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As well as the basics of exposure and colour etc. Some cameras, especially more expensive models, have a great many more controls that affect the way your camera takes a picture. Only top of the range cameras are likely to have all the items mentioned here, but most digital cameras will have at least a few. Most of these will be found in menus but some have their own dedicated buttons on your camera.


If you are just starting out in photography, you may not be interested in many of these items except to check that they are on auto, where possible. Once you begin to understand the photographic process a little, you may want to explore some of these options.


There are simple cameras with a fixed lens but the majority of digital cameras have a zoom lens. This allows you to change the angle of view of your camera. You can zoom out to take in more of the scene before you or zoom in to one part of the picture. You could do a similar thing by moving further away or closer in, but zooming looks slightly different because the perspective doesn't change.


Many cameras have both an optical and digital zoom. These both have the same effect with one difference. The digital zoom just crops the picture and you end up with a smaller digital image. This may not matter for viewing pictures on screen but, if you want to print them, they may not have the same quality as those shot using just the optical zoom.


If you have any sort of editing program you can easily zoom in and crop the image using that. This is exactly the same as the digital zoom on your camera but you get a lot more choice and control over the process.



Normally. the camera will focus for you but some will allow you to switch this off and do it manually. This is not all that easy to do using the screen on the back of the camera, unless it allows you to magnify the image. Nonetheless, there may be times when this is the only way to guarantee good focus.



Your camera takes its light reading from the picture you are taking. The simplest way for it to do this is just to average out all the lighter and darker parts of your image. This is called "average" metering and will work fine unless a large proportion of your picture is either very light or dark.


In this case you could try "centre weighted" metering. This takes most of the light reading from the central portion of your frame. In most pictures, this is where your subject is, so it takes a light reading from your subject and the exposure is not influenced much by the background.


Some cameras have another option but there is no standard name for it. It may be called "evaluative", "matrix", "3D" or something else. Whatever it's called, what it does is try to take a reading off your subject, whether it is in the centre of the frame or not. For most people, this is probably the best type of metering to use all the time as it will always attempt to give you the right exposure reading even in tricky situations.


The last option, only available on a few cameras, is spot metering. This takes a light reading from a small area in the centre of your frame and nowhere else. It is designed to be used in conjunction with a "grey card". The card is a specific shade of grey and acts as a mid tone reference point, just as a piece of white paper acts as a colour balance reference point.


Place the card in the scene and make sure it covers your entire "spot" before taking the reading. Tricky though this process is, it is one of the most accurate way to take a reading because it eliminates the effect of anything in the picture itself. You are just reading how much light is falling on your scene. The grey card reflects exactly the right amount of light to balance this with your camera's exposure system.



If you have this function on your camera then it will either display the histogram of the picture you have just taken or, if it's a "live" function, it will show you the histogram of the photograph you are about to take. It is part of the metering system and the display shows you if your picture is (or will be) over or under exposed. If it is, then you would adjust the exposure compensation control to er, compensate.


In practice, it puts all the other metering systems to shame. If you want to make absolutely sure that the exposure is right, then the histogram is the only way to do it. It's function and use are described in more detail in another section.



Most cameras have a built in flashgun and in simple cameras is usually set to automatically fire if the light reading produces a shutter speed that is too slow for a hand held shot. Another very common option is to have a flash that pops up to place it further away from the lens. Typically, there will be a button (often with a lightning flash symbol) that you press to activate.


Many cameras have different flash "modes" that alter the way your flashgun works. These are explained in detail in another section. You might have access to these flash modes through the menu system but, in many cases, you have to repeatedly press the flash button to cycle through the different ways your camera's flash can operate.


multi shot

Many cameras can be set to take lots of pictures in quick succession as long as you hold down the shutter button. This may also be called “burst mode”. You may wish to identify this setting on your camera just to make sure that it's switched off. Otherwise your memory card may fill up rather quickly. However, this is perfect for covering any fast moving action.


A variation of the multi shot option is "bracketing". This option will take three (sometimes 5) shots in quick succession, all at different exposure compensation settings. One at zero, one (or two) stops above and one (or two) stops below. If you are for any reason unsure of the correct exposure, this is an excellent option to choose. You can decide on the best exposure when you get home or even combine two exposures for the perfect shot.



This is often selected with a button on the body of the camera, but it could also be a menu option. It is usually indicated by a flower symbol. The macro function allows you to focus your camera much closer than it normally could. Usually, a camera can focus down to 2 or 3 feet, but with macro on, this can come down to as little as 2 or 3 inches.


Also, when macro is on (there should be an indication somewhere on your camera) you cannot focus any further away than a few feet or less. So, for normal shooting, you must make sure it's switched off or your pictures will be out of focus. Although it's a simple function that exists on most digital cameras, using it opens a doorway into an entire world of macro photography.


Image stabilizer

This is becoming increasingly common in digital cameras. It's a system that attempts to compensate for camera shake and, like the macro setting it can only be on or off. In some cameras, it can cause a slight deterioration of picture quality when in use. So it's best only switched on when it's needed. That is, when taking a hand held shot at a slow shutter speed. Any loss of quality there might be is nothing compared to the improvement made by the removal of camera shake.


Self timer

I'm sure that most people know what this is and what it's for. It's been on cameras long before they became digital. Although it's normally used to take a picture of yourself it is also useful if you are taking a very long exposure, especially if you don't use a tripod. Using the self timer means that any movement induced by actually pressing the shutter button will have died down to nothing by the time the picture is taken. Some cameras even have a short self timer option for this very purpose.



Many cameras have this as a setting amongst their menus. If you have such an item, it will either be a simple on/off or it may include low/medium/high as options. It will usually be on by default. Sharpness is a digital effect added to an image after it's taken. It enhances any edges in the picture and it works very well. But you can have too much of a good thing. Too much sharpening can make the whole image look artificial because it basically adds extra lines around all of the edges on your picture.


Cameras vary a lot in how much sharpening they apply to an image. It's quite possible for one camera's high setting to be lower than another one's medium. The best thing you can do is, if you have the choice, try a shot at each setting and see what you like best. The right amount of sharpening to use is very much a matter of personal taste.


Size matters

It certainly does when it comes to sharpness. For this reason it also matters whether you just view images on screen or print them out. If you did the above test and compared the on screen images and prints, you might easily come to a different conclusion about which sharpness level you liked best for viewing and printing. The effect of sharpening will also be different, depending on the size of the print.


For the majority of people, the difference may be too subtle to worry about but, but for the photographer wishing to maintain the highest quality, the best setting for your camera is - off! This is partly because image editing programs also have a sharpening control, (usually) a much more adjustable and sophisticated one too. However, the main reason is that sharpening is an effect that works best when applied only once. Also, the best time to apply it is after the image has been resized for its final purpose, be that viewing or printing. Sharpening an already sharpened image seldom looks good, especially on a large print.


Colour tone

Sometimes, this option is just called tone. It allows you to make small adjustments to the finished colour tone of your camera's images. You can choose to make your pictures slightly warm (yellow) or cool (blue). I'm not entirely sure why this setting exists on cameras. It's only really useful if your camera consistently produces images that are too warm or cold for your liking.


It relies on you or your camera achieving a perfectly neutral colour balance in the first place, which it then adjusts to suit your individual preferences. If your original colour balance was wrong, it will totally overwhelm any setting you make to the colour tone. Unless your camera is consistently producing warm or cold pictures, it is best to leave this setting at zero. It is very easy to make subtle adjustments to the colour tone in a photo editing program.

Other photographic settings