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Understanding your camera

Using Aperture Priority practice what happens to the depth of field, (what’s in focus), throughout the range of apertures from largest to smallest.  (Note how the shutter speed changes  when the aperture is changed)

Do the same using the Shutter  priority setting, altering the shutter speed by one stop between shots. (Note how the aperture changes when the shutter speed is increased).  This really is a case of practice makes perfect.

Once you are familiar with the cameras  buttons and knobs, to further familiarise yourself with the camera,  I would suggest that you take a shot in the automatic mode.

Make a note of the settings, switch to manual mode and try to replicate the image by setting the camera up with the same settings manually.  (Look up how to get the settings to show in camera from your manual.)

When shooting landscapes you will want the distance in focus, so rather than closing the aperture to f/11 - f/16, learn about Hyperfocal Distance, allowing you greater scope for increasing your shutter speed.  Hyperfocal Distance

What Aperture?

So you have your subject, whether that is an animal, a bird, a person, a scene, an insect……whatever.  How do you want to portray that scene to your viewer.  You are the author of the image, so you decide.

A small aperture will result in a greater depth of field.  However, there is a drawback from using a small aperture and that is one of diffraction, particularly if you are using a longer lens than a 50 - 90 mm.  

Diffraction is the light being split as it travels through the lens to the sensor, resulting in the distant horizon looking less than sharp.

Far better to use Hyperfocal distance to get the horizon sharp, with a larger aperture.


Medium Aperture, f/6.3 using Hyperfocal distance,

with the aim to keep the horizon sharp with leeway to adjust for better exposure.

Medium  Aperture, f/5.3 using Hyperfocal distance,

with the aim to capture detail.

Note how the different apertures have been deliberately used to achieve a specific end product.

There is a   virtual camera,  to help you get to grips with this.

Small Aperture f/16,

with the aim to keep the horizon sharp.

Medium Aperture f/4,

with the aim to give a dreamy quality to the scene.

Large Aperture f/4, using a 400mm lens at2000th sec

with the aim of capturing movement and making the subject stand out.

Shoe box format?

Landscape format?

Panorama format?


Once you have an understanding of depth of field, start shooting in manual mode and really start to think about your photography.

Consider what format would best suit the subject.  

Square format?

Portrait format?


Photography is all about capturing light.

All the camera’s settings are measured in ‘stops of light’ and it’s imperative, in my  view, for the photographer to understand the importance light plays in producing dynamic, atmospheric photographs.

Waiting for a few minutes for the light to change before taking a shot can make a world of difference to the finished product.

Some underpinning knowledge.  Think back to your schooldays; white light is made up from a spectrum of seven visible colours which can be seen reflected in the rainbows we see after a rainstorm.

If you feel I’m teaching my Grandmother to suck eggs, please forgive me, but I want to emphasise the difference between the sources of white light and artificial light and how the difference between the two affect the reflected light falling on the camera’s sensor.  

When we look at any scene, what we see is reflected light.  Let me try to explain.

Let’s take a tree for example.  The sunlight, (white light), falls on a tree;  the leaves on the tree absorb all seven colours that make up white light, reflecting only  the combination of colours that make up the colour green.  The trunk and branches reflect only the colours that create the greys and browns of the trunk and branches.

In natural daylight, when we look at a white card we’ll see the colour white.

When we look at the same card under fluorescent light, again, we’ll se the colour white, yet a camera will show the white has a green hue to it.

This is because fluorescent light is emitted with a deficit of blue in the visible colour spectrum that we see in the rainbow, returning the green hue.

Similarly, incandescent light will return the colour white with a red hue to it, for the same reasons of imbalance in the colour spectrum in the source light.

The camera doesn’t have the same processing power as our brain and will return a reflected light based on the imbalanced source light seen through the lens.  Now let’s turn to exposure.

The light meter in any DSLR measures the light reflected back from the subject in front of the camera and is programmed to view what is seen through the lens tonally, from the darkest black to the whitest white.   

The camera measures the light coming into the receptor, mixes it all up tonally and returns an 18% grey which is the half way from black to white.

The middle tone, 18% grey, is calculated to produce the correct exposure of light, from the reflected light of the subject, onto the camera’s sensor.  A fuller explanation of exposure here.

Exposure can be controlled either in whole, (manual mode), or in part, (aperture priority and shutter priority mode), settings on the camera.

Let’s first deal with the Aperture Priority mode , which is semi automatic.   The aperture is a hole in the lens which can be made bigger or smaller.  You set the aperture, focus on the subject, and the camera calculates everything else to get a good exposure.

The Shutter Priority mode, also known as the shutter speed, again semi-automatic, is a curtain across the sensor which opens and closes to let light through.  You set the shutter speed and the camera calculates everything else for a good exposure.  The exposure for both these methods are based on the white balance of the camera.

All modes, aperture, shutter and manual are dependent on the third aspect  of the photographic triangle, ISO which is the sensor’s sensitivity to light.

The balance between these three elements is known as reciprocity; an in depth explanation can be found  here.

There is an article, Back to Basics, that deals with the different modes on modern cameras, together with an explanation of the metering and focusing modes.  

The article is in PDF format, so it can be downloaded and printed for reference.  

I would urge the beginner to familiarise themselves with the camera operations, either from here or their user manual, to progress further, then continue below.

This section is for those of you who are absolute beginners to photography or those who only shoot in the camera’s auto mode and want to progress further.

Manual Mode

This is where you take complete control of your camera.The subject is going to determine what shutter speed you’re going to use.  Moving objects, such as athelites, cars, birds in flight, aeroplanes and the like are going to need a faster shutter speed to avoid blur.

Once that is set, then the two other elements can be used to get a good exposure.  Let’s assume you want the minimum of noise in your image, so you set the ISO to ISO 200.  All that remains is to set the aperture wide enough to get a good exposure.

The projected exposure is indicated with the exposure bar in your view finder.

The white bar will be either left or right of the Zero, indicating over or under exposure.  


Alter the camera settings until the indicator hovers over the Zero.

The same procedure can be applied to stationary objects such as landscapes, static portraits and the like.

Remember, hand held shots with a long lens is more prone to camera shake, therefore a faster shutter speed is needed.

Metering and focusing

You might also want to consider what focusing and metering mode to use for your subject.

Similarly, you might want to select the focusing mode.

There is also the feature where you can select the focus point within your frame.

In this instant, the camera is set to auto, but in the single point focus mode, the focus point can be set, using the joy stick control on the back of the camera, using the left, right, up and down features.