Get yourself some defaults

©Neil Turner/TSL. London, May 2005.

Surprise, surprise – yet another blog post in response to a question! I was asked “what one single piece of advice could I give to someone who had already read the previous “one piece of advice” blog post on here?”

That’s a really cheeky and rather good question and, having shot myself in both feet by saying that I was a sucker for people who used please and thank you I felt duty bound to answer.

In three words I’d say “default staring point”. What’s that? you ask… “Good question” I respond. It is the notion that every time you go to do something you have two choices: you can mess about working out where to start and what to do first OR you can go to your default starting point and get stuck in straight away.

In photography this takes a wide variety of forms. For example, when I’m shooting a lot portrait my default position for placing a light is parallel to my subject’s torso – imaging that their chest is one line and the front of my light source is another, those two line would be parallel. Another example is “what gear shall I use today” the answer (if you are lucky enough to have sufficient kit that you need to choose) is my default kit: two 5D MkII bodies with 24-70 and 70-200 f2.8L lenses and a couple of 580exII flashes in the bag with a 16-35 “just in case”.

Every part of the job has a default setting. From the preferences locked into Photo Mechanic and Adobe Camera RAW to leaving my cameras on daylight white balance and 200 ISO. Default starting positions. I know that if I start there I can move away as soon as my imagination starts to flow and as soon as I start to get a feel for the situation. Sometimes the defaults get changed with seconds but it is amazing how often they stay a lot longer.

One photographer I explained this concept to a few years ago compared it to putting his left sock on first, followed by his right sock and then his trousers. No real reason why, it just means that you can concentrate on the interesting stuff safe in the knowledge that you have the basics covered.

When you really start to think about it we all have defaults in every area of our lives. Toothpaste onto wet brush, small amount of cold water onto that and away I go. Why would I do it any other way? Off to shoot a portrait, tightish head shots on a long lens first to avoid spooking the subject and then gradually get closer and wider. It makes sense to me and that’s my default.

I could go on with the list but I’m guessing that you have the idea by now. A default starting position for everything just helps you to organise your thoughts and get stuff done. Good advice?


  1. Love your blog – silent reader here.

    Efficiency improvements to existing systems. Why wet the brush first, then again after toothpaste? You can remove / replace one step by wetting the pasted brush at a slight angle… hehe.

    (No serious point to make, I’ll get m’ coat…..)


      1. It turns out that toothpaste doesn’t stick to the brush as annoyingly if the bristles are wet first!!! I knew my Mum was a wide woman…


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