Getting Around the Camera

Getting Around the Camera

So you now have an SLR camera and you have been playing around with it, but you keep asking…what are all these buttons and how do I use them to my advantage? We will talk briefly about the different features of the camera and how to use them. In further articles we will go more in depth with the features and experiment with different ways of using them to achieve some exciting results. The camera consists of many different functions that when changed will return a different result, this allows you to have extensive creative control over the end product.

Camera Modes

Not all the cameras will have the same labels but the modes are essentially the same in all models.

Auto or Green Square

Automatic Mode

The Auto Mode puts the camera into complete automatic mode, this setting lets your camera to be point and shoot mode where the camera will figure out what is needed for the picture to be exposed correctly. You compose the shot and press the shutter release. Automatic Mode is a good setting for getting a feel for the camera but don’t linger on this mode experiment. Being afraid to experiment will prevent you from moving on and developing in photography.


Program Mode

The Program mode is an almost automatic mode. The shutter and aperture are still figured by the camera but in this setting you have the option of choosing your own ISO setting, whether to use the flash or not, and also adjusting for white balance.

Av or S

Shutter Priority Mode

The shutter is like the blinds of the camera. It is positioned between the film or digital sensor and the lens. This piece of the camera is what in the end allows the sensor to be exposed to the light. The shutter is modified by increasing or decreasing the amount of time that the shutter, or blinds, stay open. The longer the shutter is open the more light will be allowed to expose the sensor.

Tv or A

Aperture Priority Mode

The aperture is defined and restricted by the lens type you are using; every lens will ave it’s own aperture rating. You will see this defined by a small number or range, often something like 3.5-5.6. The aperture, also called the f-stop (and just happening to be the inspiration for the name of this site), is like a diaphragm that opens and closes to a certain diameter. This diaphragm has 2 effects on the outcome of your photograph. The first is in the amount of light that is allowed to pass through the lens. The smaller the f-stop, the larger the opening in the diaphragm and thus more light that can be passed through the lens. this is the reason that you will sometimes here people refer to a lens as ‘fast glass’, the larger the opening in the diaphragm the faster the shutter can be, but we’ll get to that in another article.

The other effect that the aperture has is in it’s depth of field. You may have heard this term before, and it simply is talking about the amount, or depth, of the field of view that will be in focus for the photograph. The larger the aperture (remember that means the smaller number) the shallower the depth of field, meaning that only a little bit of the viewable area will be in focus. This includes both in front of and behind the focus point.

For an example below is an image taken with an f-stop of 3.5 and the same image taken at f/8. See the difference in the amount of the image that remains in focus.

This feature is arguable one of the most powerful creative features of the camera, allowing you to produce creative images dealing with the focus, drawing people into your image and having them concentrate on your focus point and not everything else in the picture.


The ISO describes the speed of the film (or replicated speed when considering digital). ISO stands for the International Organization for Standardization. They provide a standard for films creators to comply with so that when you purchase film you will be able to achieve consistent results. Now when we say speed of the film we are talking about the amount of time it takes light to expose an image onto the film, films are rated anywhere between 50 to 1600. The lower the number the longer it takes to expose an image but often the high the quality of the image will be. The ISO can come into play with your images if you need that extra boost of speed in order to maintain your other settings, such as your aperture or shutter. The downfall of the ISO comes as the faster the film, the lower the quality. You will get a lot of grain, visible ‘dots’, on images that have an ISO rating of 1600.

These three features are the ones you will use for the majority of your shooting, they allow you to have an extensive amount of creative control in the outcome of your images.

White Balance

White balance is used to capture accurate colors in different shooting environments. Different light can cast different colors and sometimes will create a colored overlay in your image. Your camera will usually do a fairly decent job at self adjusting the white balance to get accurate colors, but if you are getting a color cast over your photos you may want to consider adjusting this setting a bit. To get the most accurate color representation, as every environment is different, you may want to carry either a white card or a folded up piece of white paper. You then take a picture of this completely white element in your environment and your camera is now set to take accurate photos.

Putting it all together

So how do you know when to change one setting and keep another? Or when do you increase or decrease the ISO? These questions can’t really be given a definite answer as it often depends on the situation and what you desire for the outcome of the picture. For me the ISO is the last thing I change as it has a direct impact upon the quality of the final image. I try to keep my ISO relatively low for all my images (200-400) and only jump it in situations where I need the extra boost to correctly expose an image. Also when making decisions with these settings you need to consider the desired outcome. Does slightly underexposing the image create a more favorable presentation (often done with sunsets) or perhaps you are willing to sacrifice a little bit of the depth of field in order to get a more favorable exposure.

In summery, there is a lot to consider, but don’t let it frighten you. Play around with the features and see what you can come up with!