10 Essential Camera Settings Every New Camera Owner Should Know

If you have got a new camera for Christmas or in the January sales, it can take a while to get the hang of where everything is, particularly if you have upgraded to an SLR or compact system camera from a point and shoot device. There is a lot to get your head around, but it’s not really that difficult – here are 10 ‘must know’ functions and settings to help get you started faster.

10 essential camera settings every new camera owner should know: 01. Exposure compensation button

1. Exposure Compensation Button

Whether you shoot in Program Mode or Manual, this is a very useful button, enabling you to use +/- values to lighten or darken a picture. Sure, you can also do this by adjusting aperture or shutter speed, but the compensation button is just so handy.
Be prepared to add + values when shooting snow, for example, to ensure your camera’s meter doesn’t get fooled and show white snow as grey; dialling in negative values is also handy for creating silhouettes.

10 essential camera settings every new camera owner should know: 02. ISO button

2. ISO Button

Make sure you know where the button or menu function is for changing the light sensitivity, or ISO. Higher ISOs enable you to shoot in lower light, and represent one of the biggest advantages of digital over film. Raising the ISO also gives you faster shutter speeds, useful when shooting fast moving objects. Don’t forget to turn down the ISO if you want long exposure effects, e.g. traffic trails or milky waterfalls.

10 essential camera settings every new camera owner should know: 03. Auto ISO button

3. Auto ISO Button

Related to the above, it’s often easier to let Auto ISO work its magic if you are working quickly in changing light conditions – documentary and travel photographers take note. If you are worried about noise creeping in, you can restrict the upper level of Auto ISO.

10 essential camera settings every new camera owner should know: 04. Long exposure noise reduction

4. Long Exposure Noise Reduction

Turn this on when using long exposures at night to avoid lots of noise breaking up the image. Just remember that this takes the camera as long to do as the actual exposure, so a two minute exposure will take another two minutes or so before displaying your image on the review screen. Make sure you shoot in raw too.

5. Autofocus Options

Another crucial control to locate and get used to. Every camera make is different so check your manual, but you need to get used to selecting and moving AF points, either individually or in groups. This enables you to set the AF point over the part of the shot that absolutely needs to be in focus – the eyes in a portrait for example.
10 essential camera settings every new camera owner should know: 06. AF for moving objects

6. AF for Moving Objects

Another key AF control to familiarise yourself with is AI Servo, or Continuous AF, which enables you to track moving objects and still take sharp shots. Again, get used to manually selecting and moving the AF point(s) to exactly where you need. ‘Everything on’ AF is OK to an extent, but to be sure of razor sharp shots, you need to learn how to select and move specific points.

10 essential camera settings every new camera owner should know: 07. Picture quality

7. Picture Quality

There is no point setting up the perfect exposure settings and AF points for a shot if you then accidentally take it as a very low resolution JPEG. Before you go out with your new camera, ensure you know how to select the various JPEG and raw options, and check you are on the right setting before every new shoot. We recommend shooting in raw all the time unless you are very tight on card space, or need to get images to a client very quickly.

8. White Balance

Get used to how you control the white balance on your new camera, too. Sure, you can change it later with software if you shoot raw, but don’t use this an excuse for laziness.
Often you need to override the ‘correct’ white balance for creative effect (‘Cloudy’ boosts the colours of a sunrise or sunset, for example) and there are times you will have to set up a custom white balance reading using a white card.

10 essential camera settings every new camera owner should know: 09. Manual focus

9. Manual Focus

Modern AF is amazing but there are times you should turn it off. When using a long exposure for creative night photography, AF can easily get confused by all the lights, for example, so it’s safer to select manual focus.
Make sure you know how to do this on your lens or camera body before leaving the house. To help you focus manually, zoom into the area that needs to be in focus with Live View, so you can check sharpness on the rear LCD.

10. Factory Reset Button

Last but not least, it’s easy to get carried away with lots of menu tweaks and lose track of everything. If you start to get confused about what you have changed and what you haven’t, a simple factory reset gives you a clean slate to start again. You will lose all your custom settings though, so only do this as a last resort.