Photographic opportunities are often fleeting and require fast action to capture that decisive moment. That is true in wildlife, scenics and even family photography. You have to be ready to shoot when that pine marten runs across the road or that beam of sunlight lances through the clouds for just a few seconds.
There is no worse feeling photographically though, than to get that awesome shot only to realize that the settings on the camera were not what you needed, but rather set for what you had been shooting last night or the day before—conditions that were not even close to what you are currently witnessing.
The biggest bugaboo for me is the ISO setting. As daylight fades, I often punch up the ISO to compensate. Then I forget about it and the next day I start shooting at 1600 or 2000 ISO when I could be shooting at 200 or 400. I get the resulting noise when I don’t need to.
But there are other settings that throw me a curveball though. I use bracketing a lot for scenics and if I forget to turn it off, then the next time I pick up my camera the first shot has a one in three chance of being properly exposed. If I don’t catch it, this may go on for some time, with underexposed and overexposed images seemingly stuck in at random making me question my meter until I remember.
My solution to this dilemma is to remember to reset everything to my base settings as soon as I pick up the camera in the morning, or better yet, at the end of the day. My base settings are ISO 200, Aperture priority metering with the aperture set to the widest (smallest number) setting, daylight white balance and NO bracketing. I also make sure I am on Continuous High shutter release and not on self-timer, something I use instead of a cable release when possible.
This seems like such a simple idea--and it is. But if you will get in the habit of changing your settings back to the basic settings you decide are best for you, you will be much better prepared to capture those elusive moments of perfection that will never be repeated.