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Nikon Z9

Know your camera

Your photography workshop experience will be better if you know the basics of operating your camera before the trip. A photography workshop is not the place to learn your new camera system, and time spent fumbling with settings can cause you to miss shots.

Camera manufacturers all have helpful manuals. We recommend downloading a copy of your camera’s manual to your mobile device before you travel.

It’s also great to practice with your camera in a low-stress environment. Try photographing in your backyard or at a local park or zoo.

We’ll always be there to help you with camera settings, if needed, and will often make recommendations for particular scenes. But while you are preparing for your trip, if you’re not an experienced shooter, you should learn about the following for your camera.

Image recording settings

To have the most flexibility when post-processing images, you should shoot in RAW, not JPEG. Make sure you know how to change this setting on your camera.

Focus settings

Achieving focus is critical to successful photographs. Your camera is going to have a few different focus modes. Single focus will focus once and stop focusing. This mode is helpful for stationary subjects, like landscapes.

Continuous focus is necessary for action shots where your subject is moving, for example, people, wildlife, or sports. The camera will track your subject’s movement through the frame and continuously adjust focus to follow the movement. You should know how to hold down your shutter halfway or use back-button focus to keep continuous focus active while tracking a subject.

Manual focus turns off the camera’s autofocus capabilities and allows you to maintain an unchanged focus across multiple frames. This mode is useful when the camera has trouble focusing, like for night sky images. It can also be helpful for techniques like focus stacking or panorama shooting.

You should know how to change between focus modes when needed.

In addition to your camera’s focus mode, there will be a variety of focus area settings. These vary significantly between camera models; there are too many to list here. However, all cameras will have some version of single-point focus, multi-point focus, and zone focus areas. Newer mirrorless cameras may have the ability to focus on animal eyes or people’s eyes as well. You should know how to change between the focus area modes on your camera.

Lastly, you should know how to move your focus point to place it on a subject. Usually, this is done with your thumb on a joystick or pad on the back of the camera.

Release mode settings

The release mode of your camera determines how many frames will be captured when you press the shutter button. Single frame mode takes one frame each time you press the shutter button. Continuous release mode will take photos at your selected rate while pressing the shutter button. This mode is sometimes called burst mode; cameras often have a low-speed and high-speed continuous setting. Effectively capturing action or wildlife requires using one of the continuous release modes.

You should be able to change between release modes when needed.

Exposure settings

Exposure settings control how bright or dark your photo will be. While modern cameras can often figure out the proper exposure settings on their own, there are still many situations where controlling these settings will result in a better photograph.

Three settings will determine the final exposure of your photograph: shutter speed, aperture, and ISO Sensitivity. The faster your shutter speed or the smaller your aperture, the less light is let into the camera sensor. The higher the ISO Sensitivity, the less light you need to make an exposure.

Most cameras have four exposure modes: Program (or Auto), Manual, Shutter Priority, and Aperture Priority). Each mode determines whether the photographer or the camera decides shutter speed, aperture, or ISO.

The camera evaluates the scene in Program or Auto mode and makes all exposure setting decisions. While it’s easy, we never use this mode, as it can make mistakes, and we know how to control the settings better to achieve the creative result we want.

In Shutter Priority mode, the photographer sets the shutter speed, and the camera decides the aperture and ISO. This mode can be helpful when you are trying to freeze motion. The downside of this mode is that it offers no creative control over the aperture, which determines your depth of field and blurred backgrounds.

In Aperture Priority mode, the photographer sets the aperture, and the camera decides the shutter speed and ISO. This mode is useful when controlling your depth-of-field and blurred background. However, for action photography, you lose control over the shutter speed, though you can set minimum shutter speeds in your camera’s menu.

Lastly, in Manual Mode, the photographer takes control of all three exposure settings: shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. When you understand the impact of each setting, Manual Mode offers the most control and creative flexibility. You can also set the camera to Manual Mode with Auto ISO. The camera will decide your ISO setting, and you determine the shutter speed and aperture.

You should be able to switch between exposure modes using the dials or menus on your camera.

Exposure compensation settings

Exposure compensation is a quick way to override the exposure decisions made by the camera. Most cameras have a dial you can turn that allows you to overexpose or underexpose an image, making it brighter or darker. You should know how to increase and decrease exposure compensation and set it to zero.

Electronic level

Ensuring that your camera is level is helpful when shooting landscapes, architecture, or stationary scenes. You can enable an electronic level in your viewfinder or back screen. When shooting action, the electronic level is distracting and gets in the way. You should know how to turn your camera’s electronic level on and off.


Any camera motion or shake will cause blurry images when capturing long exposures. Using the self-timer in the camera allows the shutter to be released without touching the camera after a delay of 2–20 seconds. You should know how to turn on your camera’s self-timer and set the timer duration.

White balance settings

Setting a white balance on a camera ensures that colors appear natural, regardless of their light source. You generally want white or gray objects to appear white or gray in the photograph.

We often find that letting the camera decide using Auto White Balance gives good results for nature photography. And because you are capturing images in a RAW format, you can freely make white balance adjustments in post-processing.

You should know how to change your white balance settings to auto and other settings like cloudy, daylight, or Kelvin temperature.

Metering mode settings

Metering mode determines how your camera makes decisions about exposure settings. The names vary a bit from camera to camera, but generally, one mode, called matrix or evaluative metering, evaluates the brightness of the entire frame. Typically, this is the best metering mode for nature photography. There are specialized cases where other metering modes, like spot metering, are helpful. You should know how to change between metering modes on your camera.

Shutter release lock without a memory card

Most digital cameras allow you to take pictures with or without a memory card in the camera. You don’t want to find out you captured a sequence of images without a memory card, so enable the shutter release lock so that you only take pictures when a memory card is in the camera.

Bracketing settings

When presented with a scene with very high contrast, you might need to capture a series of photos at varying brightness and then blend those photos during post-processing. This technique is called exposure bracketing.

Many cameras have helpful bracketing settings where you can automatically take a series of 3, 5, or 7 images with brightness changes measured in stops of light, like ±1 or ± 2 stops. You should know how to turn on these bracketing settings and change how many images and the exposure stops increment using your camera’s menus or dials.

Vibration reduction/stabilization

Modern cameras have built-in capabilities to reduce camera shake and blur caused by moving the camera. This might be called vibration reduction or image stabilization and is achieved with motors in your lens, camera, or both. You should know how to turn stabilization on or off via a switch on your lens or in your camera’s menu.

Time/date settings

This setting is simple but valuable when traveling between time zones. We always like to have the correct date and time on our photographs. It makes sorting an extensive library of images much simpler. You should set your camera to the local date and time when you arrive at your destination, and remember to change it back when you return home.

Playback settings

When reviewing images, your camera has a few different modes that are helpful when evaluating photographs. The most helpful is displaying your image’s RGB histogram, allowing you to ensure you are not overexposing or underexposing an image. The highlight warning display, also called “blinkies,” is also helpful to prevent overexposure. You should enable these playback modes on your camera and know how to access them.

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