Camera Settings

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AstroEd

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I have focused this past few months on settings for Birds in flight for my Nikon D-500 and Sigma 150-600mm lens. I hope to go to Ponka, Arkansas soon to image my first Elks and was wondering what camera settings I should set up? I still have issues figuring out exposure settings and such but I am learning.
 

Pistnbroke

Active member
Auto iso will sort out your exposure 100-3200. If you shoot JPEG or JPEG with RAW then up the sharpness to +9 ( not 8 ,9) Make sure you have the fine focus adjust spot on. Minimum shutter speed 1/1000 or higher. Group AF
 

AstroEd

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Thanks for the swift reply. Since I export all of my edited images to JPG from Lightroom I only shoot in RAW.
 

DRwyoming

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I hope to go to Ponka, Arkansas soon to image my first Elks and was wondering what camera settings I should set up?
The basics stay the same:

- Typically wide open aperture for a single animal, stopping down if you want greater depth of field (e.g. more than one animal or subject standing at an angle where you want to keep more of it in focus).

- Enough shutter speed to stop motion including camera shake unless you intentionally want motion blur. Moving from flying birds to something like an Elk you can typically drop shutter speed quite a bit but if you're shooting hand held or if your subjects are running or otherwise moving fast then bump things up. Even with good VR systems you'll likely want to shoot at at least 1/500" if shooting handheld and 1/1000" or even faster is a safer bet with your lens racked out towards the 600mm end of its range unless you have very good hand holding technique. If you're shooting from a tripod, a bean bag or even braced against something stable like a rock or tree you can sometimes get away with less shutter speed to help keep your ISO down in lower light as Elk don't typically twitch or move a ton like small birds, at least for portraits but can still move quite a bit like a Bull bugling.

- I second the notion to shoot Manual Mode/ Auto ISO but still keep an eye on the ISO and if your subjects are relatively still and your camera is stable you can drop shutter speed to avoid excessively high ISO.

- It's pretty rare that I'll use anything other than Single Point AF Area and I'll try to place that point right on one of the Elk's eyes but I'll still generally have the camera set up for BBAF and in AF-C mode. There's really not a lot of need for Group or Dynamic area modes for large mammals unless they're moving fast.

- No real easy tricks on getting exposure right but for mostly mid toned Elk against mid tone backgrounds it's usually pretty easy to nail exposure but still it's a good idea to occasionally check your histogram or blinkies on a test shot or two if you're not certain.
 

Tom Reynolds

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I have that setup. A good monopod and Wimberly mono gimble is very useful. That config is rather unbalanced for hand holding at 600MM
 

gbodave

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Manual mode, AF-C(continuous) ,single point AF, spot metering, burst mode.

F5.6/F6.3 (both widest) on my 200-600mm lens for small birds. F8 for larger birds and for animals.

Tracking allocated to a button on the lens if needed.

Group AF if a bird is perched but I want to increase my chances of capturing it clearly as it takes off
 

AstroEd

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EDIT NOTE: These images are not the original files but saved files from my Facebook post. I will try to replace them with the original files from my other computer later.

Well, At the time I posted this I had been up for over 26+ hours. Gotta love insomnia. At 4 am I decided that I wanted to try and get my first ever pictures of an Elk in the wild. I was also going to test out a new set of camera settings and use Manual priority and auto ISO instead of Shutter priority.
So! I loaded up my fur-faces and headed to Ponka, Arkansas to try my luck. It was VERY foggy when I arrived about 5 mins after sunrise at 5:23 am.

These are just a few of my best images of the trip, The Elk were about 800'+ away at their closest.

I saw folks who traveled across several states for this opportunity, I saw pictures being taken from phones all the way up to huge $13,000 Prime focus 600mm lenses attached to equally pricy camera bodies (Drool), and everything in between, to include my own Nikon D500 and Sigma 150-600mm zoom lens.

Please feel free to point out my mistakes or give tips on how to improve on taking the image, in my editing, or my framing for cropping. I am here to learn. I really wish I could have gotten closer. I am sure the other 15-20 photographers do as well.
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Drbobcameraguy

Member
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I have focused this past few months on settings for Birds in flight for my Nikon D-500 and Sigma 150-600mm lens. I hope to go to Ponka, Arkansas soon to image my first Elks and was wondering what camera settings I should set up? I still have issues figuring out exposure settings and such but I am learning.
I have Steve's books on Nikon focus metering and they helped me immensely with my choices of exposure settings. I understand a lot of people have a hard time getting through 500 pages but just pick the chapters that you need to speed the process up for you. I'm almost done with birds in flight and gave found it to just add to my knowledge and confidence level. 3 years ago I bought my first camera. Today I'm pretty confident when I shoot and usually get good results. A lot of studying and practice but it darn sure pays off.
 

abc123brian

Well-known member
I have focused this past few months on settings for Birds in flight for my Nikon D-500 and Sigma 150-600mm lens. I hope to go to Ponka, Arkansas soon to image my first Elks and was wondering what camera settings I should set up? I still have issues figuring out exposure settings and such but I am learning.
I’m not sure how much you know or don’t know about exposure, but when I was beginning I found the book “Understanding Exposure” by Bryan Petersen very helpful. This book is very good at explaining the effects of changing shutter, aperture, iso on exposure. For Elk in a field like that, I’d generally shoot at 1/500 - 1/1000 shutter and F/5.6 (wide open for my 500mm PF) and auto ISO. You can get away with slower shutter speeds if nothing is moving and youre steady, but when ever I try to do that, some action always happens. The AF settings, I tend to keep on AF-C in one of the smaller groups (Dynamic on my Z7ii).
 

AstroEd

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I have Steve's books on Nikon focus metering and they helped me immensely with my choices of exposure settings. I understand a lot of people have a hard time getting through 500 pages but just pick the chapters that you need to speed the process up for you. I'm almost done with birds in flight and gave found it to just add to my knowledge and confidence level. 3 years ago I bought my first camera. Today I'm pretty confident when I shoot and usually get good results. A lot of studying and practice but it darn sure pays off.
I find that reading retention is difficult for my mental focus, I tend to be a Visual learner, Even so I used an insurance payment to buy ALL of what Steve has in his Store so I will try to learn from them as I can. Though I do prefer his and others videos.
 

AstroEd

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I’m not sure how much you know or don’t know about exposure, but when I was beginning I found the book “Understanding Exposure” by Bryan Petersen very helpful. This book is very good at explaining the effects of changing shutter, aperture, iso on exposure. For Elk in a field like that, I’d generally shoot at 1/500 - 1/1000 shutter and F/5.6 (wide open for my 500mm PF) and auto ISO. You can get away with slower shutter speeds if nothing is moving and youre steady, but when ever I try to do that, some action always happens. The AF settings, I tend to keep on AF-C in one of the smaller groups (Dynamic on my Z7ii).
I will look for that book. I am just learning, Literally just before leaving for the 1.25 hour drive to the Elks location I set my camera for Manual mode so I was trying to learn for the first time when imaging those Elk. My main focus (When I remembered) was to just keep the exposure meter at 0 or center Every now and then I used the exposure +/- button to adjust as the fog lifted and sun got higher. Yesterday morning I went to a local Lake and until the sun got higher up around 9:30-10:00 all my images were very dark. I just could not figure out what settings to change, but hey my exposure meter was centered lol. (I will post samples later) they all corrected in lightroom with no issues, but on site looking at the image on the back of the camera was useless.
 
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SteveReid

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I have focused this past few months on settings for Birds in flight for my Nikon D-500 and Sigma 150-600mm lens. I hope to go to Ponka, Arkansas soon to image my first Elks and was wondering what camera settings I should set up? I still have issues figuring out exposure settings and such but I am learning.
Steve Perry is the best instructor on the net, PERIOD! Just watch every Youtube video and you will get educated. Everyone has an opinion and your opinion is the one that matters. Settings will change from shooting to your right to switching left. I followed Steve's advice for BIF and get out of bed with settings of manual 1/3200 f 5.6 auto ISO. I shoot a lot from my Airboat and set my shutter speed on 1/4000. Light and speed are constantly changing, so I set on one setting and blast away at 9 images a second and usually get a good keeper.
 

abc123brian

Well-known member
I am just learning, Literally just before leaving for the 1.25 hour drive to the Elks location I set my camera for Manual mode so I was trying to learn for the first time when imaging those Elk. My main focus (When I remembered) was to just keep the exposure meter at 0 or center Every now and then I used the exposure +/- button to adjust as the fog lifted and sun got higher. Yesterday morning I went to a local Lake and until the sun got higher up around 9:30-10:00 all my images were very dark. I just could not figure out what settings to change, but hey my exposure meter was centered lol. (I will post samples later) they all corrected in lightroom with no issues, but on site looking at the image on the back of the camera was useless.
I think that book I mentioned would be a worthwhile investment in that case. He demonstrates everything with many photos to give you a good visual understanding of what he is discussing. Steve’s books and videos are excellent, but cover different topics. For example, once you better understand exposure, Steve’s book on metering will make a lot more sense.

Id suggest to use Av and Sv modes for now until you have a better understanding as well. The auto exposure in the D500 and newer cameras are very good. For wildlife, setting the shutter value at an appropriate value to stop the action and letting the camera figure out the rest, adjust with exposure compensation to brighten or darken, is going to be the easiest way to get more keepers. As you learn more, switching to manual and auto ISO is great. I used to shoot in full manual for just about everything when I had my Canon 5D MKII, but the cameras are a lot better now.
 

AstroEd

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I think that book I mentioned would be a worthwhile investment in that case. He demonstrates everything with many photos to give you a good visual understanding of what he is discussing. Steve’s books and videos are excellent, but cover different topics. For example, once you better understand exposure, Steve’s book on metering will make a lot more sense.

Id suggest to use Av and Sv modes for now until you have a better understanding as well. The auto exposure in the D500 and newer cameras are very good. For wildlife, setting the shutter value at an appropriate value to stop the action and letting the camera figure out the rest, adjust with exposure compensation to brighten or darken, is going to be the easiest way to get more keepers. As you learn more, switching to manual and auto ISO is great. I used to shoot in full manual for just about everything when I had my Canon 5D MKII, but the cameras are a lot better now.
I started out with Aperture priority and 90% of my shots were soft or not focused right, switched to Shutter Priority and instantly started getting better images, but I had a few people tell me I would be better off learning manual mode + auto ISO (Which I turn on and off at times) to really understand my camera.
 

DRwyoming

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I started out with Aperture priority and 90% of my shots were soft or not focused right, switched to Shutter Priority and instantly started getting better images, but I had a few people tell me I would be better off learning manual mode + auto ISO (Which I turn on and off at times) to really understand my camera.
The truth is you can shoot in any of those modes and capture sharp images once you get your head around how Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO interact for the given light. I shot in Aperture Priority mode for several decades starting in the film days but several years ago switched to Manual Mode/Auto ISO as my preferred automatic exposure mode and Manual Mode/ Manual ISO for everything else.

It's not that the others can't work, as they can, it's just that the two primary creative controls while shooting in the field are Shutter Speed for stopping or intentionally blurring motion and Aperture for controlling Depth of Field. Those are the things I want to select and set myself, within a reasonable range ISO can vary without a lot of problems and in many cameras small to moderate ISO adjustments in the field is the same as making those same small to moderate adjustments during post processing but the fundamental image doesn't change the way selecting a different shutter speed or different aperture can really change an image.

A lot of this is modern cameras and how well they handle a wide range of ISO settings. In the film days Manual Exposure with Auto ISO wasn't possible as ISO was fixed by the film itself. In early DSLRs the useable ISO range was pretty limited so even with cameras that supported Manual Exposure plus Auto ISO there wasn't much sense in using it when acceptable ISO ranged from maybe ISO 200 to ISO 800. But with modern sensors and their incredibly good high ISO performance running Manual Exposure plus Auto ISO really works well.

But regardless of what auto exposure mode you choose it still pays to keep an eye on the three primary settings: Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO. Just because the camera is running in an automated exposure mode you don't want to ignore those and forget that you slowed the shutter speed way down for a static subject just as the action heats up or let the ISO go sky high when you don't really need a crazy high shutter speed or a high f/ stop dialed in. So even when running automated, it's good to keep an eye on those three settings.
 

AstroEd

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I think one of the things slowing my improvements down is either at the Camera Store I go to or meeting other “I assume more knowledgable photographers” when I go out imaging when I ask about techniques and such will ask to see my camera and make changes to my settings to a better setup and I can not seem to get any good images for the rest of the outing because I can not figure out what was changed, (This has happened 5 times now) and it bugs me that I am too stupid to figure out how to use the changes, then I go back home and watch
(and his other setup videos) again to setup the camera the way I was getting used to. I know I need to be able to pick up any camera with any settings and take beautiful pictures but I am still confused by 80% of my cameras options let alone any others LOL. I hope I learn someday and I AM having fun on this journey. But I just feel so ignorant of what seems to come naturally to the others I meet.
 

AstroEd

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Steve Perry is the best instructor on the net, PERIOD! Just watch every Youtube video and you will get educated. Everyone has an opinion and your opinion is the one that matters. Settings will change from shooting to your right to switching left. I followed Steve's advice for BIF and get out of bed with settings of manual 1/3200 f 5.6 auto ISO. I shoot a lot from my Airboat and set my shutter speed on 1/4000. Light and speed are constantly changing, so I set on one setting and blast away at 9 images a second and usually get a good keeper.
I have been loving Steve’s videos and watch several over and over (My PTSD meds cause short term memory issues so I tend to learn slower than the average intelligent person). Every time I watch and go right out and try something I retain just a little more information. I can honestly say those videos and this forum has been what has given my imaging the most improvements. You all are WONDERFUL and I am grateful for the patience.
 

abc123brian

Well-known member
I think one of the things slowing my improvements down is either at the Camera Store I go to or meeting other “I assume more knowledgable photographers” when I go out imaging when I ask about techniques and such will ask to see my camera and make changes to my settings to a better setup and I can not seem to get any good images for the rest of the outing because I can not figure out what was changed, (This has happened 5 times now) and it bugs me that I am too stupid to figure out how to use the changes, then I go back home and watch
(and his other setup videos) again to setup the camera the way I was getting used to. I know I need to be able to pick up any camera with any settings and take beautiful pictures but I am still confused by 80% of my cameras options let alone any others LOL. I hope I learn someday and I AM having fun on this journey. But I just feel so ignorant of what seems to come naturally to the others I meet.
What you’re saying makes perfect sense to me. Someone is making changes to your settings, without explaining what they are changing and why. I’ve actually talked to many photographers at various times, assuming they knew more than me, only to find out they just had more money to buy more expensive equipment. If I am asked by someone if I can help them with settings on their camera, I usually ask them a few questions to determine more clearly what they understand, help them find where to change the settings I recommend, explain why I suggest the change, and tell them how to change it back. Only some of the information likely sticks, but it’s better than changing settings on someone who doesn’t understand them and not providing any real help. Like @DRwyoming mentioned, the three main pieces of the the camera you need to understand first is Shutter, Aperture, ISO (which is what the book I recommended explains). These three settings happen to be the same for every camera you pick up. Shooting manual might help you learn the camera more, but will be more frustrating as well. Once you got this down, that is when you will see the improvements from the other books and videos mentioned.

Given your example of switching to Aperture Priority and getting soft images is most likely A result of the camera choosing a shutter speed too slow to achieve a sharp image given the subject moving or camera movement. The auto ISO function allows you to set minimum shutter speeds that could help with this.
 

AstroEd

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What you’re saying makes perfect sense to me. Someone is making changes to your settings, without explaining what they are changing and why. I’ve actually talked to many photographers at various times, assuming they knew more than me, only to find out they just had more money to buy more expensive equipment. If I am asked by someone if I can help them with settings on their camera, I usually ask them a few questions to determine more clearly what they understand, help them find where to change the settings I recommend, explain why I suggest the change, and tell them how to change it back. Only some of the information likely sticks, but it’s better than changing settings on someone who doesn’t understand them and not providing any real help. Like @DRwyoming mentioned, the three main pieces of the the camera you need to understand first is Shutter, Aperture, ISO (which is what the book I recommended explains). These three settings happen to be the same for every camera you pick up. Shooting manual might help you learn the camera more, but will be more frustrating as well. Once you got this down, that is when you will see the improvements from the other books and videos mentioned.

Given your example of switching to Aperture Priority and getting soft images is most likely A result of the camera choosing a shutter speed too slow to achieve a sharp image given the subject moving or camera movement. The auto ISO function allows you to set minimum shutter speeds that could help with this.
I plan to get that book, I can not afford it this month but once my Amazon payment posts I will order it. So far Shutter Priority has been my favorite (only because I got my best images) but I am thrilled that even with my first time out using Manual mode I was able to get hair/fur detail in my Elk images even though they were between 800’-1,300’ away from me on a foggy day. I THINK I will be ok within a few weeks using Manual but might return to Shutter Priority in the early mornings as in manual I can not seem to get brighter images, right now they are either dark and get fixed in Lightroom or IF I raise the exposure +/- button I end up with white clipping. But I truly am seeing myself improve. BUT being the fast food generation I want it NOW lol.
 

MartyD

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One of the best things about digital photography is the amount a metadata that is recorded with each image you capture. Learn to evaluate your own settings in post. You can evaluate if your shutter speed was adequate, see the DOF that your aperture settings produced, check ISO noise, and determine if your exposure was appropriate. Create casual shooting opportunities to help understand your settings, take your dog to the park and photograph them chasing a ball, use lots of different settings, then spend time evaluating them in post. You can learn more from your mistakes than you can from your successes, it is just much easier if those mistakes are made on subjects that are not really important to you. You might also spend a day giving yourself a shooting assignment, like how fast of a shutter speed do you need to stop motion on different subjects, or how slow of a shutter speed can I use with a specific lens and still get a sharp image when hand holding. When you have a good understanding of shutter speed, aperture, and ISO then watching those settings in your viewfinder and making the appropriate adjustments while shooting is much easier.

Once you have the basic settings down then you can determine if any of the other "custom" settings that DSLR/Mirrorless cameras have to offer will benefit your shooting style. One of the advantage us "old" photographers have is that many of us started out with film when ISO, shutter speed, and aperture were really the only settings we had to worry about.
 

Calson

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With elk a shutter speed of 1/250s is fast enough and that allows for a lower ISO setting. Only the tongue flutter of the elk is moving at any speed where motion blur would be a concern. At 1/250s you are also in the range where VR/OS can be advantageous.

Do some test shots around your home and get an idea as to how effective at f/5.6 the lens is at producing a blurred background. Often being at the height of the subjects eyes makes for stronger images but with an elk it can also mean a busy background. This is where selecting the background and the direction of the light should be done before focusing on the animal itself.
 

AstroEd

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Is there a big difference in image sharpness between a 150-600 zoom and aa 500mm or 600mm PF? I am trying to decide if I "NEED" a Prime focus. 80% of my shots are currently at 600mm zoomed because of how far my subjects are.
 

DRwyoming

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Is there a big difference in image sharpness between a 150-600 zoom and aa 500mm or 600mm PF? I am trying to decide if I "NEED" a Prime focus. 80% of my shots are currently at 600mm zoomed because of how far my subjects are.
No, you don't 'need' a prime to capture tack sharp images. I shoot quite a bit with 500mm and 600mm primes but at various times have shot with lenses like Nikon's 200-500mm zoom or Tamron's 150-600mm zoom. All of those lenses delivered very nice, publication quality images.

That's not to say the money spent on a good prime isn't well deserved. A fast prime lens (e.g. a 500m or 600mm f/4) captures a lot of light and their large apertures allow very good background control (ability to really blur a background that isn't that far behind your subject) and they tend to take teleconverters very well retaining best possible sharpness and contrast. So you do to some level get what you pay for but today's crop of telephoto zooms in the 100-400mm, 150-600mm or 200-500mm class are really good lenses and amazingly good lenses for the price. I wouldn't slap a teleconverter on them very often or at least I wouldn't expect the best results or fastest auto focus when doing so but they're really good lenses.
 

jeffnles1

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Not anything to add to the settings. I think it’s been covered. On my D500. I have the PV button customized to turn on spot metering when held in. I have the FN1 button customized to turn on group AF. I have it in single point AF and Matrix metering by default. Those 2 buttons allow me to handle more tricky light better and to capture action without needing to dive into menus.
Hope this helps n
 
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