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Learning to use a new camera can be a little confusing sometimes, especially if it's your first experience with photography.  Here is a simple guide to learning your cameras basic settings and exposure.

First of all, lets talk about Manual VS Automatic. 

Automatic camera settings are great for beginners and those who aren't really interested in learning all the complex details of setting exposure.  It's perfect for parties, kids, pets, graduations, etc.  Modern cameras today are especially good for this because the technology has advanced so much that they can practically take the photograph for you.

But who wants that?

Being able to control your camera completely can be a huge advantage to you when you have a subject that needs to be photographed in a very specific way.  Automatic settings are extremely limited in what they can do, and when you switch over to manual, you get to take over every single aspect of your photograph from the exposure, to the depth of field, to the creative effects you might want to add, letting you create the image rather than just providing the finger that pushes the button.  If you're really interested in photography as a hobby, I highly suggest learning basic manual functions.  

You will need:
  • a camera that has multiple setting options, preferably an SLR

**NOTE: All photographs used in this tutorial were shot and retouched by myself 

Step 1: Camera Settings

On the top of your camera, you have a wheel of settings with symbols on it to show what setting you are on.  Here is a basic description of what each symbol is and what it will do for you.  Not all cameras are the same, however, so these are just the standard modes you would find on your average camera, some may have more or less.

First we are going to go through the "basic zone."  These are the pictoral icons on the wheel.
  • Automatic (green square) - This is the most basic setting you can use, it does not specify what the camera is doing, but it will take a standard photograph where everything is relatively focused and exposed properly

  • Macro (flower) - This will help the camera focus when you are photographing an object close up, (do not mistake this for true macro photography, it only allows you to get closer to your subject, it will not zoom in or magnify it)

  • Sports/Action (running person) - This will give you a faster shutter speed so you can freeze motion, (note: this will not allow you to photograph extremely high speed objects)

  • Portrait (profile of a head) - This will make the subject in the foreground come into sharp focus and blur the background slightly.

  • Landscape (mountains) - This is for taking wide angle or distance photos and will focus on objects that are more int he background.

  • Night Scene (figure with star next to it) - This will make the flash pop up and switch to a slower shutter speed to illuminate your subject.

  • No Flash (crossed out zigzag) - This mode will simply turn off the flash.

Now, we can get into the "creative zone."  Here is where you want to be to fully take advantage of what your camera can do.
  • Program (P) - This is still a beginning mode and the camera will still do the majority of the work for you, however you will have the ability to override some settings, like the focus, while the camera controls the exposure.  I had a photo teacher once who used to say, "P is for picture" and discouraged us from using it.

  • Shutter Priority (TV) - This will allow you to manually adjust the shutter speed while the camera adjusts the aperture and ISO for you.

  • Aperture Priority (AV) - This will allow you to manually adjust the aperture, while the camera adjusts the shutter speed and ISO for you.

  • Manual (M) - This is the full manual mode on the camera.  It allows you to adjust every aspect of the shot and there is absolutely no assistance from the camera.  Most experienced and professional photographers exclusively use this mode because of the control it offers.

  • Auto Depth of Field (A-DEP) - This mode is exclusive to Canon cameras, so if you have a Nikon or something else, ignore this paragraph.  It will measure the depth of the nearest and furthest objects in the viewfinder when the shutter release is pressed halfway and allows yout to compose a shot with no blurring in the foreground or background that you focus on.  It can be a bit obnoxious to use and I wouldn't suggest it personally.

Step 2: Depth of Field

Basically the depth of field is the area between the nearest and furthest objects in a photograph that are in focus.  You have the ability to create images that are fully in focus from front to back, or images that are focused only in one area.

A shallow depth of field would be to have the subject of your photograph in focus with the foreground and background blurred, while a wide depth of field would be more along the lines of having the whole image in focus.

The aspects of a camera that can affect depth of field are your aperture, focal length of the lens and distance from your subject.  Many lenses for small and medium format cameras will have scales on them that indicate depth of field based on the aperture you have your camera set on.  

If you want to get really detailed on depth of field, check out my other instructable on Hyperfocal distance:

https://www.instructables.com/id/Using-Hyperfocal-Distance-1/ 

Step 3: Aperture

Camera aperture controls the amount of light that will pass through your lens, similarly to the way the human eye works.  In photography terms, we refer to it as the f-stop, which can be confusing because as the area of the aperture, or opening, increases as the f-stop number decreases.  A lot of photographers may refer to this as "stopping down" or "opening up"

There is actually a formula that explains how these f-stops work, however the average photographer simply memorizes the numbers that correspond to each stop of light.  Basically every time the f-stop value is cut in half, the aperture quadruples in size.

f/22 - 1x light
f/16 - 2x
f/11 - 4x
f/8.0 - 8x
f/5.6 - 16x
f/4.0 - 32x
f/2.8 - 64x
f/2.0 - 128x
f/1.4 - 256x

The f-stops shown above are the basic apertures used for most cameras, but some lenses and cameras offer finer tuned f-stop values such as f/32 or f/3.2, but for the purpose of this basic instructable, we're just going to pay attention to the basic values.

The most important thing you need to know about camera apertures is that it controls your depth of field.  The larger the number, the less the light, giving you a wide depth of field, while the smaller the number, the more the light will give you a shallower depth of field.  For example, at f/2.0, more light is being passed through the lens and on to the sensor or film, giving you a shallow depth of field. 

Step 4: Shutter Speed

The shutter speed controls the duration of your exposure, or how long the aperture stays open to capture light.  It controls motion blur, or lack thereof.  Shutter speed is also sometimes known as "exposure time," so if you have a faster shutter speed, you have a shorter exposure time.

Shutter speed is one of the more simpler aspects of a cameras settings as it correlates exactly 1:1 with the amount of light entering the camera.  So when the exposure time doubles, the light entering the camera doubles.  It also allows for a wide range of possibilities for effects you might want or controlling motion.

The range of shutter speeds you can use are related to the types of photos you can take.

For example:

1 - 30 + seconds - night or low light photos
2 - 1/2 second - landscape or still photography

Anything below 1/100th of a second requires a tripod to prevent camera shake

1/100 second - best for hand held photos
1/250 - 1/500 second - freezing everyday action, such as sports or basic movements
1/1000 - 1/4000 second - freezes extremely fast action, such as in ballistic photography

Shutter speed can be used to create interesting effects in an image.  You can photograph a landscape with a flowing water source in it at a slow shutter speed to create a silky look to the water, or you can capture water dripping from a faucet.  The possibilities are endless!

Step 5: ISO

The ISO of a camera determines how sensitive your film or sensor is to light.  As with shutter speed, it also correlates in a 1:1 ratio with how much the exposure increases or decreases.  However, the higher your ISO is, the more noise you may end up with in your image.

Basic ISOs range from about 100 - 800, however the real range of ISOs is dependant on your camera.  Some cameras can range from 80 - 3200, though as before mentioned, the higher your ISO is the more noise distortion you will have.  The most commonly used ISO would be 100, though in order to use a higher shutter speed in a darker setting with your aperture wide open, you may want to increase your ISO.  Depending on the noise level, your image might appear to have film grain, which is a common creative effect in a lot of photography, especially digital photography, as many photographers try to emulate the appearence of film.

If you still want more detail about exposing properly, visit this link:

http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/camera-exposure.htm

Happy shooting!
What kind of camera do you use?
I only own a Canon 40D right now, but I use a 5D MK II and a 1D at work.
until i can afford a digital i use a Minolta srT201. but i also have a Kodak 35, Argus c3 and canon EOS elan II
All great cameras. I definitely need to work on my collection. I mainly use my 40D because I'm usually working on my portfolio or commercial stuff, but I'm working my way back into film. My other cameras have unfortunately been collecting dust for a while...

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Bio: Want/need to learn photography from a professional? That's what I'm here for. However, I'm bad at this, "talking about me," stuff ... More »
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