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Photography: Basic camera settings

photography camera settings


If you had a new camera for Christmas or you’re thinking of getting one, then my new series of articles on photography and camera settings is for you. I’ll also be covering photo-blogging, art and other aspects of photography. Today we start with the camera settings that are around the camera dial.

Today we start at the beginning. Next to the setting dial on the camera is usually the shutter release button and the switch for turning the camera on. The dial on my camera looks like the one above. It has a guide mode for new owners that helps to understand the camera. Auto is the next one around the dial and that’s the one most people start with. It does everything automatically, the camera sets everything for you. You still have to focus and you do this by pressing the shutter release half way down and usually you hear a bleep when it’s focused on something. You’ll also see focus points on your screen or in the viewfinder. These can be 11 little red dots like on my Nikon or squares or something else. They light up when you’re focused on something. Try to get the focus points on whatever your subject is.

Try to point your camera at a definite subject. The subject might be a building or tree in the distance if you’re photographing a landscape.

The next camera setting around on my dial from auto, is auto again but with no flash. Use this, when you want to suppress the flash and not have it pop up when there isn’t enough light.


Next around the dial is the portrait setting. Use this setting to photograph people, with a close up. It makes the aperture of the lens wide and so lets in more light. You will probably find your subject is in focus, but the background is out of focus. This is great for portraits, your subject will come up in sharp focus and be really clear.


Landscape allows you to bring the whole picture into focus with a narrower aperture. Use this setting and focus on something in the distance. The aperture is how far the shutter opens when you take the picture. The camera will set the shutter speed slower on this setting, so try to hold the camera as still as you can. Have your feet apart, maybe one in front of the other. You can also lean on something to steady yourself and the camera.


The next setting is for taking pictures of babies. I don’t think I’ve ever used this setting, but it’s supposed to be quieter!


The next camera settings looks like someone running and is the sports setting. I use this a lot. It is a fast setting so if you move or the subject moves you get less blur. It also spot focuses on just one point, your subject. It is harder to focus on this setting and the camera refuses to release the shutter on my Nikon until it has focused. It also does multiple shots, so is good for all kinds of events where people are moving around.


The next setting that looks like a flower, is the macro setting for taking pictures of flowers and close up pictures of plants, food photography and that sort of thing.

Night portrait

The next of the camera settings is the night portrait setting for doing portraits in really low light.

M (manual)

This setting is manual and allows you to set everything yourself. I’ll write a whole article to cover this one.

A (aperture priority)

A is for aperture priority and this is a more advanced setting that you can learn to use. I have a thumb wheel that I can use on this setting to set the aperture, while the camera sets a suitable shutter speed for the light. Using this setting you have more control over the camera and can create different effects.

S (shutter priority)

This allows you to slow the shutter speed for interesting effects while the camera controls the other settings like the aperture.

P (programmed auto)

This is like an auto setting that allows you to set the exposure bias and ISO, while the camera takes care of everything else. The ISO (International Standards Organisation) is the sensitivity of the sensor. You use low ISO for good light and a higher one for bad light. The higher one might put noise into your picture (showing as white dots or coloured blotches).

photography settings

The light wasn’t very good for this picture, so I used aperture priority and set it on F14. The ISO and shutter speed were set by the camera at 1000 for the ISO and 1/40 of a second for the Shutter speed. You can see the road was a little icy.

If this all seems too complicated, try setting your camera on landscape and take lots of pictures, then check what settings your camera chose for those images by clicking on properties or looking at the exif data using Window Live Gallery (free download). You can also try your camera on a sport setting or portrait setting and see what exif data you get for those. I used PhotoScape to add the exif data to that last photo.

Next week, I’ll cover focusing on your subject and in this series of articles we can look at depth of field and eventually artistic editing. It doesn’t really matter what camera you have, but one with a viewfinder helps you keep the camera close to your body and helps stop camera movement and camera shake. Until next week, try to learn how to keep the camera straight and still. Try leaning on a lamp post!

If you have a question, please use the comments box. You can also follow me on Twitter. My email address is in the sidebar, if you would like to contribute a picture. You can also share your pictures on the Creative Thinking page on Facebook.

One Response

  1. Pingback: Thrifty Thursday: January offers | Mike10613's Blog

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