This is going to be extremely valuable to those who either, A. Received a new camera and have no idea where to get started, or B. Have settled into some habits using their camera’s factory settings and never bothered to change anything. If you are in Group B, don’t worry, we all do it, including me. But I’ve now been teaching on enough tours to know a few things about initial set up items that can really help you out…

Before I begin, I’d like to mention that this tutorial is in no way going to be able to get you familiar with the shooting process of your new camera – I’ll give you a starting point, but then I encourage you to get out there and spend time playing around with different settings. Better yet, once you take a few shots, sit down and comb through the tour prep area to see all the Basics of Photography Tutorials available to you! Trust me, I know that the more time you spend up front with your new (or existing) camera, the fewer headaches you’ll have to deal with later – but eventually you need to just go shoot!

Also I should mention that I am a Canon shooter (much of the time) and as a result, all images in this tutorial are screenshots of my Canon Menu system and camera. Although you camera may look totally different, it is the concepts of initial set up that I’m trying to teach. You may not have ALL settings that I’ll cover here, but I’m willing to bet you at least have SOME of them. 

Okay, now rip open that box…give your camera a confused glazed over look and let’s get started!


Yes yes yes, you definitely want to have a camera strap on your new camera body and if all you currently have is the stock strap that came with your camera, it’s betting than nothing – so please use it. However, I’d encourage you to make the first accessory purchase a different strap. I know this is going to already bum some of you out and I really do get it…my favorite color combo is Black/Red and Canon’s stock strap is totally cool looking. Also, you probably want to show the world you have an awesome new camera! But that is just the problem. As you travel around taking photographs and going on trips near and far, you really don’t want to encourage onlookers with bad intentions of seeing what a valuable piece of gear you have and changing out the camera strap is a relatively inexpensive way of protecting yourself. 

Additionally, the factory straps are very difficult to install, remove and adjust. When you start shooting on a tripod down the road, having an unremovable strap dangling from your camera in the wind, causing shake is also not a good thing. For years I’ve been using Peak Design’s (no, I’m not sponsored by them, but sure wish I was) system of installing small attachment points to my camera, base-plate or other gear and quickly being able to secure, remove or adjust various straps. It’s also helpful in switching from one camera to another or, heck, I even use them to carry some of my luggage. My point is, find what works for you but consider the risks of using what came with your camera.


Depending on your camera, you should be able to pull up a graph of information that shows all your camera’s current shooting settings – mainly the Shutter Speed, Aperture (or f-Stop) and ISO are the most important in working with capturing an image – these control how much light comes in when you take a shot and what kind of depth of field you’ll see. If this is foreign to you, don’t worry…we have lots of tutorials in your PEN Membership Area to get you up to speed. Just take a deep breath and note that the same items you see on the back screen of your camera are usually the same items you see on the top screen (if your camera is equipped with a top screen). As you become more familiar with your camera’s settings, you will be able to recognize and change many other functions on these screens, but in the meantime, just get familiar with the layouts. 


The Menu system of your camera has SO MANY items listed, it can be insanely intimidating. Menus, Submenus, foreign nomenclature and icons that don’t make sense are par for the course. Getting started, just stick with these simple settings that I feel every camera and shooter should have. Again, your camera may vary but hunt around until you find menu items similar to what’s shown below. Remember, many times camera are shipped with battery saving modes active and displays that are ideal for showing off features in a store vs. actually field shooting. You can work on battery saving techniques when you get more familiar with your gear – in the meantime, I recommend the following…

  1. Set image quality to RAW + Large JPG– we discuss the reason for this in future tutorials and on every tour we host.
  2. Change Image Review from 2 sec to HOLD– Canon always ships camera with a 2 sec Review which is annoying when right after you take a photo and want to see it, the image disappears from the screen. Leave it on HOLD, then simply half press the shutter button to restart a new shot.
  3. Set Release Shutter without Card to OFF– this is critical! Why Canon ships cameras with an ability to click the shutter button without a memory card installed, is beyond me…probably for hands on store display. Anyway, nothing is worse that taking shots only to notice you don’t even have a card installed. Set this to OFF and the camera will alert you when no card is available BEFORE you lose out.

  1. AWB – Since you are going to start shooting RAW format, I’d just select Auto White Balance (AWB) right off the bat. You can learn about changing this later, but in the meantime just use AWB or AUTO – one less thing to think about as you get started.
  2. I use Color Space sRGB– this is pretty standard when it comes to displaying and editing you work. Other profiles are available, and this setting isn’t critical, but I use it across the board from family snapshots to professional competition.

1. AF Method I use on my Canon camera is called FlexiZoneAF. I choose to use the SMALL RECTANGLE mode to allow me to move my focus point around to specific areas of the frame. You can certainly use the BRACKET version to give you more focus space starting out, but I’d encourage you to stay away from FACE TRACKING in most systems are it’s not always that reliable. Remember, we are teaching you to take control of your camera, not let your camera tell you what to do. 

2. Pro Tip – Getting started, just leave the focus point in the middle of the frame, grab focus by half-pressing the shutter button, then move the camera slightly while in focus to compose the shot. Be careful to not move to/from your subject if you do this though as it will change the focus. 
  1. In the Playback Menu, choose to Enable Highlight Alerts.Not all cameras have this, but if you do it basically flashes at you any part of a photographed scene that is “blown out” or over exposed. This flashing serves to tell you, “better take the shot again with less exposure”. It’s easier to pull detail out of a dark scene by brightening it vs. recovering overexposed elements.
  2. Another setting I like to use is Enable the AF Point Disp.After I take a picture, my camera will show me on the screen right where the focus was grabbed – small Red Square indicates it. This way, I can quickly confirm it’s where I wanted. This, however, is not accurate if you use the technique I discussed above by focusing then moving to compose, so just keep that in mind.

Format your Memory Card(s) – For best performance and less chance of corruption, each time you clear out a card or install a new one, use FORMAT CARD vs. Delete All Images.

  1. Set Date/Time and remember to do this when you travel BEFORE you shoot. The camera pictured has an AUTO setting using GPS, but many cameras still require you to manually set this. It can be hard to remember, but critical to the Metadata of each shot you take as a time-stamp. I’m in Knoxville TN on Eastern Time, so I selected New York as my option in my camera – also pay attention to Day Light Saving’s time options if you have it.
  2. Time made easy on Day 1– many cameras right out of the box require you to set up Date/Time immediately before you even use the camera. If yours does this, you’re all set!

Custom Menu(s) – You don’t need to set this up right away, but if your camera has an option to set up your own custom menu…I’d consider it. I’ve placed the settings I use most in “My Menu 1” as shown in the photo below. This way, I don’t have to hunt around all the various menus for a quick item to change. This step is not mandatory, but definitely worth your time to figure out as you become comfortable with your new gear.


Steve Scurich – MPA Instructor