Let’s Learn About Your Camera’s Settings!

Let’s Learn About Your Camera’s Settings!

And then forget about them.

(No, really. I mean it!)

Camera commandment: Know thy camera

If you are interested in photography for any reason, whether it be a personal or business pursuit, one of the best things you can do for yourself is get to know your camera.

Even better is to know your camera on an intimate level.

If you still have lingering questions along the lines of “ooh what does this button do?” then I suggest snuggling up with a cup of tea (or a beer – your choice), your camera, and the dreaded manual!!

After a couple of sessions you will be feeling much more confident about this little machine in your hands.

This is especially handy when working with live models.

Your confidence will inspire confidence in them. You will get better pictures. Everybody wins.

Those Little Icons – What Do They Mean?

Ever asked yourself that question? I know I did for a while.

The silly running man icon confounded me for longer than I’d like to admit.

Now that I know what my little running man buddy does to the camera, I can duplicate the same effect manually.

Does that mean that I do it all of the time? No, not really.

But it’s good to know that if there is one out of five of the components associated with a particular setting that isn’t working for me, then I know how to change it and make it work!

Most of the camera on the market today have a dial with the little icons that I have been talking about. They represent a range of settings – from full auto to full manual mode.

Unless you are working in a controlled environment where the lighting will never change, then manual mode may not be for you. This is why we’re going to focus on the other settings a little more in depth.

This setting can be identified as either a small icon of a camera (it’s a red camera on my point and shoot, and P mode on my DSLR) or just the word Auto.
Most people are familiar with their auto setting and, unless you’re in a photography class, it’s probably the setting that you used when first learning about your camera.

Auto can great for snapshots, but it is a double edged sword. Because the Auto setting doesn’t require any input from the photographer at all, the camera will arbitrarily decide on a shutter speed, an aperture opening and a film speed (ISO).

If you have nice, even light in your setting then Auto may work great. But it won’t, for example, give you the control to throw your background out of focus on demand.

My advice is use auto until you are comfortable shooting with the camera and then move on.

The icon of the person’s head is for Portrait mode; this is used when you’re photographing a person in fairly close proximity.

Basically this setting automatically creates a large aperture opening which blurs the background behind your subject.

Depending on your camera there can be 2 modes for this setting- portrait and night portrait. As I’m sure you can tell, the portrait mode is for photographing people in the normal daylight hours.

Night portrait allows you to photograph a person when in a dark night-time ambiance and still retain detail.

Basically it will slow down your shutter speed, letting more light into the camera. This may require a steadier hand if you are not using a fill flash as well.


That’s the little mountain icon. Basically what this setting does is tells your camera that you want a lot of crisp detail, even of things far away.

This setting will automatically set up the camera with a smaller aperture, which in turn creates a larger depth of which (this lets the camera capture more detail).

The result is a crisp image of subjects both close to the camera and a great distance away.

Yes, it’s our running man friend again!

The setting is for capturing movement; so if you are attending a fast paced soccer game, this is probably going to be your go-to setting.

With the little running man icon you can either stop motion completely or you can give your background a fun motion-blur effect.

Each has its advantages and you will have to decide when to use which. A blurred background shows that your subject is, indeed, moving.

In fact they’re moving really fast (or at least it will look that way!).

It is likely that your camera’s settings will automatically be prepped to stop motion completely with this setting.
Your camera will adjust to use the fastest shutter speed and the smallest aperture possible, which will stop motion and create a large depth of field.

In order to do this, your camera will also take control of the ISO (film speed) and use the highest it can get away with.

Ifyou’re outdoors, this should be no problem. If you’re trying to photograph in a dimly lit gym you may find that your images will come out looking rather grainy.

This is why learning these settings in depth and knowing how to replicate them manually is great. Then you can take control of the ISO or the film speed as needed.

So let’s say you want to blur everything but your subject in sports mode? Not too difficult.

Imagine an image of a race car with a blurred background. I would simply follow the car’s movement as best I could when taking the photo.

This would produce a blurred background while keeping the car relatively in focus.

That’s little icon of a flower.

If you are shooting products like jewelry or enjoy close up nature shots, then the macro setting can be your best friend.

Any time you want to photograph something like an earring or a cool looking spider at a close distance, place your camera in Macro.

The focus will adjust and the camera open to a wide aperture to produce a shallow depth of field.

Some cameras have 2 modes of macro: macro and super macro.

Macro will allow you to get close up photos of your subject, where you can be within inches of your subject. Super macro will let you get even closer, practically right on top of it with a clear focus.

The distance ranges will differ depending on your camera – so break out that manual (again) and double check to see what the best distance is for your camera to shoot at.

“A” or “Av”
This is probably my favorite mode and one that I tend to shoot in the most. The “A” or “Av” stands for Aperture Priority and is a semi automatic mode that lets you choose the aperture you want to shoot with.

The camera will then compensate with a shutter speed that lets in the correct amount of light. So in my case, I enjoy shooting with a relatively open aperture.

If I want to shoot with an aperture of 2.0 (really open!) on a bright sunny day, then my camera will compensate with a super fast shutter speed to make sure that I’m not letting in way more light than needed.

This is also a great setting for a novice photographer who still wants control over things like depth of field. I love it because it gives me that control that I want and I don’t have to worry about much else.

“S” or “Tv”
Shutter Priority is just like aperture priority except this setting allows you to increase or decrease the shutter speed while the camera chooses the right aperture.

This is great while you are learning about how different shutter speeds can affect your photo- they will each produce different effects (remember our race car image?).

Each has their use. Using this setting will help guide you in producing these different types of shots and observing the effects without having to revert to a full manual setting.

Both this and aperture priority will help guide you as you learn how to handle the full manual settings of your camera.

Manual (Dun dun duuuuun!)
The manual settings of your camera will allow you to have full control over each aspect of your photograph.
This setting gives you control over aperture, shutter speed, ISO, flash, white balance and more.

Once you have mastered all of the automatic and semi-automatic settings, I suggest going over to the dark side of Manual.

You will become more connected with your images as a result of thinking ahead and planning which settings you want to use in order to achieve a certain effect.

Manual gives you more latitude in which to play and experiment, which can be a very satisfying experience. If you want to create a certain mood, then you can do it!

So that concludes our Crash Course in Camera Settings. Of course, some cameras have many more settings and some have specialized modes. I will talk more about the individual settings in further detail in further posts.

But now you have an idea as to what your settings are and what you can do with them.

Now you can take your camera out and play while becoming familiar with each setting. Remember, while practice may not make perfect, it certainly makes a lot better!

Have fun. =)

Create a DIY Lightbox for Product & Macro Photography for Under $10

Alright it’s time to roll up your sleeves, dig up some of those old crafting supplies and create an awesome mini photo studio for under $10.

The Strobist has a wonderful article on creating a DIY Light Tent that I thought was worth sharing with you here!

When I saw this article I thought, “Wow, $10? How is that possible?!” Especially considering that if you want to buy a lightbox online it will run you about $100.

But, actually, you can probably DIY this for less.

I’m going to assume that you have an old cardboard box in the garage somewhere and some white tissue paper laying around from a birthday last year. I know I do!

You can get this stuff at an office supply store or a local drug store, but I think it’s always more fun to scrounge in the closet, or in the garage.

So if you do have the above stuff, then only thing you will need to buy is two sheets of poster board – black and white. Total damage would be less than $2. Sweet!

Because this basically recreates the illusion of softened natural light, which means you can shoot your product photography in the harsh daylight, or with off camera flashes!


So the Strobist wrote his article to appeal specifically to photographers that are using speedlights, or off camera flashes.

But honestly, any bright lamp will do because it’s very easy to balance for tungsten light and get the color balance spot on.

So even work lamps from the Home Depot are great (just make sure that you are careful working with any kind of hot lights) and bright compact fluorescents work wonders or LEDs!

This is the secret is being able to have nice, soft, even light coming from either side or the top – or any combination of the three.

You’ll be using the black and white poster boards serve as light blockers (black), reflectors (white) or sweep backgrounds.

Now let’s make this baby

In his article, Strobist starts out with a 12″ x12″ x12″ box, but let your subject needs define your size.

If you are only photographing small earrings, for example, then maybe you want to build a smaller one.

However, if your subjects vary size wise, go larger and give yourself that nice range.

First, tape that original bottom of the box securely into place before making your cut.

This will help create structure for when you do make your cutes, otherwise you will be left with a twisty cardboard mess.

Next start by cutting windows out in three sides of the box and totally take out one side. (That last part is optional – see below for why.)

Leave two of the top flaps on for light control as shown, and remove the other two:

Examples of a DIY cardboard lightbox setup

Photo by the Strobist

He recommends using a razor to slice the boxes. Just a bit of advice: this is not a good project for when the kids are hovering around.

That last photo in his three-shot sequence shows the box with the tracing paper taped over the windows, which will act as your light diffusers!

You can choose to leave the “side” of the original box that will eventually form the bottom of your studio attached.

This will make it stronger, but it will mean that your ability to place the box down over an object (like a plant) outside will be limited.

So, now you’ll need at least one light source.

A flash works great, as long as you can manually control the output and get it off of the camera.

But, as mentioned, you could also use a bright lamp or work light.

Just be sure to balance your camera for tungsten and put the camera on a tripod to keep it still during the exposure.

For those of you who prefer shooting outside, this is the perfect tool for a sunny day!

It will diffuse that sunlight light and distribute it softly and evenly; to make the light come from whatever direction you need just rotate the box.

The way that he teaches you to build the box also gives you an amazing amount of control over the light!

For example, if you’re shooting outside during bright sunlight, you’ll have the ability to almost completely wrap your subject in beautiful softened light.

But if you use only one light, the tissue paper on the other sides acts as a fill!

If you need to kill the light on one side for a more moody look, slip a piece of black poster board in as a block

One of the best parts of the box is the seamless background look, even thought it’s just a strip of posterboard.

And if you want to change it up, you can add in colorful posterboard!

He goes into even more detail on how you can use remaining pieces of the box as “gobo’s” to create more control!

Read the rest of his tutorial here for more in-depth use information!

Photo by Strobist