Masthead header

Basics – Know Your Camera!

Knowing your Camera

Knowing your camera and the settings thereof are extremely important. Upon purchasing your camera you should become very familiar with all of its settings and how to adjust those settings to a particular situation. Just as important to know when you need and what kind of settings your camera should be adjusted, you should be able to quickly adjust to those settings in camera. You should read your camera manual from front to back and understand all of its software menu items and the features on the camera body and what they do. Make practice shots with non specific subjects to see the results of different settings. Become aware of your camera and camera lens capability. I cannot stress the importance of camera knowledge. If you are setting your new Digital SLR to auto or Program and shooting you are losing the REAL BENEFIT of today’s powerful Digital SLR cameras. Know your camera and lenses and flash equipment.

Most camera manufactures offer short online tutorials on your cameras features and functionality. There are also many third parties who provide this information free over the web.

Read the Manual

Once you receive your camera whether it is a new camera or an upgrade to previous versions you should sit down with the camera manual and read it thoroughly. Most Digital SLR’s are complex as compared to standard point and shoot cameras. each setting could greatly change the image. Many times it is helpful for new photographers to create a checklist of setting based on the environment in which they intend to shoot. You should know EVERY setting on the camera and what it is used for and how it will impact your photography. In addition, you should spend time understanding each setting as allowed in the cameras firmware and make sure you have those settings adjusted for your needs.

It is important that you know each setting, when it should be changed and where within the camera’s sytem to make the change on-the-fly and without hesitation. Be proactive to KNOWING when you need to make a change and with fumbling through the camera manual as your client watched you scramble. Many times you may inadveratntly make a change to your camera and not know what you did. Verify your settings and know what to expect as a result of each change.

Today’s Digital SLR’s have a complex menu system for in camera settings. Know what each one is used for and how yours should be set.

In addition to knowing your camera, you should also read all the manuals that come with your other equipment such as lenses and flashes. There is a great deal of information in these documents.


Before diving into that photo shoot or going on that trip to Galapagos islands, practice with your camera and make changes to the settings and evaluate the differences based on those settings.

Important Settings That You Must Not Ignore:

Color Space

Color space is the “Footprint” of colors or Gamut of colors typically within the RGB (Red, Green, Blue) model or the CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black) model. All you need to know is that the larger the Gamut the more colors are available to you. Although, most web devices display within the sRGB color space, it is important to note that if you are printing locally a larger color space such as Adobe RGB or ProfotoRGB will result in a wider gamut of colors and hence a better image. See a more in-depth discussion on color space here.

File Type

With Digital photography there are a variety of file type choices that can be made with will determine the file format for your images. Typical choices are RAW, JPEG and TIFF. Which choice you make will greatly determine the latitude you will have in your post processing. In addition to post processing, file type will also determine the size of your files and ultimately how many images you can save to your storage media. A JPEG file may be all you need but, for enhanced post processing a RAW file type will prove to be more flexible. See more about file types here.

Date and Time

Setting your cameras Date and Time is extremely important as this information will be placed on EVERY image you capture. This may come in handy when sorting thru images.

Color Adjustments

All professional Digital SLR’s and many mid level SLR’s allow you to make color correction adjustments “in the camera” as the image is being processed and stored. Evaluate your images in default mode under various shooting conditions and lighting and make necessary adjustments. Many times these adjustments can be stored as “Profiles” within the camera that can be loaded prior to that particular type of shoot.

White Balance

I cannot stress the importance of a proper White Balance setting prior to shooting. White Balancing your camera or selecting the correct White Balance setting allows your camera to make color correction adjustments based on the type of lighting being provided to the subject. The goal is set the camera to render specific colors, particularly neutral colors to render correctly. This rendering then adjust all the other colors being captured by the film or sensor to adjust or color correct to the neutral and hence render an image as close to what the human eye sees. In most cases this is done by capturing or adjusting to an 18% gray. See more about White Balance here.


Metering Basically determines how the camera will setup for exposure. The camera meters a predetermined portion of the frame based in the settings below to determine the shutter speed and aperture based on the camera lighting conditions and ISO Speed. Understanding each metering mode and when it is best used will improve exposure.

All in-camera light meters can only measure reflected light. This means the best they can do is estimate how much light is actually hitting the subject.

Incident vs. reflected light meters

In camera metering is standardized based on the luminance of light which would be reflected from an object appearing as middle gray. If the camera is aimed directly at any object lighter or darker than middle gray, the camera’s light meter will incorrectly calculate under or over-exposure, respectively. A hand-held light meter would calculate the same exposure for any object under the same incident lighting. Middle gray is determined by ink density that would reflect 18% of incident light.

Metering Modes:

Each of these modes have particular lighting conditions in which they are best suited.

* 3D Matrix Metering (Nikon) Evaluative Mode (Canon) – The camera will measure a wide area of the frame and determine exposure according to the distribution of brightness, color, distance and composition for natural results.
* Spot Metering (Nikon and Canon) – Camera will meter a circle approximately 4mm in diameter(may vary by camera brand). Circle is typically the center of the focus point. This type of metering will determine exposure regardless of all the other parts of the image ignoring foreground and back ground.
* Center Weighted/Partial Metering (Nikon and Canon) – Camera will meter the entire frame but will put the greatest weight to an area in the center of the frame. (typically there is an in-camera setting to determine the size).
* Center Weighted Average (Canon) – Takes an accurate metering value and averages the light metering values from the center out.

It should be noted that within each of the metering modes, most DSLR’s allow you to apply an in-camera EV (Exposure Compensation ) adjustment to each setting.

Camera Modes/Exposure Modes:

Camera Modes or Exposure modes allow the photographer to choose which preference in setting the cameras shutter speed and aperture based on the cameras metering. There are specific instances when each of the settings are best used.

* Program Mode – The camera automatically determines the appropriate shutter speed and aperture automatically. Recommended for snapshots
* Shutter Priority – The photographer sets the shutter speed and the camera automatically determines the appropriate aperture. Used best to freeze or blur motion.
* Aperture Priority – The photographer sets the aperture and the camera automatically determines the appropriate shutter speed. Used best to control Depth-of Field.
* Manual Mode – The photographer sets both the shutter speed and the aperture, the camera makes no determination of the settings. Take full control.

In general, KNOW YOUR CAMERA! There is nothing more frustrating than having spent monies to arrive at that perfect sunset or with that perfect subject or vacation of a lifetime and not know how to work your camera at the perfect opportunity for that great shot!

Robert Shreve Photography

[Chapter 1]

Your email is never published or shared.