Pre-setting your camera for likely images

Pre-setting your camera for likely images

My photographic origins in the underwater world have taught me the importance of thinking through the photographic objectives for a shoot (dive), and pre-setting your camera.

In underwater photography one key mantra is to get close – minimising the amount of water between subject and your camera1.

For this reason, and the fact that lenses cannot be changed underwater2, most UW photo situations revolve around one of a small number of basic setups.

  1. Wide angle lenses that allow the photographer to get close to large subjects.
  2. Close up lenses that get the photographer close to small subjects.
  3. Macro lenses that allow images to be made of small to extremely small subjects.

In reality a good macro lens is also a very capable close up lens, further reducing the number of setups to just two.

Before a dive I spend time setting up my camera rig for the setup – not just the lens and ports, but also choosing strobe (flash) arms and getting everything about right for the dive. I make sure that I have a formatted

As I became a more experienced UW photographer it dawned on me that I could extend the preparedness concept to include camera settings. In each different style of photography I could reasonably anticipate the settings, and then prepare accordingly, saving the need to fiddle with adjustments underwater. The following table shows some examples of common pre-sets that I use:

Macro Close-Up W/A – Reef/People Big Fish, Moving Fast
Lens 30mm 30mm 7-14mm zoom 7-14mm zoom
Port Flat Flat Dome Dome
Strobes 1-2 1-2 1-2 0-2
Arms Short Short-Medium Long Long
Camera Mode A A A S
Likely Aperture f/16-f/22 f/11-f/16 f/5.6-f/11 N/A
Likely Shutter Speed N/A N/A N/A 1/125–1/500
ISO 200 200 200-400 200-400
Strobe Power ¼-½ ¼-½ ¼-½ ½–Full

Before I enter the water with a close up / macro right, then I will likely preset as follows:
– Shutter mode: Aperture Priority (A)
– Aperture: f/16
– ISO: 200
– Strobes: ½ power

Chromodoris lochi on the march by Des Paroz on 500px.com

With this setup, any changes for the first subject scene I come across are likely only to be a click or two on a dial or two. I have similar checklists for my wide angle photo scenes.

The concepts extends to my topside photography:

Landscape Seascape Street
Lens 12-60mm 8-18mm 20mm
Mode A A A
Starting Aperture f/8 f/11 f/6
ISO 200 200 400
Image Stabilisation 3 Off Off On

Obviously the above table can (and should) be extended to different lighting situations – blue hour, golden hour, daylight, night, etc.

I hope this post seeks to provide some insight into how I think about my photography before a shoot. There are variations to the above, and equipment, shooting genre, artistic style, etc, should all influence how you pre-set.

In any case, thinking ahead and creating simple checklists including these settings and perhaps a reminder to have a formatted memory card, fresh battery and even to check the camera’s date and time settings, can help to allow you to focus on your photography when on a shoot.


  1. Water filters light, removes colour and refracts light in a way that causes a subject to lose sharpness and colour, as well as adding gunk (technical) terms that further kills the quality of an image. 
  2. There are some low quality or super-expensive rigs that do allow changing of lenses, but the majority of setups do not. 
  3. For landscape and seascapes I am generally shooting on a tripod or clamp, so stabilisation should be off, while shooting handheld (i.e. street) stabilisation should be on. 

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