Tips for Setting up Your Digital Camera

Every time I teach a beginning class about using digital cameras, I'm always asked, "How do I know which button to set first? There are so many choices!"

It's a very good question, and my usual answer "you'll learn with experience" may be true but isn't very helpful. While I was enjoying some summer reading on photography, I came across a couple suggestions that are more practical.

Balsamroot Flowers & Mission Mountains, Montana

The first comes from Canadian photographer Freeman Patterson. In his book Photography for the Joy of It, Patterson says to remember the letters C, D and E, in alphabetical order. They remind you to
  1. Start with Composition (C).
  2. Decide next on Depth of field (D) (how much of the photo you want in sharp focus).
  3. Then adjust the Exposure (E). 
I follow a similar process when I'm photographing scenics, macro, or still life subjects such as the balsamroot flowers in the picture above. But these steps may not be appropriate if your subject is constantly changing, such as photographing children at play or rodeo action.

For getting a quick shot of developing action, try the advice of photojournalist Steve Simon. In his book The Passionate Photographer, Steve says that before he puts the camera back in the bag, he resets it so he's prepared for any unexpected opportunity. Here's what Steve sets on his camera:
  • Aperture Priority exposure mode (Av or A on the exposure dial)
  • Widest aperture (lowest number: f/2.8 or f/4)
  • ISO 400 or Auto (helps achieve a fast shutter speed to freeze motion)
  • Continuous (tracking) auto focus
  • Continuous shooting (frame advance)
  • Exposure Compensation at zero 
  • UV filter on the lens instead of a lens cap (so he doesn't have to remove the cap before shooting)

Bull-doggin' at the Wilsall Rodeo, Montana

So there you go...two different answers to "where do I start?" when setting up your digital camera. Give them a try. Make adjustments as needed for your photographic subjects and camera controls. And make some great photos!