I Just Bought a New DSLR Camera, Now What? A Basic Primer on Automated Camera Modes
You have just bought a DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex Camera) or advanced point and shoot camera with DSLR capabilities, now what? You might be asking yourself, “How can I start learning how to take professional quality photographs?” Unfortunately, there is no secret magic sauce that will automatically create pro-quality photos, regardless of how much you spent on your camera. In fact, without learning photography and lighting, your expensive DSLR is going to end up creating slightly nicer point-and-shoot-quality images.
So, we have decided to begin working on a practical and comprehensive SLR Lounge Shooting Guide to help you learn how to get the most out of your camera. The goal of the SLR Lounge Shooting Guide is to teach you the techniques and insights that will make you a better photographer. What you must realize and accept is that this is not going to be a quick and easy 30 minute process. In fact, if there is a book, workshop, or course that claims anything remotely close to “become a pro-photographer in 24 hours,” then run the other way as fast as possible.
Becoming a great photographer does not happen overnight. In fact, it probably won’t even happen within 6 months or a year. Truly great photographers will tell you that they are still learning to this day, even though they may have been shooting for over 30 years! Start on the right foot now by accepting the fact that learning photography is a journey, a life-long journey that will be very rewarding regardless of whether it is your career or simply your hobby.
Now that you have just bought a DSLR, what’s next? Understanding photography and exposure in regards to aperture, shutter speed and ISO are crucial, but it isn’t going to help you take a photo right this second. We will get to all of these topics as we progress through the Shooting Guide. So for now, let’s focus on understanding some of the basic automated camera modes to help you start using your camera right away!
Auto Mode is great way for novice photographers to start shooting with a DSLR right out of the box. It works the same way as the Auto Mode on a regular point and shoot camera in allowing the camera to make all of the decisions for you. Now, from here on out you will hear us often referring to the term exposure. The term exposure from the film days is a synonym for the word “photograph.” So, if you shot a single “exposure” it simply means that you shot a single photograph. However, exposure can also refer to the actual camera settings used to create a photograph. We will talk more about it in upcoming articles, but for now, if we say, “proper exposure” just understand that this simply means the “correct brightness” or “correct settings” for a particular photograph.
Today’s DSLRs are smart enough to shoot a proper exposure for your photos the majority of time barring difficult lighting situations. What’s great is that you can still take advantage of the DSLR’s better image quality without having to know the ins and outs of the camera’s manual features. Almost all DSLRs from the entry level Nikon D3100 and Canon Rebel T3 to the Pro-spec Canon 5D mkIII have an Auto mode.
So for what situations would you want to use the Auto Mode?
If you just picked up your camera, the Auto Mode allows you to immediately begin shooting while working on getting more comfortable with your camera and understanding its settings. Rather than having to immediately understand shutter speed, aperture, and ISO, you can instead concentrate on simply the overall photographic composition. The most important skill to develop as an aspiring photographer is actually your photographic eye. Your unique vision is what makes you a great photographer, not how technical you are. Technique is simply a means to achieving your vision.
For more advanced amateur photographers who haven’t yet learned or aren’t comfortable shooting in Manual Mode or in the Priority Modes (Aperture Priority/Shutter Priority), the Auto Mode can still be great tool to have when you are in a pinch. If you just have to get a shot quickly before a moment passes, shooting in Auto will probably get you a usable image.
Beyond the fully automated Auto Mode we also have several additional automatic modes designed for specific purposes. If you want to start adding some creativity to your photos, start to take advantage of the Scene Modes that are available on many consumer DSLRs. Although the camera is still doing the thinking for you in getting the proper exposure, the Scene Modes allow you to tell your camera just a bit more into exactly what you’re shooting. This enables your camera to make better or you could say, “more informed” decisions on the proper camera settings for your photograph. You maybe familiar with these Scene Modes since many of the mid-range and advanced compact point-and-shoot cameras have them. Here are some of the common Scene Modes and when you would want to use them.
This mode is best for shooting a portrait of a person. When you use this mode, the camera will focus on the person near you and blur out the background. By doing this, you are putting the visual emphasis on your subject. This mode works best when you have good lighting and are shooting a close up portrait of a person.
Macro photography is the process of shooting small objects like flowers or insects and making them appear large in camera. Just like Portrait Mode, when you are shooting up close in Macro Mode, the background will be blurred in order to put the focus on your subject.
When you want to capture a landscape or cityscape scene, use the Landscape Mode in order to keep objects near and objects far away in focus. Unlike Portrait or Macro Mode, the Landscape Mode uses a large depth of field to keep everything sharp.
During sunny days, beaches and snowy landscapes pose a challenge for regular Auto Mode because the intense brightness of the light sand and white snow can cause inaccurate exposure readings in the camera. The Beach/Snow Mode helps compensate so that you don’t end up with an extremely dark image.
Sunset is another challenging scene to shoot in regular Auto Mode, especially if you are shooting into the sun. During a sunset, the sunlight is also more orange. This mode will help the camera set the correct exposure and retain that beautiful, warm toned sunlight.
When you are shooting fast moving subjects such as a person jumping, a bird flying, or a car passing by, use the Sports Mode. This mode tells the camera to use a quicker shutter speed in order to freeze the movement of your subjects and avoid motion blur. Be sure to use this mode when it is fairly bright outside as you will not get good results in night time or dark scenes.
Night Portrait Mode
When you want to create a more natural-looking portrait at night or in low-light situations, use the Night Portrait Mode. For most cameras, the flash will still fire, but it won’t be as strong. Instead, the camera lets more of the ambient light in by slowing down the shutter speed and increasing ISO. However, because of the slow shutter speed, it is best to use a tripod or something that you can brace the camera on when using the Night Portrait Mode.
There are more modes available for specific cameras, but generally these are the most typical modes you would find on most cameras. It is also a good idea to read your camera manual to learn more about your DSLR’s Scenes Modes.
Remember that it is impossible to learn everything at once. If you are just starting out, shooting in the Auto or Creative Scene Modes will help you concentrate more on your subject and composition. It also helps those who are stepping up from a point and shoot to a DSLR to get comfortable with shooting with a DSLR. In the Scene Modes, although the camera still decides the settings, you are telling the camera to base those settings to the shooting environment that you are in.
In the coming articles, we will explore more of the basics of photography by talking about composition, exposure, and the holy trinity of camera settings (shutter speed, aperture, and ISO).
Until next time! Stay creative!