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5 Camera Settings Hacks To Improve Your Photography

Updated: Jan 6, 2021

Smithfield Bridge
Photo by Andrew Barrowman

NOTE: This blog is written with the assumption that the reader has a basic to moderate understanding of photography and the exposure triangle (shutter speed, ISO and aperture).

You might not know it, but all those settings on your camera have a purpose, and this article explains how some of those settings can be used to improve your photos. Here are my 5 camera setting hacks to improve your photography.

1) Shoot in RAW - Switching your camera from JPEG to RAW is the very first step you should take to improve your photos. What’s the difference between the two? Well, think about it like this. A RAW image is like going to the store and buying all the ingredients to bake a pizza. You can buy the dough you want, the cheese you want and any topping you desire. JPEG images are like…. The premade frozen pizza from Digiorno. A more technical description: RAW images are uncompressed and allow for more editing capabilities in post-processing such as white balance adjustments, recovering dark shadows and adjusting for overexposed highlights. JPEG images are compressed, meaning there isn’t as much information in the image file which will limit what you can recover or enhance in your photo. The downside to shooting in RAW is that you will likely need special software such as Adobe Lightroom to view and edit the photos.

2) Use the Right Focus Mode - Most DLSR and Mirrorless cameras come with a variety of different Focus Modes. If you’ve invested in a good camera, it’s likely you have over 50 focus points. However, having that many focus points doesn’t mean you should be using all of them, all the time. Depending on the type of photography you shoot it might make more sense to use a single focus point. Say for example you’re shooting portraits and you want to make sure the subject's eyes are tack sharp. You should choose a single focus point and set it on the subjects eye (closest to the camera). This ensures that your camera will focus there verses the subjects nose or cheek. On the opposite side of the spectrum, if you’re shooting landscape you would be better off using all your focus points because you likely want the entire landscape your shooting to be in focus.

Keep in mind though that focus points should be set up after you’ve adjusted your basic camera settings (Shutter Speed, ISO, and Aperture). If your camera is set to a lower aperture you’ll still struggle with sharpness in some areas. A safe aperture for sharp landscapes is 5.6 or higher.

3) Leverage Bracketing for HDR - In case you’re not familiar, HDR stands for High Dynamic Range and essentially means that you can merge multiple photos together to compensate for underexposed foreground and backgrounds. Using your cameras bracketing settings allows you to take several photos with multiple exposures vs. having to take a photo, adjust, take another photo, adjust and so on. This will help save you a ton of time and reduce the chances of your camera shifting which can cause problems when trying to merge them in post-processing.

4) Use Your Camera Timer to Reduce Motion Blur (Long Exposure) - If you shoot long exposures you probably have ran into the same issue I have. Hitting the shutter button causes your camera to shake which can cause your photo to blur and that can be frustrating! The good news is that most DLSR and Mirrorless cameras have built-in timers (you know, the setting that gives you time to run over and join the family photo). Well, it serves a dual purpose when shooting long exposures. Setting a timer of 5 to 10 seconds allows your camera to stabilize before the shutter goes off which results in a sharp, beautiful long exposure.

San Francisco Bridge
Photo By Andrew Barrowman

5) Switch to Back Button Focus - Every cameras manufacturer default setting goes something like this -> half-press is the focus and full-press is the shutter. This is great for beginners. However, it can be extremely frustrating especially when you’re trying to shoot candid moments such as a wedding. Bring in BACK BUTTON FOCUS! Basically, you’re able to customize your camera's settings and make any button your focus button. Most cameras have a button on the back (you know, that button you never use and don’t even know what it does). Setting up back button focusing will help you avoid accidentally snapping out of focus shots and can save you from missing that candid moment.

Well, that's it! I hope these tips help you improve your photography skills. As always, don't forget to follow me on Instagram and Facebook and let me know what I should write about next!

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