The Barefoot Photographer®

a photography blog

Monday, August 18, 2008

Proper Camera Settings

When you are taking photos are you so concerned with the settings that you can sometimes miss the shot or lose the idea?


Some photographers are very technical – they have a need to know all the settings to use when and where and then on top of that – they want to know why!  What do I say to that?  I say why worry about the "proper settings" and spend a little time on a spectacular composition!


When someone asks me "What settings do I use for (fill in the blank)?"  Well – it is not such an easy answer.  First, and the toughest part, is that I have no idea what their vision of the photo is.  Their vision and idea that they wish to capture makes all the difference in how to approach settings for a certain shot.  Add to this that usually the person asking me that wants a certain fstop and shutter speed that should deliver to them the perfect photo for the place, time, and idea.


I can't tell you.  I can't even tell me – I take test shots to get a sense of what I have and where I am going with the photo at that moment. 


Outdoors – let's think – the lighting varies from hour to hour and day to day.  If you have a little cloud cover at noon on Wednesday your settings will be different than a cloudless sky on Friday.  In July, 4 p.m. is very different than 4 p.m. in November.  Indoors it is a little easier – but it depends heavily on the lighting you have.  If I have no clue of the lighting in a space – how can I give a ballpark?


Don't be afraid to take the time to test shoot a couple photos.  Look at the photo you get.  Do you want lighter?  Should it be darker?  Is your subject in focus the way you want it.  Now I know that little screen on the back of the camera can lie to you.  Mine has lied to me plenty of times.  I think I have something wonderful and then after I see it on the computer I realize that it is not so nice.  If it is just an issue of the exposure being off – that is an easy fix with software.  If my depth of field is not the best – then I just have to plan a reshoot.  It is funny that seems like a major inconvenience now.  But just think about when we all worked with film.  You would have to reshoot something – but you would not figure that out as quickly as you can now.  Now – if you have your computer handy – you can shoot something over right away.


OK – so what about the times you don't want to have to have a reshoot.  What about when you won't get that chance.  My suggestion is that if it is very important and you are very leery of you manual setting abilities – go for a more auto-type setting – like "portrait," "landscape," or whatever.  The whole camera is your tool – all of the settings – even those dreaded "autoish" ones.  People who look down their noses at someone who does not always shoot manual are – well – silly!   A good cheat for going manual when you are unsure is to first put the camera on auto -- even take a shot.  Notice the shutter speed and fstop the camera uses.  Then review the image on the screen.  If you want to do something different (and you probably will), use a more manual setting to tweak the auto a bit. 


Don't be afraid to experiment when you have the opportunity – that is learning.  If you have a time crunch or and once in a while shot – don't worry about going more auto.  Always review your EXIF data to see the settings for those photos you love.  Remember them, if for nothing other than a starting place, for when you are presented with a similar situation.


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