Simplify Your Camera

Title image for Simplify Your Camera article: Circulo de Bellas Artes

If you haven’t yet taken the plunge into mastering your camera, you might be surprised at how the process actually simplifies things for you. Doing so, actually makes certain controls irrelevant so you can completely disregard them. Others you will set once and forget about them. In addition, once you understand your camera a little better you will find there are controls you never needed to worry about in the first place. Let’s take a look at some of these settings and controls and see if we cannot make the camera a little simpler for you.

Apart from the obvious benefit of helping you control your camera a little better, this will also let you turn your attention to things that are the most important when you are out shooting. Rather than worry about settings, you can think about things like subject matter and composition.

Ignoring Menu Items

Turns out there are actually a lot of items in your camera menu that you can ignore right away. You may have wondered if these will come into play as you get more advanced. For the most part, the answer is no. You should not feel bad about not using every menu setting in the camera.

What sorts of menu items am I talking about? Things like:

  • Auto Lighting Optimizer (Canon) or Adaptive-D Lighting (Nikon)
  • WB Shift/Bkt.
  • Custom White Balance
  • HDR Mode
  • High ISO speed NR
  • Highlight tone priority

I’ve never used these controls. I never touch them. I don’t think you will either.

Further, as we’ll talk about in a minute, you really don’t want your camera to do any processing for you. Any settings that have to do with camera processing of images, you can and shoot ignore.

Hopefully, just knowing this will make the camera a little simpler and more understandable for you.

Setting the Mode Dial

One of the first moves you should make with your camera is setting the mode. If you are just starting out, use Aperture Priority mode, which is designated with an Av or an A on the dial. If you have any questions about this, I explain why in my book for beginning photographers. If you have been shooting for a while, you can switch to Manual mode (designated by the letter M on the dial). or continue using Aperture Priority mode. Pro and advanced amateurs use one of the other. Once you master exposure compensation, you have just as much control over the camera in Aperture Priority mode as as you do in Manual. Either is fine.

The point, for purposes of this article, is that once you make this switch, you can safely ignore the entire mode dial on the top of your camera. Ignore all the icons on it. Ignore all the letters. Never touch it. You’re done with that.

What Raw Does For You

You should also be shooting in RAW+JPEG. There is just no reason not to. The historical downside of shooting in RAW, which is that the pictures use so much data, is no longer really pertinent because data is so cheap. If you are processing your photos at all, you need to use RAW files. Even if you aren’t processing your photos now, you might in the future. In addition, you might as well create a JPEG file at the same time. It costs you nothing but a tiny bit of data.

Now, having done so, you get to ignore a whole host of controls and menu items in your camera. First of all, you can ignore the Picture Styles. The Picture Styles control just adds processing to the picture as it converts the file to a JPEG. Even if you are concerned about how the JPEG looks, and you needn’t be, just leave it at Standard or Normal.

In addition, as mentioned above, any setting in your camera’s menu that has to do with adding any processing to the picture should be ignored. You have a RAW file and you have Lightroom and/or Photoshop Elements. You have the best file there is, and you have complete control over it. My camera has controls for lens corrections, noise reduction, lighting adjustments, or RAW image processing in the menu. These should all be ignored.

That cuts out a big chunk of your menu options and controls. Hopefully that simplifies things helps you focus your energy on items that matter.

Set It and Forget It

In addition to controls you can ignore from the start, there are a lot of other controls you can set once and pretty much never worry about ever again. Doing so will take those issues out of play. That is another way you can focus your energy on what is important in your camera.

Some of the “set it and forget it” controls, along with how you should set them, as as follows:

  • Image Quality: As set forth above, just choose RAW + JPEG and you’re done with this one.
  • Drive Mode: Choose Continuous. There is no need to limit the drive mode to single shooting since you can still take only one picture in Continuous mode.
  • AF Mode: Choose the stationary mode, which is called One-Shot (Canon) or AF-S (Nikon and Sony) unless you are capturing a moving subject such as a bird in flight.
  • AF Point: Choose the center point. That is not to say your focus will always be in the middle, but once you set your focus, just shift your camera to the final composition.

That’s another four major items in the camera we can check off the list.

Where to Stick With Auto Settings

There are a few areas where you ought to stick with automatic controls. These are areas where the camera will do a good job, and it is just one less thing for you to worry about.

The first one of these is white balance. Your camera will do an adequate job setting the white balance. Even where it doesn’t, it is a very simple thing to fix in Lightroom or Photoshop. If you are not familiar with that process, here is an article on the subject. Doing so takes away the need to worry about any of the presets for white balance or setting a custom white balance. It just isn’t necessary. I personally haven’t left auto white balance in many years.

Another area where you might want to let the camera do some heavy lifting for you is the choice of metering. In Canon that means Evaluative mode, in Nikon it is called Matrix mode, and in Sony it is Multi-Segment. As you become more advanced in photography, you might want to switch to spot metering. That’s not to say you have to make that switch though. I personally use spot metering, but I’ve heard from other advanced photographers that they stick with the automatic mode. In any case, for the moment, to get you started and keep things simple, let the camera choose what parts of the frame it uses to meter light.

What Happens When You Simplify Your Camera

We have now eliminated several controls and about half the menu items as things we ever need to think about (and did so while taking more control over the camera and the final pictures). That lets us get on to things that are more important. When it comes to operating your camera, it allows you to focus your attention on exposure – meaning the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO controls. That doesn’t just mean getting a correct exposure. Of course that’s part of it, but there are creative aspects to the exposure controls as well, such as using aperture to create a deep or shallow depth of field, and shutter speed to create the look (blur or stopping the action) that you want.

Simplifying the camera also lets you focus your attention outside the camera. The most important aspects of pictures are the subject and composition. Anything that lets you focus your energy on those things is a benefit. Hopefully, this helps you shoot with more confidence and focus, and results in even better pictures.


    1. Thank you! Glad you enjoyed the article. I’m going to add some commentary on the picture, since it may not be immediately obvious what it has to do with the article.

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