Stop Asking About Camera Settings

Whenever we see a photo we really like and want to recreate ourselves, one of the most tempting things to do is to ask what camera settings the photographer used. Here is why that's actually the wrong question to ask the majority of the time.

Coming to you from Craig Roberts with e6 Vlogs, this great video discusses the pitfalls of asking what settings a photographer used for an image and why it's better to ask them why they used those settings instead. If you follow any photography groups online in which people post their work, I'm sure you've seen that the first comment on almost any good photo is someone asking what settings the photographer used. And while it can be somewhat instructive in certain instances to know those, particularly when an image has an unusual process of creation, photographers tend to oversell just how crucial knowing the EXIF data is, as if it's a magic recipe that will unlock that great photo. The truth is that there's a myriad of factors and decisions that go into making any good photo, and the final basic exposure parameters are just a small piece of the puzzle. Check out the video above for Roberts' full thoughts. 

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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I get where this is going but if you make a channel with the intention of instructing people, especially newbies, then not adding some simple EXIF data seems counter-productive.

People who need to know what it is to understand how a certain look was achieved lose out and the people who are more skilled can just ignore it. Leaving it out is a slight convenience for the creator but forces the newbie to ask the question everyone apparently loathes. Where is the win? Besides basically nudging other experienced photographers and going "see, see, I hate posting settings too! Isn't it a drag we can all complain about?".

Personally, I would much prefer photographers stop the whole "X things you need to know about Y" crap.

If the target market is beginners then the questions are valid and the guy might as well leave that info in the videos. If OTOH he is going for advanced photographers they don't need the info...maybe Craig should aim higher.
It just seems a little bit snobby. Like many teachers say (and I assume Craig considers himself one) there are not stupid questions only stupid answers. "I won't tell you" is a stupid answer.

Never seen why people ask that. It is a good blog starter though.

‘I’m inundated with questions on how I made it and what settings I used’ Which invariably leads to a 30 min video on how it was done with the hope the post will get picked up by one of the photography sites and they’ll get 5 mins of fame. And a wider audience. Of photographers, not potential customers.

If someone is "inundated" with questions about settings the most rational thing to do would be to supply them from the get-go. You'd avoid said inundation.

I don't want to come off like I am attacking the photographer here; he seems like a pretty cool bloke but the whole 'fed-up' tone of videos like this seems more than just a little melodramatic.

Its the internet, everything seems to be melodramatic these days.

He sounds British, and he is just being mildly sarcastic while making a simple point. Don't be too hard on a bloke trying to share some thoughts. :)

Looking at a photo and guessing the settings and then seeing the settings is one of the things that made me grow. Especially with complex shots, knowing the settings helps you go “oh okay, for that type of wave at that distance, 1/4 of a second seems like a good place to start.“ The why is pretty obvious—to create pleasing wave steaks. But if a photographer wants to create something similar, it helps to know the settings more than reading the photographer gloat “I used a slow shutter speed because I like wave steaks.“

Most people are able to deduce the why.

People who are able to deduce the "why" do not actually need to be told the settings. People who need to be told the settings also need to be told why.

Stop presuming why others are asking for camera settings. How about that!

When I started out, I found it very helpful to guess what kind of settings were used, then checked what they actually were. I never wanted to "replicate" a photo but I did want to learn the effect that the different settings had. It was an important part of my education in photography and I learned a lot from it.

I did this same thing. I remember one instance when I was very new to photography looking at long exposures photos on Flickr, seeing a 2 second exposure (or longer) in the middle of the day and wondering how they hell they did that. I was doing my best to read the image but coming up with the wrong conclusion. When someone included their EXIF data and noted they used an ND filter a whole new world opened up. That's just one example for me.

Friend: "Cool shot, what were your settings?"

Me: "I don't know, ask my phone."

I normally like to see what has been used, 2 times this would be useful for me are:

long exposures create different effects in water by varying the time of the exposure, its useful info to pick up the technique.

the aperture settings are quite often useful to see how a photographer managed his DOF, was he stacking, did he go ultra low for front to back sharpness etc etc.

I follow the above channel but i didnt bother to watch this video as im more interested in watching people who are out shooting rather than approaching this type of subject.

I do agree the question is a little pointless but some people do actually need help with how you got the shot if you’ve allowed them to see the raw. However, in today’s current climate there is so much post production in LR/C1/PS that without seeing the image before PS you’d never get any usable information anyways.

Good point. I tend not to over process RAW when I shoot digital, plus I shoot a fair amount of film also. In the case of digital people might want to ask- what software did you use? What techniques did you use... It could get quite complicated.

It’s Funny .. this site requests and puts your camera settings with posted pictures. Dont Ask ... Don’t Tell !!

I think it's funny that some people get to a certain level of expertise in whatever field they're in and they kind of forget, or lose touch with, what it was like to start from the beginning not knowing anything. He had some good points on "why you don't need to ask what settings where used." And I think it's easy to understand that once you've got it figured out, but people learn in all sorts of ways. Just because someone asks that question doesn't mean they're trying to go to the exact spot with the exact settings and recreate the photo. They're probably really new to photography and are still just trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Maybe when someone asks "what were your settings?" you could just show them and then help them by explaining why you used them instead of expecting them to know that's what they should have asked. I've really liked Craig Roberts videos in the past and have no problem with him, but I just think it's easy for people to forget what it's like to start out from the very beginning and we need to remember that everyone learns in different ways so when you have an opportunity to help teach someone do it even if they ask a question that you think is pointless. I suppose that's what he's trying to do with this video, I just thought it came off the wrong way. Anyway, I hope this doesn't make me come off like a jerk and maybe I don't know what I'm talking about. It's just my opinion.

Simply asking what the settings were in a photo is, for the most part, pretty useless. However, asking what the settings were and WHY they were used is a perfectly valid and useful question. If someone asks me what settings were used, I always turn the conversation into why I used the settings.

I don't have a problem with it.

Yep! I sell prints at a market and get asked a ton of questions. Example: I have a nice shot of a snowy owl I took at a zoo through a fence. I'm asked how I did that without the fence showing. I tell them I shot it at f2.8 (Canon 70-200) and got right up against the fence. All of you know that it blurs the background and foreground and being up against it, the fence disappears. That sort of 'settings' question is a good one.

Exactly. It can even be useful for people who aren't necessarily new to photography, as well.

Just last weekend I had a friend who's a pretty experienced landscape and wildlife photographer ask if he could tag along/assist me on an outdoors model/portrait shoot; something he doesn't have much experience with but wants to learn a bit more. He asked what settings I was using and I told him along with the why: I'm using x fstop because I want to limit the DOF to separate the model from the BG a bit. I'm using x shutter speed because I want to under expose the BG about a third stop. Hold this scrim over the model to filter the harsh sunlight. I'm using my strobe to bring the model up to desired/proper brightness, etc.

Stop sharing pointless, boring videos, cheers.

First of all- the resulting image is the most important thing for sure. BUT- if I am thinking of buying a specific camera with a specific lens (especially vintage film types), I would like to see what others were able to produce with that equipment. Or maybe I want to try a new film- what results can it produce? Of course no photographer owes me this information. If I see a photograph and like t enough, I will probably fave it regardless of equipment, film, digital technique, etc., sometimes because of that (if I am using similar and the shot is still good). But the photograph is the final product, and that usually has to be there for me to fave it. I still add sufficient information on my Flickr, but usually in the tags, not in the title or comment. That is reserved for describing something about the photograph.

Including camera/lens settings with photos is great for helping inexperienced photographers -- it gives them an idea of where to start in similar situations. What is seldom said is that these settings are just that -- a starting point, because unless that new photographer is standing right next to the original photographer, the settings can never be exactly the same again.

But they are a great starting point.

The setting included with so many photos that is truly a waste of time is the power setting on a flash unit. Why? Because the posting photographer almost never includes the distance the flash is from the subject. Think -- Inverse Square Law.

We won't mention the fact that not having the exact same flash unit AND the exact same modifier also changes the amount of light striking the subject.