Camera Shooting Mode & Set up Check List


When I pick up my camera, I always go through a mental check list to make sure that my camera settings are correct before shooting.

In the days of analogue film, and before using our cameras, we used to have to consider what type of film we were going to shoot with. Generally, we would be choosing between slide film or negative film, tungsten or daylight and then what film speed (ISO) we wanted to use.

Digital cameras have so much technology and functionality built into them that setting them up and getting the best from them can be difficult. There is still a basic mental check list that you can go through though to help you ensure that your settings are correct.

Camera shooting check-list

White Balance

The first thing I do is check my white balance (WB) setting and like analogue film, you can normally choose between a number of pre-sets, which were normally tungsten or daylight for analogue film; Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Incandescent and Flash or Auto White Balance, I usually leave mine on ‘auto WB’.

Photo Style

Next,I think about the picture-profiles or photo styles built into my camera. Photo styles are created by camera manufacturers and apply certain camera settings, like; colour saturation, contrast and sharpening. These are especially important if you shoot JPEG as they effect how your JPEG is processed. They normally include named pre-sets such as; Standard, Portrait, Landscape, Natural and Vibrant. I tend to use the Natural pre-set when shooting JPEG as it helps retain detail in the shadows and highlights has lower contrast and saturation and lends itself to being post edited.

Photo styles is a little like choosing between Fuji, Kodak Agfa and other film types.


Unlike analog film where we used to have to choose our film sensitivity when purchasing our film, we can now select and change ISO on the fly.

As a rule of thumb, we are often told to keep our ISO as low as possible in order to keep noise to a minimum. However, I like to use the concept of working ISO, my working ISO is based on my desired Aperture / Shutter speed combination.

I start by setting my ISO based on the lighting levels in the scene, the brighter the scene the lower I set my ISO, the darker the scene the higher I set my ISO. If I cannot arrive at a suitable Aperture / Shutter speed combination then I adjust my ISO until I arrive at my desired Aperture / Shutter speed.

Below is a summary of the basic settings.

  1. Basic settings
    1. White Balance (Auto)
    2. Photo Style (Natural)
    3. ISO (set according to brightness levels and desired Aperture / Shutter speed).
    4. Recording format (JPEG / RAW / JPEG & RAW) set based on your own personal shooting preferences and whether or not you are going to post process your files.

White Balance and Photo style are particularly import when shooting JPEG as these cannot be changed when post editing your images.

File Format

There are many discussions out there on the internet that argue the merits of shooting RAW or JPEG. But fundamentally, if you are not going to post process your images then think JPEG. I have three criteria that I use when choosing between JPEG and RAW.

Criteria for shooting RAW

  1. I will be post processing my files.
  2. I am shooting in low light conditions and, or using high ISO.
  3. I am having trouble setting my white balance.

Camera shooting mode

In general I use my camera in Aperture Priority Mode, I do this as I often want to keep my aperture as wide as possible to gather as much light as possible and separate my subject from the background. If I find my shutter speed is not fast enough, then I simply have to raise my ISO until I arrive at a suitable shutter speed for my needs. This is a very practical way to control both aperture and shutter speed, if I need to brighten or darken my image I simply apply some exposure compensation.

Learning to apply your cameras functions and feature for your shooting needs can help you make the most of your camera and improve your photos. If you have not already done so, read your manual and lean about its functions.

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