TUTORIAL – Basic Camera Settings

getting to know your camera header image

All of the examples I will be giving are aimed at dSLR’s, but most top end point-and-shoot camera’s and mobile phones have all the basic functionality of a dSLR so most of what is written below can be used. It is important to have your camera setup correctly for the task/job at hand. This makes creating photographs and editing them an easier process, allowing more time to be spent on creative editing, and less time on corrective and re-constructive editing. The tips below are general tips I use 95% of the time. There are certain jobs where you would want a camera setting to set differently.

The initial settings you will be changing are:

  • Set Your File Type To Raw.
  • Set White Balance To Auto.
  • Set The Colour Space To sRGB.
  • Turn Off In Camera Noise Reduction.
  • Set All In Camera Image Optimisation Settings To Zero.

Set Your File Type To Raw

The two main file types you will see all cameras use are RAW and jpeg.

RAW FILES have all of the image data captured by the sensor stored in them which means that data is accessible when it comes to editing. If  RAW files will give you greater detail and more options when editing.  They do serve a purpose in some workflows but in general try to avoid using them.

JPEG FILES are a compression format file type (even when that JPEG is classed as lossless) and are used to present image data in as small a file size as possible. When you use JPEG as a capture file type in your camera, all of the settings the camera is currently running will be applied to that file. You will not have access to any other data that may have been in the file as that has been removed to reduce file size. 

RAW FILE SIZE / JPEG FILE SIZE for the same image.

You will read on many sites or watch in many videos covering the subject that you should always shoot in RAW. Practically speaking this is incorrect. The type of file you use is determined by the type of job you are shooting. 

Shooting with JEPGs can be used if you

  • do not have access to a computer to edit the image but there is a need to use the final image quickly.
  • are uploading images to social/news networks for immediate use.
  • are printing directly from the camera. 
  • or if you have limited hard drive storage.
  • are shooting jpeg as a back-up for fast consumption, but you want to have a RAW file for later use.

RAW files on the other hand will be used when 

  • you have time to edit the shots.
  • when image quality and increased control over the editing process is the required.

This can be for almost all types of job including weddings, landscape, fine art, portraits or any type of commercial work (product, real estate etc).

The main advantage RAW files have for me is the greater degree’s of exposure recovery control available when editing and the increased control I have with the colour of an image. There are times when I want to deliberately underexpose a photo so I can increase shutter speed to increase the sharpness of the subject being shot, this usually applies when that subject is moving. A RAW file will allow me to pull the exposure back in editing without suffering the same degree of noise degradation that you would get if you shot in jpeg in the same situation. The colour aspect I will cover below.

So to start with, as this blog post is aimed at beginners, set you capture file type to RAW. 

nikon d750 file type menu settings

Set White Balance To Auto

White balance is a huge area of photography, especially when it comes to colour sensitive photography like product imagery.
Cameras have a white balance setting (measured in Kelvins) so they can render colours and neutral tones correctly in a given colour light environment in an attempt to keep what we think is white, as white. Hence the term white balance (sometimes called grey-balance). Pure white sits between 5000K to 6500K. But correcting white to that level will often involving setting the white balance level to a different number. Your camera will have a manual setting (which you can tune the camera to), and auto setting and various settings for different source light types (tungsten, sunny, cloudy etc).

The only two settings you really need to ever use are the manual and auto setting and their use will fall into one of two main colour situations:

  • Fixed colour environments.
  • Variable colour environments.

Fixed colour environments are those where you will more than likely have complete control over the light source and a lot of time to capture a photograph. This can include studio work, landscapes and real estate. As you have more time to capture an image you can set white balance using a grey card or macbeth colour chart.

Variable colour environments are those where you don’t have control over the light source and where you may not have a lot of time to capture the photograph. These include weddings, PR and event work. The better option to go with is to let the camera set the white balance using to auto setting.

But you can find situations that sit in between the above as well. Indoor sports events for example are usually shot under fixed lighting allowing you to get manual white balance measure before you start shooting.

In hindsight from my experience I would say obsessing over white balance is something you should try to avoid, but at the same time be conscious of. Shooting in RAW gives you freedom to manually correct white balance after a shot has been taken. This means that as you develop your style, technique and areas of interest you can revisit older shots and fix and colour issues caused by white balance. When you are starting out the only person you are shooting for is you, so you don’t need to be as concerned with white balance. But, if you are shooting for a client who needs a colour controlled images then the need to capture the white level accurately becomes important. Generally the later will involve more than just setting the white balance on your camera, you will need to control colour through out you entire editing workflow.

So to begin with, set your white balance to auto.

set the cameras white balance to auto

Set The Colour Space To sRGB

Any device that produces an image, including your camera, uses a mathematical model known as a colour space to help interpret the captured colour in an image for use on displays so that those colours are accurate relative to the colours you perceive. In your camera these are based on red, green and blue colour values as camera sensors consist of red, green and blue photosites. Most cameras will allow you to choose the colour space in a menu buried somewhere deep in its menu system (if you dont know where it is have a look and find it now). Usually you are given a choice of sRGB or AdobeRGB.

Adobe RGB is a specialist colour space that compresses colour values and requires specific software to uncompress them. It has roughly 35% move colour available to it than sRGB but comes with some major draw backs most notably that no major publishing platform uses it. But, it has a larger colour spectrum available which makes it ideal for printing.

sRGB is the world standard for digital images and is used in printing and on the Internet. It has also been around much longer AdobeRGB so all the standards used in modern display technology uses this colour space.

So Adobe RGB will give you more colour to work with in your image as long as you have a monitor/printer that supports the display those colours. So if you are shooting from print specifically, the Adobe RGB would be the optimal option for you.

As most of your photographs will end up on the net on instagram, 500px, facebook, deviant art or some other photo community then setting your camera to sRGB will allow it to produce images that reproduce the colour and tone that is supported on most modern displays (monitors, tv, smart phones etc). As you progress and if you start to shoot for printed reproduction then switching to AdobeRGB will be a more preferable option.

set the cameras colour space to sRGB

Turn Off In Camera Noise Reduction

You will see noise (digital noise) in your photographs in certain exposure situations and can be caused by both internal and external factors to the camera. To summarise in a very condensed way most noise occurs on the pixel level of your camera sensor and is the result of the conversion of the analogue voltage of the photosite to its digital representation. When it occurs, your image will look ‘grainy’.

If you want to known more detail then the following article by premiumbeat.com covers pretty much everything you will need to know.

Noise is something you won’t be able to avoid in every photo you take. You can mitigate its appearance and that is done by either using a low ISO exposure or by reducing its presence in your final image by using in-camera noise reduction or noise reduction in editing software.

In camera noise reduction has its uses and those mainly relate to astro photography. I’ve never given in camera noise reduction much credit, but for astro it helps to reduce noise so you can distinguish between digital noise and stars.

Noise reduction in editing software will generally just apply a blanket setting based on the algorithms used in said software. In camera noise reduction will apply a reduction based on the image taken.

As I rarely shoot long exposure night time images my own preference is to turn noise reduction off so i can temper the amount of broad reduction in effected photographs.

SHOW AN IMNAGE WITH NOISE REDUCTION AND NOISE REDUCTION OFF

As i will discuss in part two of this guide series, I move between trying shoot with low ISO settings and shooting with auto ISO.

In perfect conditions, low ISO settings are preferred as there is enough light entering the lens to correctly expose a photograph. Should that ideal light level decrease you can either reduce the shutter speed or open up the lens aperture to a lower number to increase the amount of light hitting the sensor. Reducing shutter speeds will increase motion blur. Opening up the aperture narrows the depth of focus and can increase the chances of missing you focus point. You can also increase the sensors ISO setting and this allows you to maintain a usable shutter speed but the increased voltage at each photosite will amplify the base level of digital noise your sensor produces.

In camera noise reduction will affect both RAW files and JPEGs. For most situations turn in-camera noise reduction off as it will benefit you for both file types. If you shoot long exposures then turn it on.

turn off all in camera noise reduction

Set All In Camera Image Optimisation Settings To Zero

If you have set your file type to RAW, then all of these settings will not affect the RAW file that is produced as they can all be set during editing. These settings will affect jpeg files. So if you are shooting in JPEG then it will be trial and error to find the optimal settings for your particular use case.

These settings will also affect what you see on your camera’s display as the image you see on the rear screen is a jpeg interpretation of the RAW file. I use these settings, combined with screen brightness, to get as much light and detail out of the rear screen as possible. When you are working in a dynamic environment like a wedding or a sports competition, you don’t want to be fighting with the rear display to guess if you have nailed the photograph. Dropping the contrast will increase the amount of grey pixels in an image effectively flattening it out and increasing the brightness of the screen will allow you to see the photo if you are outside on a sunny day.

Reduce the contrast to the maximum negative number and then increase the display brightness to max (this setting is usually on a different menu option).

Nikon d750 set picture control
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