in a particular location, and am shooting a particular scene, I may take three or four sets. When I change scenes, the set needs to be checked, and that is where QMAASS comes into play.

By “set”, I mean settings, which has everything to do with how I have my camera configured. It’s a paradigm that I use to help me make sure that my camera is properly configured for the scene I am shooting, which includes considerations for the lens I am using, for the lighting, the subject matter, and whatever effect I am trying to achieve.

I shoot in manual mode almost always, and sometimes, between scenes, some time passes. As a nature photographer, I shoot in some very diverse conditions, and so my sets are wildly divergent at times.

Camera settings during a particular grouping of photos  of a particular subject matter applied to a different set can destroy my photos.

For example, last weekend I was shooting a Great Horned Owl sitting on her nest. I was shooting through lots of twigs and had the camera in manual focus mode.  I left the scene, and as we were driving into a new scene, a Harrier was playing around not 50 feet from us. I stopped my car, jumped out, started shooting, and blew the entire set except for one shot – I was in manual focus, and a coincidence of distance focused one shot out of the whole set. I learned that I need to have the camera in a neutral QMAASS, which is a balance of settings that will work in most situations. While I was shooting the Harrier, I was able to run through QMAASS and get the shutter speed up, but QMAASS has no “F” for focus.

So now I’ve added the F, and it is F-QMAASS. below, I list what each setting is, and what I use for each when I am between sets. So, every set I ever do will start with these settings, which may ( will ) change during the set.

  • F- = focus mode and drive (this include manual/auto, AI servo/single drive, and the auto focus points.)  — AI servo
  • Q = quality (jpg, raw. Etc)  — RAW (captures far more information than jpg and can be used to recover massively under or overexposed photos
  • M = mode (manual, Tv, Av, Custom. My camera goes not not have an Auto mode ). –Manual
  • A = Aperture –8 – 11 for birds. 8 for birds far away, up to 14 for close ones and if you have enough light.
  • A = Auto ISO –Auto, though sometimes I set it to 1000 to force the camera to a different exposure. For example, shooting the moon is best at 200 ISO
  • SS = Shutter Speed – 1/f  or 1/(f – 1) if the subject matter is relatively stable, 1/(f – n)  if the subject is absolutely still and I am on a tripod.  1/(f + n) for stop motion, adding n until stop motion is achieved or I am at my fastest shutter speed. f = focal length of my lens, so for example, if I am shooting at 800mm I would not want to drop my shutter speed slower than 1/800 unless I am confident I can hand hold it steady or if I am tracking on a moving subject.

F-QMAASS needs to be checked twice. First: before a set starts. Second: when a set finishes. Why both before and after? Well, for me, when I am walking around with my camera dangling at my side, there is no end to the number of buttons I can accidentally hit. Sometimes, I even bump the AE lock button. I don’t have a letter for that in my acronym because it’s an icon in my viewer and it has high visibility, so I can just kill it when I see it.

So, that’s the story behind F-QMAASS. I needed a way to make certain that I could quickly check, and reset as needed, all of the settings that may he changed intentionally during a set, and accidental between sets.

Let me know if you have any questions, and I am always happy to answer any questions you may have in the future.

You can read tips on composition and lighting there: