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Camera Settings Flow Chart

Use this flow chart to help you to select the best camera settings.

The article is lengthy.

But once you understand the camera settings, you can set them quickly.

ISO is the first stop on the flow chart.

1 - ISO

If you're not familiar with ISO, go to ISO.

Automatic

Your camera may have an automatic ISO feature.

If so, your camera will change the ISO to a more sensitive setting if there's too little light.

Manual

Set the ISO for the prevailing intensity of the light.

  Sunny Overcast & Shade Indoors & Night
ISO 100 - 200 400 800 - 1600

If your camera is on a tripod, you can use lower ISO settings than those above.

If you're using flash, you can use lower ISO settings if the subject is within about fifteen feet.

Because the camera is supported, you can use longer shutter speeds instead of lower ISO settings.

ISO & Noise

Photographs taken with a high ISO setting will have more noise.

Noise is anomalous black and white, and colored, specs.

You can use Photoshop Elements and other software to reduce the noise.

Go to Noise Reduction.

Hi & Lo

If your camera is blinking Hi, use a lower ISO setting.

If your camera is blinking Lo, use a higher ISO setting.

  Hi Lo
ISO Decrease Increase

ISO 100 and ISO 3200 settings are not found on all cameras.

The next stop on the flow chart is white balance.

2 - White Balance

If you're not familiar with white balance, go to White Balance.

Automatic

Your camera is probably set to automatic white balance (AWB).

The color will be more accurate if you set the balance manually.

Manual

Set the ISO for the prevailing intensity of the light.

  Sunny Overcast Shade Light Bulbs Florescents Flash
WB Sun Icon Cloud Icon House & Shadow Icon Light Bulb Icon Tube Icon Flash Icon

If the color is from different colored light sources, create a custom white balance setting, if your camera has this capability.

The next stop on the flow chart is file quality.

3 - File Quality

If you're not familiar with file formats, go to File Formats.

Your camera is probably set by default to a medium quality JPEG.

You may want to increase the quality for better prints, or if you often crop your photographs.

Decrease the quality if you need you're photographing rapidly.

The photographs will save more quickly because the files are smaller.

Decrease the quality if the photographs will only be used on a website, and will never be printed.

Your camera may also allow you to save a file using both a raw format and a JPEG format.

If you're not familiar with raw file formats, go to Raw File Formats.

The next stop on the flow chart is exposure mode.

4 - Exposure Mode

If you're not familiar with exposure modes, go to Exposure Modes or Exposure Modes .

You can determine which exposure mode to use by answering the questions below.

Do you want to blur or freeze the movement of the subject? Go to Motion.
Are you moving? Go to Motion.
Are you using a focal length that's over about 200mm? Go to Motion.
Are you doing a close-up? Go to Depth-of-field.
Do you want the background to be blurry or sharp? Go to Depth-of-field.

5 - Motion

If you're not familiar with shutter speed, go to Shutter Speed.

Changing the Shutter Speed

Change the shutter speed using one of the methods below.

S or Tv

Use the S (Nikon) or Tv (Canon) exposure modes if there's:

• Movement in the scene.

• If you're moving.

• If you're using a focal length over about 200mm.

With the S or Tv exposure modes, you choose the shutter speed by turning a knob or pressing a rocker switch.

The camera selects the lens opening.

Remember, the bigger the number, the faster the shutter speed.

Program Shift

Many digital SLR cameras have a feature called Program Shift.

You use the Program exposure mode (P), and can change the shutter speed by turning a knurled knob on your camera.

Jogger Icon

Your camera may have a jogger icon on the exposure mode dial.

Use this exposure mode to freeze motion.

A few Canon cameras have a blur icon, which is three lines, like speed lines in a cartoon.

Use this icon to blur motion.

Scene Modes

Many point-and-shoot cameras have scene modes.

Use the scene mode for sports to freeze motion.

Commonly Used Shutter Speeds

At ISO 400

Sunny 1/1000th
Overcast or Shade 1/125th
Bright Office or Classroom 1/60th
To Blur Motion 1/8th*

* Use a tripod or place the camera on a surface.

Fast

Use a faster speed, such as 1/1000th, to:

• Freeze motion.

• Prevent camera shake from your movement, or from using focal lengths over about 200mm.

Slow

Use a slow shutter speed, such as 1/8th of a second, to show movement,

You may want to brace yourself, set the camera on a surface, or use a tripod.

If the moment of exposure isn't critical, use the self-timer (look for ST or a click icon) to trip the shutter.

If you need to press the shutter release at a certain moment, use a remote shutter release.

Watch out for shutter speeds with quote marks—they're seconds—not fractions of a second.

Camera Shake Blur

Camera shake blur is created when you're hand-holding a camera at slow shutter speeds.

Camera shake blur often looks different than out-of-focus blur.

There can be a double image along the edges of the subject.

Generally, if the shutter speed is below 1/60th, you'll need to brace yourself, set the camera on a surface, or use a tripod.

Of course, sometimes the blur from camera movement can be beneficial.

For example, if you want to show the chaos of a riot, use a slow shutter speed to create camera shake blur.

Shutter Lag

Point-and-shoot cameras have shutter lag.

Shutter lag is the delay between when you press the shutter release and the shutter actually opens.

Shutter lag makes it difficult to capture a fleeting expression or action at just the right moment.

If you pre-focus, you'll reduce the lag time somewhat.

Point-and-shoot cameras have varying amounts of shutter lag.

When buying a new camera, compare the shutter lag specifications of the camera you're considering.

Quality Setting

Use a lower quality setting if you're photographing rapidly.

The photographs will save faster.

Hi & Lo

If your camera is blinking Hi, use a faster shutter speed, such as 1/1000th.

If your camera is blinking Lo, use a slower shutter speed, such as 1/125th.

  Hi Lo
Shutter Speed Faster Slower

6 - Depth-of-field

If you're not familiar with depth-of-field, go to Depth-of-field.

Change the Lens Opening

Change the lens opening (aperture or f/stop) with one of the methods below.

A or Av

Use the A (Nikon) or Av (Canon) exposure mode if depth-of-field is important.

Depth-of-field is important if you want to blur the background behind a subject, or want to make it sharp.

Depth-of-field is also important when doing a close-up.

Depth-of-field doesn't matter if everything in your frame is further away than about fifteen feet.

With the A or Av exposure modes, you choose the lens opening by turning a knob or pressing a rocker switch.

The camera selects the shutter speed.

Choose a larger lens opening number, such as f/16, for more depth-of-field.

The physical opening is small.

Choose a smaller lens opening number, such as f/4, for less depth-of-field.

The physical opening is large.

Program Shift

Many digital SLR cameras have a feature called Program Shift.

You use the Program exposure mode (P), and can change the lens opening by turning a knurled knob on your camera.

Flower Icon

Your camera may have a flower icon on the exposure mode dial.

Use this icon for

Scene Mode

Many point-and-shoot cameras have scene modes.

Use the scene mode for close-ups for more depth-of-field.

Point-and-shoot Cameras

Point-and-shoot cameras have lots of depth-of-field at any lens opening.

This is beneficial for close-up photography.

The increased depth-of-field is detrimental if you have a distracting background.

You can't blur the background when using a point-and-shoot camera.

Hi & Lo

If your camera is blinking Hi, use a larger lens opening number, such as f/16.

If your camera is blinking Lo, use a smaller lens opening number, such as f/4.

  Hi Lo
Lens Opening Larger Number Smaller Number

7 - Check the Settings Tomorrow

Get in the habit of checking the settings on your camera.

For example, today, your camera may be set to a ISO 1600 for photography at dusk.

Tomorrow, if you don't check, you may photograph everything at ISO 1600, even though it's sunny.

Go to Camera Checklist Habit.