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How to Set Up A Camera: What Settings to Use As A New DSLR Owner? (Guide)

How to Set Up A New Camera Correctly for Beginners (Easy-to-Understand Guide on What Settings to Use)


You want to start taking better photos and just became a proud owner of a DSLR. Now the question is how to correctly set it up as a beginner photographer?

There are a few common settings that you should know about and I’d like to share them with you here.

==> Want to become a better photographer? Here’s one of my most recommended photography courses for beginners.

Tip #1: Charge the Battery

First things first:

As soon as you open the box, you should charge the battery.

Most cameras offer a special charger where you insert a battery. Some also allow you to charge the battery via USB connection. To know for sure, carefully read the instructions.

All necessary cables or a charger should be available in the box with a camera.

Tip #2: Format Your Memory Card

As soon as the battery is charged, insert the memory card into the special compartment provided for it.

(Just so you know, the card must be purchased separately, according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Once again, read the instructions manual.)

Then turn on the camera, find the menu and then the format function.

Note that when formatting, the card is being prepared for use and all existing images are deleted from it. This being said, if you used the card before, be sure to download any images you want to save.

Tip #3: Image Quality and Size

Here’s the thing:

All cameras have the ability to shoot images in different formats (that provide different quality). If you want to create the best shots, then use the best option for image quality.

It may be called:

  • Highest JPEG,
  • Fine JPEG, or,
  • Extra Fine JPEG.

If your camera allows you to shoot RAW files, then you can take advantage of this feature, since RAW files contain the largest amount of image data.

But don’t forget that you’ll have to process RAW images in an editor (which requires some knowledge) and convert them into a universal format – TIFF or JPEG.

Only then can you share them with friends and family.

If you are new to photography, don’t just shoot RAW only. Instead take photos simultaneously with the JPEG format. This option will be useful to you when you gain some experience and start processing your photo archive.

After that, you could switch to fully RAW format.

Tip #4: Setting Up White Balance

How to set up your first camera: White balance settings

Our eyes and the brain well compensate for the different colors of light that we encounter, so we see white objects as white.

The camera’s white balance (WB) is designed for the same purpose, and in most cases, setting it in auto mode is good enough.

But when shooting in JPEG format in some situations it’s not enough.

Fortunately, many DSLRs offer a variety of preset white balances, from “auto WB” to “fluorescent” to “shade”.

(You can choose the mode depending on the lighting.)


If your camera supports RAW file format, then by far the best white balance solution would be to shoot in this particular format.

Tip #5: Exposure Metering

Many cameras offer 3 metering modes that allow you to estimate the brightness of the light and suggest appropriate exposure settings:

  1. Matrix metering in Nikon or evaluative metering in Canon
  2. Center-weighted metering
  3. Spot metering

When you just start out, I recommend you use the matrix/evaluative metering (which is the default mode in most DSLRs).

Setting up your new camera and understanding metering (exposure)

Basically this metering mode divides the scene up into zones and analyzes each zone for highlight and shadow. It then takes an average for all the zones and determines the exposure based on that figure.

This means you’ll have a beautiful, pretty well-balanced picture.

And as you become more experienced, you’ll start using all three modes, depending on the tasks for shooting.

Tip #6: Focusing

Modern DSLRs offer a few focusing modes.

First one, of course, is the Auto autofocus (AF-A). It automatically determines whether the object you’re photographing is moving.

If the object is stationary, then Single-AF is used, but if it moves, the camera activates the continuous autofocus system (that is, the focus is adjusted as necessary).

So I don’t overwhelm with all the AF modes explanation, I’ll just say this: use the Auto mode if you have it.

Tip #7: Selecting AF Points

Most cameras offer the choice of selecting the AF points and I think you should use it if you’re new to photography.

The camera tends to focus on what is closest to the centre of the frame.

Therefore, if your object is not quite in the centre and there are other objects in between the object and the camera, then watch what your camera is focused on.

#Tip 8: Single and Continuous Shooting Modes

Every camera has different drive modes that allow you to change the rate at which the photos are taken.

When your camera is in the single shooting mode (which is the standard), it will take one photo every time you press down the shutter button.

When it’s in the continuous shooting mode, your camera will keep taking multiple photos until you release the shutter button (or until the buffer or memory card is full).

You can certainly use Single shooting mode in most cases.

But if you’re photographing moving objects (animals, running kids, sports), then continuous shooting comes in handy. Keep this in mind.

#Tip 9: Image Stabilization

Here’s the thing:

Even the slightest movements of your camera at relatively long exposures can result in blurry images, but this can easily be fixed with image stabilization (IS) system.

(Some cameras have sensor stabilization, and most of them use optical stabilization in the lens).

Stabilization works by shifting the sensor or elements inside the lens to compensate for camera shake. As a rule, the stabilization system is very effective and allows you to use a longer shutter speed.


If it’s a handheld shooting that you do, then by all means activate image stabilization. But when you use a tripod, turn it off.

#Tip 10: Color Space

Most cameras offer 2 color spaces to choose from: sRGB and Adobe RGB. Adobe RGB has a larger color range than sRGB. Therefore, it will be the best option in most cases.

Here’s the resource to understand this topic better.

#Tip 11: Picture Control Modes

You may be aware that most DSLRs can process images in a number of different ways. It can be using the “Picture Style” functions, picture control mode, color modes, or film simulation.

As a rule, there are several options available.

One produces black and white images, the other boosts saturation to make the image more vivid, the “landscape” enhances blue and green, and so forth.

By default, the camera uses the “standard” mode, which is usually suitable for most photography situations, so make sure that it is on.

And the rest of the effects you can easily get in a graphics editor during the photo processing that follows.

#Tip 12: Basic Exposure Modes: P, S, A, M

As a new DSLR owner it's important to understand the PSAM exposure modes and not just use the Auto shooting mode.

Truth is:

Many beginner photographer just set their new camera to Auto mode, thinking it’ll do all the job for them. And that’s a mistake.

It’s important that you understand and use the creative modes right away. First things first:

I want to warn you that you might feel overwhelmed and you’ll feel like switching to Auto mode.

I highly recommend you learn this stuff because, for example, in most cases using the aperture priority mode as a tool to adjust exposure and depth of field (DOF).

To make your photography learning easier, I highly recommend you check out Digital Photography School (read my full review).

Another great photo course for beginners is Digital Camera Mastery by Mark Hemmings.

These are the 12 tips I wanted to share with you on how to set up a new camera. Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

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