Customize Your Settings

Customize Your Settings
by Steve Meltzer

Courtesy of Handmade Business

Besides writing columns about photography and working for a couple of photo Websites, I am the resident photo expert at The site is a meeting place for craftspeople and crafts buyers and my job is to answer questions that artists and craftspeople have about the photographs they have posted on the site.

Usually the questions I get are all about, "What's wrong with my pictures?"

My typical response is, "The exposure and lighting."

It is a situation a lot of artisans face, so I had been wracking my brain trying to figure out some simple solutions. Then, while reviewing some of the craft pages at Wholesale Crafts, I realized that despite lots of bad pictures, almost everyone had at least one or two good shots buried among the bad.

"Eureka!" I thought. Here's the thread with which to build a picture-taking strategy. So, that's what this column is all about--how to take what you did for that one good shot and make it your standard M.O.

To begin, what I saw on the artisan pages of Wholesale Crafts was page after page of underexposed pictures. Jewelers, potters, or whoever, all seemed to have shot their work on white or light-colored backgrounds and ended up with dark, murky images. Then, as I said, I would find one properly exposed, standout shot.

If this sounds familiar to you--lots of dark pictures and a few light ones--then here is what you can do to remedy the problem.

Every digital image contains an EXIF file. This is a detailed listing of information about the photo. It includes the date and time the photo was taken as well as the aperture, shutter speed, ISO setting, White Balance and lens focal length used.

Step one is to look through your photos and find those that look really good. Then, open the EXIF file and write down what settings you used for this photo. If your photos are still in your digital camera, you can simply push the playback control and when you get to the right photo, tap the display button until the information about how the picture was taken appears on the image.

To access the EXIF on a PC requires some sort of photo editing software. The manufacturer's supplied photo editing software might be useful. Or, one can go to and download Google's free photo editing software. Once loaded on a PC, Picasa 3.0 provides access to an amazing amount of EXIF information.

This was the exposure my camera chose in P mode. In this case, it lightened the image because both the gray background and the pendant were dark.

Switching to the M mode and my presets, the image is darker and the exposure and colors are correct.

The photos above are examples of what I mean. The EXIF information for the dark one indicates that the shutter speed was 1/50th second, at an aperture of F/11 at ISO 200. The EXIF for the other was F/11 at 1/15th second at ISO 200. The settings for the second photo are what I want to use for other pictures.

The next step is to load this information into your digital camera as a preset. Most digital cameras allow users to create personalized shooting parameters in Custom settings, but I have found an easier way. When I am shooting pictures, I usually use the camera's P (Program Exposure Mode) setting. In P, the camera selects both the aperture and shutter speed settings based on the camera's exposure meter reading. It works very well for most general photography. However, if I want to get a very sharp photo of something very small, say a ring or an earring, the P setting is a problem. In P, the camera usually opts for a very fast shutter speed and a very wide-open aperture. This aperture, F/4 or so, makes for a very shallow, narrow depth of field. If I want the largest field of sharpness possible, I need a setting like F/16. I can fuss with the P mode to get to F/16, but I found an easier way. I switch to the A (Aperture priority) Exposure mode. In this exposure mode, the photographer selects the aperture to shoot at and the camera finds the correct shutter speed. In the A mode, I set it to an aperture of F/16. Once I have done this, the camera retains this setting--unless I change it. Now, just by switching to A, I get my big depth of field. No fuss. No bother. It is there to use anytime I need it.

I tried this with the S (Shutter Speed Priority) Exposure Mode setting and it works the same way. I can set a shutter speed to 1/15th second and the camera retains that setting until I change it.

However, my big discovery happened when I switched to the Manual mode. In this exposure mode, the photographer sets both the aperture and the shutter speed, usually with the help of a little arrow or scale that indicates when correct exposure settings have been set.

When I switched to M mode, what do you think I saw? My two presets of F/16 and 1/15th second.

Here's what this means: I am suggesting that the settings that you found produce good images should be loaded into the camera as presets in A and S, so that when you need them, when you are shooting your work, they will be instantly available together in the M mode.

In the M mode, the exposure meter scale might show you that you do not have the correct exposure. Assuming you used the same lighting and background that you used for that one good photo, ignore the meter. I bet that your very first photo will look like the best photos you had taken in the past.