One thing that I really struggled with when I first got my camera was getting my head around all the different modes and what the buttons did. Now obviously this varies from camera to camera, I have a Nikon D5100 so that will have different buttons to a Canon for example, but essentially most of the modes and functions are the same. I found the instruction booklet that came with the camera quite hard to get my head around and I wished they laid it out in a simple to understand way- it would have made life a whole lot easier.
So here is my guide below to the main buttons and functions on most cameras- I have left some of the more unique buttons that are specifically for certain makes of camera until another post. Most of the things I have pointed out here will be on most DSLR’s- although the pictures or buttons may look slightly different.
1. One of the most important parts of your camera- the lens. With DSLR’s you can change the lens. The one on my camera is the 18-55 kit lens but we will be talking about different types of lens in the next few weeks.
2. This is another important part of the camera- the shutter-release button, pretty fundamental in taking a photo!
Now I am going to talk about the mode dial- the icons may vary but most DSLR’s will have the same modes.
3. Auto- In full auto mode the camera selects all the settings for you, it is the easiest to use if you are not confident in knowing how to set up the camera to take a photo. However with auto mode you won’t be able to get the creative control that you would if you put the camera on manual mode. The camera will select all the settings based on the scene that it detects in front of the lens. You may be able to do things like turn the automatic flash off but other than that you don’t get an input. You can get some really great shots on auto so don’t be afraid of using it if you want an easy option.
4. Programmed Auto- On the programmed auto mode the camera still selects the aperture (f-stop) and the shutter speed (more about these in another post) so that the exposure is correct, but you can chose from a number of different combinations of both that will product optimal exposure and therefore the best photo. It is worth using for people who want to take a quick snapshot but still have a slight element of control.
5. Shutter priority Auto- This basically means that you select the shutter speed (ISO) yourself and the camera selects the f-stop (Aperture) in order to achieve the best results. When taking shots of fast moving objects, e.g animals or transport you would use this mode or when you want to use a long shutter speed at night time in order to blur motion. e.g car lights. When you want to photography fast moving objects or create motion blur, the shutter speed is the most important thing to consider.
6. Aperture priority Auto- This is the other way round to Shutter Priority- so you select the aperture (f-stop) and the camera will automatically select the shutter speed in order to give the best exposure. This mode is really useful when you want to maximise or minimise depth of field. Simply put depth of field is the range of distance between the nearest and farthest objects that appear sharp. You would use this for portrait photography or perhaps product photography too. We will do a whole post on Aperture but basically the lower the f-stop number the wider the hole and therefore the more light that enters the camera.
7. Manual- This means that everything is down to you. You control everything about the exposure, the aperture, the shutter speed and other aspects as well. However just because it is completely manual doesn’t mean that you need to know everything. In fact some of my favourite photos have been down to playing around with the manual setting on my camera. It can also be a great way of learning about exactly what shutter speed and aperture do to your photographs and how they effect them as you can see from your camera’s LCD screen exactly what settings you used to achieve the result.
8. Effects- Not all cameras will have this setting, but essentially it is just a way of doing photo effects on your camera if you wanted too, rather than doing it in post shot editing.
9. Macro- Macro photography is one of my favourite types of photography- basically it just means close up. Generally using this means that the background will blur so they don’t compete for attention with your main subject- e.g flowers photos or close up product photos.
10. Sports- Sport mode works a lot like shutter priority mode. i.e you would use it to freeze moving objects such as athletics or car racing. However in this mode the shutter speed is set high by default.
11. Child- Child mode works in the same way to portrait mode but it also has a faster shutter speed in order to stop blur from a moving and wriggly child! Clothing, toys and other backgrounds have slightly more vivid colours.
12. Landscape- This mode is a lot like Aperture but this time with a smaller aperture so you have a greater depth of field and therefore the whole image is a lot sharper. The smaller the aperture, the more of the area that will be in focus. But remember a small aperture means a larger f-stop number. Confusing I know but we will talk about this a lot over the next few months.
13. Portrait- This works in the exact opposite way to Landscape mode- it is set to a wider aperture therefore your subject will be sharp and the background will be a lot softer.
14. Scenes- Again not all cameras will have this function but basically this can help create other auto based scenes such as party/indoor, night portrait etc.
15. Auto No Flash- This is again something that not all cameras will have but it is essentially auto with the flash off.
So there you have it. The main modes of your camera and what you can do with them. These will be the same on most cameras so hopefully they will have help demystify them a little bit. Over the next coming months we will develop these ideas further. In the meantime hopefully it will encourage you to take your camera off auto, even if it is just only slightly off!