Compelling images don’t just happen, they are created. By initiating the 5 simple camera settings listed below, you will noticeably improve the quality of your photographs. Refer to your camera’s Owner’s Manual for specific instructions.
Shoot RAW Files
Shooting in RAW format is perhaps the single most important setting a serious photographer can make. (See my article ‘Why Shoot RAW Files.’) RAW files produce the greatest possible visual information and offer you the most creative latitude in post-production. RAW files are your digital negative and require a RAW converter such as Adobe Camera Raw or Capture One Pro to process the image. There is a bit of a learning curve to using this processing software, but the time investment is well worth your effort. You can fine-tune every aspect of the photograph, and correct issues like chromatic aberration, vignetting, and lens distortion. If your interest is black and white imaging, the RAW format offers the greatest tonal control. You will find many fine tutorials online.
As always, get the exposure right in-camera. Avoid the ‘fix it in post’ mentality. This is counter-productive and diminishes your workflow. In most cases, I spend less than 5 minutes processing an image.
Shoot in Manual Mode
Shooting in Manual Mode gives you complete and total control over the final image. Make photographs rather than take snapshots. By allowing the camera to make your creative decisions, you are limiting yourself to a pre-determined (and average) set of parameters, which will most often yield average results. Dynamic images are never average. Take control of Exposure, Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO, and Depth-of-Field.
Set your camera to Manual Focus. Don’t rely on the Automatic Focus setting. More often than not, your images will be out-of-focus because the camera is unable to decipher what elements are important. By focusing manually, you control depth-of-field, as well as selectively focusing on the key areas in the photograph, like a subject’s eyes in a portrait.
Select the Adobe RGB Color Space
Set your camera’s color space to Adobe RGB (1998). Most cameras are set to sRGB by default. sRGB was created to ensure consistent color reproduction as an image is transferred from the camera to a device, such as a monitor or printer. It is the smallest color space, and yields the least amount of color information. Consequently, some colors in an image are discarded and won’t reproduce when printed. Adobe RGB, on the other hand, has a much larger color gamut (spectrum of colors).
Set the White Balance Manually
Set your White Balance manually based on the light source in which you are shooting. Each lighting type has its own color temperature and color cast. A proper white balance setting assures accurate color reproduction in an image. White balance can be fine-tuned in post.
Use a Low ISO Setting
By using the lowest possible ISO setting, you minimize the amount of digital noise in an image. Digital noise generally equates to a degradation in image quality, and while noise can be used to creative effect much like the grain in film, it is more often undesirable. Shoot at ISO 100 whenever possible. If this means having to use slow shutter speeds, consider a tripod. If you need to freeze action in low-light condition, you may have to boost your ISO setting, but try to keep it at ISO 400 or lower. By shooting in RAW format, you have a Noise Reduction slider which renders a viable solution to the problem.
I hope this article has been helpful in the on-going quest to improve the quality of your photographs. Please contact me if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions. Until next time…happy shooting!