Basic Camera Controls You Should Know

A week ago on Saturday morning, I held a photo walk in Fells Point, one of the oldest sections of Baltimore. The early morning light provided a lot opportunities for good photos in different lighting situations. When we completed the walk I asked if there were any questions? The students felt they would like a cheat-sheet on camera controls.

[At the end of this post there is a Link to a one page PDF copy of the
Camera Controls Cheat-Sheet.

Shooting Modes: 
Automatic (Auto) – Camera sets speed and aperture to what it determines to be the optimum exposure for the selected ISO.
Program (P) – Camera sets speed/aperture, but you can change the combination of aperture and shutter speed while still at the optimum exposure for the selected ISO.
Aperture (A) – You set the aperture and the camera determines speed for the selected ISO.
Speed (S/Tv) – You set the shutter speed and the camera determines aperture for the selected ISO.
Depth of field (DoF) – Remember a larger aperture, lower f stop (f/3.5), gives a shallow DoF. Smaller aperture, higher f stop (f/16), gives a wider DoF.  The closer you move to the subject, the DoF gets shallower. As you move further away the DoF gets wider.
ISO – Controls the camera’s light sensitivity.  The higher the ISO number used, the greater the sensitivity, the better the camera’s ability to shoot in low light conditions. However, higher values may give the photo a grainy appearance.  I recommend not using Auto ISO. From my observations of students photos, I see the quality of the photo suffers because Auto ISO often allows for too slow a shutter speed and results in a blurred photo when the camera is hand-held.

Metering Modes:

Evaluative/Matrix/ESP– Determines exposure based of the entire image.


c-weightCenter-Weighted – Determines exposure based on the subject and  background lighting with a bias to the subject.



Spot – Determines exposure based on the small area in the center. Best for strongly back-lighted subjects.

AF Target Selection – Camera’s today 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 provides a good example of when you don’t have the camera set to a single focal point. The woman behind the children is in sharper focus. 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.

Exposure Compensation –  plus-negIn some situations you could get better results if you manually compensate the exposure automatically set by the camera. In bright sun on snow objects will seem darker than their natural color.  Adjusting toward + will make the subject brighter and closer to their real shade.

img_1124 img_1124-2

flash Flash Compensation – Adjusts the intensity of the flash.  This may be required when shooting a close-up or distance objects.


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