DSLRs enable you to take much more creative photos. But this extra functionality does require you to spend a bit more time getting to know your camera settings. This can be frustrating if you’re keen to get shooting, but it’s the only way to ensure your camera’s set up properly for the best results.
To help you get started on your journey, here are the key things you should know about how to dial in the best camera settings for your DSLR.
When it comes to file formats, shoot in RAW rather than JPEG. The extra data that’s captured by shooting in the uncompressed RAW format gives you more flexibility to improve your shots post-shoot.
Try to keep light sensitivity as low as possible – between ISO100 and 400. Most cameras produce digital noise at higher ISO ratings. Noise looks like grain in your images.
As for white balance, you can leave it on auto, but you’ll become more confident at knowing when certain lighting conditions require you to switch to a specific setting, such as Cloudy or Tungsten.
Aperture and shutter speed are crucial. The combination of these two settings affects not only the amount of light you let into the lens, but also the way your images look.
The aperture controls the depth of field by determining which areas of an image appear sharp. If you want a shallow depth of field, with a sharp foreground but blurred background, you need to select a wide aperture (such as f/2.8), and vice versa.
The shutter speed controls whether a moving object is frozen or blurred in your shot. The slower the speed, the more motion blur you’ll create.
Setting the right exposure mode
DSLRs offer a range of exposure modes, from fully automated – like a compact camera – to fully manual. Two popular ‘semi auto’ modes are Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority, which give lots of creative control.
Aperture Priority enables you to dial-in your chosen aperture and the camera automatically works out what shutter speed is needed. If you know what shutter speed you want to use to create a certain effect, Shutter Priority lets you select it.
The camera then works out the aperture you need for a correct exposure. Simple!
Get metering right
Metering modes depend on the camera and the brand, but the three most common on a DSLR are Multi-zone, Centre-weighted Average and Spot.
Multi-zone mode takes a light reading from across a whole scene. It’s suitable for everyday use and pretty accurate in most situations. Centre-weighted Average takes a reading that concentrates on around 70% of the centre of the frame and feathers out towards the edges. It’s ideal for shooting portraits.
Spot metering reads a tiny area of the scene and is therefore the most advanced and precise mode.
Setting the AF and Drive modes
To make your shots pin-sharp, DSLRs offer a number of focus modes. The two main settings are single-servo, for stationary subjects, and continuous-servo, for moving subjects. Most DSLRs enable you to select a focus point manually, so that you can lock focus on off-centre subjects.
The Drive modes enable you to determine whether a single frame is captured each time you press the shutter release, if shots are taken continuously for as long as the shutter is pressed down, or if the shutter is fired automatically after a set delay.
Make the most of the rear LCD screen
Now you’ve got an SLR it’s time to ensure you are using the bigger, brighter LCD properly. By this we mean using the zoom buttons to zoom into parts of an image on the rear screen, so you can check for sharpness or excessive noise.
And you should also get into the habit of checking your image’s exposure by calling up the histogram, or tone chart. A histogram bunched up to the left indicates under-exposure; bunched up to the right it indicates over-exposure.