The modern DSLR is an amazing tool that supplies immense control over our image making. This control is delivered through a vast array of camera settings and options. Once you leave Program Mode, the options you need to keep track of really begins to stack up.
Creating great imagery requires, good light, a good subject, excellent composition and the right camera settings. It is so easy to miss the shot because you were in the wrong Focus Mode or you forgot to turn off your Self-Timer. Keeping track of all of the different camera settings can overwhelm the beginning photographer and even trip up the seasoned pro.
Lets start with a list of options that are likely to change due to your subject matter or shooting conditions:
• Image Quality- Raw? Jpeg?
• Shutter Speed
• White Balance
• Shooting Mode- Manual, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, etc.
• Auto/Manual Focus
• Focus Mode- Single Point, Dynamic Area, or Auto Selection of focus point?
• Lens Servo/Drive Mode- Single Shot, Continuous Shooting?
• Self Timer
• Mirror Lock Up
• Image Stabilization/Vibration Reduction
You can roughly divide the two common types of photography into two categories of settings: Action/Portrait and Fine Art/Landscape. This could also be categorized as Things that move quickly and Things that don’t move quickly. Of course there are countless divisions and subtleties within these categories, but lets use a wide stroke of the brush here.
If you are photographing things that move quickly:
You generally want to set your:
• Image Quality- Raw or Jpeg. Raw for the most part unless you really need to capture many frames per second, then Jpeg
• ISO- The lowest ISO’s always give you the best image quality, but if you need to raise the ISO to GET the shot, then by all means do so.
• Aperture- wider apertures of f2, F4, and f5.6 are the norm for this type of photography. The shallow depth of field enhances portraits and enables faster shutter speeds.
• Shutter Speed- Hand holding or using a mono pod requires faster shutter speeds to keep the image sharp. Fast motion requires a fast shutter speed to stop the action.
• White Balance- Dependent on the situation.
• Shooting Mode- Manual, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, etc.- Shutter Priority and Manual shooting modes are the norm. However if you are just starting out, Program mode may be just the ticket.
• Auto/Manual Focus- Most folks prefer auto focus for photographing people.
• Focus Mode- Single Point, Dynamic Area, or Auto Selection of focus point? Dynamic area or Auto Selection will help you keep the face sharp in your portraits. Check your manual for facial recognition options within your focus modes. Choose to use to less points for faster focusing when shooting sports.
• Lens Servo/Drive Mode- Single Shot, Continuous Shooting? Sports Photography will definitely benefit from continuous shooting. Holding the shutter down will capture as many frames per second as your camera allows. The same can be said of portrait photography when the subject is fast moving or expressions are likely to change. Single Shot works well for posed, traditional portraiture.
• Self Timer- Off
• Mirror Lock Up-Off
• Image Stabilization/Vibration Reduction – Turn this feature on if you are hand holding to reduce camera shake. Always turn this feature OFF when on a tripod!
If you are photographing things that are not moving quickly:
You generally want to set your:
• Image Quality to Raw. The Raw file will give you greater latitude when editing you images in post processing.
• ISO-If you are on a tripod, why not choose the lowest ISO to provide you with the best image quality! Again, if you need to stop some action, don’t hesitate to raise the ISO as needed.
• Aperture- Small apertures such as f11 and f16 will provide deep depth of field. This is generally desired for landscapes and architecture.
• Shutter Speed- Can be kept to slower speeds as long as the subject is stationary or slow. Lower shutter speeds allow smaller apertures which provide deeper Depth of Field.
• White Balance- Try to use the White Balance dictated by the conditions. Direct Sun for sunny days, Cloudy for overcast or Shade for open shade conditions.
• Shooting Mode- Manual, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, etc.. Although Aperture Priority is common amongst beginner photographers, most pros tend to use Manual. Practicing in Manual Mode will go a long way in making you a better photographer.
• Auto/Manual Focus-Your choice. Most pros use a combination of Manual and Auto focusing.
• Focus Mode- Single Point, Dynamic Area, or Auto Selection of focus point? Single Point Auto Focusing is the norm here. When things are not moving quickly, there is no need to drain your batteries.
• Lens Servo/Drive Mode- Single Shot, Continuous Shooting? Same as above.
• Self Timer- If you are not using your cable release, the Self-Timer will help you avoid camera shake when mounted to tripod.
• Mirror Lock Up- for a slight increase in sharpness (at slower shutter speeds), the mirror can be locked up before shooting. This gives the camera a second or two to stop vibrating before the shutter opens.
• Image Stabilization/Vibration Reduction- If you are using your tripod, turn OFF the IS or VR function of your lens. Only use this feature when hand holding. Note- Some lenses have a mode that can be employed for panning when on a tripod. Check your lens manual for instructions.
Extra tips and hints
Looking at the above settings you might almost wish that you could always have two cameras handy! Indeed, many pro photographers, actually work with two cameras. Many cameras also give you the ability to set up a custom shooting bank. Each bank remembers a set of camera settings that you design. Explore your camera manual. If your model allows a custom shooting bank, spend some time setting up one for Sports and one Landscape. These “presets” will shave precious time out in the field.
Dirty sensors are the bane of the digital photographers. The time you spend fixing your images will be drastically reduced by setting your Auto Cleaning to engage when turning your camera on and off.
Be Prepared! Precious few professional images are spur of the moment. Almost all are the result of careful planning or being prepared for the moment when it comes.
Check your settings before and after you shoot. Before setting out, imagine what you might encounter. Preset your ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed, or even attach the desired lens so that you will be ready for the shot when it happens. Likewise, its easy to get carried away basking in the afterglow of the shoot. Instead, take a moment to reset your camera settings. You may have increased the ISO or engaged the Mirror Lockup to capture the shot. Resetting the options to YOUR standard settings will increase your chances of success the next time you pull your camera out.
Looking for a step by step checklist?
Before the shoot happens check your camera settings. Note: this is only a partial list but contains the most commonly changed settings.
Image Quality- Raw/Jpeg
IS/VR On/ Off
Auto Focus On/Off
Shooting Mode- Manual, Aperture Priority, Program, etc.?
Lens Servo/Drive Mode- Single Shot, Continuous Shooting?
Setting up the Shot:
Determine your main subject. Remember you are photographing an idea or a feeling. NOT the actual subject.
Explore different vantage points before finalizing your camera position. Move your feet! Stand up. Crouch down.
Determine Focal length
Again, what is your main subject? Do the included subjects actually support the main subject, or do they distract from the main subject?
Meter the Scene:
Take a spot meter reading from an average subject and zero out your exposure scale.
Take a spot meter reading on the brightest area of importance and ensure it does not read above +2 on the exposure scale. If it does, begin to close down your Shutter or Aperture until the area reads +2.
In other words, meter for your midtones and ensure your highlights don’t blow out.
Before clicking the shutter:
Border Patrol- look for distracting items before clicking the shutter.
Look for distracting bright areas in the photograph.
Are areas of high contrast competing with your main subject?
Watch for lines going out the corners of your photo.
Keep an eye out for Tight Mergers-places where strong or obvious lines, come very near other strong or obvious lines.
Depth of Field:
Do you have enough?
Do you have too much?
You can catch Tim at one of our upcoming Photo Weekends in 2013 in these cities:
Oklahoma City, OK
Las Cruces, NM
Great Falls, MT