ATP Members: Camera Settings

Sample Tips on Camera Settings from Our Private Members Section

Camera Settings

Camera Settings - Shutter Speed, Aperture, Manual, Auto, ISO, Flash, White Balance

We are getting to the “nitty gritty” of the workings of a DSLR now. These features and camera settings are all what make up a photo…good or bad! How you set them will determine the effects . It'll also show how the same image can look totally different by simply adjusting the values of each.

Shutter Speed (TV, S or Shutter Priority)

The shutter mechanism is what you hear when you take a photo with a DSLR. Its sound is often mimicked for effect in point and shoot cameras. In fact the sound you hear is a combination of the shutter and mirror in operation.

The shutter determines HOW LONG the light hits the sensor of your camera for. It is recording light all the time it is open. Therefore the faster the shutter speed, the more action will be “frozen” and the slower the shutter speed, the more action will be blurred.

For example:

  • 10 seconds, 1 second, 8th/sec, 15th/sec, 30th/sec are all SLOW shutter speeds
  • 250th/sec, 500th/sec and 1000th/sec are all FAST shutter speeds

The latter are good for sports, wildlife and fast moving subjects. The slower speeds are good for night photography and low light photography as long as the subject isn’t moving.

Of course, these “rules” can be broken when getting creative but that will be covered later. We will also cover Tv, S or Shutter Priority (they all mean the same thing) and when you would most likely use this mode.

Aperture (Av, A or Aperture Priority)

The aperture is found inside the lens and NOT the camera. It is made up of up around 8 “leaves” which open and close in much the same way as the pupil in your eyes. They close to reduce light hitting the sensor when it is bright and they open to allow more light in when it is dark.

You can see this in action. Set your camera to Av or aperture priority. Turn the camera around so you are looking in the lens. Press the depth of field preview button ON the camera body. It is near the lens (it should be a small, simple black button).

As you push it, you should see the aperture opening and closing. This is a way of testing how much of the image will be in focus as you look through the camera.

We cover the effects and features of the aperture in the next module but for now, you need to know this:

  • A wide open aperture of around F2.8 or F4 will give a SHALLOW depth of field. This means not much will be in focus other than your subject.
  • A small aperture of around F8 or F16 will allow much of the image to be in focus from front to back. DEEP depth of field.

There are exceptions to these rules which we will cover later including Av, A or Aperture Priority (they all mean the same thing) but for now, that is one of the most important lessons you will receive about apertures.


This is the term for when you take complete control of the most important functions of your camera:

  • Focussing
  • Metering
  • exposure
  • Aperture
  • Shutter speeds etc

You can leave certain things such as white balance (covered later) and ISO (covered later) fixed.

Why go manual?

Well, as scary as some people think it is, manual is not that difficult. Remember I said before that there is generally just one correct exposure but many ways of achieving it? This is how you do it yourself using a simple scale. Remember the viewfinder?

Viewfinder - Camera Settings

If when adjusting the aperture and shutter speed the indicator on the scale above is to the left, you are UNDEREXPOSING the shot. This means it will be too dark. If it is to the right, you are OVEREXPOSING the shot. This means it will be too bright. If it is in the middle, the chances are you will expose the shot PERFECTLY! Practice this by changing both the shutter speed and aperture but watch that your shutter speed does not go too slow. If it does, change the aperture instead!

Auto, or Full Auto

Going full auto means you are either using the green square on your mode dial or P (program mode).

Both mean that the camera will pretty much do everything for you. With the exception of (at least with Canon DSLR’s) the green square auto mode. This will only allow you to shoot JPEGS*. Program mode will allow you to shoot RAW as well as having slightly more control (more on that later).

*The Canon EOS 5D Mark II and 50D on release, for example, allowed you to shoot RAW in this mode. A feature that we now see in all new DSLRs.

I try to encourage any new photographer to come out of auto mode as soon as possible. If not, you may as well go back to using a point and shoot. Auto is good for situations where you simply do not have the time to make more manual adjustments and that is all.

You really want to learn to have control over certain aspects such as:

  1. 1
    Shutter speed
  2. 2
  3. 3

...for reasons we will come to. When using full auto you are leaving it up to the camera to make those decisions for you and the results may not always be what you want. Check out this short 3 minute video taken from the Absolute Beginners section from ATP Members for a further explanation. It was shot in Sutton Poinz in Dorset…

For more information on our membership site, go to ATP Members. ATP Members has a ton of information and a further 16 hours of video tutorials. These include shooting stock photography, wedding photography, DSLR training and a comprehensive business section.

I hope you enjoyed this quick tutorial on camera settings. Watch out for our next email on bounced flash and ambient lighting.

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