My Favorite Camera Settings and Why I Use Them

Snake River Winter, Grand Tetons

Every photographer has their own personal style and way of shooting that is unique to them.  In this article I want to share some of my favorite camera settings and the reasons why I use them.

Manual Mode without Auto Exposure Bracketing

My camera is almost always on manual mode. I know many photographers who choose to shoot with aperture priority which is very similar but, for me, manual mode provides the most control. I often shoot multiple exposures with varying exposure times to capture the full dynamic range in the scene, and I usually do this very quickly. I start with a center metered exposure, view the image on the LCD, and take any additional exposures needed to capture the full range of highlights and shadows within the image. I do this by simply clicking the dial backward or forward (counting the clicks as I do – three clicks for one stop on my camera), taking the shot, viewing the LCD, and then moving onto the next composition. Sometimes the full dynamic range can be captured in one shot while other times it might take two, three, or more times. I can do all of this very fast which allows me to focus more on composition and the changing conditions within the scene.

Auto exposure bracketing doesn’t work well for me because I usually end up with too many shots on my card that I don’t need. Going in and fiddling around with the settings takes too much time, in my opinion.

Vertical Wizards Hat, Bandon Oregon

Highlight Clipping Warning

I almost always have Highlight Clipping Warning enabled on my camera. With this camera setting enabled, I’m able to see on the LCD whether highlights are clipped. I can then proceed with any additional exposures needed to capture the detail in those clipped highlights. For shadows, even though there isn’t a Shadow Clipping Warning available on my camera, I almost always check the histogram.

F/16 and F/22

This is a very common camera setting for me and one that I use for many of my wide angle images. I’ve done some pretty extensive testing at this aperture with most of my wide angle lenses and it seems to be a very good trade off for maximum sharpness while still maintaining maximum depth of field. If the scene is changing very quickly and I am in a hurry to capture the best light, I simply focus about 1/3 of the way in and shoot with my aperture set to F/16.  As long as my closest foreground element is farther away than about 1 or 1.5 feet, I can get great sharpness and depth of field throughout the entire image. Any closer and I usually need to do some sort of focus stacking. I often choose F/22 when I am shooting into the sun and want the most dramatic sun star.

ISO 100

ISO 100 is my go-to ISO.  If nothing is moving around in the scene, such as wildflowers or water, I always shoot with the lowest ISO for maximum detail and minimal noise. If things are moving around and I need a faster shutter speed to freeze the motion, I crank up the ISO and/or do some type of focal blend.

Mirror Lockup/2 second timer

I almost always use Mirror Lockup in conjunction with the two-second timer. This has simply become a habit. I have my camera set so that when I press the shutter, the mirror flips up, there’s a two second delay to allow the vibrations to subside, and then the shot is fired off automatically. This method takes the place of having to use a cable release all the time and simplifies the process a bit. Once again, if there is anything moving within the scene and I need to time the shot for an exact moment, this method doesn’t work very well. For situations like this, I connect a cable release. I still almost always use the Mirror Lockup, just to be safe.

RAW

Shooting in RAW gives me the most detail and dynamic range which is essential during the editing process. I find that Auto White Balance does a good job of giving me a great starting point for the white balance within the images I shoot. I almost always fine-tune this in processing.

Feel free to share you own favorite setting in the comments below.

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About Author Chip Phillips

Spokane, Washington based photographer Chip Phillips began his relationship with photography in 2006 when his father gave him his old Pentax Spotmatic film SLR camera. Chip was immediately hooked, and soon made the transition to digital. Given his lifelong love of the outdoors, he naturally made the progression to focusing on landscape photography. A professionally trained classical musician, Chip performs as Principal Clarinet with the Spokane Symphony Orchestra, and is Professor of Clarinet at Gonzaga University. Chip’s images have been published in various books and magazines, including Outdoor Photographer, National Geographic, Popular Photography and Imaging, Digital Photography, Digital Photo, and Digital Camera Magazine. In 2009, Chip won first and second place in the landscapes category of Digital Camera magazine's Photographer of the Year contest. Chip is proud to be a founding member of PhotoCascadia, a group consisting of some of the top landscape photographers in the Pacific Northwest.