When you purchase a new camera, how much time do you spend reading the manual? I find most camera manuals rather difficult to follow along with, and I for one very rarely use them. What’s interesting is that camera manuals only describe the technical “how to” side of things, like how to turn on your camera or how to attach a lens, but it doesn’t tell you how to truly become comfortable with your camera.
In the 18-minute video above, I review three camera settings every photographer should master for landscape photography and three simple tests you can perform at home that’ll help you do just that.
1. Shutter Speed Test
How to adjust your shutter speed is something the manual will explain, but understanding what you can expect from certain shutter speeds is something that takes practice.
There are two simple tests I performed that really helped me to better understand this. All that’s needed is a camera, tripod, sprinkler, and water. Just set up your tripod and camera a few feet away from your sprinkler, put your camera in shutter priority mode and begin taking exposures using different shutter speeds.
First, find out what shutter speed is required to freeze the motion in the water – for me it was a shutter speed of 1/500 second (below, left). Then start to slow your shutter speed down and take notice on the impact it has on the water. The image on the right was taken with a shutter speed of 1/10 second.
Another helpful test is to see how slow of a shutter speed you can hand hold and still walk away with a tack sharp image. This is super helpful information to understand when you’re in a quickly developing situation and you don’t have time to set up your tripod.
2. ISO Performance Test
Your camera manual will tell you how to adjust your ISO, but it won’t tell you how high of an ISO level you can apply that will still result in a “useable” image. For this test, I placed an old camera on a fence post in my backyard and began taking exposures while increasing the ISO each time. The ultimate goal is to determine the highest ISO level that results in an acceptable image for your taste.
I also took it a step further to see what the max ISO of 102,400 looked like on my Sony a7rii (below right) – I would never use this, but I found it interesting just to see what it would look like.
3. Depth Of Field Test
Understanding the depth of field you can expect from a certain aperture is critical when it comes to understanding the relationship between your camera and lens and is most certainly something the manual isn’t going to tell you. This test makes it easy to understand how close your foreground element can be and what aperture is required to get everything in focus from foreground, mid-ground, to background.
I found that when I focus on infinity, or in this situation the tree line in the distance, I can use f/11 and can get everything in focus from the background all the way up to about 5 feet from my lens. This is typically my go-to aperture for my 16-35mm lens, so understanding how close I can place my foreground interest is super helpful when composing shots while on-location.
We spend a small fortune on our photography gear and understanding exactly what you can expect from certain settings under certain situations is invaluable information to be comfortable with and will surely aid in your overall enjoyment of photography and at the end of the day, that’s the most important thing.
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About the author: Mark Denney is a landscape photographer based in North Carolina. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of his work on his website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.