The best camera settings for any shooting scenario explained.

The best camera settings for any shooting scenario explained.

Are you new to photography? Are you looking for the best camera settings to capture a concert, or family gathering? Are you terrified of manual mode but know that mastering manual mode is the only way to be seen as a professional photographer? Let’s talk about it…

This topic is perhaps one of the most controversial in photography right now. When I post a photo online, I am immediately inundated with requests for the EXIF data (my camera settings), which I am happy to provide. Generally, unless you go to extreme lengths to delete the metadata from your images it is easy to determine the camera body, lens, shutter speed, aperture and ISO, all of which played an important role in capturing the image. The interesting fact that many don’t realize is, if you were standing next to me, at the same location at the same time, and used my same camera settings, you would still not get the same image as I did unless you were using the same camera body and lens setup. Asking for a photographer’s camera settings are of marginal use other than to determine a set of baseline settings for future use. Even if I gave you the exact GPS location, and you arrived on that same day the following year when the sun will be in exactly the same position, there is a good chance the settings would be different because of weather.

So, if I don’t peep at other photographer’s work, how do I get my base settings for shooting in any given situation? First, there are a bunch of basic rules for shooting, like the Sunny 16 rule. Which says:

(From SLR

“The Sunny 16 Rule is a way to meter for correct exposure during daylight without using the camera’s meter.

The basic rule of thumb states that if you have a clear, sunny day and your aperture is at f/16, whatever ISO you are using, your shutter speed will be the reciprocal value of that ISO value (ISO X = 1/X seconds shutter speed)

So, for example, if your ISO is 200 at f/16, then your shutter speed will be 1/200 seconds. If your ISO is 100, then your shutter speed will be 1/100 seconds.”

There is no reason for me to reinvent the wheel and type the basic rules when I can point you to the SLR Lounge article which explains these rules very succinctly.

My second source of knowledge for getting the best settings in any situation is to practice. Learning to get good shots before you have to is important. For example. If I am shooting inside, and want to capture a family member blowing out the candles on a cake, I am going to consider a few things: What will my ambient light level be? (am I shooting indoors) Will it be daytime? Can I use a flash? We have all seen those birthday images where the person blowing out the cake was blasted by a flash and all the ambient light around them drops to black. This is my go-to definition of a snapshot. In this instance, I am going to raise my ISO (don’t panic its ok) so I get more of the scene, showing the people around the subject and my flash doesn’t have to work as hard. Now, how much you can raise your ISO and still get an acceptable picture in terms of noise is dependent on your camera sensor. My rule of thumb with most cameras today is ISO noise is acceptable (generally) up to 800 or 1000 depending on your camera. Put your ISO at 800, pop your camera into aperture priority mode and see how the image looks. If you take a photo and your shutter stay open for a really long time then you need to consider how to get more light on your scene. Turn on some lights, change the position of your flash to start with. Experiment with your settings before you go to that birthday party so that you know your camera gear and about how much light you need to have around you to get an acceptable outcome. Shoot in full manual if you want but remember that the more variables you can eliminate when you start shooting the better. I know for an indoor shoot, My Canon 5DMarkIV will give reasonable images up to 3200 ISO with minimal noise reduction in Lightroom. I will therefore usually start an indoor birthday shoot without a flash at around 2000 ISO in Aperture priority mode with my aperture set at f4 of 5.6. When I take that first shot if my shutter is too slow then I will adjust my ISO up or my aperture down – both of which will let in more light on the sensor and allow my camera to increase shutter speed. The important thing here to remember is don’t get stuck on the settings, you have to get to know your gear and be able to understand what to change in a given situation to get a good shot. Before you say, well you have a good camera, take a look at my concert gallery here on my website and realize those were all shot with a point and shoot in manual mode. I practiced before the concerts and learned how far I could push my gear and still get an acceptable shot.

My starting point for most of my images are as follows:

Environment ISO Shutter Aperture
Outside sunny 100 100-125 16
Outside Sunset 100 100-125 11
Outside Shade 100 125 5.6
Inside concert 400 125 5.6
Inside party 400 125 5.6

Do you notice a pattern? If I am outside, I usually start at ISO 100 and around 100 shutter speed. When I am inside and not using a flash I will start at around 400 ISO and around 100 shutter and see where it takes me. It isn’t rocket science, and I don’t get stuck on a given setting for what will be my final shot – unless I’m looking for a specific look like larger or shallower depth of field. Learn what your gear will do and what settings will yield acceptable images (level of noise) and when you get into the situation where you have to get that shot you will be prepared instead of having to worry about whether your ISO should be at 100 or 3200.

If you come away from this article with anything, realize this: The variables that go into getting a good photo are based on your unique situation. How I set my camera to get a proper exposure is determined by where I am standing at the moment, how much light there is, the color of the room or drapes, what people are wearing, what kind of camera gear I have, what time of day it is, and a million other variables. Thinking that your image will be the same as mine if you use the same setting is just not true. Learn some basic settings for each scenario you might shoot in and experiment.   

Hey! I love to hear from my readers! Feel free to contact me via my social media sites I would love to hear your thoughts on this or any of my other articles! Until then, get out and get shooting! 

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