If you recently purchased a fancy new DSLR or you are thinking about making the investment, you might feel overwhelmed at all the options and settings on it. Too many amateur photographers invest in great cameras but stick with the automatic mode and never learn how to properly use their camera. The advanced settings and modes in your DSLR camera were designed to help you shoot even better photos. If you feel overwhelmed or don’t understand what all the buttons on your camera mean, this article will explain the basic camera settings in your DSLR.
Aperture can seem confusing at first but it’s an important concept to understand for photographers. If you look at your lens, there is a circular opening where light comes through. The aperture settings control the size of that opening. If you widen the aperture, the opening will get larger and more light will be allowed in. If you narrow the aperture, the opening will get smaller and the less light you let in. If you narrow the aperture, more of the photograph will appear to be in focus. If you widen the aperture, less of the photograph will be in focus.
The important thing to know about aperture is that it’s represented in numbers called f-stops and that if the number is lower, it is a wider aperture and lets in more light. If the number is higher, it’s a narrow aperture and lets in less light. For example, a small f-stop, such as f/2 lets in more light than f/8.
You want to think about the lighting and exposure in a photo, as well as, the focus of the photo when you are experimenting with aperture. If it’s an extremely sunny day, you will probably want to use a higher f-stop so that you don’t let in too much light and over-expose the image. But on a darker evening, you will want to let more light in and use a lower f-stop. Read our in-depth beginner’s guide to aperture here.
2. Shutter Speed
The shutter speed refers to the amount of time it takes for the aperture blades to close to take a photo. It is usually just a fraction of a second. Shutter speed and aperture go hand in hand to creating a well lit, properly exposed shot. When you set the aperture and push the shutter-release button, the shutter will open and close allowing light to strike the sensor for a certain length of time.
Generally, you want to use a faster shutter speed, especially if you are shooting action shots. A faster shutter speed can help you capture the very instant of action.
However, you may want to shoot with a slower shutter speed if you are feeling creative and you want an intentionally blurred or overexposed photo. For example if you wanted to blur the fans in the background of a track meet, you would use a slower shutter speed while panning along with the runner.
3. Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority Modes
Now that you understand shutter speed and aperture, you can understand these two modes in your camera. Aperture Priority is designated as Av or A on your camera dial and Shutter Priority is designated as Tv or S. These separate modes are often referred to as “semi-automatic” shooting modes.
In Aperture priority mode, you as the photographer will chose the aperture value and the camera will automatically set the shutter speed. In Shutter Priority mode, you choose the shutter speed and the camera will automatically set the aperture.
When you want to experiment with depth of field or motion blurs or action photography, we recommend experimenting in these two modes. If you want to have everything in focus or practice with background blur, use Aperture Priority. If you are working on action photography, use Shutter Priority. They can help you learn and feel more comfortable with aperture and shutter speed while still allowing the camera to do some of the work.
ISO measures how sensitive the camera is to light. It essentially controls the amount of light required by the sensor to achieve a certain exposure or brightness in your photo. Low ISO settings require more light to achieve an exposure. Generally if there is a lot of light already, say you are shooting outside on a bright sunny day, you will only need a low ISO number. But if you shoot in darker conditions, such as inside or in the evening, you will need a higher ISO number. The important thing to remember when using high ISO number is that the higher the ISO, the grainier or noisier the photo will be. Most DSLRs have an “auto-ISO function,” which is very useful for new photographers.
You want to make sure that the subject of your photo is in focus, no matter what settings you use. DSLRs come with auto-focus modes, making it easy for you to set your focus. Focus modes rely on focus points in your camera. When you look through your viewfinder, you will see a number of squares or dots across the screen. When you press your shutter halfway down, one of these squares will be highlighted in red. That means it is the active focus point of the shot.
This is an overview of your camera settings and it should help you get started feeling comfortable with your camera.
We always suggest that you keep practicing with your camera and experimenting with different modes and settings. The more you play with your camera, the more you will improve!
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