Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Camera Settings: How Important Are They?

Over the last few years I've seen a growing number of posts on various photography forums about camera settings. Generally you'll see questions like, what settings do I use to shoot this subject matter? How do I capture that? Good questions, but how important are camera settings to capturing the image you want? Short answer, they can be. Some other questions come to mind as well, what kind of settings do people change most often? Do some photographers attempt to replace skills they are not willing to take the time to learn by asking others for camera settings?

My personal preference is to change camera settings as little as possible, at least in terms of settings in the menu system. When I'm out shooting I want to think about the camera as little as possible, my focus is on the subject I want to shoot, and how I want to capture it. In some ways getting to know what settings to use in a given situation is like learning to drive a car or ride a bike. For a beginner everything seems like a challenge, "what does this do?", "why should I use that?", but once you figure out what works, it is just second nature to you.


On entry level cameras changing settings usually requires a visit to the main menu or some kind of quick menu. Changing settings quickly with that kind of camera can be annoying at times. Thankfully my primary camera, the Nikon D700, and more cameras all the time, have custom shooting and settings banks allowing users to have several sets of settings for different situations. When I get a new a camera I go through the menu and find the best settings for the types of shooting that I do and leave it that way for the most part. As a result I rarely make any changes to my in camera settings. Using custom shooting banks is almost deceptive, because you are changing settings, just not manually each time.

To answer the question, what kind of settings do you change most often, I would say that I change the drive mode, metering mode and ISO (Aperture and Shutter values aside) most often. I think most photography enthusiasts would come up with a very similar set of most commonly changed settings. On all, but entry level DSLRs, these types of settings are very quickly changed by external buttons.

So what is the answer to the primary question, how important are camera settings? I think the answer is that they can be important, depending on how you shoot, and what you shoot. If I was only shooting still subjects I doubt that I'd change menu based camera settings very often at all. I find external controls to be the area where I change settings most often. At the end of the day, if you cannot master the skills required to capture the type images you want, the settings will make little or no difference at all.