5 Important Things All Cameras Do – Forget the Rest For Now

by | Jan 29, 2023

Let’s face it, all modern cameras take a pretty good picture. You can even include your phone on this list.

Have you ever felt frustrated at at all the dials, buttons, settings, menus, sub menus and the 411 page manual explaining it all? Well read on. You only need to know a few of these settings and what they mean and everything else will really start to make sense.


The success of modern cameras is found in basically five main functions they assist you with either automatically or manually. The hundreds and hundreds of other settings and menus are mostly connected to these. Once you understand the first five and how you can adjust them to either your own personal preferences or what you are shooting, the rest of your camera settings come very easy.

(1) Aperture

This allows you to adjust how much light the camera will accept. It is also the one setting the camera can control that gives you the greatest amount of creative control. Depth of Field is the operative concept here and anybody who choses to go beyond just taking a snapshot needs to understand this.


(2) Shutter Speed

This setting tells the camera how fast it allows the shutter to accept the light coming to the sensor based on the aperture setting. 


(3) ISO

This is confusing to anybody who recently entered photography because the term actually has more relevance to Film and not the digital world. ISO refers to the sensitivity of your camera’s film or sensor to light. The lower the ISO number, the less sensitive it is to light. On a bright sunny day at noon it is very bright so you may only need an ISO setting of say 100 to have adequate light to shoot almost anything you want. At twilight or indoors, however, when the light is very low or an artificial light source is not very strong (especially compared to the sun) you may need a very high ISO to be able to adequately capture your subject. This might be an iso of 1600 to 2400. But that higher ISO comes at an expense, and that is generally referred to as NOISE. (pro tip: Noise isn’t necessarily a bad thing)

The combination of the three aforementioned settings are referred to as the EXPOSURE TRIANGLE. If you clear your mind it really is easy to understand. And if you do, you’ll know more than 95% of all people who hold a camera in their hand. You are on your way to taking some really good pics.

camera settings

(4) Light Metering Mode

Your camera contains a light meter, that measures the amount of light in your “Scene” (what you see in the view finder or on your screen) and communicates that data to your camera. From there it suggests if asked to (think AUTO MODE) a combination of Aperture – ISO – Shutter Speed to give you a reasonable representation of the scene. Light meters are calibrated to an international standard just like we measure temperature. 


(5) Focus Mode

Being able to focus on a subject is critical to having an acceptable image. You camera probably does a better job at this than your eye can so I have abandoned manual focus long ago unless I’m in the studio under pretty controlled circumstances. Your camera can guess at what you might want to take a picture of and hone in on that subject or you can tell your camera to only focus on a particular part of your scene by using selective focus settings from a small dot to a large portion of your scene. Additionally you can tell your camera to constantly adjust the focus on that subject once selected or simply focus initially and that position (how I shoot, even moving subjects).



Sure there are a few other things your camera does and a variety of useful whistles and bells like Shooting Modes, Exposure Compensation, Shutter Options, White Balance, Flash Modes etc.,  but understanding just these 5 things will allow you to take really good images under all but the most difficult circumstances.


The rest of your camera settings often just get in your way.  Know how to use these settings based on your subject and environment and start taking really good pictures. The rest of your options will come naturally. Trust me.


If you want to Fast-Track your photography like this, you may be interested in a private workshop in person or via Zoom where we go over these concepts and more in greater detail get your settings and understanding dialed in. You look at photography in a whole new way!

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About the author Perry Johnson
Perry Johnson is classically trained commercial photographer and graphic designer with over 30 years experience. He initially crafted his skills at the École Supérieure Des Beaux-Arts de Toulouse in France. Over the years Perry has taught countless photography workshops and courses to individuals, groups and business including Target Corp., Lockheed Martin, Johnson Outdoors, Enza-Zaden and more. Perry’s commercial photography clients include Darden Restaurants, Marriott Corp, Visit Florida, Food & Wine Magazine, Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau to name just a few. Perry owns a marketing communications firm named Imagica (imagica.us). This boutique agency offers a fully integrated menu of marketing services for business that includes photography, website design, graphic design, advertising, strategy, social media, public relations and more. It’s this current and diverse experience from the “outside in” that gives a unique perspective on the power of photography to inspire, motivate and tell a story.