Your Life As Art – Camera Modes

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Last week, I told you a little about what prompted my desire to learn more about photography. This week, we are jumping in to learning about our camera and the different modes you can shoot in. As I said last week, learning the different camera modes is a stepping stone to learning manual mode. Last week’s first assignment was to find your manual. Hopefully, you have it handy and are ready to go!

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First thing’s first, one of the goals of photography is to obviously have a properly exposed image (not too light and not too dark). In order to get a properly exposed image, the proper amount of light needs to be let into the camera. How much light is let into the camera is based on 3 things; ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed. When you are shooting in Auto Mode, your camera is taking a general assessment of the light available and making the settings for you. So you are losing control of how much of the image you want in focus (think blurry background or everything sharp) and whether or not you can freeze motion or get motion blur.

By utilizing the different modes available on your camera you can take back some of that control before you jump into manual mode and are controlling all 3 settings (ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed).

Let me start by saying that I shoot with a Canon camera. Nikon’s symbols and verbiage is slightly different but the concepts are still the same (this is also why you need your manual).

So, what are the camera modes and where are they on your camera? Most cameras have a dial with different letter abbreviations. The dial is how you change your camera modes and the letters are the different modes available. Lets talk about the 2 that will help get you started in understanding Manual Mode:

  • TV or Shutter Speed Priority
  • AV or Aperture Priority

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TV or Shutter Speed Priority

    Shutter speed is how fast or slow your camera captures a movement in a moment or scene. The faster the shutter speed, the more it is likely to freeze the movement (for example, an image of running kids or pets that is sharp and in focus). The slower the shutter speed the more likely you are to capture blur, which can be used to convey a sense of movement (for example capturing the blur of a waterfall while everything else is in focus gives it a sense of movement).

    Shutter speed is generally set by fractions of a second. So you most likely will see something like 1/100 on your camera. That means your shutter speed is capturing movement at one one-hundredth of a second. That sounds pretty fast doesn’t it? But in reality, that is typically not a shutter speed I would use if I want to freeze movement. I have read a lot that you should keep your shutter speed above 1/125 to capture movement. However, when I am taking photos of those quick kiddos, I’m trying to stay at least to 1/200 or 1/250.

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    One other thing about shutter speed that you will need to know when we switch over to manual mode is that the faster the shutter speed (the larger the number) the less light that is let into your camera. The slower the shutter speed (the smaller the number) the more light that is let into your camera.

AV or Aperture Priority

    Aperture priority tells the camera how much of the image should be in focus. Is it the entire scene or just a piece and the rest should be out of focus or blurry? The more technical term is controlling the depth of field. But we are staying simple and basic here.

    Aperture is usually displayed with an “f” and then a number. That number determines how much of the image should be in focus. The larger the number, the more that is in focus. The smaller the number, the less that is in focus. Taking an image of a landscape scene, you will generally want a larger number (f10, f18 etc.) to capture the detail of the scene. Taking a portrait and don’t want the background to be a focal point, you will want to choose a smaller number (f2.8, f3.2 etc).

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    A few things to note about aperture. First, the lense on your camera has a limit to how low of a number you can choose. This is one of the reasons photographers upgrade their lenses. The kit lense your camera comes with may not give you the lower number you want for that pretty blurry background. Second, aperture is just one piece to creating those blurry backgrounds, but we will get into that later. Third, is in regards to light. Similar to shutter speed, your aperture determines how much or how little light is let in. Aperture is a little reversed when it comes to light; the smaller the number (f2.8) the more light that is let in, where as the larger the number (f18), the less light that is let in.

That was a lot of information, I know. But the nice thing about the different modes while you are still learning, is you just have to set the one number and the camera will do the rest to help ensure you have a proper exposure.

Life As Art Assignment #2
Pull out that manual you found last week. Set your dial to Shutter Speed priority and freeze some movement. Play with the setting at different speeds (faster and slower) and see how it effects your image. Make note of what your camera sets your Aperture to for each of your different settings.

After you have spent a few days in Shutter Speed priority, switch over to Aperture priority. Play with the settings and see how much of your image is in focus. If you notice while you are in aperture priority that your image has some motion blur, look at your shutter speed. Make note of it with each change you make to your aperture setting.

Remember, in the different modes, you are now setting one of the three settings (Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO) to determine how much light is let in your camera. Your camera will adjust the other 2 modes to help ensure you have a properly exposed image.

For help with any of the information or with your practice, just comment on my Facebook post.

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