Introduction: Important Camera Settings

Once you've read the manual, start exploring the menus and settings. It's one thing to know that your camera has a special setting for what you want to do; it's another thing to find it in the field when the opportunity to take the photo you want is rapidly fading. Fumbling with the camera is a great way to not get the shot you want. The most coveted shots are of fleeting moments, not of still things, even two seconds of lost time messing with your camera can lead to missing a worthy photo.

Memory Formatting

Before we dive into why formatting memory is important, remember that each image you make is recorded to an ejectable memory card. That recording time can differ based on the write speed of the memory card, the size of the image you are capturing, how long your shutter is open during your exposure, etc.

Formatting your memory card helps optimize your camera's ability to record images by resetting the data on your memory card and wiping all files from it.

Camera models write data to memory differently depending on the brand, and even model generation . Some cameras will even populate multiple files for each image made, so be sure to check your settings. To ensure fast write speeds to the memory, format the card for each camera you use - this way the file system on the memory card is native to the camera, without traces of other filetypes potentially corrupting your data.

CAREFUL: Formatting a memory card erases the entire contents of the card, so be sure to have transferred all of the images you wanted to keep to a computer or hard drive.

To format your memory card, turn your camera off, insert the memory card into the camera, then turn on the camera. Open the menu and navigate to the option that allows you to format the card.

After the memory has been formatted, you're in great shape to start tinkering with other options and settings.

Filesize and Image Quality

It's easy to liken a digital photograph's filesize to the olden days of film photography. In film photography, there are multiple sizes of films available to use with different kinds of cameras. There is 35mm film, or 120mm film, even big sheets of 8"x10" film (All of those things still exist btw, and are becoming increasingly expensive to work with as digital reduces the market demand for film use, but there are many still championing working with film.) All of these film sizes are designed to scale to different print qualities - an increase in film size correlates to finer details and better tonal quality.

In our Choosing a Camera lesson, we went over concepts like resolution and sensor size. The filesize settings within the camera assert control over picture size, or pixel dimension, and image quality.

Your camera can write and record a .JPG file and nicer cameras are capable of producing some kind of RAW file format. Let's address the difference between .JPG files and RAW files, which will also guide us to the concept of compression, and how it can affect image quality.

While your shutter is open, the camera sensor is flooded with light data from the lens tube, and this data is written to your camera's memory. As this information is being written to memory, the camera's computer analyzes the data to tone and render your image. This recording is quickly compressed into a .JPG file.

If your camera is capable of shooting RAW images, it will generate an image with a .CR2 (Canon Raw) or .DNG, which means 'digital negative' filetype. A RAW image file does not undergo any kind of compression and takes longer to write to memory because there is additional tonal and exposure data being taken into account. All of that additional exposure data only serves you if you intend to digitally process your photos on your computer. Your RAW images may appear to have a lower tonal contrast while viewing them on your screen, this is because your highlights and shadows are not being compressed like they are during .JPG image writing.

Take note that RAW files need to be processed in a digital post-processing environment like Photoshop, and converted into another file type like a .JPG or .tif before it can be printed or shared. So if you shoot in RAW, be prepared to digitally process your images on your computer. Instructables a uthor blinkyblinky does a great job explaining RAW processing in this instructable.

80% of the time I am shooting .JPG, because I know that my images are going to the web on Instructables and don't need to be viewed at super high resolution or scaled for print. Because .JPG files are compressed, they take less time to write to your camera's memory, I move to RAW when I know that I have to print my images, or may need to use a high-res source file for multiple uses.

More on Compression

In addition to file type, you can control the compression quality on your images. Your camera will be able to create files of different pixel dimensions, ranging from Small to Large, with different compression options - normally called "Fine" and "Superfine". To the naked eye it is hard to tell the difference but when we zoom in to observe image pixelation, you can notice the difference in the quality of the details, or even banding in skies & gradients.

It is best practice to set your camera to record with the best possible image quality and biggest dimensional size because it gives you the most options later. When you manipulate file quality settings, the size of the resultant image file will be affected. Higher quality images take up more memory than compressed small-sized images. If your camera is running out of memory space, you can always reduce your image quality and size to get more images on the card, but those images will not look as good as the ones you've already made.

Color Temperature and White Balance

Color temperature refers to the toning of your images. The best way to make sure your images have the correct color temperature on your camera is to look at your black, white, and gray tones in the images you are creating. This is called white balancing - if your grays and whites have a slight bluish/greenish or yellow/magenta cast toning your image, try adjusting your color temperature in your camera settings.

Color temperature is called out in your camera with little icons that look like some common kinds of light sources. A lightbulb for indoor light, a sun for bright daylight, a cloud for overcast skies, etc. Each setting adds the opposite tones, trying to remove the color cast that is associated with different light sources.

The below graphic demonstrates how different light sources can affect your white balance, and how your camera settings compensate with designated settings.

Most modern digital cameras have a way to adjust the color temperature of the images you are trying to shoot. Color temperature is usually represented in two ways : by calling out a lighting condition (i.e. Daylight, Flash, Cloudy, etc), or in a unit of measurement called Kelvins.

If you have the ability to set your camera's color temperature in Kelvins, color temperatures more than 5,000K will be more bluish, while lower color temperatures 2,700–3,000K will render warmer or more orangey/yellowish tones. If your photos look a bit yellow, then turn the temperature down, and if they are blue turn the temperature up.

Shooting Modes

Your camera most likely has a little wheel on the top with lots of modes and quick-select features it is capable of. If there is not a wheel, refer to your camera's manual to determine how you can select between shooting modes.

Common Camera Modes

Automatic - Your camera auto selects all exposure data for your scene, and you have minimal controls over settings like color temperature or card formatting.

P(rogram) - Your camera is still autoselecting all the settings for your camera's exposure data, but you have control over color temperature and exposure brightness.

Close-up or Macro Mode - Your camera will adjust its depth of field so that the background is out of focus, and just your foreground, or the objects near your lens, have sharp details.

Landscape mode will expand your camera's depth of field so that your foreground and background are tack-sharp. Your camera's flash will be disabled in landscape mode unless you turn it back on to use as a fill flash for the foreground. (We will go over this more in our Artificial Lighting lesson)

Panorama Mode - Your camera may be capable of capturing a panorama, and will have special instruction in your camera's manual on how to access that function. In all honesty, I rely more on my smartphone to create Panoramas because it uses an internal accelerometer to stitch together panoramas with pin-point accuracy.

Sports or Action modes push your camera's sensor to be more light sensitive so that when you are making a photograph your shutter doesn't have to be open as long to capture motion.

Your camera may also have some advanced shooting modes, we will touch on these camera modes (like the ones marked 'M' 'Av' or 'Tv' on your camera) in our What's Next lesson.

Class Project

Go out photographing and adjust your camera's color temperature setting to see what kind of effects you are able to create in various lighting conditions. Share a photo of from your experimentation to complete this lesson!

In the next lesson, we will go over How to Hold the Camera, and why it is important to pay attention to the way your camera is positioned in the space you are making images within.

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