Setting Up Your New Camera: 4 Overlooked But Important Settings

Setting Up Your New Camera: 4 Overlooked But Important Settings

When you get your first camera or a new camera, it can be an exciting time. For me, I’m like a 7 year old kid at Christmas…tearing open the box…pulling everything out…hitting buttons randomly…yeah it’s a bad habit. But once you unpack it, you may find yourself overwhelmed with the various menus, settings, and options for customization that come on every digital camera. The camera user manual, contains extremely valuable information about the camera, but it’s often very technical and boring which kills the excitement…ultimately the manual is left behind and you try and wing it.

For me, I’m notorious for jumping right in and using the “wing it” method; however, it normally leads me to frustration and the results don’t live up to my expectations. For beginners this method can lead to learning less than optimal ways of using your camera, making it difficult later on to correct bad habits…or worst the abandonment of learning the art of photography all together.

That being said, each camera manufacturer has its own menu layout, terminology, and specifications for each model. So, for me it’s a little difficult to provide you with an exact layout for setting up your specific camera. However, there are hundreds of Youtube videos about cameras normally labeled with the model numbers. I recommend a search there to go over all of your specific camera settings and menu options.

Regardless of the camera manufacturer, there are a few steps I find very important and I recommend you take the time to look into before going on your first shoot. There are four main settings that can be addressed and set up on any digital camera.

Image Quality

Determining what image quality to capture your photographs in can be a confusing task when you’re first starting out especially when you don’t know what the difference is between RAW and JPG. If you are choosing to capture your images as JPG you’ll need to select size. This can always be adjusted depending on your shoot criteria.

setting up your DSLR; photography tips; photography tricks; camera settings

For beginners, I recommend setting your image quality to the HIGHEST quality JPG option your camera offers. This will allow you time and reduce frustration with software so you focus on learning how to take photographs. Setting your image quality to Highest JPG allows the camera to handle the bulk of the image processing of the photographs for you right inside the camera. You’ll still be able to add some minor touch-ups if you want to later from the computer if you like but it’s not necessary, camera technology has come a long way in the past ten years.

As your photography skills progress and you become more comfortable with your new camera then you may want to switch this setting to capture your images in a RAW format for full hands on editing capabilities.

When you switch to RAW format your images will not be processed by the camera at all. You choose the processing that best reflects your vision of the image when you photographed the subject later on the computer with editing software like Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop.
Depending on the size of your camera’s sensor, your RAW files will be much larger than your JPG files. Sometimes they can be 10 times larger than your JPG images. So you’ll end up storing less photographs on each of your SD cards, so you may need to purchase additional or larger memory cards.

File Naming

Your camera will come with a setting for file naming. File naming is a system for organizing your images when they are captured. This is also one setting most new photographers overlook or disregard but choosing to set this up early on will save you from an organizational nightmare later on.

This setting is based on your own personal taste. You’ll be able to save the image file with or without the date the image was captured. You’ll have the option to save the captured photographs with a sequential numbering system if you like. There’s no wrong way to set up a file naming system, it will all depend on whether you prefer to keep track of the dates you took the photograph or the number of photographs you’ve taken over time. For me, I prefer dates because landscapes change and I like to revisit locations to document those changes.

Time Zone and Date

Even if you choose not to save your images by date, you’ll still want to set up the time and date setting inside your camera. This information will be recorded into what’s called metadata of your photograph (it hidden in the properties of the image). Later, if needs be and depending on the software you use, you’ll be able to search your stored photographs based on date even if you didn’t set up the file name with dates.
setting up your DSLR; photography tips; photography tricks; camera settings


With each photograph you’ll capture with your new camera, your camera will automatically create records about that time, date, exposure, focal length, lens info, image dimensions and ISO. This information is known as the “metadata” of the photograph. When you are setting your new camera up, you can customize the metadata to some extent in the camera. For example, you can embed your copyright information right into the metadata of every photograph you capture. Side note: If you date your copyright information you will need to update it each year.

setting up your DSLR; photography tips; photography tricks; camera settings

Reading the metadata was once confusing but it has become a lot easier as the software has improved. There are two reasons I find Metadata to be extremely important. The first reason metadata is so important for a beginner is because you’re learning. Viewing an image on the tiny screen of your camera is helpful but honestly, you really won’t see everything until the photo is enlarged on your computer monitor. You may want or need to go back to a location and try to reproduce it later or troubleshoot the photographs that didn’t turn out as you expected. This captured data can be very useful in enhancing your on location skills and giving you a starting point for exposure setting during your next outing.

Inside photo editing software program like Lightroom the metadata is displayed nicely on the side bar for you; you can even add to it if you so choose. (I recommend if you’re planning to sell or showcase your work online you add more metadata) I’ll explain more on that later in other posts. Software Lightroom will even let you search your photo library based on the captured information, so if you want to see all photographs taken with your 18mm lens or shot using an aperture of f/2.8, you can do that! As your photo library grows this search option will become more and more useful to you.

If you’re not planning on using any software like Photoshop or Lightroom to process and organize your photographs, you can still view the metadata of your images with both Windows and Mac photo viewer. You simply select your and right click on it. If you’re using Mac you’ll need to navigate to “Get Info” and a window will pop up with the metadata for that particular photo. For Windows it’s called “Properties” and you navigate to the “Details Tab”.

As I mentioned earlier, for more information on getting specific camera setting set ups, YouTube is a great place to start. You’ll be able to find video that will walk you through all the various menus from each camera manufacturer.

Now that your camera is set up, it’s time to go out and create new photos! In the next article I would like to dive into more about what is actually happening inside your camera as you capture your photographs and how it works for you as a photographer.

Feature Image by: Chernetskaya through:

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