Basic Camera Settings for Sightseeing in Charleston

Basic Camera Settings for Sightseeing in Charleston

For Your Charleston Walking Photo Tour

Are you familiar with basic camera settings? If you are someone who would shoot in “Auto” mode  while sightseeing in Charleston we suggest you familiarize yourself with these camera settings so you can do your sightseeing in Charleston and come away with the best possible images. We want to maximize your time with us so please review your camera’s settings & menus so you will be comfortable accessing these settings during your Charleston photo tour with us.

If you are also interested in a class about your camera’s operation and taking better images we  offer a  3 hour “Photography 101″  workshop  where we can first discuss camera settings and functions for 90 to 120 minutes and  then do a 60-90 minute sightseeing walkabout putting those concepts into practical use.


This controls the ‘temperature’ or ‘warmth’ of the light so that white will be recorded as white.  When shooting on an overcast day or in shadows we can add some extra warmth to balance out the ‘cool’ bluish cast, since the auto setting does not work well enough.  Since we will be shooting the front of houses, gas lamps and ironwork in the shade this is an essential setting to know how to access. 


The aperture is the opening inside the lens that controls the amount of light hitting the camera’s sensor/film. The higher the number the smaller the opening, small numbers indicate larger openings.  The opening size influences the areas in front and back of the focus point that will appear in focus (the smaller openings/higher numbers give greater depth of field).  For our purposes we will want to make sure a row of gas lamps are all in focus or that a near street lamp and further away church steeple are both in focus.  Or we will want to emphasize a close-up of an iron gate by blurring the background.  Many pros use this as their standard setting so they can primarily control the focus area and let the camera set the shutter speed as needed.


The shutter speed is the amount of time the sensor/film is exposed to light.  We want to ensure your images are not blurred by camera shake by using too slow of a speed.  Together the shutter speed, aperture & ISO determine the amount of light hitting the sensor.


This sets the camera’s sensitivity to light based on the old film values/speed.  Lower settings [100, 200] require a longer exposure and higher settings [400,800] allow faster shutter speeds.   You can adjust the ISO to help balance the exposure if the shutter speed & aperture settings you tried results in a poor image.  For example, if while sightseeing in Charleston you are trying to take a photo of Philadelphia Alley, which is in total shade in the morning.  Since you will need a small aperture/larger f-stop number to have everything in focus from 10 feet away to way down the alley you have a long shutter speed makes it difficult to hand hold your camera.  So, to increase the shutter speed you can increase the ISO from 400 to 800 or even 1200 so you can hand hold the camera and your pictures won’t be out of focus.


Adjusts how bright or dark an image is.  If an image comes out too dark we can adjust the light meter to brighten the next picture, or if too bright we darken it.  It is extremely useful with both light & dark areas in a scene, or in an area with both sunlight & shadows that fools the light meter.  Even if you normally shoot in an automatic mode this is a setting you will find very useful to know how  it works.


HDR will balance out bright & dark areas of a scene by brightening dark areas and darkening bright areas (adjusts the dynamic range of the light).   The camera takes 3 different exposures and combines them into one single  image with a balanced exposure. Some cameras & smart phones have this built-in some do not. Or you will have to take three different exposures and combine them in a post-processing program.

This tool is useful, for example, if while sightseeing in Charleston you have  St Michael’s  bright white church steeple against darker buildings below or with a scene with both sunlight & shadows where if you expose to the bright part the darker area will turn black, and if you expose to the shadow area the brighter area will be over-exposed and turn white. 



Reflected light often shows up as a whitish glare that washes out colors in images So, an essential DSLR accessory  we recommend you have is a circular polarizing filter.

This is a specialty filter that when rotated at an angle to a reflected light source will reduce glare and unwanted reflections from  shiny, bright surfaces (like polarizing sunglasses), and saturates colors in harsh, bright sunlight.

This filter has long been an essential tool for the serious landscape photographer and it will greatly improve your images sightseeing in Charleston that have bright walls, shiny foliage or ironwork.

DSLR lenses have threaded ends to screw in filters, so if you are going to purchase one make sure it is the same diameter as your lens.  FYI, the filters can be used with point-and-shoot digital cameras, but since they don’t screw in you will have to practice holding & rotating the filter with one hand while taking a picture with the other hand.  A bit awkward, but with a bit of practice it works.


If you have questions about basic camera settings for sightseeing in Charleston or about our historic Charleston photo tours, you can email us at or call (843) 991-6128

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Richard Spencer

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