Digital cameras: what the manual doesn’t teach you

Digital cameras: what the manual doesn't teach you

Digital cameras: what the manual doesn't teach you

Here on Digital Camera World we get lots of emails from readers who are daunted by the complexity of their new digital cameras, unsure of the best way to capture the best shots, and confused about which settings to use.

Considering the plethora of buttons and functions packed into today’s cameras, this is totally understandable. Even getting the strap onto your new bundle of joy can sometimes seem like mission impossible!

Well fret no more; below we’ll guide you through the process of getting to know your digital camera beyond what the manual teaches you.

We’ll help you identify key buttons and setting and explain how to get them to work for you to produce different effects.

Beginner tips for using digital cameras

Master your digital camera’s top dial


Choosing which exposure mode to use isn’t just about your technical ability; it’s also about selecting a mode that 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 shooting modes can be restricting and should generally be ignored. Get to grips with your camera’s semi-auto and manual settings and you’ll soon see your shots improve.

In the infographic below we’ve identified some of the key exposure modes on your mode dial and explain what they do.

Digital camera tips: mode dial explained

1 Auto/Green square

This is the ideal mode for complete beginners. The digital camera is practically converted into a compact point-and-shoot, with exposure settings, aperture and shutter speeds all taken care of.

2 Program

Here, aperture and shutter speed are set automatically. However, you control ISO, Exposure Compensation 
(ie, going lighter or darker) and other settings. You can override the digital camera’s suggested settings if you wish.

3 Aperture Priority

This semi-automatic mode enables you to choose an aperture value for your desired effect (blurred backgrounds, for example), and the camera then selects the shutter speed that’s needed for a correct exposure.

4 Shutter Priority
This mode is similar to Aperture Priority, but you select the shutter speed you require and the camera takes care of  the aperture. This is perfect for freezing high-speed action by choosing a fast shutter speed, or for creating motion-induced blur using a slow shutter speed.

5 Manual

In Manual mode, you set both the shutter speed and the aperture for any given scene, which places you in total creative control. You’ll now have access to all of the available shutter speeds and aperture values, and can also use Bulb mode. This additional mode enables you to shoot exposures for as long as the shutter button is held down, and is ideal for night photography.

Digital camera tips: take control of your camera

Nail down the essential camera settings


It’s true, practice does make perfect. But knowing your digital camera’s most important settings inside out also helps to achieve consistently high-quality shots. By changing settings manually, such as white balance, ISO sensitivity and file formats, you can take more control over the way your images turn out.

This gives you confidence and, more importantly, satisfaction that you got the shot yourself, without relying on your camera to make all the decisions.

Stick to your camera’s auto settings and all your shots will look the same. 
To take creative shots, you have to take some control. Here’s how…

Digital camera tips: setting white balance

White balance
It’s possible to rely on the auto white balance setting for most occasions. But there are a few situations where the camera can be fooled into reading a situation incorrectly.

For example, shoot in mixed light or in areas of heavy shade and your camera’s auto white balance system may get confused, producing images with a dominant colour cast.

Switch to a custom white balance setting that suits your scene, such as Cloudy, Shade or Flash, and your images will look the same as the scene you see with the naked eye.

Digital camera tips: choosing ISO settings

ISO sensitivity
The ISO setting you choose will affect your camera’s sensitivity to light. To produce the cleanest images, it’s best to use the lowest ISO rating.

However, this isn’t always possible when shooting in low light, or when you want to shoot handheld – slow shutter speeds will result in camera shake and blurry shots.

Remember, on modern digital cameras you can usually shoot up to ISO 800 without noise becoming intrusive. Also, higher ISOs will give you faster shutter speeds, helping you to avoid that dreaded shake.

Digital camera tips: choosing file format

Choosing a file format
We’ve touched on this before, but the big advantage of shooting RAW is that you get the full image as the camera captures it. With JPEG, the camera compresses the image, so you lose some detail.

You can perfect a RAW image in software, then save it back to JPEG or TIFF format for sharing or printing. D-SLRs will also let you save an image as JPEG and RAW together, giving you maximum flexibility.

Digital camera tips: essential accessories

Essential accessories
You probably got a lens with your new camera, but it’s likely to be pretty basic. Our advice is to save up for a better lens, and invest in a sturdy tripod in the meantime. For around £150 you can get a very good tripod that will have an instant effect on your photography. You can shoot at smaller apertures for maximum depth of field, for example, and a tripod will also ensure shake-free shots in low light.

PAGE 2: Focus modes, Focus points and Drive modes
PAGE 3: Exposure, Aperture and Shutter speed


99 Common Photography Problems (and how to solve them)
Your digital camera’s enemies (and how to defeat them)
10 rules of photo composition (and why they work)