Handy Photography Settings Advice


Aug 3, 2020
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In today's post, I'm going to offer you a few different photography scenarios and then I'll discuss each one. I'll focus primarily on how you might want to set your camera if you were to find yourself in these situations. I won't go crazy with intricate details/settings or anything like that. I'll stick with perhaps some modes and lens adjustments. Then, after that, I'll give you some very general tips as they pertain to photography best practices. Keep them in mind the next time you head out with a camera in hand.

I want you to remember three things that have a huge impact on how effective your photos will be. If you consider these three elements for every photo you capture, you'll find that your quality is going to go way up. The first is composition. How you compose your scene and what you choose to be included in your scene matters. If you were to willy-nilly take a picture of a house, you may inadvertently include telephone wires, bicycles in the front lawn, and a garbage can left outside of the garage. Compose carefully and be sure to include only what needs to be included. There's a lot more that has to do with composition, but I'll leave it there for now. The second element has to do with framing. Say you're taking a picture of a flower. Will you include the entire flower in your photo? From what angle will the image be captured? The side? Straight on? Will you capture just the corner? You get the idea. The third has to do with timing. This is probably the most challenging of all because it's not an easy thing to time a shot. If you have to, that means you're dealing with some sort of movement. The faster the movement, the more experienced you'll need to be with many different factors of photography. In later posts, I'll be discussing all of these things. For now, let's get into those different scenarios.

Different Types of Photography

Studio Portrait: If I were a portrait photographer photographing subjects in the same setting all the time, I'd certainly keep my camera set to full manual mode. The reason for this is because I wouldn't want the camera doing any thinking for me. Why not? Because if the camera thinks, that means settings may change, altering the output of my shots, making my results inconsistent with one another. Once the lighting has been determined in a studio, you can easily set your white balance to that lighting. And because the scene is fixed, you can creatively assess the scene only once and set your aperture the way you want. If you left the aperture setting to your camera, you'd likely have varying depths of fields among photos. Also, since this is a studio, you most likely won't have much movement in your subjects. Set your shutter speed once and leave it alone. Shutter speed affects exposure (so does aperture), so you'd want to keep that consistent. Lastly, Depending on everything else, I'd set my ISO the way I want too. This will allow me to control how sensitive my sensor is and how much grain will result in my shots. As far as lenses go, I'd likely use a 50mm prime or something like that, depending on how large my subject was. For humans and pets, this seems reasonable. And I'd definitely have that lens set to manual focus.

Landscape: When I think of landscape photography, I think of standing on a cliff, taking pictures of mountains or canyons around me. For these types of situations, I would set my camera to aperture priority mode. I'll be writing posts in the future that cover how to set the proper aperture and what to focus on, but for now, just know that I'd use aperture priority mode and would leave everything else automatic, including ISO. Also, for typical landscape shots, I'd take advantage of a wide angle lens, such as a 10mm-20mm and I'd either keep it on auto focus or manual, leaning towards manual because I'd have the time and I'd like to make sure I'm focusing on the proper thing.

Street: This is a tough one. Because there's the possibility of such a wide range of circumstances, I may choose a wide range of settings. Let's say I was photographing during the golden hour, which in the summer would be around 8pm-9pm. If there was movement, which I suspect there would be, I'd definitely have to concern myself with shutter speed. And because of the limited lighting in my scenes along with the faster shutter speeds I'd have already set to deal with the movement, I'd have to keep my aperture open fairly wide. As for ISO, I'd leave that on auto because there's not a lot of alternative there. I'd also leave my white balance on auto, even if I were in a mixed lighting situation with natural sunlight and partial streetlights. I'd shoot in RAW mode so I could easily adjust the white balance later on. Also, because I'd need more light hitting my sensor, I'd opt for a prime lens with a larger f/1.2-f/1.8 aperture. As for lenses, I'd go with something like Canon's nifty fifty. That's a very inexpensive, but popular 50mm prime lens that's got a relatively large aperture. Depending on how close I'd want to get to my subjects, I may choose something like a 24mm with a larger aperture as an alternative. I wouldn't go with anything wider than that because I'd lose the focus of my subjects (the people), unless I were going for something artistic that called for that. And I wouldn't use a zoom lens because the more you zoom, the smaller your aperture gets. As the sun fell, these settings would still work well in the dark. I may have to increase my aperture setting and ISO settings though to allow more light in.

Sports/Action: This is definitely the most challenging style of photography because it requires the most skill. If you don't have experience with full manual mode and panning, you'll need to practice those quite a bit. For action shots, I'd take control of both my shutter speed and set that very fast as well as my aperture size and set that large. The reason for the fast shutter speed would be to avoid motion blur. The reason for the large aperture would be to compensate for the lack of light coming through due to the fast shutter speed. I'd also want a blurred background to keep the focus on my subjects, so that's a twofer. For ISO, I'd leave that on auto and the same is true for white balance, unless I was in consistent light that I was familiar with. I'd use a zoom lens of perhaps 50-200mm. The larger the aperture, the better, which would dramatically increase the price of the lens. I'd also use auto focus, definitely.

Close-up/Macro: For this type of photography, I'd definitely use a tripod due to the proximity to my subjects. Any movement can introduce blur. I'd firstly focus on what type of lens I'd use and that would surely be a macro lens or another type of lens with a magnifying filter attached to it. I'd keep it set to manual focus, lest it hunt for focus far too long. I'd set the camera to aperture photography because I'd want to control the depth of field primarily. I wouldn't care about shutter speed or ISO. Well, if the ISO were above 800, I'd stop it there. I wouldn't want any grain in my shots. Allowing a slower shutter speed to compensate for that would be fine, as my subject would likely be still.

For nature photography, I'd follow what I said for landscape, for fashion, I'd follow what I said for street, and for architecture, I'd follow what I studio portrait and possibly landscape. Of course, all of these things would depend on the actual scene and lighting, but they're in the ballpark of how I feel.

Some General Tips

Change Your Angle: So many pictures we see out there have been taken at shoulder height. We see them so frequently that we've almost become numb to them. Imagine walking down the road and capturing an image of someone while you're lying on your belly down on the sidewalk. Of from above them while standing on a ladder. Can you imagine how your images would stand out? The same is true for so many different types of shots. Landscape, nature, macro. So the next time you head out to take some pictures, think about where you'd like to place yourself before snapping away.

Position: Think about perspective here. Let me give you an example. Instead of taking a photo of someone walking out of a doorway, how about walking directly behind them as they walk through that doorway and snapping a photo then? Or, instead of photographing someone reading a newspaper, why not stand above them and shoot from there? You'd get their entire person, yet you'd also include what they're reading. Things like this can really liven up your photography and move you out of the realm of boring and into the realm of interesting.

Lighting: Ask any photographer what the most critical aspect of their photography is and they'll tell you it's light. Early morning and late afternoon/dusk are great times to add drama. The blue hour is excellent and night photography can be stellar. Don't think you need full sun and high noon to get wonderful shots. You don't. Actually, that's a terrible time to engage in photography. Think about your lighting before you think about anything else.

Shoot Away: You own a digital camera. You're only limited by your battery life and the size of your data card. While practicing all of what I've mentioned above, don't think you're limited by anything other than those two things. Take as many photos as you want. Explore many angles and different types of lighting. Play with your aperture and shutter speed settings. Get used to your camera and learn what each setting does. Play with different lenses to learn what works for which situation. Don't restrict yourself. This isn't the time to be conservative.

Well, I hope I shared something of value above. If you have anything to add or if you have any questions, please let me know down below. Thanks!
Handy Photography Settings Advice was posted on 01-16-2021 by WendyMay in the Photography Forum forum.

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