Finding the right settings for your camera is a challenge when taking pictures. This post will introduce you to the basics of a DSLR. Additionally, we ask a few questions that will guide you to the right settings for your particular scenario. The following topics will be discussed:

  • Shooting Modes
  • Shutter Speed
  • Aperture
  • RAW vs JPEG
  • White Balance & ISO

Shooting Modes

  • AUTO Mode – This mode allows the camera to select the optimal shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and flash settings for your shot. There is no need to do anything more than point and shoot. If you don't know what settings to use and if you have to shoot quickly, this can be good. The shot here is correctly exposed as the day is well lit, but auto-exposure may struggle in situations where the light is uneven, and it will fire the flash even when it's not necessary.
  • Portrait Mode - Portrait mode assumes there will be a human subject in the foreground of the frame and selects a shallow depth of field so that the subject is in focus and the background blurred. Whenever the camera detects a dark scene, it adds a fill-in flash. A fill-in flash is also useful in sunny conditions when the sun casts a harsh shadow.
  • Macro Mode - Macro mode is extremely helpful for taking snapshots of objects that are smaller than your hand. It is important to know that macro mode won't provide super close-up images; you will need a macro lens for that. Macro mode will focus on the subject more sharply under bright conditions and it will use a shallow depth of field. If you are taking a macro photo, you have to focus more precisely. The reason is that shallow depth of field gives you a smaller margin of error.
  • Landscape Mode - The setting, in landscape mode, usually utilizes a small aperture (high f/number) in order to capture well-focused images. The landscape mode tends to suit wide lenses well and to work well when there is adequate lighting. You can manually turn off flash if the foreground appears too dark, but it will use it if the background is gray.
  • Sports Mode - Sports are fast-paced activities, so sports mode will give you a shutter speed of around 1/500 - 1/1000 of a second. Usually, the flash is not necessary because the shutter speed is fast enough to freeze movement - though this works best when the sun is out. Sports mode works well with continuous shooting, which consists of a series of shots taken at once that captures the action.
  • Night Portrait Mode - When you select this mode, the camera will attempt to balance the need to light the foreground with the darkness of the background. While the aperture must be fairly wide to allow enough light to penetrate to capture the background and keep the subject in focus, the flash will be necessary to illuminate the person and prevent blur. Even when shooting in night portrait mode, the flash may double, creating an unusual double exposure.
  • AV – Aperture Priority – This mode enables the aperture of the lens to be set and for the camera to determine the best shutter speed. If you wish to control the depth of field of your images, this is a good option. You should remember that F2.8 has a shallow depth of field and F16 will have most of your image in focus. Av Mode is only useful if you are shooting day-to-night time-lapse (be aware that you will have to de-flicker the images after you have shot them).
  • TV – Shutter Priority – This is the opposite of aperture priority mode, where the shutter speed is set and the camera selects the aperture. When you need to control the shutter speed in sports or wildlife photography, this is perfect. It is slow to run 15th or 30th/sec, and it is fast to run 500th/sec. There is a range of exposure from 30 seconds to 8000th of a second with most digital SLR cameras. Whenever shooting time-lapses, we recommend avoiding utilizing Shutter priority mode.
  • M – Manual – You are in full control here. It is up to you to manually set the shutter speed and aperture. The camera's metering system will guide you.
  • Shutter Speed

    When it comes to shooting, shutter speed can make a huge difference. The shutter speed on a shorter exposure will cause a staccato effect, whereas the shutter speed on a longer exposure will blur/blend the motion. You will also be able to have more even lighting if you drag your exposure. Fast shutter speeds, over 100ths of a second, usually produce flicker.


    Your image's depth of field is controlled by the aperture. For your lens to have a shallow depth of field, you will need a wide aperture. The aperture needs to be closed down if you wish to have more focus.

    RAW vs JPEG

    Taking a RAW file instead of a JPEG has major differences. I realized how important it was to do raw time-lapses when I started doing them. First of all, when you shoot JPEG, As a result, baked-in images cannot have the same dynamic range as raw images. The raw timelapse takes up more space on your card, but the final result will be better. When I shoot time-lapses, I shoot both raw and sJPEG. Shooting a raw timelapse requires more post-production work so by shooting a JPEG alongside the raw, a low-resolution preview can be created before even processing the final raw file.

    White Balance & ISO

    White balance and ISO are the last two settings that require consideration. Color temperature is controlled by white balance, while sensitivity to light is controlled by ISO. In daylight, the color temperature is around 5600K, and in tungsten, the color temperature is 3200K. If you're excited about trying this, I highly recommend that you shoot on manual settings so you can choose the proper temperature.

    The smaller the ISO number, the less sensitive your camera is to light. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive the camera is. If you want to shoot Astro time-lapses, you will need to test the camera you are using. 

    You can also Rent DSLR Cameras and Lenses to try these settings:

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