My DSLR Configuration

Students have often been surprised to see how my Canon 40D is configured – so I thought I’d go through it here in detail.

1. Always shoot in RAW mode.  That goes without saying.

2. The LCD on the back of the camera is set to off.  You never want it turning on by itself while you’re shooting on the street for the obvious reason that it draws attention to you.

3. I have the LCD picture mode set to monochrome.  In the Canon dslr world it’s called “Picture Style” and it’s under the second camera icon on the menu.  The way my workflow is setup, the images although they are shot in color (Adobe RGB) as they are imported into Lightroom, I have a developer preset to grayscale.  So in most cases, at least in the beginning, I never see the images in color.

4. Every digital SLR has these shooting modes:

Program (program priority), AV (aperture priority), TV (shutter priority), and M (manual)

For street shooting, which is to say when you don’t know what you are going to be shooting next, I have each preset.  AV is set to F1.4.  TV(on a sunny day) is set to 1/1000th.  M (not set up).

White Balance is set to AWB (auto white balance).  I’m not going to be fiddling around with white balance while I’m walking around.

The Canon 40D has something called Highlight Tone Priority (with the 40D it’s under Custom Functions II – Image).  This is always set to ENABLE.  What does it do?  It gives me some leeway at the right end of the histogram.  It attempts to put more pixels into the highlight side and without this I find that it is too easy to lose highlights.  It has one possible downside – it doesn’t allow you to shoot at an ASA lower than 200.  I have no idea why, but since I generally shoot at 400 ASA it’s not a problem.

I have one lens (generally) the Sigma 30mm f1.4  (If I have a particular project in mind, then I may bring other lenses along) but this is just about the normal walking around mode.

The idea with pre-setting the AV and TV modes is that the camera remembers how they were set and I can quickly turn from a low-light shot to a quick moving shot with a turn of the dial.  Example might be, I’m on the way to pick up groceries and walk into the dimly lit store.  I’ll simply turn the switch to AV and I know that I’m in the ballpark.

On a sunny day, the city turns into a grid of shadow and brightly lit streets.  If I’m on the sunny side of the street I’ll leave the camera in Program mode.  I know it will give me a high enough shutter speed to capture moving things.

If I’m on the shady side of the street I’ll set the camera to TV.  I want to make sure that I have enough shutter speed to freeze motion.

Any sort of noise reduction settings are off.  I want to get as pure an image from the RAW file as possible.  I can always use noise reduction in Lightroom if it’s needed, which is very rare.

What else?  Oh, on the Canon you can configure focus lock to be triggered by the little AF-ON button on the back (what this is called is specific to the Canon 40D but Canon has had this feature since film camera days).    On the 40D, what this button is used for can be configured under the Custom Functions IV menu.  The camera is configured so that exposure readings are triggered by the Shutter Button and focus lock by that AF-ON button.

I only use the center focus point to pre-focus and then hold the button on the back; or if it’s going to be a long time and I don’t want to kill the batteries I’ll flip the lens to manual focus (and hopefully remember to set it back).

I can count the times I’ve put the camera into rapid fire mode on one hand.  Even if I was shooting sports I doubt if I’d use it.  To me, the thrill is still related to pressing the shutter button at the right time.  If I’m photographing a pitcher at a baseball game, I’ll be pre-focused on him, whether I’m using a super long lens or whatever – and try and anticipate the moment I want.

And I’ll tell you one other thing – although I need eyeglasses to drive, I never walk around with glasses on.  My eyes are good enough to see when something interesting is happening or about to happen, and I don’t really see things clearly until I look through the viewfinder where the diopter has been set for my eyes.  That’s about all I can think of.  I don’t know whether these custom functions exist on the other camera lines, but I’d guess they do.


Published by


My name is Dave Beckerman. I am a fine art photographer working in New York City.