Photography Basics: Camera Settings


Camera settings in boudir photography

Modern cameras have a lot of settings. That said once you figure out your preferences, you will rarely need to change them. I haven’t touched most of these in months. Plus, if you are shooting in RAW format you can change some of these in post processing.

  • Focus Settings

  • Drive Mode

  • Metering Modes

  • Exposure Compensation

  • White Balance

  • Picture Profiles

  • File Formats

  • Cropping/Aspect Ratio

Not all cameras will have the settings we are discussing in this post. This is meant to be a broad overview and you should check your camera’s user manual for more detailed information.


Focus Settings

If your subject isn’t in focus, do you even have a photo? The subject is everything, so getting your focus right is a big deal. Using the right settings will help immensely with that.


Your first choice to make will be manual focus vs auto focus. Most lenses have a switch that you can throw to quickly choose between these settings. Modern cameras are really good with auto focus. As such I keep mine on auto 99% of the time.


Next, is what focus drive mode you will use. Your two choices are single servo and continuous servo. Single servo means when you press the shutter button down partially to get your subject in focus it will stay in that position as long as you keep your finger there. If your subject moves they will be out of focus. With continuous servo the focus will continue to move with your subject as you hold down the shutter button. This is the drive mode I prefer.


Focus points determine what part of the image your camera will render in focus. Single point is just like it sounds, your camera will focus on a single point and you have the option to select where that point is. Cameras with touchscreens allow you to tap where you want your focus to be while those without require you to use a joystick or buttons. Cameras have differing numbers of focusing points and the more focusing points the more options you have. Multipoint means your camera has several preset points it uses to get focus. If something is on one of those points your camera will try to get it in focus. Center weighted focus means your camera does it’s best to get whatever is in the center of the photo in focus. I exclusively use single point focus for boudoir photography.


I wanted to dedicate a whole paragraph to the awesomeness that is eye-autofocus. In my opinion, eye-auto focus has been one of the best innovations in camera technology in recent decades.

My old Nikon d3300 did not have this feature whereas my Canon EOS RP does. Not having to worry about getting the eye in focus allows me to concentrate on other areas of my photography like lighting, posing, and composition. If you are in the market for a camera I highly recommend a one that has eye-auto focus.


Drive Mode

Drive mode determines how many and when your camera takes a picture after you press the shutter button. Do you want to take only one photo when you press the shutter button or do you want to take multiple? Do you want to have a 2 or 10 second timer before your camera takes a picture after you press the button? All of these options are controlled by selecting the corresponding drive mode.


Metering Modes

Metering mode determines what part of the frame your camera is balancing the exposure for. Most cameras have at least the following three metering modes.

  • Full: The camera will try for a balanced exposure across the whole image.

  • Center: The camera will balance the exposure for the center of the photo.

  • Point: The camera will expose for a point you select.

Metering modes aren’t as useful if you are using a mirrorless camera in my opinion as you get to see the image through the EVF and control the exposure yourself. Especially if you are in manual mode. I set my metering mode to full when I purchased my current camera and haven’t touched it since.


Exposure Compensation

Exposure compensation allows you to lighten or darken your image and override the camera’s built in light meter. Exposure compensation is used in conjunction with aperture and shutter priority modes to allow you to get the exposure you want. If you are in aperture mode it will adjust the shutter speed and if you are in shutter priority mode it will adjust the aperture. Exposure compensation can be used in manual mode too, but only when you have auto ISO turned on. If you aren’t using auto ISO it won’t work. I don’t use exposure compensation when I shoot, preferring to use manual mode and change the aperture, ISO, or shutter speed as feels appropriate.


White Balance

Light has a different tint based on the temperature it is created at. For example, a light bulb burning at 1,000 Kelvin (1,000 Kelvin is equal to 726 °C or 1,340 °F) will have an orange tint whereas a light bulb burning at 10,000 Kelvin will have a blue tint.


Your camera's white balance setting allows you to correct your color temperature to render your subject true to life, otherwise your photos would come out with a weird tint. Most cameras come with some built in white balance settings for different lighting scenarios you might run into such as daylight, shade, cloudy, tungsten lights, and fluorescent lights. You can even set your color temperature manually. There is also an auto white balance setting which is what I use. Watch the video below to help you get a better understanding of white balance.



Picture Styles

Picture styles allow you to change the look of your photo in camera when you are shooting in JPEG file format. For example if you wanted to take a black and white photo you would choose the monochrome picture style. There are many other styles available that will change the look of your final image. If you are shooting in RAW format you can change the style in post processing.


File Formats

The way your camera records a photo’s data to your memory card is determined by the file format you choose. If you are using a digital camera you have two choices when it comes to formats, JPEG and RAW. Each format has its pros and cons. The trick is for you to pick the best one for your situation.


With JPEG file format your camera makes several choices to render a complete photo with a compressed file size. One of the downsides of JPEG is certain changes are locked into the file. For example if you shot with the monochrome picture style all of the color data will be lost.


RAW format is all about keeping as much data as possible so you have that data in post processing. You would be surprised at the amount of data that your sensor can record to a RAW format file. Let’s use the same example of shooting in the monochrome picture style. While you would have lost the color data if you used the JPEG format you would not have lost it using a RAW format. This means in post processing you could have changed the picture style to a color style if you so desired.


Most cameras will allow you to save both a RAW file and JPEG file of the same photo. This is the setting I use. It takes up more space on my memory card but I like having a JPEG right away and the option of editing a RAW file later if I desire.


Cropping/Aspect Ratio

The shape of your photo is determined by the aspect ratio. Aspect ratio is the relationship of the length of the photo to the width of the photo. For example a 1:1 aspect ratio would give you a square crop. Other aspect ratios include 4:3, 3:2, and 16:9. Since camera sensors are rectangular they will have a built in aspect ratio. You might see this as the full option when you look in your cameras menu. My advice is to use your cameras native aspect ratio so you are taking full advantage of your sensor.


In Closing

Once you master your camera's settings you will be well on your way to being able to create the images you want. It will take time and practice, but you can do it! For the next Photography Basics article click the link below.

Photography Basics: Lighting

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