The full automatic setting of modern digital cameras usually gives excellent results. However, if the outcome is not what you are expecting, or you wish to achieve a particular effect, eg to put the background out of focus or to blur motion, you need to know how to set your camera controls.
The links below provide some basic checklists for the main camera types that people use:
This page explains the basics of exposure to help you choose an appropriate shooting mode
Image exposure is independently affected by three camera settings:
Aperture and shutter speed control how much light reaches the camera sensor by determining how much light enters the lens and for how long the sensor is exposed to that light. ISO speed electronically adjusts the sensor sensitivity, large ISO numbers are more sensitive than low ISO numbers.
The table shows typical values. Since optimal settings are camera and lens specific, these values can give only general guidance. Over time, for your camera and your way of taking photos, you will develop a ‘gut feel’ for what works and what doesn’t.
In many lighting situations, choice of settings for ‘correct’ exposure will be a compromise.
It’s important to understand the term ‘depth of field’, which is the distance between the nearest and farthest objects in acceptably sharp focus. For more see depth of field [new window]
Summary of exposure settings and typical values
Full Auto is a fail-safe initial choice, often resulting in good photos, but you cannot change settings if you want to be creative.
Provided you have a basic understanding of exposure, we suggest you experiment with other modes (examples below).
For all modes, the first step is to set a suitable ISO, but be prepared to change that later if necessary. Then choose your mode and use the camera dial or menu to adjust the setting.
Advantages and disadvantages of selected shooting modes
P / Auto
Program Auto Exposure
Selects a good compromise between shutter speed and aperture. You can easily change the aperture/shutter speed combination whilst maintaining correct exposure.
As shutter speed and aperture both change when you alter the setting, you need a feel for the relationship between them. Usually sets falsh to auto so it may go off when you don’t want it to.
Av / A
landscapes any photo where you wish to control depth of field
Easy to understand – set the aperture and let the camera set shutter speed. By setting the aperture you can control the depth of field, large apertures (small f No’s) equal shallow depth of filed and vice versa.
Shutter speed can easily become too slow, especially indoors.
Tv / S
Moving objects Objects requiring long exposures.
Easy to understand – set the shutter speed and let the camera work out the aperture. A fast shutter speed will ‘Freeze’ a moving object whereas a slow shutter speed can ‘blur’ moving objects. Long shutter speeds may be required for low light conditions and for avoiding very high ISO settings that might reduce image quality. As a rule of thumb, unless you are using a tripod do not set the shutter speed less than ‘1’ over the camera lens focal length.
The automatically selected aperture may be inappropriate eg; wrong depth of field. Slow shutter speeds can result in ‘camera shake’ particularly with ‘long’ lens’s.
Dials and other settings may not be as you expect so always spend a few minutes with the camera’s manual and checking out the basic settings and control features and check how to do the following.
Set the image stabiliser to on [if available, might be on the side of the lens or in a menu] – this avoids blurred images from camera shake at slow shutter speeds.
Select ‘auto’ or ‘manual’ focus as desired [if available this may be on the lens as well as the camera itself] – manual focus can be usefule in ceratin circumstances that will otherwise confuse the auto focus eg; birds against a moving background of a tree.
Switch the flash on and off. Usually this is best kept switched off to avoid harsh lighting and inadvertently using flash in prohibitted areas/locations.
Set the shooting mode selection as desired (eg; auto, manual, aperture priority, shutter priority or selected ‘scene’ modes)
Adjust ISO sensitivity. [generally as low as practical]
Select ‘focus points’ to the most suitable [generally select just the central focus point]
Set ‘light’ metering options to most suitable.
To take a photo
set zoom (if available) to suit subject [wide angle – good depth of field; telephoto – narrower depth of field]
[Depth of field = distance between the nearest and farthest objects in sharp focus]
if shutter speed is 1/60 second or slower, find a way of steadying the camera [touch/half press shutter release button to check speed]
focus camera [point at main subject, touch/half press shutter release button to focus]
compose photo [keep shutter release button half down to maintain focus and other settings, don’t alter zoom]