Finding The Best Digital Camera Settings For You
In today’s post I wanted to share with you what I hope will help you better understand what the best digital camera settings are, for you to use, to enable you to get some great photographs now and in the future. I know when I first got into photography I thought the letters on the settings wheel didn’t really apply to me – I used to use the preloaded settings which I think were for ‘sports,’ ‘night time,’ ‘close-ups’ and ‘landscapes’. It was only when I got my first semi-professional camera that those settings had been removed and I had a little bit of a panic attack…
If you want to become a professional photographer or even just raise the level of your abilities having a grip on the fundamentals of aperture, shutter speed and ISO is absolutely key. I came to understand very quickly that manual mode ultimately gives you the most control over your images. My goal here today is to try and break down some of the ways in which you can start to develop your skills when using your camera.
I am pleased to say that to help you get started there are a couple of settings that help you begin that journey of taking back control from a fully automated camera.
Obviously this post is aimed at someone who is more likely to have a DSLR camera although nowadays some of the more advanced ‘Point and Shoot’ style Compact Cameras do have some of these settings too.
I am referring to the Aperture Priority Setting ‘AV’ and Shutter Priority Setting ‘TV’
In other words when you select one of these settings to control for yourself, the camera will control the other. My preference is AV (Aperture Priority) as you tend to have more control over the general look and feel of your final image. We will get to AV in a moment but first lets discuss briefly TV or Shutter Priority.
Making the Best Use of Shutter Priority
For me the best use of TV (Shutter Priority) is if you are trying to capture a moving object such as the image below – almost frozen in time !
Similarly if you have the opportunity to mount your camera on a tripod or even sit it on a wall, the ground, or whatever (as long as it’s unable to move) to capture a moving object such as a waterfall or the sea thus creating a smooth looking water flow. You have all seen those iconic style traffic shots with the long tails of red lights going off into the distance.
Another popular use if you are planning to do some night shoot painting pics. A very slow shutter speed is key here among a few other things but just as an example here is a picture illustrating the point.
So to recap, by you controlling the Shutter Priority the Camera will in turn control the Aperture settings thus enabling you to create some amazing movement style pictures. However that is about the limit of this automatic function. Moving us on to AV Aperture Priority where you will see that there are far more advantages to this setting over the Shutter Priority Setting.
Using the Aperture Priority Setting
To my mind when you are getting started in the world of Photography the best digital camera setting you can utilise is the ‘AV’ (Aperture Priority Setting). This setting enables you to control ‘Depth of Field’. For those of you that don’t know this is just a way of saying what is and isn’t in focus in your photograph both in the foreground and the background. Typically if you are taking a picture of something that you want only to be in focus with the background dropping away out of focus this is controlled by AV.
To have the item in the foreground sharp and in focus and everything blurred out behind or in front of it you will need to have a large aperture setting – typically this wants to be as low number as possible on the ‘F’ range pictured here top middle (4.0) a typical range will be as low as 1.4 upto around 5 or 6.
This helps remove the distraction from the picture and enables the viewer to know exactly what you want them to be looking at.
Also if you are aiming to take some closeup style photographs a wide aperture setting can also be very useful targetting the exact object and dropping everything else around it seemingly into the background.
The lower setting (wider Aperture) also allows you to take photographs in a lower light without the use of flash, although a word of caution here as remember the Camera will be in control of your shutter speed and if it struggles to get enough light into the camera it will slow down the shutter speed meaning you will need to hold the camera very still. I would recommend shooting your picture using a tripod otherwise your images will become blurry due to camera shake or the subject moving.
So moving outside
When moving outdoors typically there is more light which will need to be controlled by your aperture setting. Ideally in an outdoor landscape setting you will be looking to capture as much of the image in focus as possible so you will have to push your ‘F’ value to the other end of the spectrum – typically the range would be more like F11 – F22. That being said you will notice that your Shutter speed has greatly increased allowing less light into your camera thus reducing the exposure. Play around with your Aperture setting until you find the ideal setup. You will notice that items in the foreground as well as in the background are now in focus.
My Final Tip For the ‘F’ Settings
If you find yourself photographing static subjects like a person in front of a tree or building then the best setting for this would be around F6 – F10 this creates a clean sharp image but more two dimensional which is really what you want in this scenario.
Downsides to Aperture Priority
Because this is an automatic function of the camera it doesn’t always mean that the camera will capture whatever it is you think you are going to capture. Say for example that wonderful sunset shot – too much light flooding in to the camera and it will react and give an underexposed image. To create these sorts of images you have to experiment with your Manual settings but I will save that for another post.
These Camera Auto Settings work best when shooting in an even light setting sometimes if it is a bit overcast outside or when the lighting is nicely diffused indoors. Ultimately you will have to experiment and see what works best for you. Similarly in the other extreme if the light is not so good the shutter speed maybe too slow. Therefore very difficult for you to physically hold the camera still enough while the shutter is open, which will inevitably cause camera shake and blurriness. One option is to mount the camera on a tripod and my preferences would be to either use a remote shutter release or to set the camera on a timer (usually 5 seconds) so that you don’t vibrate the camera when pressing the shutter release button (picture taking button).
There will be limits to Auto Settings on any camera so while you find your feet this is a good option – however I do encourage you to practice with Manual Mode when you can and learn the relationship between all of the three main exposure techniques. Aperture, Shutter and ISO
That being said the Auto features in today’s cameras really are quite impressive to the point that if you don’t have time to fiddle with all the settings in Manual Mode you can of course pick one of the ‘auto’ features and happily snap away simply adjusting one or other of aperture or shutter speed – you’ll be amazed how many wonderful pictures you can capture whilst out for a wonder with the dog or family.
It is difficult to take good pictures without having a good understanding of ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture Settings. A lot of DSLRs will have Several “Auto” modes that can choose the right shutter speed, aperture and even ISO for your exposure, using an Auto mode puts limits on what you can achieve with your camera however. These auto modes can work ok but will not give you the best possible pictures that your camera can take. Working out the best digital camera settings for you will take practice and you will over time gain an understanding of the relationship between Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO and how they work together. When this happens or you feel more confident you can move over to the Manual mode where you get to control all aspects of exposure and really push your Camera to take the best pictures it can possibly take.
I hope you have enjoyed today’s post and have found it useful – however if there is anything you would like to add or have other questions or comments please do leave them in the comments section below and I will happily respond to you.