Basic Camera Setup
By Luke Street

At Tanda Tula we are often joined by people that have just purchased a brand new camera and very often these guests are not too sure where to start. So, I thought I would do a blog post explaining the very basics of your camera and where you can start. Of course, we are always happy to sit with you while you are on safari with us and give you a one on one.

Most cameras will address the below points on their very first menu page (definitely Nikon and Canon). However, first thing first, you need to know the difference between Jpeg and RAW (found under 'Image Quality' on both Nikon and Canon menus) as this will largely dictate the future of your images.

Canon image quality


Nikon image quality

 Essentially if you would like to take photographs with the intention of later editing or processing them, then you should be shooting in RAW. When you take an image in RAW you are effectively creating a modern day negative. Just like in the day of film, negatives need to be processed. The major difference between then and now is that the dark room has been replaced by software and computers. Thus, one also needs to bear in mind that you will require said software and a computer should you wish to get the most out of your RAW photographs.

Jpeg is a file type that has been around for a long time. It is something we all know and use almost daily. If you shoot in Jpeg you are essentially allowing your camera to apply the editing for you. This is what I like to call auto edit. There are a couple of benefits to this. For one, you will not need to dedicate any time to editing or processing later (believe me this can get very time consuming). Secondly, your file sizes will be much smaller than RAW files, allowing you to take and store many more photos.

Another option is to shoot in both RAW and Jpeg. This will take up more memory but it also gives you both file types every time you take an image. What ever you decide is your choice, don’t let people tell you what you should be shooting in. Some of the best photographers in the world shoot in Jpeg,     but most shoot in RAW.

Next, I would like to cover something called 'Picture Control'  or 'Picture Style'. This setting basically dictates the level of vividness or saturation you would like to achieve in your images. However, you need to keep in mind that if you shoot in RAW you can later change this very easily on your computer. This is not the same for Jpeg. While Jpeg does allow one to edit, it will not accept those edits nearly as cleanly or smoothly as RAW.

Canon picture style

Nikon set picture control

So, if you are shooting in RAW,  you do not need to take this too seriously. I usually just shoot in a setting called 'Standard'  and adjust later on the computer. When shooting in Jpeg, you may want to pay more attention to this setting. For the majority of the time, I still recommend a standard setting for Jpeg shooters. However, I have had pleasing results when using the Vivid (Nikon) or the Faithful (Canon) setting as this can make the colours truly pop, but be careful though, as it can also often make images look overly contrasted  and a little weird. Within this menu you can also choose to shoot  in monochrome,  among other things.

Lastly let’s chat about the ever-important 'White Balance'. Once again if you are shooting in RAW you can change this setting at a later stage, but don’t let that make you think it is not worth knowing about! I often change my white balance in camera as I like to get it right straight off the bat. What I have found is that using one of the auto settings usually does the best job. There is usually an option to use auto, auto with cooler colours or auto with warmer colours. 


Being in a warm, bright place like Africa, I more often than not opt for the auto with warmer colour settings. This maintains a little warmth in your images and gives one a better feel for the African environment in the image. Another interesting white balance setting to play with (if you are a bit more advanced) is Kelvin or temperature. This allows you to fully dictate exactly how warm or cold you would like your image to look. Although,  it is a bit more time consuming.

Canon white balance

Nikon white balance

Bear in mind that with Jpeg you need to be a bit more mindful because you can not go back and edit it later. In the case of Jpeg shooters, I usually recommend that one shoots in a warmer white balance during the day. Try something like the cloudy setting, and plain auto at night. Of course, this may not necessarily be the look you want, but as mentioned above, Africa is a warm place with warm colours and so that extra warmth in your Jpeg images goes a long way. However, if you are taking photos at night, such as a leopard up a tree lit by a spotlight, then you want to avoid that extra warmth as it can make your images look overly warm and often horribly red, so rather shoot in auto.

In conclusion, these three setting should be the first you think about when you get a new camera. You need to think about the type of images you would like to create and how much work you would like to put into your photography before-hand. It is also prudent that you never stop playing and changing things. Try different white balance settings, go through all the different picture controls and don’t be scared of shooting in RAW. I know it can be daunting, but it can also be very rewarding. Just please don’t over edit!

Until next time, Happy snapping!

Tanda Tula Tanda Tula Tanda Tula