Are you in control of your shots?

DSLR camera controls are simple to master

DSLR camera controls are simple to master. Learn to use them and you will have full control of your camera.

Part 1 of a series on going manual with your camera…

Today we are starting a short series on getting full control of your camera. “Going Manual” is about learning the essentials about how to control the settings you need to get a great exposure. This article examines why you should consider kicking the ‘auto’ habit and introduces the three controls you will be learning about.

Why you should consider going manual

“Auto settings” in modern digital SLR cameras are ‘averaged’ shots. In a full ‘auto’ shot the camera looks at the conditions in which it is taking the shot. After taking sensor readings it calculates an optimum exposure. Then the camera sets itself up to take the shot. Snap! The shot it takes is the result of its programming. What you get is an ‘averaged’ shot based on its optimisation. The only choice you get is to focus the shot on a subject. If you are using auto-focus, even the fine detail of the focus will be left up to the camera. So, the question is, did you take the photo? Or, was it the lab boffin who worked out the programming?

Modern digital SLRs also offer you a range of pre-set modes. These provide you with a ‘mode-choice’. You choose what type of ‘averaged’ shot you want. Taking a picture using a pre-set mode is telling the camera to set up the shot for you. You are asking the camera to create an exposure based on a few simple pre-set conditions. Programming boffins have looked at classic shots in particular situations. They have programmed the camera to reproduce those ‘types’ of shots in the pre-set modes. When you choose portrait mode you get an exposure that is frequently used in a classic portrait shot. If you choose landscape mode you get an exposure which is frequently used in classic landscape shots.

While these pre-sets create reasonable pictures, the camera controls the outcome. Creating the photograph you want is taken away from you. You are getting the exposure that is ‘frequently’ used by other people. It may not be ideal for the shot you want to make. It is simply how lots of people do portraits. To make your own, unique, picture you will need to take control.

An ‘exposure’ is the light-data recorded by the image sensor when it’s exposed to light. Controlling the light determines what the sensor records. The way the light is controlled gives you some unique artistic effects and results. When a camera takes an ‘auto’ or ‘mode’ picture the camera controls the exposure. Modes and auto are ‘averaged’ programmed shots based on a boffin’s view of common or classic exposures.

Taking control

Spend time learning to work with ‘modes’ and you will only get ‘averaged’ shots. Alternatively, you can go straight to the heart of the matter. You can learn to directly control the exposure. Learn the simple camera controls and you will be able to take unique pictures that reflect your idea of the shot. Your control will reflect your choice and match the way you want the shot to come out. It will be your creative choice.

Do you like the idea of controlling your camera? OK…

The trick is to set the controls to manage the light entering the camera. The aim is to create a balance of light the camera sensor can capture to produce a pleasing result.

You have three elements of control. You can control how sensitive the sensor is to the light. You can also control the amount of light entering the camera. And, you can control how much light the sensor sees. The three elements of control are:

  • ISO – the light-sensitivity of the camera sensor;
  • Aperture – the amount of light coming through the lens;
  • Shutter speed – how long the sensor is exposed to the light.

Over the next few posts we will be looking at how you can use these settings to control your exposure.

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