Since many of us are all-purpose writers and photographers on our blogs, it’s a good idea to make sure we’re learning as much as we can about photography as well as writing skills. In today’s guest post from Kim Olson, we’re reminded that some of the most dramatic improvements to our photography can come from the simplest camera settings. Hooray!


Ever read your camera’s manual? Probably not.

I think I’m in the minority of people who actually read those things, and that’s ok. Because for the most part, it’s got a bunch of stuff that most of us don’t really need to know.

But there are a few basic features that a lot of people seem to miss or don’t know how to fully take advantage of.

Whether you’re a point-and-shoot or DSLR camera user, you should be sure you know about and use these key settings.

1. Image Quality

Pretty much every camera has a setting that allows you to choose how large your images are. Some even go as far as letting you choose the image type (RAW or JPEG).

When you first get your camera – or even after you’ve owned it for a while – make sure to set your camera to take the highest quality images available.

The main reason you’ll want to select this setting is that it gives you the most flexibility down the road. If you fall in love with one of your images and want to make a large print out of it, you’ll absolutely need the largest file size possible.

Remember, you can always downsize your images later, but you can never make your images larger after the fact.

2. Zoom

I know this feature seems super elementary – and it is – but a surprising number of people don’t take advantage of it.

Too often, amateur photographers try to get everything into the photo at once, attempting to capture the entire scene. But doing this usually ends up in a cluttered image with no clear subject.

Instead, try using your zoom to “fill the frame.” This technique brings your subject closer to you and helps eliminate distracting elements that don’t add anything to the composition of your image.

These two photos were taken from the same spot. I used a wide-angle lens for one, while the other was shot with a telephoto. While the wide-angle shot isn’t necessarily bad, if I wanted the main focus to be the lighthouse, I think zooming in has a much greater effect.

3. Timer

I think most people mainly use the timer to take self-portraits or to include themselves in group portraits. But another handy, but less known, use is to prevent camera shake.

Say it’s getting dark and you want to capture a scene without bumping up the ISO (which results in a noisier image). Simply put your camera on a tripod or flat surface, turn on the timer and press the shutter.

By using the timer, the camera’s no longer taking the image when you’re pushing the shutter, which is normally the time when you’d cause the camera to be unsteady. Instead, the shutter is activated a few seconds later once your hands are off of the camera.

4. Flash

Your camera’s flash sometimes gets a bad rap. People often associate it with harsh lighting and people with red eyes. And usually they only think to use it at night.

But the flash is a versatile feature that comes in handy during the day, too. Knowing different scenarios when you can use it will usually result in better photos.

Here’s an example of an image taken during the day without flash. (Both photos are completely unedited, straight out of the camera so you can compare the raw results.)

Without a flash, the bench is kind of flat and dull, the background is washed out, and the highlights are too bright and you end up losing a lot of detail in the sky.

Once I turned on the flash, though, you can see more details in the foreground, the color of the sky becomes much richer, and the clouds are no longer washed out.

In Summary

It may surprise you how much you can improve your photographs by learning first how to use your camera’s features, and then pushing it even further beyond what’s normally done.

The best thing to do is to experiment with your camera. Try different settings in scenarios you wouldn’t normally think to use them and see how your photos turn out.

all photographs by Kim Olson and may not be used without permission


Kim Olson is a travel writer + photographer at KimOlsonPhoto.com where she writes about traveling, simple living and finding creative ways to spend time on the things that matter most. You can also find Kim on Facebook or Twitter.