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There were a couple of threads on this topic but most had only to do with ISO. I am using a Sony DSC-W7. I want to start using the manual mode to take better pictures. The camera allows for adjustment of White balance, ISO, Flash Level, Saturation, and Contrast. What should i be using? Does different environments require different settings?
Does different environments require different settings?
Yes they do.
You will have to experiment with your camera to find the "sweet spots".
If you are using the cameras strobe versus an external strobe then the F stops and shutter speeds would be different.The color of the subject makes a difference along with the background color. The lowest ISO settings such as 50 or 64 will give you less noise and better photos. When using only the cameras strobe keep the flash setting on the highest number.
When using manual white balance w/o the strobe you calibrate it off a white dive slate or the like at the depth you are shooting the photo. If the vis and/or ambient light changes at different depths then you have to re-calibrate. The deeper you go the less available light. Higher ISO settings may be necessary to get a photo. Higher than 200 may cause too much digital noise in the photo. Shutter speeds slower than 1/80 will likely cause a blurred photo of a moving subject.
With the strobe try ISO 64 (100 if it's your lowest), F5 to F8 and shutter speeds of 1/125 to 1/200.
Without the strobe and using manual white balance try ISO 100, F2.8 (or highest number - largest lens opening) and 1/80 to 1/125. If the photo is still too dark use ISO 200 and experiment with higher F stops (smaller lens openings) and slightly faster shutter speeds. Subjects that are too far away will yield too much digital noise.
Don't forget to switch back to "auto" (or sunny or cloudy) white balance from manual white balance when using the strobe or you will get a red photo.
If your camera allows you view the settings on the monitor then use that feature so you can see your settings at all times before taking a photo.
If your camera has a "histogram" use it to see the results of a shot right after taking it. It helps to tell if the photo is in the correct range.
It boils down to practice, practice and more practice. Even if you cannot dive on a regular basis you can practice with the camera on land just to get the hang of the settings. Once in the water you need to be able to work those buttons fast and efficiently.
Shooting in the Manual mode (versus RAW) requires a lot of button pushing to be able to change the settings from: strobe off - strobe on, white balance manual - white balance auto/sunny/cloudy, F stops, shutter speeds, ISO setting. It's worth it to get good results from a JPEG camera.
Try using "sunny" and "cloudy" white balance settings versus "auto" for the strobe shots. Those settings are preset versus "auto". Your colors will vary between the two. Find the one you like. I prefer the "sunny" setting.
I post process my photos in Photoshop. I also use the free version of Helicon Filter to clean up digital noise in non-strobe shots.