By Don Smith
By default, most cameras aren't set up for maximum benefit when it comes to landscape photography. What follows are 10 settings you should pay attention to when setting up your camera.
1. Back-Button Focus
Most professional camera models allow you to assign a button located on the top right on the back of the camera to control autofocus, thus taking it off its default shutter setting.
This is important for us landscape photographers, especially when it comes to low-light and night photography. It takes a bit of practice, but you'll use your right thumb to control autofocus and your right index finger to depress the shutter.
Once you have this set (check your camera model as it is generally a two-step process) you can depress your shutter without concern of the AF engaging.
2. Histogram Display
I still see far too many photographers making their exposure decisions based on what they're seeing on their LCDs and/or EVF (with mirrorless cameras). This can lead to underexposed images, especially at night as our eyes are constantly adjusting to the ambient light conditions in the field.
My recommendation is to enable your histogram on both your Live View and/or Playback. Moreover, I strongly suggest having all three color channels available if possible, especially if shooting a scene with strong warm colors, such as at sunrise/sunset. If one channel is slightly spiking (overexposed) it can be recovered in your RAW processor (assuming you're shooting in RAW mode). If two or all three channels are spiking, then the highlights will be blown and not recoverable.
When possible, I always recommend shooting at the base ISO for your camera. With Sony cameras, the base is ISO 100. Some newer pro-level Nikons are ISO 65. Check your model and stay there as much as possible. You'll record the best file.
4. White Balance
I capture all of my landscape images in RAW mode, thus I just set my White Balance at Auto White Balance. The key to remember is the image you see on your LCD and/or EVF is a camera-processed JPEG, so more than likely your RAW image will look different than what you saw on your camera but the color temperature can be set in post-processing. If you want your RAW file to look like what you saw on camera, then use a preset such as Daylight, Cloudy, etc.
5. Long Exposure Noise Reduction
I simply leave mine on. The camera will record a "black frame" to help lessen noise generated by using either a high ISO and/or a long exposure, which heats the sensor due to an increased amplification of the signal. I have tested both ways and have always come away disappointed if I don't have this setting engaged.
6. Color Space
If you're shooting in RAW mode, it doesn't matter what color space (gamut) you choose, but it makes a huge difference if shooting JPEG only. I leave mine set at sRGB, though I used to set it at Adobe RGB (a larger gamut). I'm now recording 4K video while on location, along with shooting stills, and have changed to sRGB because of the video. Remember, my landscape file is in RAW mode so I can set the Color Gamut in my RAW processor.
7. Highlight Alert
I keep this setting enabled as it will notify me when I'm overexposing my highlights. With my Sony cameras, it's called Zebra. I'll allow a bit of overexposure (depending on the contrast of the scene) when in RAW mode as I know I can recover in post.
8. Focus Peaking
One of the new advantages of mirrorless cameras allows us to enable "Focus Peaking," which looks for edges and overlays a color of your choice. This helps tremendously when trying to focus in low-level light like dawn, dusk and night. At night, I simply turn the lens focus ring until the maximum number of stars have a red (my color choice) outline. Using focus peaking and focusing on stars makes it near impossible to miss focus at night!
9. Display Rotation
Set to "Auto-Rotate" so your vertical frames will fill the back of your camera's LCD.
10. Monitor Brightness
This is important, so pay attention here—leave the setting at its factory default. I see many people turn up their screen brightness, and this will give you a false "visual read" when looking at your image on your camera. Remember, make all of your exposure decisions using your histogram only.
Hopefully, these settings will make your life easier when in the field and will allow you to concentrate more on composition and light. Remember to have fun out there!