Have you ever seen a spectacular sunset or a field of wildflowers and wished you had the equipment and knowledge to create a photograph you could display in your home or office? Any DSLR(digital single lens reflex) camera manufactured in the last six or seven years is capable of producing excellent images in most situations with a little assistance from the camera operator.The purpose of this blog is to provide you, the camera operator, with the knowledge necessary to take control of your camera and produce the best possible images in a variety of situations.


The first step in taking control of your camera is realizing that in the auto mode you have no control over the decisions that your camera  makes. In the auto mode, the only thing your camera is concerned with is determining a proper exposure based on the amount of light available in the scene you are photographing.A proper exposure is obtained by allowing a measured amount of light to travel through the lens to the cameras sensor for a specific amount of time.Great,but your camera only knows that you want it to take a picture when it is in the auto mode, not what you want it to take a picture of.In many cases a shutter speed (the amount of time that light is reaching your cameras sensor) that is adequate for the amount of light in the scene you are photographing is too slow to stop motion should something in the scene decide to move.Remember, in the auto mode you have relinquished all control of your camera and you can not change any decisions it makes.The only decision you are allowed to make in the auto mode is when to press the shutter release button and take the picture.

Why do so many people never take their cameras out of the auto mode? Convenience and ease of operation are probably the main reasons, but believe it or not, misinformation appears to be why a surprising number of people leave their cameras in the auto mode.Somehow, a large number of camera owners believe that their cameras will only auto focus when they are in the auto mode.All Canon and Nikon DSLR cameras will auto focus in any mode provided that the focus mode switch on the side of the lens is in AF for Canon and A or A/M for Nikon.Some Nikon cameras have an additional switch on the camera body below the lens release button that must be in the AF position for auto focus to work.


When you decide to leave the auto mode,what are your alternatives? Most DSLR cameras have several pre-programmed modes on their mode dials.These modes are designated by icons and usually include a woman’s profile for the portrait mode,a mountain and cloud for the landscape mode,a flower for the closeup mode,a running man for the sports mode and a person with a star behind them for the night portrait mode.In these modes, the camera still makes all the decisions but you have given it enough information to deal with specialized situations.


Let’s take a brief look at what are perhaps the most useful pre-programmed modes; the landscape mode and the sports mode.In the landscape mode, the camera knows that stopping motion is not a prioriety, but having both the foreground and background in sharp focus is what you are trying to do.The camera accomplishes this by decreasing the amount of light that reaches the cameras sensor,and increasing the amount of time that the shutter is open.The longer the shutter is open, the more difficult it is to hold the camera steady.If your camera does not remain motionless while the shutter is open, your picture will be blurred due to camera shake.Tripods are a useful and often essential accessory for landscape photography. Remember, even though you have told your camera what type of picture you are taking, it is still making all the decisions for you and you can not change them.


The sports mode is the pre-programmed mode to use when you know or even have the slightest suspicion that your subject will move. In this mode your camera lets more light travel through the lens to the cameras sensor decreasing the amount of time the shutter stays open.This produces a shutter speed that is usually fast enough to stop subject motion and overcome camera shake.Problems can occur when you try taking action pictures  in extreme low light situations in this mode.The camera increases the shutter speed by raising the iso,but the entire iso range is not available in this or any pre-programmed mode.If you can not take the kind of action picture you want in this mode, it might be time to really take control of your camera.


Take a look at your cameras mode dial and you will see P,S or TV, A or AV, and M. You have just discovered what is referred to as the creative side of the mode dial.These settings allow access to all of your camera’s features and functions, and allow you to create spectacular images. Granted, you need to have a basic understanding of exposure, depth of field, and composition, but we will explore these and other topics in future blogs.We invite you to comment on this and all future posts and welcome suggestions on topics we need to address.