Camera Settings and How to Use Them

image010 image Be a Control Freak


When I first made the jump from a point and shoot style camera to a DSLR I quickly notice how my pictures didn’t look like what I saw, the skies where washed out, my shaded areas where too dark and only the main subject was in focus. With the point and shoot I always had it set to Auto or “P” mode and just thought you get what you get. With the DSLR I was determined to learn how to use the dreaded “M”anual mode. It was fun learning all the cool things I could do when I took control of my camera settings. Photographs started to look just like I saw them and a whole lot more.


Now that You Have Mastered Composition it’s Time to Be Master of Your Camera

  • Know what the button functions are on the camera body

  • Familiarize yourself with your in camera menu functions, here you will find additional settings that do not have a button

  • Read your Users Manual to learn about camera buttons, settings and functions

  • Play around with these settings, learn what works for you and your situation

  • Set these as your default options

  • If you get in a jam, no problem just reset back to the original default settings and experiment again, my camera has a 2 button instant reset
  • Nikon D600 | Nikon D7100 Nikon D800 | Canon 5D Mark III | Nikon D5200 | Canon 1D X

My Top 10 Nikon Settings

1. Manual Mode

  • Allows me full control over exposure and depth of field

2.  Metering set to Spot

  • Gives me the ability to take specific meter readings in dark and light areas

3. Aperture and Shutter Speed Dials

  • Aperture controls the amount of depth of field or how much is in focus, the smaller the f-number eg. 2.8 the item in focus will be crisp, clear and sharp but your backgrounds and foregrounds will be out of focus

  • Shutter speed controls how long the shutter blades stay open / how much light is reaching the sensor

4. Iso set to 200

  • 200 is the clear and crisp setting, as the number increases so does the grain

5. Quality set to Large and Fine

  • Always set to max resolution you will be glad when it’s time to print images

6. White Balance set to Auto

  • In most situation auto works great, for those difficult lighting situations learn how to manually adjust WB for best color output or even creative colors

7. Release mode set to Ch 

  • Continuous high speed shutter release, allows me to shoot at 6 frames per second

8. Bracketing order set for Exposure 3 shot .7 stop apart

  • While holding down the shutter release, 3 frames are taken, 1 at the metered exposure, 1 at .7 of a stop darker and 1 at .7 of a stop lighter, good for Enfusion,  layering and HDR or for a backup making sure you have 1 good exposure

9. Area Focus set to Single Point / Single Servo / 51 Points

  • With the selector dial I manually select from 51 focus points through the view finder, I choose what to focus on as I half press the shutter release button

10. Picture Control set to Standard / Active D Lighting on Normal

  • The Standard / mid level preset adjusts the amount of sharpness, contrast and saturation levels, I prefer to do any additional adjustments in Photoshop so a mid level setting is safe and works well

  • Active D-Lighting helps lighten up dark / shadowed areas

Change Your Settings to Optimize Your Control
Different Situations Call for Different Settings

  • Focus set to Auto-area AF / Continuous-servo AF, great for sports and fast moving kids

  • Set Bracketing Exposure to 1 full stop apart, good for HDR

  • Higher Iso for night or low light shots

  • Mode set to "A" and metering set to Matrix for those situations when you dont have time to take meter readings

  • Add Raw to the Quality options, when the lighting is tough or when you don't get another chance to re-shoot, raw files can give you a second chance to correct incorrect camera settings such as white balance and exposure

Description: twilight blue sunset image

3 Bracketed Exposures 1 Full Stop Apart Enfused in Lightroom

Be Confident and Turn the Mode Dial to “M”

Once you have your settings customized it’s time to locate the shutter speed and aperture (fstop) dials. For landscape photos I prefer f8 as my standard aperture setting, I know my lens is still sharp at f8 and I will have a decent depth of field. While looking through the view finder set your focus point for your meter reading, you will also see your meter along the bottom, rotate the shutter speed dial until the meter indicator is centered, this will be the correct exposure for the area selected. Snap away, it’s that easy.

Metering Tips

  • Using your Spot meter option take a reading from the brightest area, usually the sky and another reading from the darkest area usually shade or foregrounds and set the meter indicator to an average of the two readings. That way your skies will be colorful and your shaded areas will have detail
  • When you don't have a lot of time Matrix metering does a good job of taking an average of the whole scene



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Article & Photos by: Mark McCulloch,