DSLRs are complex pieces of photographic equipment and it is easy to get lost or fail to take full advantage of their capabilities. Looking beyond the user aids such as scene modes in entry level DSLRs, they are still capable of stunning results in the hands of a competent photographer even if they come in designer colors. .
Scene modes appear helpful but hey apply a one size fits all approach to more complex photographic situations and fail to take full advantage of the camera’s capabilities. Presumably, photographers choose DSLRs so they can produce excellent images under all conditions.
To learn how to cope with the complexity and powerful capabilities of your new DSLR try taking small steps. This means taking plenty of photographs of the same things in your neighborhood. This is how professionals try out new equipment and techniques.
Read the Manual
But not all at once. The aim is to read small sections of the manual, only as they are needed. Only read far enough to read the “Getting Started” or “Quick Start Guide” section. This should be enough to start taking photos and having fun with new camera. As the confidence in the camera builds move on to other sections in the user manual, one at a time.
The first step is to leave all the menu settings on default so that the camera is in auto everything mode. Then set the mode dial to P and start shooting. This is a basic automatic exposure mode where the camera decides on the exposure settings and is good place to start for the first pictures. In the picture of the Nikon d3000 below, the P mode is grouped by the line on the mode dial with the serious photography modes.
This allows practice with all the other basic operations of taking a digital photograph and using it on the computer and printing it. The P mode is like training wheels on a bicycle, handy when learning, but they do prevent the user from using the device to its full capabilities.
Use The Viewfinder
When photographers use the viewfinder they are holding the cameras properly, minimizing the possibility of camera shake. Live view is largely a marketing gimmick designed to appeal to photographers graduating from cameras lacking a good optical viewfinder. Live view is useful when using a tripod, but for hand held shots use the viewfinder.
This is a good first step in taking control of the DSLR as it allows finer tuning of the camera’s suggested exposure settings. Exposure Compensation is useful when lighting conditions become a bit more complex.
Using the EXIF Data
EXIF data is a marvelous feature of all digital cameras; they keep the shooting notes for photographers. Novice photographers often have no idea what shutter speed or aperture to use. Review the photographs made using the P mode, noting the settings the camera chose, and see the resultant picture. This gives a good starting point for photographers choosing these settings.
The most popular exposure mode amongst advanced photographers is Aperture priority, usually indicated by A or Av on the mode dial. Here the photographer sets the lens aperture to suit their Depth of Field needs and the camera decides the appropriate shutter speed.
Shutter Speed Priority
This is for capturing moving subjects, usually T or Tv. The photographer sets the shutter speed to suit the speed of the subject and the camera sets the lens aperture for a good exposure.
This is the sensitivity of the cameras to light. Higher the sensitivity is good for lower light conditions but image noise increases as the ISO increases. Set it to the lowest value or use the Auto ISO function which only raises it when low light conditions require more cameras sensitivity
Only the Start
DSLRs are incredibly powerful photographic tools and these first steps are long way from complete mastery of the digital camera. The main aim in any long-term project is to break down into small manageable steps. Suite 101 are continually adding more photography Feature Articles for photographers ranging from novice to expert.