Welcome to the tenth chapter of Free Online Photography Course – The Ultimate Beginners Photography Guide.
In the last Chapter 9: Different Types Of Focus In Photography we took an in depth look at different types of camera focus settings/modes and focus methods. Now we know what each one of those does to your image. In this Chapter 10, we will take a look at different basic camera settings for you to get started as a beginner photographer. So, let’s get started!
Introduction To Camera Settings
Many beginner photographers often wonder what camera settings they should use to get the best possible results with their current camera gear. Mastering photography camera settings is fundamental to beginner photographers to help them hone their photographic skills.
However, camera settings can be overwhelming to grasp considering the different names, functions, and camera buttons, dials, and wheels.
That is why I have made this article/chapter solely dedicated to camera settings. We will start by three basic camera settings and then we will take a look at other good camera settings you can use to click good photographs.
To make it easier for you to understand, I have included links of specific articles and chapters in this free online photography course, in case you want to dive deeper into each specific photography camera setting.
Best Camera Settings In Photography
First and foremost, there is no such thing as best camera settings. Camera settings always depends on the situation and what you are trying to photograph. In a nutshell, here are some common basic camera settings in photography:
- Shutter Speed: From 30 seconds to 1/4000th of a second depending on the scene
- Aperture: f/1.8-f/5.6 in low light or for a narrower depth of field, and f/8-f/16 for a wider DoF
- ISO: 100-3200 in entry-level cameras, and 100-6400 in more advanced cameras
- Metering Mode: Matrix/Multi/Evaluative depending on your camera model
- Camera Mode: Manual camera mode or Aperture-priority mode
- Focus Mode: AF-S for stills and AF-C for moving subjects
- Focus Area: Single-point for stills and Dynamic/Zone for moving subjects
- White Balance: Automatic WB
- File Format: Raw File (or JPEG if you don’t want to edit your pictures)
- Color Space: sRGB
- Drive Mode: Single shooting for stills and continuous for moving subjects
- Long exposure noise reduction: Off
- High ISO noise reduction: Off
- HDR/DRO: Off
- Image stabilization: On when shooting handheld and Off when shooting from a tripod
Now, let me explain what each of the above mentioned camera settings does with some examples, it will be a short explanation for you to quickly understand as a beginner photographer but I recommend reading the specific camera setting article/chapter that you’ll find in some sections.
1. Shutter Speed
Shutter speed is the length of time the camera shutter is open, exposing light onto the camera sensor. What I mean by this is that it is a duration of time your camera spends taking a photograph. The longer or slower shutter speed is the brighter the image/photograph will be and the faster your shutter speed is the image/photograph will be dark.
Shutter speeds are measured in seconds, or fractions of a second. For example, a shutter speed of 1/100 means 1/100th of a second, or 0.01 seconds. This is also known as the “exposure time”, because it’s the amount of time the sensor is exposed to light. Here’s another example, 1/4 means a quarter of a second, while 1/250 means one-two-hundred-and-fiftieth of a second (or four milliseconds). 1″ marks 1 second.
A fast shutter speed is typically whatever it takes to freeze action. If you are photographing birds, that may be 1/1000th second or faster. Long shutter speeds are typically above 1 second – at which point, you will need to use a tripod to get sharp images. In between, shutter speeds from 1/100th second to 1 second are still considered relatively slow. You may not be able to handle them without introducing camera shake from your hands, especially close to the one-second mark.
Shutter Speed has many effects on a photograph one of which is Motion Blur. Having a long shutter speed will create a motion blur in your photograph. If your shutter speed is long, moving subjects in your photo will appear blurred along the direction of motion. The other effect is quite opposite which is Freeze Motion. By using fast shutter speed you can eliminate motion even from fast-moving objects, like birds in flight, or cars driving past.
Aperture is the opening of in a lens through which light passes to enter the camera. Aperture is one of the three pillars of photography which controls the overall exposure of an image, the othere two being Shutter Speed and ISO.
One important part of aperture that confuses beginner photographers more than anything else. This is something you really need to pay attention to and get correct: Small numbers represent large, whereas large numbers represent small apertures. For example, f/2.8 is larger than f/4 and much larger than f/11. Most people find this awkward, since we are used to having larger numbers represent larger values. Nevertheless, this is a basic fact of photography. you can think of it like the fraction 1/16th. Hopefully, you already know that a fraction like 1/16 is clearly much smaller than 1/4. For this exact reason, an aperture of f/16 is smaller than f/4.
The smaller the number of aperture the lens is wide open and the larger the number of aperture the opening of the lens is small. Below is an example of this:
As you can see in the above image, the lens at the left is at f/1.7 aperture and is wide open compared to the lens at the right which is at f/2.8 aperture and is not as wide opened as the f/1.7 lens.
Aperture has many different effects from which two of the most important effects are exposure and depth of field with large aperture you will get high exposure and a shallow or thin depth of field basically bright image with blurred background and with smaller aperture you will get low exposure and a deep or large depth of field basically dark image with sharp background. Again remember, larger aperture means smaller f/numbers.
Aperture is measured with F/Numbers also known as F/Stops. It is written as f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6 and so on. So, f-stops are a way of describing the size of the aperture for a particular photo.
ISO is one of the three fundamental settings of the photography that helps you control the overall exposure, along with shutter speed and aperture, that you can adjust when capturing a photo. ISO is basically used to brighten or darken your photo by increasing and decreasing it.
ISO does not directly effects your exposure but it is more accurate to say that ISO is like a mapping to tell your camera how bright the output photo should be, given a particular input exposure.
Although, ISO may not effect the exposure of photograph directly, it is used to brighten the photo that you have already captured, it is shutter shutter speed and aperture which by physically capturing light brightens up your photo.
Image with high ISO will be brighter than image with lower ISO. Capturing photos at high ISO will have more noise as compared to capturing photos at low ISO. ISO can also effect the dynamic range of your photo, with high ISO low dynamic range and with low ISO high dynamic range.
4. Metering Mode
There are three main metering modes:
- Matrix or Evaluated Metering: Matrix Metering or Evaluative Metering mode is the default metering mode on most DSLRs and Mirrorless Cameras. The principle is simple for this metering, the sensor determines the brightness of the scene over the entire image. It tries to do its best by analyzing the different brightness’s of your scene.
- Center Weighted Metering: Center-weighted Metering evaluates the light in the middle of the frame and its surroundings and ignores the corners.
- Spot Metering: Your camera only measures the intensity of light from a small circle in the center of the scene.
5. Camera Mode
Digital Camera Modes are pre-programmed settings that allows you to take control over the parameters of exposure, namely shutter speed, aperture and ISO. When you buy a digital camera, it will come with a selection of camera modes. They are useful when you are starting out, but also for the experienced photographer who needs to capture a shot fast.
Some Camera Modes are fully automated which lets your camera decide the settings for your photograph while some are semi-automated which lets you control few settings and lets camera decides the other settings and some camera modes allows you to take full control over the settings.
Here are the most important camera modes:
1. Program Mode (P)
In Program mode, the camera automatically chooses the aperture and the shutter speed for you, based on the amount of light that passes through the lens. This is the mode you want to use for point and shoot moments, when you just need to quickly snap a picture. Program mode frees you to override the settings if you want to which means you can still choose to change the shutter speed or aperture if you want to.
2. Aperture Priority Mode (A/Av)
In Aperture Priority mode, you manually set the lens aperture, while the camera automatically picks the right shutter speed to properly expose the image. You have full control over subject isolation and you can play with the depth of field, because you can increase or decrease the lens aperture and let the camera do the math on measuring the right shutter speed. I recommend using Aperture Priority Mode if you are a beginner photographer and want to learn or start shooting while you set camera settings manually.
3. Shutter Priority Mode (S/Tv)
In Shutter Priority mode, you manually set the camera’s shutter speed and the camera automatically picks the right aperture for you, based on the amount of light that passes through the lens. I recommend beginner photographers to use this mode if you want to intentionally blur or freeze motion.
4. Manual Mode (M)
As the name suggests, Manual mode stands for a full manual control of aperture, shutter speed and each and every camera settings such as ISO. In Manual Mode/ you have full control over the settings, you can decide the camera settings for the photograph you want to take.
6. Camera Focus Settings
Most modern digital cameras are equipped with advanced focus systems that are often hard to understand. Whether you are shooting with an entry-level or professional camera, knowing how to use the each and every focus system effectively is essential to get sharp images.
Generally, we can divide these camera settings into Manual focus mode (M) or Autofocus Mode (AF) depending on the type of photography that we’re doing.
Also, remember it is important to differentiate between the camera focus Modes and focus areas.
Note: Nikon camera settings and Canon camera settings related to focus are generally the same, but they have different names.
Focus modes are the tools to decide whether the camera locks or continues to adjust focus once the focus button is pressed. Here are important autofocus modes:
1. Continuous Focusing Mode (AF-C)
AI Servo AF (Canon)/AF-C (Nikon) stands for Continuous Focus, and this mode is most useful for keeping moving objects sharp within the viewfinder as you track the object. As soon as you begin to depress the shutter release, the camera goes into action and begins to focus. In Continuous focusing mode, the camera detects the subject’s movements and refocuses accordingly to keep the object sharp as a tack.
2. One Shot Focusing Mode (AF-S)
Next, we have One-Shot AF (Canon)/AF-S (Nikon), which represent single-focus capability. In this mode, when you depress the shutter release halfway, the camera focuses on the subject just once, there’s no continuous adjustment.
3. Automatic Autofocus Mode (AF-A) / Hybrid Mode
Some cameras also have a mode called AF Auto (AF-A) or something like AI Focus AF (Canon), which is basically a hybrid mode that automatically switches between AF-S and AF-C modes. This is a relatively new feature which has turned out to be quite useful.
Autofocus Area Modes
Now that we’ve had an overview about the various focusing modes, it’s time to talk about the different areas that you can select when using the autofocus. All of the most recent cameras on the market will give you at least three choices when it comes to autofocus areas: the single point autofocus, the dynamic area and the auto area autofocus.
1. Single-Point Autofocus
Take a look through your viewfinder. When the single-point mode is chosen, you’ll be able to select just one small rectangle out of the many that are present within the focus area. This is generally the most precise way to focus on your subject, especially if it covers a small part of the frame or if you want to focus on a particular part of it.
2. Dynamic-Area Autofocus
By selecting the dynamic area mode instead of the single-point mode, when you look at the scene through the viewfinder, you’ll see multiple focus points selected at the same time, not just one. The number of the selected points will mostly depend on your camera’s autofocus capabilities. Some cameras will give you more than one option for selecting how big that area is, ranging from 8-focus points to 21-focus points and so on.
3. Auto-Area Autofocus
As the name suggests, this is the most automated way to autofocus, since the camera will not just limit itself to focus but it will also choose where to peak the focus! This may sound super cool and easy but the truth is that it has a few annoying limitations. In low-light situations, the autofocus function on your camera will struggle.
7. White Balance
White balance is a photography setting to get the colors of your image right without being affected by the color of the light source of the scene. The white balance camera setting is key to keeping your images from taking a warm or cool tone when they shouldn’t, something also known as “color cast”.
White balance is closely related to color temperature, which is measured in Kelvins or “K”. The higher the number in the scale, the cooler the color will be.
Regarding the white balance settings on camera, there are three main types:
- Automatic white balance (AWB): As the name says, the camera automatically adjusts the best WB camera setting.
- White Balance Presets (Semi-Automatic White Balance): The camera offers different preset modes related to different color temperatures.
- White balance manual camera setting (Custom white balance mode): You can manually adjust the white balance by either setting a specific Kelvin number or creating a custom white balance.
AWB is the most popular and widely used white balance setting and the one set by default in most digital cameras.
8. File Format
The best camera quality setting is related to the file format, and it’s as simple as “Shoot in Raw”.
Raw files contain much more information than JPEG, which is essential when you edit your images and need to make the most of the color and dynamic range.
Some cameras offer the option of “compressed” and “uncompressed” Raw files. If your camera model can compress the Raw without losing quality, then go for this option. If there’s any quality loss, I’d recommend using the uncompressed raw file camera setting option.
If you don’t want to edit your photos later, you can also shoot in RAW + JPEG, but bear in mind that your SD cards will fill up sooner.
9. Color Space
The main camera photo settings related to color space are sRGB and AdobeRGB.
- sRGB: This is the most widely used color space and your best bet for color accuracy across different devices and browsers.
- Adobe RGB: It includes more colors, but some devices and browsers aren’t capable of displaying all the colors, creating strange color swifts.
While color space is very important in photography, if you shoot RAW, it’s something that you can adjust in the digital darkroom, so your color space photo setting on camera doesn’t matter.
10. Drive Mode
Simply put, drive modes are used to control the shooting frequency.
The main drive mode camera settings are:
- Single Shot: When you press the shutter, you’ll take a single photo. It’s a simple mode and the best in most situations.
- Continuous/Burst Mode: When you press the shutter, your camera will take several photos. The number of pictures that you can shoot in a burst will depend on your camera model. Most advanced cameras also have the option to shoot a low burst or a high burst depending on the subject.
- Shutter Delay: When you press the shutter, the camera will release the shutter after a specific time like 2, 5, or 10 seconds.
- Mirror Lock-up: Using this setting, the DSLR lifts the mirror to avoid vibrations and issues like mirror slap. This is anexclusive DSLR camera setting.
You can use Single-shot in most situations, and Continuous when you shoot action like wildlife, sports, etc. Shutter Delay is a very useful mode when shooting from a tripod. To avoid vibrations and get sharper images, you can set a 2 or 5-second delay. It’s the best mode for shooting long exposure photography, landscapes, and night photography without using a remote shutter. Lastly, mirror lock-up is one of the best DSLR camera settings when you have your camera on a tripod and you’re using a slow shutter speed (usually slower than 1/60th of a second).
11. Long exposure noise reduction
This is a somewhat controversial camera setting; some photographers use this photo setting while others never use it.
Using long exposure noise reduction, your camera will process some noise reduction in your file. The main downside of this basic camera setting is that you won’t be able to operate your camera while it’s processing the noise reduction, and the process takes the same time as the shutter speed.
My recommendation to you as a beginner photographer, you should do the noise reduction in post-processing.
12. High ISO noise reduction
This is just like the previous setting I explained. The only difference is, in this setting your camera will reduce the noise resulting from using a High ISO.
In this case, this noise reduction can be applied only if you shoot in JPEG, so if you shoot in Raw (as you should!), you can turn this camera setting off.
This is a considerably new camera setting and it’s aimed at creating a high dynamic-range image on camera.
While it’s a nice idea, cameras are not good enough at creating automatic HDR images yet, so if you want to achieve a natural HDR look in your images, my advice is to turn HDR/DRO off and create this effect in post-processing.
14. Image Stabilization
Image Stabilization is a very helpful camera setting that will allow you to shoot handheld at slower shutter speeds.
Advanced digital cameras and lenses offer top-notch image stabilization features, so you can use it to your advantage in certain situations:
- Image stabilization On: Use this when you shoot handheld unless you need a super-fast shutter speed.
- Image stabilization Off: It’s very important to turn this camera setting offwhen you’re shooting on a tripod or other stable surface to avoid blurry pictures.
Don’t worry if your camera doesn’t have Image Stablization. You can still take good pictures just by using tripod or stabilizer. This is not an important setting but at the same time it is also a very helpful setting.
Cameras with Image Stabilization are usually expensive that the cameras with no Image Stabilization. So, if I would be given a choise I would save money by buying camera with no Image Stabilization and invest in a good quality Image Stabilization Lens and tripod or handheld gimbal, stabilizer.
You don’t have to take my word for it because everybody has different preferences depending on their photography needs. It is just my preference, you can choose to buy camera with Image Stabilization as I mentioned earlier that it is a very helpful setting.
These are some common basic camera settings. Some camera might have even more settings than others, my recommendation to you as a beginner photographer is to master the three camera settings which are shutter speed, aperture and ISO.
You can use this as a reference to take photograph you a good image as you desire. Also, remember that there is no such things as rules in this world of photography, they are just guidelines for you to take good pictures.
You can feel free to experiment with any of the camera settings and come out of the comfort zone. To really understand what each camera settings does to your image you have to use it yourself.
Bottom line is, use this as a reference and feel free to experiment with any of the settings in your camera to take better photographs.
This is the end of Chapter 10: A Guide To Camera Settings of the Free Online Photography Course – The Ultimate Beginners Photography Guide. You can subscribe to The Black Light Studios website to stay tuned and get notifications on the upcoming chapters. In the mean time you can check my other posts on this website.
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