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Sports, Auto, Portrait - Which Setting Should I Use?

written by: fionayb•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 10/8/2008

Modern digital cameras come with so many settings, it can be confusing to know which to use. This brief introduction will help get you started.

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    Which Setting Should I Use?

    Many modern cameras come with so many different settings that they can be both a blessing and the source of a whole lot of confusion for the proud owner. Looking at a dial marked with various symbols, you almost find yourself wishing for the days of a simple point and shoot; the picture would either come out or it wouldn’t.

    The variety of options can be so confusing that the photographer can fall into the trap of just using the standard automatic setting and never exploring the range of possibilities. Here is a brief explanation of the various settings, and a few unexpected uses that I’ve come across.

    Automatic: This is the standard “camera does everything so just point and shoot” selection. Very handy and by far the most commonly used setting.

    Portrait: Most of these settings are pretty self-explanatory. The benefit of the Portrait setting is that it will keep your “subject” in focus while blurring the background, giving you wonderful portraits where the eye is instantly drawn to the person you’ve photographed. The degree of background blurring will vary but one good tip is to stand further back from your subject and zoom in.

    Landscape: The landscape setting allows you to capture more detail for a wide scenic view.

    Night: Many beginning photographers assume that to take a photograph at night, they simply need to use their flash. They are then disappointed when they view the results and notice that the flash may have illuminated everything within perhaps 5-10 feet of the camera but beyond that, it didn’t make any difference. When shooting at night, a longer exposure time is needed to compensate for the lack of light and this setting takes care of that. Be warned though: a longer exposure time (even the slightest amount) increases the likelihood of camera shake and blurring. A tripod is recommended with this setting in order to keep the camera steady.

    Sports: When you need to catch that ultraquick movement that a regular photo would record as a blur, this is the setting for you. It’s great for the kid’s ball game or that shot of the lion pouncing at the zoo. Incidentally, I also find this useful for some indoor shots when I’m too far from the subject for the flash to make much of a difference.

    Macro: If your camera has a macro function, it is usually indicated by a little flower icon. Not only is this great for taking really close up shots of flowers and bugs without any loss of detail, I also find it very useful for food shots for my blog.

    With all of these settings, the best advice I can give is to play! Try them out in different scenarios and see which ones you like. You may find that a particular setting gives you results you love and you might discover a new adventurous photographer within.