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Photo Tip Of The Day

Today’s Photo Tip (#188)

Yesterday my tip was about how I set my camera up for everyday photos. I teach people how to use their cameras manually yet I use my camera in semi auto mode. Why is that I hear you ask? To explain it I’ll go through the different types of modes and hopefully the answer will come out in the wash.

Almost all DSLR have fully auto modes, semi auto & full manual. There are a few exceptions to that rule but I’m talking generally. Each mode has it’s good points and bad. You really need to become familiar with your camera to be able to get the best out of it.

Fully auto modes like portrait mode, sports mode, landscape etc are really aimed at the beginners that are not familiar with the shutter speeds and aperture settings required to achieve certain results. For instance, take the portrait mode. It’s job is to blur the background as much as possible. The way it does this is simply opening the aperture wide open, but it doesn’t stop there. The camera may smooth the skin detail slightly, it might also enhance the skin tones a touch. The reason for this is that most people know what they want in a portrait photo but don’t know how to achieve the affect, so a technician decides how to make this happen.

Each auto mode has it’s own set of parameters that it will follow. Landscape mode will close the aperture down, to achieve a greater depth of field, enhance the blues and greens, not apply sharpening to the sky area but more to the ground. Sports mode the camera tries to achieve a fast shutter speed. To do this it increases the ISO and opens the aperture to let in more light. So each auto mode achieves it’s affect by the way it changes and operates the cameras controls. Each mode doing something different. What each mode has in common is that it takes away the control from the user and also some of the guess work. Taking away the guess work is how most beginners like it. They can achieve great results right out of the box. Makes them feel good and that the investment they spent on the camera was a good one. Well done camera manufacturers. However the more advanced users want and need more control.

Program, shutter priority, aperture priority and manual are modes aimed at those who desire the control. Program works the same as the auto modes but doesn’t enhance in any way but the user can influence the shutter and aperture combinations to either achieve a faster shutter speed or control the depth of focus. Shutter priority gives the user total control over the shutter speed being chosen and the camera will match an aperture suitable to achieve correct exposure. If it can’t a warning will appear in the view finder. As there are more shutter speeds to choose from than there are aperture settings this will happen frequently. Aperture priority is the opposite, the user chooses an aperture setting to achieve the depth of field required and the camera will always have a suitable shutter speed for a correct exposure. This is the main reason I personally use aperture priority mode. What ever aperture I set the camera will always give me a shutter speed to work with. Manual mode is of course where the user has total control over both settings and they must gauge their settings against a light meter reading to achieve a suitable exposure.

There is one other auto mode which I left out. That mode only appears on some cameras. That mode allows the camera operator to set the shutter speed and aperture and the camera will adjust the ISO to allow that combination to occur. I believe that this mode still has some way to go before it appears on all cameras. It has it’s place but until the digital noise from high ISO setting is all but eliminated, this mode will stay where it is, on some cameras.

Most camera users I know decide early on what mode they prefer to use, some rarely change from that. It is important though to learn to use your camera manually, so as to fully understand what is going on inside your camera. That way you can achieve the results you are seeking. If you stick your camera on the fully auto modes you’ll still get great results, but how much better will they get if you take some or all the control back? Once you know how to work the camera manually you then have the knowledge you need to decide what mode best suits you. I see no point in slapping the camera in this mode or that one just because someone else does. Experiment with all the modes available to you on your camera. Choose the one that suits you, but don’t forget what the other ones will do for you. One day you might need one of them.

Happy Shooting

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