With your camera’s basic settings taken care of, you’re ready to start snapping away, but you’ll soon want to know how to take advantage of all the other features your SLR has. Read on to find out how to take your camera craft up a notch.
Choosing an exposure mode gives you the freedom to stop worrying about settings and start concentrating on taking great shots. Your camera will offer a number of automatic settings, including modes that help you to shoot action, close-ups and portraits, but these modes can be restricting and should generally be ignored. Get to grips with your camera’s semi-auto and manual settings (below), and you’ll soon see an improvement in the results.
This is the basic beginner mode, with minimal manual control. The SLR effectively becomes a point-and-shoot compact, with all the exposure settings taken care of.
Here, aperture and shutter speed are set automatically for you. However, you can control ISO, exposure compensation and other settings, enabling you to override the suggested settings if you wish.
Shutter priority (S/Tv)
This mode is similar to aperture priority, but you select the shutter speed and the camera sets the aperture. This mode is perfect for freezing high-speed action or for creating motion blur.
Aperture priority (A/Av)
This semi-automatic mode enables you to choose an aperture value that gives you your desired effect (blurred backgrounds, for example), and the camera then selects the shutter speed that’s needed for a correct exposure.
In manual mode, you set both the aperture and shutter speed for any given scene, which places you in total creative control. It gives you access to all of the available aperture values and shutter speeds, and an exposure level indicator in the viewfinder (or on the LCD screen) tells you whether your shot is correctly, under- or over-exposed. The Bulb mode enables you to shoot exposures for as long as the shutter button is held down, making it ideal for night photography, when exposures of 30 secs or more are required.
As mentioned here, there are two main options here – JPEG or raw. The JPEG format was created for digital photography, and is now a universal standard that’s viewable on any suitable device. In contrast, raw files are specific to individual makes and models, and specialist photo-editing programs are required to open or edit them. The big advantage of shooting in raw is that the image contains more information, which can be used to get the highest quality images. JPEGs compress the image slightly, losing quality.
Your SLR’s sensitivity to light is determined by the ISO setting. To produce noise-free images, it’s best to use your camera’s lowest ISO, but this isn’t always possible. In low light, for example, a slow shutter speed is often needed to expose the image correctly, and this can result in motion blur caused by camera shake. If you’re already using your lens’s widest aperture, the only way to get a faster shutter speed – and therefore avoid camera shake – is to increase the ISO. And the higher the ISO, the more noisy the image.
You can rely on the auto white balance (AWB) setting in most shooting situations, but there are some occasions where it can’t be relied upon. If you’re shooting in mixed light or in dark shade, for example, your camera’s auto white balance setting may produce images with a so-called ‘colour cast’. To eliminate this cast, switch to the preset closest to the type of light you’re shooting in. When it’s important to get the white balance exactly right, shoot in raw, because the white balance in a raw file can be fine-tuned later.
Scroll through your custom function menu for the first time and you’ll be amazed at the volume and complexity of the changes you can make to the way your SLR operates. Don’t be daunted, though – configuring some of these to suit your preferences will enable you to work much faster than sticking with the defaults. Some cameras enable you to save the most commonly used functions in a quick-access menu, or to assign custom function settings to different shooting situations. See your SLR’s manual for your options.
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