How to set my camera

edited May 2016 Posted in » Nikon D3100 Forum
I woul like some help regarding how to set my camera. I have been using Auto or Guide for everything, but I live in Costa Rica, and wildlife is not showing up as beautiful in my pictures. Can you please give me some tips on how to set my camera for both indoor and outdoor?



  • A tall order, and you might benefit from further research, here and elsewhere, on what the various settings do, and how they work. Moose, the owner of this site, makes a business of selling "cheat sheets" which provide settings for various applications. There are many different ways to do a thing, but this is one way to get where you want without trial and error.

    However, I'd suggest as a starting point that you switch to P mode, and also try A mode.

    In these modes, the camera still controls the metering, but allows you to set more functions and customize your images. They will also not activate the flash at the wrong time, something that can be hard to control in Auto mode.

    P mode will set both aperture and shutter speed, just as Auto does, but will allow you to set your ISO, metering and focus points, among other things. This is still "point and shoot" in many ways, but lets you control more.

    For wildlife take the focus out of "multi-area" and try Auto servo and dynamic area for starters. Now when you aim the camera, the single illuminated focus point will be where your focus begins. If the subject is standing still, focus will remain on it. If it's moving the camera will track it (to a certain degree - if it moves too far you'll lose it). Use the [OK] button to center the focus point if it gets displaced by accident. A servo mode lets the camera choose whether to consider a subject still or moving, and usually works OK. But if you know you'll be shooting a moving object, choose "C" and if you know your subject is going to stand still choose "S" for the most reliable results. Dynamic area works pretty well. 3D also works well, especially for subjects that stand out well from the background. Multi-area will sometimes choose the wrong subject.

    Set your starting ISO at 100, and let auto ISO raise it as needed, at least for starters. At a later date you may want to abandon Auto ISO altogether and control that manually as well. It's easy to change manually when set up right, and gives you yet another level of control.

    If your subject is backlit, or greatly lighter or darker than its surroundings (a bird in flight for example), switch your metering mode from Matrix to Spot. The spot meter will meter only what is in the vicinity of the focus point, and ignore the rest.

    In A mode, you will set the camera's aperture, and the shutter speed will be set by the meter. This will allow you to control depth of field through aperture and also to control shutter speed, which will change as you change the aperture. A was the first automatic mode to come along in many cameras, and many photographers prefer it.

    If you're shooting something in motion, you can switch to S mode. In this you set the shutter speed, and the camera sets aperture and ISO. For animals and birds that move around, you may need a pretty fast shutter speed, around 1/250, to stop motion.

    There's also a Manual mode in which you set both shutter and aperture. Less convenient, but worth trying.

    For interiors, if you're not using flash, try to get the space lit up well with ambient light. Watch out for bright windows and the like, which can affect metering. And try to keep the camera level to avoid perspective distortion. Verticals taper when the camera is tilted, more obvious when your lens is set wide.

    There's a lot to learn, but remember that with a digital camera you can take lots and lots of pictures and erase them. Don't be shy. Experiment. If you don't understand how a setting affects the picture, try it.

    One could go on and on (and I'm one to do so...) but it's getting late here.

    Check deeper into this site for hints and advice, and check around elsewhere as well. One site I've found that has pretty good basic tutorials on what the settings all do and mean is :

    And don't forget to get the full (not abridged) manual for your camera, either from the CD or from the Nikon web site. The printed manual is not the full one. You can put the full manual PDF on your computer, and it will be available whenever you need it.
  • edited May 2016
    Thank you! You are beyond helpful! I will look for the PDF, and also start trying out P and A.

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