Moving past auto with your dSLR

If you find that you’re turning into a photo enthusiast and want to take control of your camera (with manual settings) then this post is dedicated to you.

The camera that accompanies me everywhere

Sony Nex 5n: the camera that accompanies me everywhere

Around this time last year I decided to relearn photography.  Rather than point, shoot then pray, like what I’ve been doing over the last 10 years, I wanted to learn how to recreate a lucky shot by using the controls on a DSLR camera.  Simply put, I had to move past Auto and move into the dark territory of the other dials with funny names.  I enlisted a friend who is also fellow photography enthusiast into doing a Project 365 where we had to take one photo a day and post.  This little challenge and our mutual support took me a little farther than I had ever expected.

Do you need to participate in a Project 365?  No – but use your camera often or else you will easily forget what you’ve learned.  That is where I went wrong years ago. I’ve gotten in the habit of carrying my Sony Nex 5n everywhere since you never know when inspiration strikes.  Here are my recommendations for moving past Auto:

Aperture Priority (AV)/Shutter Priority (TV):
These functions are your new friends.  Both will give you greater control once you figure out when to use it.  Aperture priority (the function I use 90% of the time if I’m not on Manual mode) is perfect for non-moving subjects such as landscape, architecture, portraits.  The beauty of this function is that it allows you to control the depth of field – meaning you can determine whether you want the whole picture to be in focus (as you would in landscapes) or just a specific area with the rest of the background slightly blurred out (as in portraits and some food photography).

Royal Dalton tea set

Aperture Priority: Royal Dalton tea set

Shutter priority is best used for capturing movement and is usually used in sports photography.  Depending on how you set the function you can freeze frame (fast shutter speed) an action shot or incorporate blur into the motion (slow shutter speed).

London 2012 Olympics, women's marathon

Shutter priority: fast shutter speed: London 2012 Olympics, women’s marathon

men's triathlon London olympics 2012

Shutter priority: motion blur: London Olympics 201, men’s triathlon

To learn more about aperture and shutter priority visit Digital Photography School.  You’ll find their website is a wonderful resource as you progress.  It feels daunting at first but quickly you’ll soon find yourself consumed as the little nuggets of information you’ve picked up start to make sense.  Once you’re there and understand the relationship between ISO, aperture and shutter speed you’re ready to move on to Manual mode where you will have complete control over creating your photograph.

Next week I’ll go into detail about the settings I use for certain photos.  There is no right or wrong setting but I find that it’s helpful to have some sort of starting or reference point for beginner’s photography in order to grow and learn.

Until then, practice often and enjoy the process. xxx

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