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12 Camera Settings For Better Landscapes

By default, most cameras are not setup for maximum benefit when it comes to landscape photography. What follows are 12 settings you should pay attention to when setting up your camera.

Back-button Focus

On my Sony cameras, I assign a button located on the top right on the back of the camera to control auto-focus, thus taking it off its default shutter-button setting. This is important for us landscape photographers, especially when it comes to low-light and night photography. It takes a bit of practice, but you will use your right thumb to control auto-focus and your right index finger to depress the shutter.

Once you have this set (check your camera model as it’s generally a two-step process) you can depress your shutter without concern of the AF engaging.

Uncompressed RAW

Companies such as Sony are now offering RAW files in both compressed and uncompressed files. Though many pros say there are no practical difference, I recommend taking no chances and select “Uncompressed.” Granted your files will be larger but memory is so cheap these days that recording the best file possible is always my first choice.

Histogram Display

I still see far too many photographers making their exposure decisions based on what they’re seeing on the LCD and/or EVF (with mirrorless cameras). This can lead to underexposed images, especially at night when your eyes are constantly adjusting to the ambient light conditions in the field.

My recommendation is to enable your Histogram on both your Live View and/or Playback. Moreover, I strongly suggest having all three color channels available if possible, especially if you’re shooting a scene with strong warm colors such as at sunrise and sunset. If one channel is spiking slightly (overexposed) it can be recovered in your RAW processor (assuming you’re shooting in RAW mode). If two or all three channels are spiking, then the highlights will be blown and not recoverable.

ISO

When possible, I always recommend shooting at the “Base ISO” for your camera. With Sony cameras, base is ISO 100. Check your model and stay at its base ISO as much as possible. You’ll record the best file.

White Balance

I capture all of my landscape images in RAW mode, thus I just set my White Balance at Auto White Balance. The key to remember is the image you see on your LCD and/or EVF is a camera-processed JPEG, so more-than-likely your RAW image will look different than what you saw on your camera but the color temperature can be adjusted in post-processing. If you want your RAW file to look like what you saw on-camera, then use a preset such as Daylight, Cloudy, etc.

Long Exposure Noise Reduction

I simply leave mine on. The camera will record a “black frame” to help reduce noise generated by using either a high ISO or a long exposure. Long exposures and shooting at high ISO tend to heat the sensor due to an increased amplification of the signal. I have tested both high ISO and long exposure and have always come away disappointed if I do not have the Long Exposure Noise Reduction setting engaged.

Color Space

If you’re shooting in RAW mode, it doesn’t matter what color space you choose, but it makes a huge difference if you’re shooting JPEG only. I leave mine set at sRGB though I used to set it at Adobe RGB (which has a larger gamut). I am now recording 4K video while on-location along with shooting stills and have changed to sRGB because of the video. Remember, my landscape file is in RAW mode so I can set the color gamut in my RAW processor in post-production.

Highlight Alert (Zebra)

I keep the Highlight Alert setting enabled to notify me when I’m overexposing my highlights. With my Sony cameras, it is called Zebra. Depending upon the contrast within the scene, I might allow a bit of overexposure because when in shooting RAW mode I know I can recover some in post production.

Grid Lines

My Rule Of Thirds Grid is always on and I find it helps me align horizons and place elements on intersecting lines of the grid.

Focus Peaking

One of the advantages of shooting with Sony mirrorless cameras is they allow me to enable Focus Peaking, which looks for edges and overlays a color of your choice. This helps tremendously when trying to focus in low light like dawn, dusk and at night. At night, I simply turn the lens focus ring until the maximum amount of stars have a red (my color choice) outline. Using focus peaking and focusing on stars makes it near impossible to miss focus at night!

Display Rotation

Set to Auto-Rotate so your vertical frames will fill the back of your camera’s LCD.

Monitor Brightness

This is important so pay attention here: leave the monitor brightness setting at its factory default. I see many people turn up their screen brightness and this give you a false “visual read” when looking at your image on your camera’s monitor. Remember, make all your exposure decisions using your histogram only.

Hopefully these settings make your life easier when in the field and allows you to concentrate more on composition and light. Remember to have fun out there!

Don Smith is a Sony Artisan Of Imagery. See more about him here. Follow him on Facebook. See more of his articles on his nature photography blog.

 

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