Canon Custom Modes (C1, C2, C3) for Landscape Photography

In Articles On Thursday, August 15, 2013

I just asked a question on Twitter to two 5DmkII users as to whether they use the custom modes. I was surprised to hear them both say no. One said “I don’t use them, never needed to…..I think” – that’s true but it kind of misses the point. Custom Modes , if you are lucky enough to have them, are one of the best features of your camera and here is why….

The settings used to shoot landscape photographs are exactly the same for EVERY SINGLE SHOT! …..Okay I am exaggerating but most landscapes will be shot with a small aperture (I use f11), ISO100 and a shutter speed to suit. The reason for this is that, as landscape photographers, we want the highest possible image quality and usually a richly detailed photo.


A small aperture guarantees a good depth of field and lens sharpness. The only reason why you might use a wide aperture is to get a deliberately shallow DOF (unusual in landscape) or to force a shorter shutter speed. You’d only use smaller apertures than f11 if you wanted to squeeze every last drop of depth of feild (at the expense of diffraction) or to set a longer shutter speed if you don’t have neutral density filters.


ISO100 guarantees the best colour, dynamic range and SNR (signal to noise ratio) . The only reason you would want to use a high ISO is when the light is exceptionally low and you want a reasonable shutter speed. That pretty much means astrophotography and nothing else!

Shutter Speed

The shutter speed generally gives way to aperture and ISO with the exception that occasionally we may want to adjust aperture and ISO (or apply filters) to freeze motion or blur it!

In my case 90% of my images are shot with the same aperture (f11) and ISO (100) because I shoot relatively rarely at night and it’s not often that I want to freeze motion or have a shallow depth of field…

A majority of my portfolio images are shot at f11 and ISO100 using the same custom mode. Only the shutter speed, focal length and focus change.


Mistakes happen

Have you ever shot a landscape at ISO800 by mistake? I have

Have you ever realised just at the decisive moment of lighting that your 10 second timer is on? I have

Have you ever shot a perfect sunset in JPEG when RAW would have produced a higher quality image? I have

You name it and some photographer has done it. At the very least setting up our cameras can cause a delay when the light is good. At the worst you can ruin an entire shoot by not setting your camera up correctly


Custom Modes to the Rescue!

Custom modes can be used to ensure you never make a mistake setting up your camera. Even better than that, you are ready to go at the turn of the mode dial! Sounds pretty good right?


How to set Custom Mode 1 (C1) for general shooting

Put your camera in Manual.

Set the ISO to 100 and the aperture to f11 (or at least between f8 and f13) set the shutter speed to 1/10th or thereabouts

Set the quality to RAW or RAW+jpeg

Set Mirror Lockup to on (its found in the custom settings)

Set the self timer to 2 seconds (these 2 settings together help the camera to be as vibration free as possible at the time the photo is taken)

Set live view settings to your preference, but use exposure simulation.

Set the metering mode to your choice (I suggest evaluative).

Set the camera timeout to at least 2 minutes – this is so that when you adjust your camera shutter speed for your scene, and take a break, your settings don’t instantly revert to the custom mode default.

Register the settings to a Custom Mode.


How to set Custom mode 1 (C2) for exposure bracketing (optional)

Set your camera to C1

Set exposure bracketing (3 shots, -1.5 EV, 0EV, -1.5EV)

Register the settings to Custom Mode 2

If you are lucky you have a custom mode spare. I will let you figure out how to use it, but suggestions include – Shooting astro photos, grabbing quick handheld shots, customising for a video setup, etc.



It might shock you to learn that after taking time to consider my composition I take almost no time in setting up my camera. I put my camera into C1 for most shots, or C2 for sunsets where bracketing is required. I adjust shutter speed. I focus. I turn on live view. I recheck the composition. I press the shutter button. That’s it.

If you are spending ages setting up your camera you are wasting time, time that could be used creatively or simply just enjoying the moment. When I take a landscape shot I KNOW my technique won’t let me down, I know that I have set the camera up optimally every single time. Custom modes make photography easier, and stress free! If you aren’t using them now, you should be.



  1. Colin Arthurs 16th August 2013

    Hi Alex,

    Great article to just refresh the obvious we sometimes over look. On my 1DMKIII, you can have up to 10 customised function files. These are total settings for the camera. These are great to quickly select sports, landscape, action and certain light and contrast shots.

    I have found them very useful….will miss them on the 6d tho!!


  2. An excellent post with some top notch tips. I shall be “programming” my camera this week!

    Thanks for this Alex.


  3. Hi Alex,
    Interesting because your settings for CI are almost exactly the same as mine except for the use of self timer. I use Live view for all my tripod images and this setting automatically locks the mirror up.

    • Actually the reason I use the timer is to separate the image capture not only from the mirror slap but also from my finger pressing the shutter button. You are right of course that live view does flip the mirror up but you can only avoid vibrations if you use a shutter release.

  4. Interesting reading Alex, I’ve been trying to work out the best way to use the custom modes on my D7000, they don’t seem to work in the way that I assume though so I think I need to do a little reading to work out what they can actually control – I tried to set them up to switch between landscape settings and sports setting but I couldn’t change some of the critical camera settings

  5. Mark Quinn 14th October 2013


    I wholeheartedly agree with this. I have U1 & U2 on my Nikon D7000, U2 setup for landscapes. I find it so difficult to get time to head off into the hills, even though I live in Fife, that the thought of wasting any time at all is madness. I’m just about to upgrade to an FX body and I’ve been really torn between the D700 and the D600. One of the reasons being the D700, while probably a more ‘pro’ body doesn’t have the U1 & U2 options.



  6. Hi Alex,
    That’s really interesting – i’ve not used the custom functions myself (just never got round to it!) but I keep thinking I should. One thing I noticed was that you shoot at ISO100 – have you tried expanding the ISO to 50? I’ve just found out about this and have yet to try it. Just wondering if you have?

  7. I have always used them like you

    One is set to ‘A’ , f11, ISO 100, one to ‘M’, same settings and one to beacket on auto at f11 ( for use with tripod)

    there are other bits and pieces I include but I change these occsionally

    But yeah – very useful!

    • ps you said: “Set live view settings to your preference, but use exposure simulation.”

      not sure Im familiar with tis setting can you elaborate?

      • Yes, you can set live view to show a display that automatically adjusts to scene brightness and disregards your exposure settings. Obviously it is better to see a simulation of the true exposure (i.e when you adjust the camera settings the displayed image also adjusts). So make sure the Live View is set to Exposure Simulation (but I imagine it is already)

        • I think I have done that either by default or by accident as when using a big stopper (x10ND) I can actually see the scene on the screen if I twiddle the knob a bit – indispensible for long ND exposures composition

          but my question was – how or where does one set it or unselect it? Not seen it in cfns ( there a still a few knobs on the back that baffle me occasioanlly


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