Basic camera settings you need to learn first

So, you just got your first real camera. And by now you’ve figured out it’s got a lot more dials and menus than your cell phone camera has. And you also know by now, that it’s quite confusing when you first look at it all. Reading the owner’s manual is not your style, and besides the owner’s manual just tells you how to turn the knobs, not why.

Now help is here!

There are a couple of routes you can take: Stay in full auto (cell phone mode), or learn just a few settings.

Route 1: Full Auto Mode

If you take outdoor photos on a sunny day, chances are they will turn out great. But if there are any difficult lighting situations, you may need to have a bit more control over your camera.

Lumix IA mode

Some cameras do a great job in full auto mode, and some don’t. For example, I’m fond of the Panasonic IA mode on their Lumix cameras. IA stands for Intelligent auto, and I’ve used that mode in all sorts of shooting situations, and it does a great job.

And most cameras have built in presets for things like night shots, portraits, action, closeups and things like that. If you’re lucky, your camera will have other artistic presets as well, like soft focus, cross process, miniature effect, star filter, monochrome, retro and other Instagram-like filters. Lumix cameras have those.

Full auto mode

Green square of death

When I teach in the classroom, I often joke about the green square of death. (Death to your camera settings and your creative control!)

In full auto mode you don’t have all the control you need. But it depends on the camera model. On some cameras you don’t have control over the flash. So if you’re at your kid’s school play or hockey game, and you’re sitting more than 20 feet back from the action, your flash isn’t going to do any good. But in full auto mode, the camera will use it anyway. And that just wastes your battery and annoys people.

  • And maybe your colour will be all wonky in some photos, so you’ll want to know how to fix that.
  • Or you will have photos that are too dark or too light.
  • Or your snow photo will go grey or blue instead of white.
  • Maybe your camera will only shoot huge files that don’t send via email very well.

After a while, you’ll probably get frustrated with full auto mode, so when you’re ready you can learn just a few basics to get you on your way to taking better pictures.

Route 2: Learn a few basic camera settings

There are only a few settings you need to learn to get started taking better pictures. They are:

Those are all clickable links to other blog posts I’ve written. Once you master those key ingredients, you will be on your way to understanding your camera better.

Need more?

Get free help with camera menus now!


If you need help learning your camera settings, I have a free e-course that teaches you the most important camera settings, as well as some short lessons on light and composition. You can sign up for this e-course today and start getting into the nuts and bolts of your camera and really understand the finer technical points of the menus.

Or, stay in Point and shoot mode

point-shoot-wow-button-2If you’d prefer to stay in point and shoot mode, I have a fun course called Point Shoot Wow! that keeps things less technical and teaches you how to take advantage of the built in presets and artistic modes that many cameras have. In this course, I also teach in-depth about light and composition, and where to put yourself and your subject, which is sometimes more important than camera settings for getting your message across. This course is guaranteed to help you with your photography, no matter what kind of camera you have.

You can keep things simple, or go deep

No matter which route you choose, you will improve your photography. If you’d like to learn more about the camera menus right now, then sign up for my free e-course. If you’d like to keep things simple for the time being, check out Point Shoot Wow.