As any photography expert will tell you, DSLR cameras are all about controlling the ability of the camera to click photographs. Since photography is essentially a way of capturing the light entering the lens, such control effectively boils down to controlling the amount of light reaching the sensor and how the sensor deciphers it. While this may seem simple in theory, the range of buttons and dials on the device can make anyone wonder whether learning how to use a DSLR camera is worth the trouble. To persuade you that it is indeed worth it, we’ll cover the basics of DSLR operation below.
What You Will Learn "Contents"
Located on the top side of the camera would be a dial with a number of acronyms like AV, Auto+, etc. These decide the shooting mode of the camera ie the procedure and prioritizations your camera would choose when clicking the image. Broadly speaking, shooting modes include –
- Full Auto/Auto+ Here, the camera decides both the aperture and the shutter speed. As such, the camera would choose the amount of light entering the lens and the duration of such exposure for you depending on the ambient light conditions. Full auto would provide decent images but with the same amount of control, the average point-and-shoot would give you.
- Aperture Priority – Aperture priority allows you to decide the aperture of the camera. This is decided in “f-stops” ranging from f/1.0 to f/22 or even higher. As we explained while discussing DSLR lenses, lower apertures (ie those with a higher denominator) are capable of achieving high “depth of field”. The depth of field means that objects far away but in focus appear as sharp as those in the foreground.
Low apertures, on the other hand, keep the subject in the foreground in focus but blur out the background. Aperture priority lets you decide which scenario you want and then chooses your shutter speed based on the aperture you’ve chosen.
- Shutter Priority – The speed of the shutter decides the clarity of the image. In many instances, such clarity would demand to keep the shutter speed low – well below 1/100th of a second. However, where you need to swap detail for artistic beauty (eg. while clicking waves or shadows on mountains) it is better to go for a low shutter speed. As you’d expect, the camera decides the aperture based on your shutter speed.
- Full Manual – Here you choose both the aperture and the shutter speed yourself. This is the most advanced and most complex of modes as you may well find yourself clicking multiple poorly-lit and/or poorly-rendered images before you find the right settings. For professionals though, this is the only means of setting themselves apart from the rest.
When learning how to use a DSLR camera, you would probably want to leave the rendition of colors to the camera itself. At a more advanced stage though, you would want to decide how the grays and blacks in your image (and by corollary all the other colors) are rendered. In other words, you want to decide the way the camera interprets the exposure of the sensor to light. The way the camera achieves such choice of colors is called “metering”. There are 3 types of metering –
- Average – Average metering studies the entire image and tries to average out the grays to “18% gray” or “middle gray”. This is the automatic mode applied when you have not chosen anything.
- Centre-weighted – Centre-weighted metering causes the camera to focus on a large area at the center of the image. Based on the tonnes there, the entire image is metered to 18% gray.
- Spot metering – The most advanced of modes, spot metering focuses on a specific part of the image and adjusts the tones of the image accordingly. This allows the subject, wherever it/he/she may be, to be properly highlighted.
ISO refers to the sensitivity of the camera sensor to the light coming in. Think of ISO as placing a pair of sunglasses over the lens and then adjusting the darkness of the shades to achieve the correct sensitivity. Hence, on a bright sunny day, you can keep the sensitivity to a minimum ie ISO 100 or 200 and get great pictures. In dark conditions, however, you have to increase the ISO to levels as high as 1600 to achieve decent images. However, because of this increased sensitivity, the clarity of the image suffers and “noise” ie graininess of the image grows.
While metering allows you to decide which part of the image to use to decide the overall appearance of the image, exposure compensation lets you change the camera’s “mindset” to make it apply metering that is more or less than 18% grey. This is achieved by using a tiny button with +/- on it. Pressing + causes exposure compensation above 18% grey and – pulls it below that median. This translates to lighter/darker images compared to what the camera would normally have clicked.
Last but perhaps most importantly, the object has to be “in focus” for it to be shot. In other words, the camera’s lens must be “looking at” the object just as we would. Focus is of three types viz –
- Manual focus – Manual focus requires you to adjust the lenses or your position until the image is in focus. This focus mode is gradually disappearing courtesy of the appearance of auto-focus.
- Autofocus manual – Here, the camera focuses only when told to do so. Holding down the shutter button halfway creates a green/blue triangle/circle that lets you know where the focus of the camera is. Pressing the button completely clicks an image, letting go causes the camera to lose focus again.
- Autofocus continuous – Ideal for fast moving objects, this mode focuses constantly. Whenever you press the shutter button completely, the camera clicks the image based on its last focus.
Unlike a majority of guides that explain how to use a DSLR camera, we decided to stay away from a “do this first, then do this” approach since we know that any of the above metrics can be modified at any time and in no particular order. Indeed, you may well need to modify multiple settings multiple times before you can achieve that perfect image. In the beginning, however, it is advisable to keep experimentation within the bounds of one or two metrics. As you gain experience and confidence, you can modify multiple metrics simultaneously and in doing so, bring out the uniqueness of your creativity to the maximum extent allowed by your DSLR camera.