20 Basic Tips For Understanding Digital Camera Settings

Photography makes it possible to capture those wonderful moments of our lives and everything that’s beautiful and cherish them in the form of memories. So it is only natural that you would want to take the best shots possible. And most of you may agree, photography can be a real passionate addiction. One of the key things you should know as a camera owner is the settings that go with the camera. And with the kind of cameras in the market today, it is a cakewalk for any amateur photographer to try his / her hand at producing exquisite photography.

We explore the camera settings that you should know to get started with taking your best shots. Read on to find out more:

Camera modes simplified:

Automatic mode:

1. Auto mode: By selecting automatic mode, you are instructing the camera to make best use of aperture, shutter speed, ISO, focus and flash while taking a shot such that you get the best picture. So in essence the camera will ‘guess’ the type of shot you want to take and try to adjust itself to give you the best shot.  So to ensure you do get the best shot, you need to also set other parameters in your camera.

2. Portrait mode: The camera will adjust itself to a large aperture (selects a small number) such that the background remains out of focus and your subject is the centre of attention. You get beautiful portrait shots when you stand close to or zoom in on the subject before taking the shot.

3. Macro mode: This mode works best when you want to move in closer and take shots of flowers, insects or tiny objects. Focusing is cumbersome in macro mode as the depth of field is very narrow at short distances. It is also safe to avoid the usage of flash since you are taking close up shots.

4. Landscape mode: When you want to cover a large area in the shot, this mode will be helpful. In this mode, the camera selects a small aperture (a large number) in order to capture a large scene into the shot as you focus. It is better to use a tripod if possible to ensure the photo is not shaken or blurred.

5. Night mode: Your camera uses a longer shutter speed in order to capture details of the scene when light is low. A flash is usually used in this mode to enable the distribution of light on your subject. While it is better to use flash in dark, taking pictures without the flash too brings out good shots and makes interesting snaps.

6. Sports mode: In some of the cameras, this mode is also known as ‘action mode’ as capturing sports mostly means taking pictures when the subject is in action or is moving. It is possible to take action pictures when the camera increases its shutter speed so that it can freeze the instance of action.

7. Movie mode: This mode does not really match up to a video camera but certainly helps you capture those moments when you feel still images are inadequate. Both video and sound are recorded. And these moving images take more space than still images do.

Semi-automatic mode:

8. Aperture priority mode (A or AV): Your camera chooses other settings such as ISO, white balance, etc when you fix the aperture mode to small or large. Large aperture means a large scene in focus, so the shutter speed is slow whereas small aperture means focus is on a particular object which is usually closer or a still subject and hence the shutter speed is faster. The aperture and the shutter of a camera regulate the exposure of any photo. Large aperture means you need to good lighting to properly expose the photograph.

9. Shutter priority mode (S or TV): Similar to the aperture mode, here you will set the shutter speed and the camera will choose and set the other parameters such as aperture, ISO, white balance, etc.  Having the option to choose the shutter speed is useful to a great extent as you can set the shutter speed to fast when you are taking action pictures so that the act is frozen while clicking the shot.  Likewise, slow shutter speed works well while taking a large view or flowing water. If  there is not enough low aperture and the shutter speed is too fast like 1/2000 of a second perhaps, then it is likely that the photo will be underexposed.

10. Program mode (P): Commonly understood as automatic mode and also used as alternative names for each other. The only subtle difference being a program mode gives you more control over flash, ISO, etc.

Fully Manual mode:

11. Manual mode: If you like to learn photography the real way, then opt for the manual mode and practice till you have a good sense of each function such as aperture, shutter speed, white balance etc. In this mode you have the freedom to explore and set each parameter the way you want. Since this can prove to be quite a challenge to set accurate parameters and be able to get best shots, most people stick to the conventional automatic mode.

12. Balancing the White balance:

We would not like our pictures to show us in a different light, literally! So it is essential to adjust the white balance in order to get pictures which reflect the colours closest to or as exact as that of the subject. Our eyes automatically adjust irrespective of the temperature of the colours unlike a camera which needs us to adjust the white balance. Check your camera manuals to make these adjustments as most cameras differ in the method of adjusting white balance. However, you should be able to find automatic and semi-automatic modes to help you get started.

13. Automatic white balance settings: Most of the cameras have some of these white balance settings: Auto, Tungsten, Fluorescent, Daylight / sunny, Cloudy, Flash, and Shade.

14. Manual white balance settings: Check your manual to follow the exact procedure to manually adjust the white balance but the concept in all cameras are the same, which is, by adjusting the white balance in your camera you are giving your camera a white colour for reference. By focusing your camera on something white (say a kerchief or a white sheet / card) your camera will recognize what white colour looks like and will set all the other colours accordingly.

15. ISO:

ISO stands for International Organization for Standardization. ISO is the method adjusting the camera’s sensor (or film) to make it more sensitive to light. Higher ISO means higher sensitivity to light; higher shutter speeds or higher apertures which in turn help you shoot pictures under poor lighting conditions. Also the higher the ISO, greater will be the noise of the camera while taking the shot as the size of the pixels gets reduced so much on the sensor that it finds it hard to collect all the light in the fraction of a second that the shutter is open. So to keep the noise at bay, you can take a few pictures at different ISO settings and check the resulting noise that you can bear to have.

16. Flash:

A flash is a device used in cameras to provide an artificial flash of light so that the subject or scene is bright and illuminated before you click the photo. It also can perform other functions like quickly capturing a moving object or changing the quality of light. Most cameras have built-in flash and settings that you can control.

17. Fill flash: Most of the cameras have a lightning bolt icon which is the fill flash. This flash helps illuminate a subject which is near the camera that would have otherwise appeared underexposed. The flash is lower in intensity than the original or ambivalent light. The flash unit is set to expose the scene or subject fully and properly at a given aperture, at a given shutter speed.

18. Bounce flash: Another way of using Flash effectively is to bounce the flash off reflectors such as a white wall / screen, a flash umbrella or white clothing. The result is a much softer light that exposes your subject in the best possible manner. It also reduces the overall contrast and highlight detail.

19. Red eye reduction: When a person is photographed in low light but with the flash on, the resulting effect is known as Red eye. This happens as the light gets bounced off the person’s retina thus making it red in colour. By choosing red eye reduction button available on the camera, the pre-flash showers a soft light on the eyes which make the irises of the person to contract thus reducing red eye effect.

20. Exposure Bracketing:

Autobracketing is a convenient feature where the camera will take about 3 successive shots with slightly variant settings. You can choose the best picture of the lot! You can also do this manually by changing the settings for each shot and achieve the same result, the process is known as Bracketing. The most common type of autobracketing is ‘Exposure bracketing’, where the camera takes the same shot with different settings including over-exposed (brighter) and under-exposed (darker) images when compared to the camera’s present settings.  Cameras adjust either the aperture or the shutter speed when trying to perform automatic exposure bracketing. Most cameras allow for you to set the variation between different ‘stops’. If the variation you want in the pictures is greater, you may set it to ‘2 stops’ and if you want it very less, you may set the variation to ‘half a stop’.

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