I primarily shoot landscape and cityscape which requires me to take a long exposure and bracketed shots. Even though there is no hard-and-fast rule, there are few generally accepted practices among the photography communities for the camera controls and the settings, camera and the lens types and the list of accessories one should have to get better results. Usually, combining a full frame (FX-Format) camera with the wide angle lens gives you the best possible frame for the landscape or the cityscape shots. If you shoot with a higher resolution DSLR, you can crop the images, change the composition during the post-processing and still have enough pixels left in them to print in a larger size. If you are more interested in shooting buildings and architectures, you would get better results by using the tilt-shift lens which allows you to move (tilt and shift) the part of the lens in relation to the image sensor in a wide range of directions and gives you the better and more natural perspective of the structure.
Since I stepped into the photography world in 2009, Nikon D810 is my fourth DSLR but second full frame camera after D700. The decision to upgrade D700 to D810 was influenced by the need for a moderately higher resolution camera which was designed and marketed for landscape photography. Over the last 10 years, I have tried and shot in different camera settings and lighting environments. I have traveled to many places to get a good shot and also made countless mistakes repeatedly. I have learned the most from my own mistakes which gave me some invaluable lessons about what to do and what not to do during the shooting process. All these years of mistakes and countless teaching moments gave me my own set of camera controls and the settings to follow. Today, I want to share that information with you and get your feedback if you have any.
There are many options in the camera menu but today I am going to mention only those menu items and the settings which I always set on my camera before going out for the shooting. And all the other settings that camera has but I haven't mentioned here are left to its default value. Without wasting any time, let’s get right into the menu items one by one.
1. Shooting Menu
Primary slot selection: CF - This makes Compact Flash memory to be the primary location to store images.
Secondary slot function: Backup - D810 comes with two memory slots and you can make secondary slot as a backup slot. Selecting this option will write the image you have taken to the primary slot first and then copied it to the secondary slot as a backup.
Image Quality: NEF (RAW) - I shoot in a RAW mode most of the time which gives me the flexibility to edit the images later on the computer without losing any details.
NEF (RAW) Recording
Image Size: L - When you select the RAW type in Image Quality option above, this option will be grayed out.
Type: Lossless compressed - When you select this option, the camera will compress and store the RAW file without losing any color tones information.
NEF (RAW) bit depth: 14 bit - By selecting this option, camera stores 16,384 (2^14) color tones per pixel for each color channel (Red, Green, and Blue). This gives you tremendous flexibility to play with the color tones during the editing.
Image Area: FX - Image covers the whole sensor area of the FX camera.
ISO Sensitivity settings
ISO sensitivity: 64 - I always shoot with the lowest native ISO to reduce the possible digital noise. I would increase the ISO only if I have to increase the shutter speed (at night) in order to capture the moving subjects without getting it blurred.
2. Custom Setting Menu
AF-C priority selection: Release + focus - If you are using a burst shooting mode, the camera will give priority to release the shutter for the first frame whether the subject is in focus or not and only starts focusing for the future frames. In this mode, except for the first frame, the camera wouldn’t take a picture if the subject is not in focus in the future frames and hence slowing down the frame rates to allow the camera to focus. It is best suited for wildlife and sports photography.
AF-S priority selection: Focus - In this mode, pictures can only be taken if the camera acquires the focus on the subject. It is best suited for portrait and landscape photography.
Volume: OFF - I turned the beep volume off so that the camera won’t beep every time the subject is in focus. This is helpful if you are shooting wildlife or any special event which are sensitive to any kind of noise.
Bracketing order: Under > MTR > Over - While taking the bracketed shots, the camera will store the underexposed shots first and then the camera metered shot and finally the overexposed shots in that order.
Assign Fn button: Viewfinder Virtual Horizon - This option helps me to get the virtual horizon on the viewfinder so that I can level up the horizon on the frame.
Assign BKT button: BKT - When the BKT button is pressed, you can change the number of shots for the bracketing and also set the EV value between each bracketed shots by rotating the main command dial and the sub-command dial.
These are the settings on my D810 which I rarely touch or alter. Besides these settings on the menu, I make sure that the Exposure Compensation is set to 0 and the shooting exposure mode is set to the Aperture Priority (A) mode. Sometimes, I use the Manual Mode (M) if I have to switch to the BULB mode for the shutter speed while using the filter and taking long exposure shots. I rarely use the Shutter Priority (S) mode but if I am shooting sports, birds or taking panning shots, then I dial into the S mode. While I am shooting landscape or cityscape using the Nikkor 16-35 mm f/4 lens with the D810, I dial into the A mode and make sure that the lens aperture is set between f/9 and f/11. But if I am using 70-200 mm f/2.4, which I use for the portrait most of the time, I usually use a larger aperture (small aperture value f/2.4-f/5.6 for example) to soften the background and get some bokeh. I always carry the tripod and also make sure that my camera bag has some ND filters, shutter release cable and the lens hood as well.
When I am shooting landscape or cityscape, I check the Autofocus mode on my camera and make sure that it is set to AF-S mode, an Autofocus mode which takes a single shot and requires focusing again for the future shot. But lately, I have been focusing manually by sliding the focusing switch on the lens barrel to M and set the focusing distance to infinity which prevents the camera from reacquiring the focus for the future shots during the bracketing. And finally, while using the camera on the tripod, I make sure that the VR feature on the lens is turned off so that the lens doesn’t move its internal elements trying to stabilize the shot, which is a very useful feature to use if you are shooting without a tripod.
This has been my practice for the last couple of years and I am sure you also have your own set of settings and styles for the shooting. But if you do have any questions or comments, please let me know.