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Basic Controls

Note:  Please find these basic controls on your camera before we continue.


Mode Dial or Button – M, P, A (Av on Canon) & S (Tv on Canon)



old-folding-camera-2Let’s take a look at what some of the buttons, wheels, switches and toggles do.


Your camera will have a dial or knob that may have some letters or abbreviations on it. 


(A)or a Green Rectangle Symbol – Full Auto (The camera controls everything for you – Everything!)


(P)-Program Mode – The camera sets the shutter speed and aperture based on the meter but unlike full auto you have control over things such as ISO (think film speed), Auto Exposure Bracketing, Auto Focusing Points used, flash settings and other menu options.


NOTE:   Program mode does allow me to override the aperture and shutter speed initially picked by the camera.  The camera loses these settings every time the shutter is depressed or if I wait too long to take a shot.



(A) or (Av) – Aperture Priority Mode – You control the aperture and the camera sets the shutter speed for you – Aperture is the size of the opening in the lens i.e. f2.8, f11, f22 etc. (amount of light let in).



(S) or (Tv)-Shutter Priority Mode – You set the shutter speed and the camera chooses what it thinks the best aperture is based on the meter reading – Shutter Speed is the duration the shutter is open when you press the shutter release button ie. 1/60sec, 1/500sec etc.



(Old Box CameraM)- Manual Mode - You control all the settings for the camera manually.



(B) – Bulb Mode - Your camera may have a distinct setting for this or it may be in Shutter Priority mode. (The shutter stays open as long as you depress the shutter release button.  For very long exposures usually over 30 seconds)



Your camera may also have other options usually represented by small symbols or pictures.  These modes have different names depending on your camera’s manufacturer; Olympus calls them “Scene” modes, Canon “Basic Zones” and Nikon calls them “Vari Program” modes. 



These modes all do basically the same thing, they automatically change the settings depending on the symbols you choose.  There is usually a portrait mode that tries for a blurred background, a sports mode that freezes action, a macro mode that changes the settings for close-up photos and a landscape mode that tries to get everything in focus. If you find these work for you that’s fine. In future pages we will discuss how to creatively take photos using Aperture and Shutter Priority modes.



Why would you want to change your camera to anything but “Full Auto” or “Program mode? 


Well, you might want to compose a photo using some special techniques such as stopping the very fast action of a soccer game or an auto race.  You might want to create a surreal image of waves crashing on a beach (all flowing and smooth) or blur a spinning bicycle wheel to impart the sense of motion. 


PeacockYou might want the background in a portrait to be out of focus so that it does not detract from your primary subject.  Or you might want every little detail in a shot to be in focus. These last two examples are called Depth of Field (DOF).  We control depth of field with our cameras Aperture.


Every photo you take is made using three primary controls to get the correct exposure. 


The first, is shutter speed or how long you let the light from the scene hit the camera sensor or film. 


The second is aperture or how much light you let hit the camera sensor. 


The third part of this light control equation is ISO sensitivity or how sensitive the camera senor is to the light hitting it.


An explanation for the process of exposure, is to think of each pixel of your camera’s photo sensor as a tiny bucket that collects light.  If the bucket gets too much light (overflows) then the photo will be washed out (overexposed).  If not enough light fills the bucket it will be dark and hard to make out details (underexposed).  We control how much light gets to these buckets with our three main controls, Shutter Speed, Aperture and ISO Sensitivity. 


<<<<<<<Previous Page – Introduction                         Next Page –Exposure  and Aperture>>>>>>>

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