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Updated: Jan 6, 2021

What are camera settings? To start, let’s first provide clarity on what is being defined as camera settings. For the purpose of this article, camera settings is defined as the “standardized setting defined by your camera manufacturer which has been set up to give your camera control over how a photo will be exposed”. With that being said, there are often times when you’re photographing in automatic or “priority settings” your photo may come out... Not exactly how you’d like it to. It could be that the foreground (i.e., your subject) is exposed and the background (i.e., skyline) is not, or vice versa. Your camera in automatic will often times expose for the largest area in the photo, which might not always be what you want to be exposed.. So, to ensure your photo(s) comes out exactly the way you want, here are 7 camera settings that will be sure to help

1) Exposure Triangle - This isn’t exactly a setting on your camera, but it’s important to understand the exposure triangle since the combination of the three determine your camera’s exposure when shooting outside of automatic or a priority mode.

- ISO - This determines how much light the sensor lets in. As you increase your ISO you’re letting more light in ultimately increasing the total exposure of the photo. Be mindful of how high your crank you ISO through. Depending on your camera, you could end up introducing a lot of grain into the photo. A safe bet for ISO is somewhere between 100 and 1400.

- Aperture - Aperture also affects how much light comes into the lens. As you increase your aperture you allow less light to enter into the lens. Note that the higher the aperture the lower the depth of field. So, if you increase your aperture to say, f11, you’ll have everything in the photo in focus whereas an aperture of say, f2.8, will provide you with a sharp foreground or subject and a creamy blurry background.

- Shutter Speed - Shutter speed determines how fast or slow your camera snaps the photo. When your camera takes a photo it exposes the sensor in your camera which begins to let light in. The faster the shutter speed, the less light it will allow. It’s important to keep your shutter speed in mind when photographing a moving subject. If your shutter speed is too low the subject will be blurry and out of focus. It’s recommended that if you are shooting a moving object to keep your shutter speed somewhere between 1/60th and 120th of a second.

2) Programmed Auto - The last of the “semi-automatic” modes most DSLR and mirrorless cameras have is Programmed Auto, which is very similar to full automatic mode in that the camera will adjust the shutter speed, aperture and ISO but will allow the photographer to control all other settings such as exposure compensation, focus mode, etc. This is a good first step when learning the fundamentals of your camera.

3) Shutter Priority - Most amateur and pro DSLR and mirrorless cameras come with a shutter priority mode (often denoted as “S” or “Tv” on your camera’s mode settings), which is a “semi-automatic” setting that allows the photographer to control their shutter speed, but allows the camera to compensate for the ISO and aperture to ensure the photo is exposed properly. This can be useful if, for example, you’re photographing a sporting event and want to capture action shots while the players are in motion. With shutter priority, you’re able to adjust for a higher shutter speed (1/200 or higher is recommended) to avoid motion blur.

4) Aperture Priority - Similar to Shutter Priority, most amateur and pro DSLR and mirrorless cameras offer an aperture priority mode (often denoted as a “A” or “Av” on your camera’s mode settings) which allows the photographer to control their aperture of f-stop, but allows the camera to compensate for the change in exposure by adjusting the ISO and shutter speed. This can be useful, for example, if you want to photograph a subject and are looking for the “creamy” bokeh background look. To obtain a look like that, you’d want to adjust your aperture/f-stop to be as open/low as possible. The ideal f/stop to obtain this look is f1.8 or lower.

5) Manual Mode - Manual Mode is exactly what it sounds like. It puts you in full control over your camera’s settings. This means that if you adjust your shutter speed, for example, your aperture and ISO will not automatically compensate for that change. By not manually compensating for the change in your shutter speed your photo could come out over or underexposed. The benefit of shooting in manual mode is that you can under or overexpose your photo to your taste or the situation. For example, if you’re shooting a wedding and you want the photo to have a nice and bright/airy look, it may make sense to slightly overexpose the photo. Another example may be that you’re shooting a pretty landscape during a bright day and you don’t want your sky to be blown out. You may want to shoot a little underexposed and compensate for that underexposure later in post-editing.

6) Image Quality (JPEG vs. RAW) - Switching your camera from JPEG to RAW is a great step 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. RAW images are uncompressed images and will allow for the most 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 and will limit what you can recover or enhance in your photo.

7) White Balance - Have you ever walked out of your house on a snowy cloudy day and notice the blue hue that everything seems to have? Well, that is an example of white balance. Cooler tones are blue and warmer tones are orange. There are many different ways to set you white balance and with most modern cameras, there are pre-configured settings based on the conditions you’re shooting with. The great news, if you should in RAW (see point 6) you’ll have a ton of control to adjust your white balance in post-processing. If I had to give you advice, shoot in auto white-balance 99% of the time. Your camera does a great job adjusting the white balance. However, if you want to adjust it, look into your camera’s specific settings!

Well, that’s it! I hope you found this helpful. I know when you’re a beginner photographer it can be confusing and daunting to learn your camera and how to adjust the setting to get the perfect photo every time. It takes time and most importantly, patience. I encourage you to continue to research, walk tutorials on YouTube and most importantly, get out there and start creating! Practice makes perfect!

Andrew Barrowman

Owner, Barrowman Photography

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