5D Mark II Professional Camera

One of the search terms I see showing up in Google Analytics for my blog is “professional photographer camera settings”. While I think I’m pretty good at search engine optimization, I didn’t realize I was good enough to show up for terms that I didn’t have content for. Actually, that just makes me look stupid for showing up in search results where I don’t have relevant material. So to reduce the amount of stupid that I look, I thought it would be nice to write about camera settings for professionals. So here we go – how to set up your camera in the perfect way to make yourself look like a professional and start raking in the cash (because professional photographers make way more money than they would ever know what to spend it on).

There are no magic settings
Right, so if you thought I was going to give you the magic settings for your camera, you’re probably pretty disappointed right now. Think about this though – every photographer shoots differently, so the settings have to match that style. The reason that your professional camera has settings that you can change is because different professionals need to be able to set up their camera differently. There are some general guidelines though that should at least get you thinking about what settings would work best for you.

No more automatic
Stop being lazy. That’s right, you heard me. Put your camera in one of the creative modes. Your camera can’t know what you’re thinking or what look you’re going for. I personally recommend shooting in Manual mode. That’s where you’ll do your best learning. The other mode that many professionals use is Aperture Priority. Either way, moving out of automatic means you’re taking your brain out of autopilot.

White balance
From our experience, Auto White Balance frequently guesses the color temperature wrong. Your camera will have quick presets that you can easily set your white balance to. You can do daylight, shade, tungsten, florescent, etc. When none of those settings work for you, there’s always custom white balance or setting the kelvin manually.

Picture style
There are probably all kinds of preferences photographers have about how to set their picture style. It really depends on what you’re shooting too as to what makes sense. For our studio, we keep it on neutral. Why apply effects in camera when it might apply the wrong effect, and it would be just as easy to alter the image in post production? Feel free to disagree and do whatever picture style you choose.

“You can’t be a professional and shoot anything but RAW!”
“Oh yea, well I’m more of a professional because I get it right in the camera shooting JPEG!”
See my article on JPEG vs RAW for a more detailed and balanced look at the JPEG vs RAW debate.

Final words
Don’t get caught up in finding the holy grail of camera settings. You’re wasting time searching when you should be experimenting for yourself or shooting. You’re going to learn more by actually changing things yourself than any camera settings article could ever teach you.

Am I completely wrong? Have you found the million dollar camera settings? If so, please share, and I’ll go change our camera settings right now.

6 Responses to “Professional Photographer Camera Settings”

  1. A great little tutorial, as you know, the “professional setting” is different for each and every situation. Only a firm grasp of photographic basics will allow you to achieve this. It’s surprising how many people I meet, who claim to be professional, but have not got an understanding of the basic principles.

    • TJ says:

      Colourscape Studio Backgrounds,
      I’ve found the same thing to be true. I remember PPA had a class on basic camera settings, and I thought it would have been a waste of their time…until “professionals” were giving feedback that they learned a ton. I guess everyone is at a different level.

  2. John Rocha says:


    When I was a young(er) photographer I remember the advice from the late Victor Blackman in the British Amateur Photographer magazine which was to stick to only one film. Of course what he meant was to really know your equipment and keep it simple. I consider myself a GP photographer so sometimes I might want high ISO, sometimes mirror lockup and so on. It all depends on your photo style.
    But with my own main camera – a Canon 5D mark 11 I’ve found it really useful to take some of my favourite settings and copy them into the C1, C2 and C3 memories – then I can instantly switch settings without going through the menu.
    And …. automatic settings mean automatic pictures. It’s great to have auto sometimes but when I can I’ll go for manual, shutter, aperture and focussing.
    Still, there’s no one magic setting for everything – lucky for us as photography still needs some skill and expertise

    • TJ says:

      Definitely – there’s still skill involved. I don’t think there will ever be a time where it’s all automatic. An artist must interpret, then convey a message, and that’s something no camera will ever be able to do the same way a photographer does.

  3. Lemerou says:

    Mostly agree on everything you say except that i usually find the auto white balance to be all right.

    • TJ McDowell says:

      Hmm, from our experience, auto white balance tends to be unpredictable in certain environments. If you’re shooting raw though, it doesn’t matter because you can correct in post. Is that what you do?