I’ve been teaching basic digital photography for a number of years and have students with just about every make and model camera. I have come to the conclusion that the camera menus are getting more complicated. The features are more numerous than it is practical to learn without many months/years of study. In fact, some features remain automatically activated even when you shoot in other than full automatic mode. These observations were recently magnified when I taught a couple who had just purchased a new camera and were heading to Africa for their honeymoon in a little over two weeks. I was able to spend a total 3 hours with them over two evenings.
This photo is one of the first pictures taken with their new camera in full automatic mode. The photo is underexposed. The histogram shows that clearly!**
In addition the photo is blurry. Why? The shutter speed of 1/20 sec that was determined by the automatic mode is too slow for the camera to be hand-held. I always recommend not shooting with the camera hand-held at any speed less than 1/50 or 1/60 sec. This works well for a normal lens (18-55 mm), but for telephoto lenses you should use a speed at least equal to the 1/focal length (i.e. 150 mm focal use 1/150 sec, 500 mm use 1/500 sec).
My advice to all students is turn off the automatic features. The full automatic mode will, for some percentage of the time, will give you unacceptable results as the photo of the bull dog shows.
I emphasize the use of aperture priority mode as it allows you to better control the depth-of-field (DoF). By controlling DoF you can take control of what is in focus and what is not in focus. Controlling DoF allows you to blur the background and make your subject standout, as can be seen in the photo to the left.
In aperture priority the camera automatically sets the shutter speed based of the aperture selected and ISO you have chosen. If the photo is too dark or blurred, you then adjust the ISO higher to get a correctly exposed and sharp photo. To do this you will need to disable Auto ISO (consult your camera manual or search the internet for a video on how to do this).
Today’s DSLR cameras provide sophisticated focusing capabilities with as many as 11 to 153 individual points determining the image focus.
I prefer more control and recommend to my students to use a single point centered in the viewfinder. The image to the right was supplied by one of my students and provides a good illustration of when you don’t have the camera set to a single focal point. The woman behind the children is in sharper focus. Clearly the camera was set to multi-focus point mode. In using the single point focus, you align the center point to your subject then depress the shutter button half-way locking in the exposure. While still holding the shutter button you re-position the camera to the desired composition and then full depress the button to complete taking the picture.
I was very pleased to see how good the couple’s photos turned out. I can see that they made a real effort to follow the basic techniques we had worked on together. Below are some of the photos they shared with me. All were shot using aperture priority. I am impressed how sharp and well exposed their photos are under different lighting conditions, even the one that was shot at 1/20 sec is good. They really did a great job.
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** In a future blog, I’ll be explaining how to utilize the histogram to improve your photos.