If you’re like most beginning photographers, you purchased a pretty nice DSLR camera, took it out of the box and began taking photos with it. To do this, you most likely turned the dial on top of it to Auto mode and didn’t think anything of it. Of course, as time passed and as you learned more about the principles of photography, you began experimenting with a few other modes, such as Aperture Priority mode as well as Shutter Priority mode. This is pretty much what I did after I bought my first camera. I thought the DSLR was just the coolest thing. I loved the big lenses and all the gear I had the option of buying. I wasn’t too much into taking skilled shots or anything like that at the time, but I certainly got into that later on.
Learning photography takes time and effort. There are mechanics that need to be understood and there are quite a few ups and downs along the way. Even very skilled professional photographers have their bad days. It’s a lot like life. That’s just the way it is. Many beginning photographers give up on learning the inner working of photography after either getting bored or simply not understanding what they’re supposed to do that will allow them to take photos like they see in magazines and on the internet. They may dabble in a few courses here and there or watch a few videos, but they never quite form the understanding that’s necessary to use their cameras with confidence.
In today’s very brief post, I’d like to offer these beginners a quick tip that might assist with the learning process. I know that trying to determine the best time to take advantage of a large aperture might be confusing. I also know it can be tough to figure out when, or even why, someone would choose to set a faster shutter speed. It’s because of this I offer these folks a trick that they already know how to use. The answer is right under their noses and all they have to do is copy it.
I’ve written about the different available camera modes a lot on this website. Most of the time, I focused on the three big ones; Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual mode. Well, I guess I’ve talked about Auto mode as well, but definitely not as much as the others. At times, I even discussed the semi-automatic modes, such as Portrait, Landscape, Close-Up and Sports. I don’t really use these last three, but I can tell you that they serve their purpose. And that’s what I’d like to talk about down below.
Here’s the painful truth. Even though it’s easy to initially set your camera to some sort of auto mode, such as Program, you didn’t buy a very nice DSLR to stop there. You didn’t go out and spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars to point and shoot. You could do that with your smart phone. I’m guessing here, but I’m going to say that before you spent all that money, you had some big plans. You did a bunch of reading and browsing and settled on the perfect camera for you because you wanted to go places. You wanted to learn this skill and become great at it. Again, I’m guessing here, but that’s the way I thought. I’m still working at becoming great at this, but I’m better today than I was back in the beginning.
Anyway, here it is. You have to get your camera out of Program mode. You simply can’t keep setting your camera to “P” and going on photo shoots. There’s too much that your camera can do for you to be wasting time like this. The ultimate goal should be to use Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual mode very heavily. They’ll get you the best results and if you start using these modes, you’ll become very proficient at photography very quickly.
Now, this isn’t to say that Program mode is bad and that it doesn’t have its purposes. It does. It’s perfect for when someone borrows your camera or for when you hand someone your camera to snap an image of you. If they aren’t photographers, they’re not going to have any idea how to set your camera in any other mode and those shots are going to come out all screwed up. But as far as you go, don’t use Program mode anymore. Start to move away from that.
How to Easily Learn About the Other Modes
Take a look at the mode dial on your camera. You’ll likely see small icons opposite the more traditional modes I mentioned above. These icons represent the semi-auto modes. The reason I call them “semi” auto modes is because the camera still does all the work for you, but you tell it what type of shots you’d like to take. So for instance, if you set the camera to Portrait mode, it would know to optimize its settings for a photograph of someone. It would most likely, based on conditions, choose a somewhat fast shutter speed because the subject may move during the process, a larger aperture size to make the depth of field more shallow and the appropriate color settings. If you switched the camera to Landscape mode, things would be quite different. The camera would set, based on conditions, a much smaller aperture for a deeper depth of field and a slower shutter speed to compensate for that small aperture. You’d likely need a tripod when using this mode because of that slower shutter speed.
What’s the Point?
So here’s my point. Let’s say you know nothing about photography. You have no idea what aperture to use for a portrait shot or a landscape shot and the same is true for sports or close-up photographs. You just don’t know. Trust me, this isn’t rare. Hardly anyone knows. So what to do? Well, like I said up top, the answer is right under your nose. You can learn about settings by simply imitating what the camera does so very well – set settings! The camera is already doing it for you, so why not switch to one of the semi-auto modes when you’re in one of these types of situations, meter the camera and write down what the camera would like to set itself to? Then, you can switch to the more advanced Aperture or Shutter priority to make those settings yourself. After you take a few photos, experiment with moving things up or down a stop or two. I think you’ll quickly get the hang of things. After all, the camera is an excellent resource and it can tell you a lot about the conditions it finds itself in. All you need to do is watch what it wants to do and then do those things yourself, with a bit of flair.
I hope I clearly explained how to learn about photography by using your camera as a teaching device. If you have any questions regarding this post or if you have anything to add, please let me know in the comment section below or over in the photography forums. Thanks for reading!