Want to know how to decide the best CAMERA SETTING to take a photo?
If you are a beginner, you may get puzzled with all the settings like ISO, Aperture, Shutter Speed, Exposure compensation, White Balance, etc.
Making shooting in Manual mode sounds like a scary monster to you, but it can be as easy as ABC.
To keep everyone life simple, I created a simple process flow to guide you in deciding your camera setting for Landscape Photography.
Did I say Landscape Photography? Yes, different genres of photography will have a slightly different process flow in deciding the camera setting. For example, a sports photographer may want to focus on the freezing movement of a running athlete using fast Shutter Speed. On the other hand, a portrait photographer may tend to create a shallow depth of field (for bokeh effect) using a wider Aperture.
For Landscape Photography, we want to ensure everything in the frame are in focus and have the best image quality (low noise, high dynamic range) as possible as we can. I shall guide you through the process flow in this article.
Prepare your camera
Before we start, let’s prepare your camera by configure some of the camera settings based on the following suggestion.
Shooting Mode – Manual It is possible to photograph a landscape in Aperture Priority mode, and the approach is going to be slightly different, I will explain it at the end of the article.
Image Quality – NEF/ARW/CR2/etc (RAW format that supported by your camera) To get the best out of your camera, I strongly recommend you to shoot in RAW. On top of that, you have lesser settings to bother with, continue to read to find out.
White Balance – Auto (default value) Leave it as Auto, and you can forget about it! You can easily correct the White Balance in later post-processing when you are shooting in RAW. To keep thing easy for you, don’t bother about the White Balance for now.
Metering Mode – Evaluative / Matrix Metering (default value) In Manual shooting mode, Metering mode won’t affect your camera setting. It only tells you how bright or dark the photo is going to be (or what it think is) using the Light Metering Scale on your camera.
Vibration reduction – Off If you have the Vibration Reduction / Image Stabilization on your camera lens, switch it off and do the same to the In-Body Image Stabilization (IBIS). You are going to take photos with your camera mounts on a tripod, and you don’t want the camera trying to stabilize the image, causing unwanted blur.
Picture Control – Standard (default value) Although Picture Control / Picture Profile / Picture Style does affect how the RAW photos display on the camera screen, it doesn’t apply the effect on a RAW photo itself. (Only useful when you are shooting in JPEG) So, leave it as it is.
Now, let’s start the shooting.
The Process Flow
Three essential elements in a camera that controls the shooting result, and they are ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed, also known as Exposure Triangle. They are tightly related to each other and changing any one of them will affect the exposure of the photo.
First, start with ISO. The lowest the Native ISO, the better the Image Quality. The photos will have lesser Noise and better Dynamic Range. Better Dynamic Range allows you to recover more details on both the Highlight and Shadow in Post-processing.
Notice the noise level between ISO 100 and ISO 12,500
The Native ISO is a specific ISO range that your camera able to produce a reasonably good image quality. Beyond the Native ISO, the camera tends to overextend the sensor capability to go for a higher or lower ISO, and these extended ISOs are expandable ISO. The expandable ISO result in a poorer image quality compares to Native ISO.
Then, we move to Aperture. Landscape photography often takes photos using an Ultra Wide Angle (UWA) lens to capture a scenery with a wider composition. For most UWA lenses, f/8 or f/11 Aperture are commonly known as the Sweet Spot of the lens. At these f-numbers, it produces good sharpness with a wide depth of field to cover every area in the frame.
Using f/8 or f/11 Aperture to ensure every subject in the frame is in focus.
If below f/8, the lens produces a shallow depth of field; if beyond f/11, the sharpness starts to drop due to lens diffraction. If there’s a need for higher f-number, the maximum I would go for is f/16.
3. Shutter Speed
Now, the ISO fixed, and the same goes the Aperture. The only option we have to control our exposure here is to use Shutter Speed.
Don’t know which Shutter Speed to use? Simple, look at the Exposure / Light Meter Scale on your camera Live View or Viewfinder. You adjust the Shutter Speed dial until you see the cursor is pointing to the centre arrow of the Metering Scale.
To start somewhere, just point to the centre point of the Meter Scale.
The centre point of the Meter Scale is what your camera thinks the “correct exposure” is. The camera using the Metering mode (Evaluative/Matrix Metering for our case) that you set to measure the lighting condition of a scene.
Just like that, you got all the camera settings set!
But wait! we haven’t done yet.
4. Take a test shot
Although you have configured all the settings, it is still very important to take a test shot to review the result.
As mentioned, we based on the “correct exposure” that our camera assumed, that does not mean we will get the Ideal Exposure that we want. Our camera can be wrong in metering a scene, due to uneven lighting condiction of a scene, or how the objects in the scene are reflecting the light. (that’s why there are several metering modes for the different scenarios)
Instead of writing another article to teach you how to use all the metering modes and making you more confused about the camera setting. I would suggest you take a test shot, then review the result and fine-tune the setting.
Based on the test shot, if you think the photo appeared to be too dark, adjust to slower Shutter Speed. If it is too bright, adjust to faster Shutter Speed. Then, take another test shot to review the result again. This time you should have everything set correctly.
If your Shutter Speed is at max 30 seconds (for most cameras) and still the photo is underexposed, you should increase the ISO.
In most cases, ISO 200 or 400 should be good enough to do the job, while still having an acceptable noise level. Again, ISO should only use as the last resort for extra exposure.
Unless you are taking a photo in the middle of the night for the Milky Way, then you may need to boost the ISO up to 8,000 or even 12,800. That’s a different camera setting flow.
This process flow is simplified to serve as a guide for anyone is new to Landscape photography. However, depending on the shooting scenario, you may need to be more flexible with your camera setting. For example, photography fireworks will require you to use a fix Shutter Speed, maybe at 2 seconds. To compensate with shorter Shutter Speed, you may need to use a much higher ISO to get an Ideal Exposure.
For shooting under an intensive lighting condition that beyond your camera’s Dynamic Range, which you may have overblown sky or underexposed shadow. Check out my previous posts “Exposure Bracketing for Perfect Detail” and “Filters Vs Bracketing“.
How about Focusing?
To keep it simple. Using either f/8 or f/11 Aperture, you put your Focus Point on any subject that’s position at ⅓ distance from the bottom of your frame. With that, you will have everything in the frame in focused.
In future, I will write a blog post to explain further on that, stay tuned!
An additional bonus: using Aperture Priority mode
If you are taking photos in Aperture Priority mode, you can still use the above process flow to decide your camera setting.
The only difference is that the Shutter speed is now decided automatically by your camera (based on the metering result), and using the Exposure Compensation button to control the exposure. Here are the steps.
ISO – Go for the lowest Native ISO
Aperture – Go for f/8 or f/11
Do a Test Shot
Fine-tuning – Using the Exposure Compensation button to adjust the exposure of the photo.
Almost the same, right?
FREE Cheat Sheet!
Before you go, you can download the “Camera Setting Process Flow” cheat sheet via the below button.
You can save the photo into your phone so that you can always refer to it when you are taking photos. ^^
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