How to set DSLR camera settings

Image credit: Bestbuy.com

This quick guide skips the theory and give you a quick way of determining the ideal DSLR camera settings for your lighting set up.

Why are DSLR camera settings important?

There are so many different bulbs and lighting set ups. There is no one universal camera setting that everyone can use. This guide tells you how to find the camera settings that are suited for you based on your lighting environment.

Who this guide is for?

This guide is for beginners who are just starting out with a DSLR. If you are photographing tabletop products using a light box or paper roll and need help in figuring out the right camera settings, then this guide will help you.

8 Steps on how to configure your camera settings for product photography.

  1. Figure out which buttons or knobs you to need to use to change aperture, shutter speed and ISO settings on your camera. And how to switch from Auto mode to Aperture mode and Manual mode.

    DSLR Camera settings - change mode

    Sample Nikon mode dial. M=Manual mode, A=Aperture mode, S=Shutter Speed mode.

  2. Put the camera on Aperture Mode and set aperture to F14 and ISO to the lowest setting your camera will allow – usually 100 or 200. Based on my experience, for shooting tabletop items from 1-2 feet away, these are ideal settings.
  3. Take a pic and look at the shutter speed setting (this is automatically set by the camera in Aperture mode). If the colors are accurate and the image is clear, you’re done. If it looks darker or lighter than what you want, then continue below.
  4. Switch to manual mode.
  5. Set aperture to F14 again and set the shutter speed to what you had in Aperture mode.
  6. For more light in the image, tweak the shutter speed to be a little slower (if you want more light) or little faster (if you want less light). For example, if your shutter speed in aperture mode was 1/5th of a second, change it to 1/3rd of a second or to make the image brighter, change it to 1/8th of a second.
  7. Take another pic. Your image should be brighter or darker based on what you did to your shutter speed. If the image looks like how you want it, you’re done. If not, go back to step 5.
  8. Use those camera settings for all your products. That is the ideal setting based on your lighting set up.

Consistency: These settings will give you the best image for your type of product with your lighting set up. For example, if you determine your settings in a dark room with only the product lighting switched on, then take all future pics in that same set up.

Don’t determine settings in a dark room like that and then shoot in daylight near a window with those settings. That won’t work. If you plan to shoot with different lighting setups, repeat the process above for each environment.

More tips & info:

  • Why F14? The larger the number, more of the product will be in focus. Through trial and error, I find that F14 gives you an ideal blend of clarity and focus for tabletop product photography.
  • Quick Photoshop editing tip: Use Unsharp Mask with a setting of 70 and radius of 2 to sharpen your image. If you’re shooting with a entry level or mid-priced DSLR with the kit lens, this is sufficient in most cases. You can move the sliders around to see if a different setting works better for you.
  • White background: These settings will give you accurate product images. If want a whiter background, then point more light at the background. Just because your background is white, doesn’t mean the camera sees it that way. For example, if you look at a white wall in a dark room, its not going to look white. So point a light on the background and your background will be whiter. It’s hard to get a perfectly white background for every shot so get it as white as you can, and then edit in photoshop. There are many tutorials on YouTube on how to edit for a white background or you can use a service like pixc.com who will make the background white for you at a low cost.
  • Custom settings: In some cases, if you are shooting a white product or black product, your settings might need to change again using the above process but shutter speed is the primary setting you should tweak. Go through the above process with 3 products – a light-colored or white product, a dark or black product and medium color like blue or green product. If the settings turn out to be different,  you change your settings based on the color of the product you’re photographing.
  • What setting to tweak when? Aperture should be tweaked only if your image is not clear. Shutter speed should be tweaked if you want more or less light. For product photography, don’t change ISO – keep it at it’s lowest setting.

For a bit of theory, here is some information on what aperture, shutter speed and ISO do.

Did you try the above process? How did it work out?