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How to use custom camera modes to save time

I think the custom camera modes are probably one of the most underutilized features for many photographers. Below, learn how to be ready to shoot quickly for multiple situations with a simple twist of a dial using the custom modes.

What is a C mode?

Custom modes on your camera allow you to preset parameters with the click of a dial. Dependent upon your camera model you can have from one to four — or more — custom modes. Each can contain the shooting mode, type of focus, initial ISO, shutter speeds and more. Below I’ll show you how I use them in my work.

Custom Modes on your camera save settings
You can dial in four different settings for different shooting situations with a quick click.

Photographing wildlife

Settings for creating avian wildlife images can vary widely, and there are a bunch of them. On my Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III camera, I have two custom modes assigned to bird photography. One is set for tracking large birds in flight. That’s C1. It’s set to continuous focus tracking, auto ISO and a frame rate of 18 fps.

The other — C2 — is for smaller birds and shooting into the past.

What do I mean by shooting into the past? When photographing a bird taking flight, how many times have you been a little late and you end up with a wonderful picture of a bird’s butt? If you are like me, there’s a bunch over the years. Micro Four Thirds cameras from Olympus and Panasonic make it possible to capture photos after the fact. On my Olympus, this is known as Pro Capture.

Shooting into the past with Olympus and Panasonic

Panasonic cameras leverage video and still grabs. The video is recording, but not saving the file until the complete button push. It will then start saving two seconds prior. Stills can then be extracted from the files. With the Panasonic Lumix G9, you can pull 18MP image stills from the video. When working with earlier Panasonic models, I was able to pull 8 MP stills, which still had plenty of good pixels with which to work.

Olympus Pro Capture allows for the recording of RAW files in a similar “get frames from the past” fashion. When the shutter is pressed half way, the camera is recording but not saving files. The completed push of the shutter records a set number of frames from before the button was pressed, hence saving images made before a behavior commenced. The image that headlines this article was made using Olympus Pro Capture. It made it easy to capture different wing positions on take off.

Photographing artwork

I regularly photograph artwork for reproduction, which require completely different settings from almost every other type of photography I do. Settings include High Resolution Mode, which makes my 20 MP camera create 80 MP files.

In this mode, the camera makes eight exposures. Each exposure needs to be offset by two seconds to allow the flash to recycle. There’s a two second delay before the shutter activates. Shutter speed is set to 1/50s and ISO 200. I have all these settings dialed into C3 on the command dial.

Night sky

My C4 setting is setup for capturing night skies such as the Milky Way. The Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III has a Starry AF mode, which locks on to the night sky with ease. I set the ISO to 6400 and give an exposure time of 13 seconds alongside the Starry AF.

milky way image sedona arizona
Custom settings for night sky photography and the Milky Way are a click away saving time on location.

Four different shooting situations all available instantly at the twist of a dial. Very cool!

Yours in Creative Photography, Bob

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Rafael Jones

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