So you just got a new camera and you can’t wait to go out capturing amazing images with it. After all, it’s quite exciting to get new equipment, right?
But there are also new challenges that come with purchasing a new camera. Can you just go straight outside and get good results immediately?
Unfortunately, the answer is no. There are certain changes you need to make right away. This is where it can get confusing. The camera menus are large, so where do you even know where to begin? How do you know which settings to choose and which to stay clear of?
That’s what I’ll let you know in this article. These are the exact steps I follow (and the exact settings I apply) when purchasing a new camera:
#1 Set Image Quality to RAW Format
The first change you need to make when getting a new camera is to set the Image Quality to RAW. This is an essential step for anyone who wants to get the most out of their files.
Even if this is your very first camera and you don’t have any intentions to edit them in any way, I still recommend that you at the very least set the Image Quality to JPG + RAW. You’ll be grateful you did so if you ever decide that you want to take your images through post-processing at a later stage.
Here’s a short introduction to RAW files if this is the first time you hear about them:
A RAW file is an uncompressed image file and the file format that contains the highest amount of information. This files are not processed and can’t yet be printed. The RAW files can’t be previewed by all computers and require that you use a photo-editor to open them.
RAW files are larger in size than JPG files as they contain considerably more information. This is the exact reason why you want to photograph in RAW; the extra information gives you more flexibility and possibilities in post-processing, and allows you to, for example, bring out more details in under- or overexposed areas.
The difference between processing a RAW and JPG file is like night and day.
As I said, even if you’re not yet processing your images, I do recommend that you choose the JPG + RAW Image Quality.
#2 Change color space to AdobeRGB
I know we’re only at the second point but this one can get a little tricky; there’s a lot of misleading information about color spaces in photography and I hope to clear this up so you understand why this affects your photography.
A color range is, simply put, the range of colors that can be produced in an image.
Selecting the correct one has a big impact on the colors in your image; a small color space gives you fewer colors to work with while a larger color space gives you more. This becomes especially problematic when using different color spaces in camera and processing.
But here’s the catch: changing the color space only matters if you’re photographing in JPG.
It makes no difference what color space you choose if you are shooting in RAW. This is because it’s an uncompressed file that isn’t given a color space until it’s processed. The color profile is then designated in your processing software.
Those who are photographing in JPG, however, should always choose the largest available color space. This means you should change the camera to shoot in AdobeRGB, since ProPhoto RGB isn’t available for JPG files.
#3 Change to the appropriate shooting mode
The first thing that I realized when going out photographing for the first time with my new camera, was that the settings didn’t react as I expected when adjusting them. I quickly realized that I’d forgot to change the shooting mode but it goes to show how used we are to shooting in a specific way.
While I’ve always said that learning how to use Manual Mode will have a positive impact on your photography, the semi-automatic modes can also be helpful in the beginning (though I recommend avoiding using Auto Mode).
So make sure that you change into the shooting mode that you’re most comfortable with so that you avoid any surprises when going out photographing for the first time with your new camera.
Most cameras are set to full automatic when taking them out of the box. This means that also the ISO is set to automatic. Make sure to change this too before heading out.
#4 Set the Picture Control / Picture Style
The Picture Control or Picture Style is another setting that only affects JPGs and the image preview, not the RAW files. This means that changing this setting won’t have an impact on images captured in the RAW format (though the camera operator’s editing software typically detects the Picture Style and applies it onto the file).
It can, however, be a beneficial setting for those shooting in JPG or those who like to have an image preview that’s closer to what the final image looks like.
Most camera systems have the following options to choose between Standard, Neutral, Vivid, Monochrome, Portrait, Landscape and Flat. There’s no ‘correct’ choice here as it fully depends on your style. Personally, I leave it at Standard.
#5 Include copyright information
This next step won’t do much for the image quality but it will help protect your material from being used in unwanted ways.
Most modern cameras allow you to embed your copyright information into the image file. Typically, it’s limited to your name but you might be able to include an email and website, as well as the year.
Your copyright information can easily be added in Lightroom or other photo editors (and it may allow you to include more detailed contact information) but embedding your name to the image file is the most foolproof method there is.
Better safe than sorry, right?
#6 Adjust the time and date
The final setting you should adjust in your new camera is the Time and Date. This won’t have an impact on the photo itself but it certainly makes organising a lot easier.
The less work required to find a photo in your library, the better, right?
#7 Add extra playback display options
Taking a close look at an image preview is always a good idea (shown on the camera’s display after taking an image). When used correctly, this can give you a lot of valuable information that helps improve the image.
What many aren’t aware of, however, is that it’s possible to include additional information about the image, beyond the standard preview. By going into the camera settings and locating the Playback Display Options, you can add essential information.
Personally, these are the additional options that I’ve activated for the image preview:
- Exposure Info
- RGB Histogram
Exactly how this information is displayed might vary from camera to camera but on my Nikon Z7, it’s possible to scroll through the different display options by pressing the down button. This gives me the opportunity to first view the image as a whole (to consider the composition and overall look), then by looking at the Highlights and RGB Histogram, I can make sure that no tones are over or underexposed.
Most cameras also allow you to get additional info showing the Focus Point and Shooting Data.
Additional settings that don’t need to be adjusted now
In the previous six steps we’ve looked at the changes you should make immediately after turning on your new camera. Some of them have a direct impact on the outcome of the images, while other are there to simply make your life easier.
There are, of course, many more settings that need to be adjusted to get professional results. However, this adjustments shouldn’t be made directly after unpacking the camera; they should be made when you’re out photographing.
Here are a few settings you need to adjust in the field to get professional-looking results:
The shutter speed
In very simple terms, the shutter Speed represents the amount of time the camera’s shutter is open. The longer the shutter is open, the more light reaches the sensor.
The shutter speed is the setting that will have the biggest impact on the visual outcome of your image. There are many factors to consider and, unfortunately, choosing the ‘wrong’ setting can ruin your image. On the bright side, understanding how the shutter speed affects your photo isn’t too difficult and after a bit of trial and error, you’ll get the hang of it.
It’s also a setting that opens a lot of creative doors. You can make big changes to your images by making only a small adjustment to the shutters speed.
The easiest way to understand aperture is to think of it as an adjustable hole that lets light through your lens. The bigger the hole, the quicker light passes through. A narrow hole requires more time for the same amount of light to pass.
This has a direct impact on the shutter speed but also on the Depth of Field, making it a slightly more complicated camera setting. However, there is an ideal aperture for landscape photography that works perfectly fine in most scenarios.
That setting is in the range of f/7.1 to f/11, depending on a few factors. Don’t be fooled and use this every time, though. It’s only good for ‘standard’ landscapes.
If you’ve heard about the Exposure Triangle, you might be aware that the ISO is the third and final camera setting (after shutter speed and aperture) that belongs to it. These 3 settings have a direct impact on each other; adjusting one will impact the other two.
The ISO represents your camera’s sensitivity to light. More accurately, it measures the sensitivity of the image sensor. The higher the value, the more sensitive it is to light.
This means that a higher ISO allows for a quicker shutter speed while a low ISO requires more time (a longer shutter speed) for the same amount of light to reach the sensor.
Be aware though: a higher ISO introduces a significant amount of noise/grain. How much noise depends on the camera you’re using and should be something you make yourself familiar with before using it.
The white balance
The final camera setting you should make adjustments to when out in the field, is the White Balance. This might be the least confusing setting of them all, as it’s only task is to control an images’ overall color balance.
This is another setting that’s not essential to adjust for those photographing in RAW. Though it doesn’t affect the RAW file (as it’s an unprosessed file containing all information), most editing software recognize the used White Balance and applies it onto the image when it’s opened in them.
You can still alter the White Balance afterwards without loosing any details or quality.
If you’re photographing in JPG however, it has a bigger impact as you can’t make as accurate adjustments in post-processing.
Also, if you’re like me, it does help to have the image preview somewhat represent the desired outcome. I like to have the un-edited image as close as possible to the final result and find it challenging to start processing when the colors are completely off.
Purchasing a new camera is an exciting feeling but it also comes with some stress and confusion. Especially if it’s your first.
Making a few minor changes to the camera setup will have a big impact on both the image quality and your experience. These settings only take a few minutes to apply and should be the very first thing you do after unpacking the camera (these are the exact changes I make myself).
In addition to the camera setup, there are settings such as the ISO, shutter speed and aperture that you should learn to understand. These settings need to be adjusted in the field, often several times in one session.
Now there’s only one thing left for me to say: congratulations with your new camera and happy shooting!