Shifting gears

I’ve had a few weeks off from writing since my last post, but I’ve been taking a lot of pictures. I’m trying to break my learning down into significant bits, learning one thing at a time, but that’s maybe not the best way to do it since it seems like there are just a million little things that you have to learn.

I was really excited to shoot in Manual, as I get more control over what happens, but my main motivation is to not be an auto-shot pleb who just coasts on the power of technology. The problem is, I am a pleb, and shooting manually without a viewfinder is difficult enough for people without any type of colour blindness (not me). The next step would be to get into the math of manually measuring exposure, but that still has the disadvantage




And for me, photography usually accompanies a social situation where either I have to keep pace with a few friends going for a walk, or I don’t want to stand awkwardly for 5 minutes in the middle of a busy street. The compromise is to use the camera’s powerful metering (how it measures and adjusts for exposure automatically) without shooting fully automatic. For me, the most useful modes are A mode and S mode:

M is for Manly.

So to understand why these are helpful, we need to understand what they are.

For most point and shoot cameras, the ‘full auto mode’ is the way to go for newbies. This is the green/orange i/camera icons in the picture above, although other cameras might be a bit different. These do almost everything automatically for you. They’ll usually take good pictures, but they can have problems if you have a scene that is unusual, or you want to go for an artistic effect. The M mode is where you control nearly everything – Aperture size, shutter speed, and ISO. The problem with manual is, you don’t always have time to fiddle with all three settings to get them right, and you may be wrong in measuring the exposure correctly.  You also may find that moving objects are too blurry/not blurry enough because it’s using the shutter speed to adjust exposure, not to capture motion, or you may not get a nice depth of field.

This is where the A/S modes come in. A stands for Aperture Priority mode, which is basically the same as AUTO, except you control the aperture, and the camera adjusts the other two. This gives you creative control over the depth of field, and the camera adjusts the other two settings. This is my favourite mode, as for most types of photo I want to to have control over how much of it is in focus, but I don’t necessarily want to fiddle with the exposure. In this mode, I set the aperture size and the camera does the rest.

For example, you can set a very low aperture number (it’s the most open the smaller the number is) which is great for close ups.


This shot is f/1.8, which is the lowest my camera will go. You get a great depth of field, with only a narrow range of objects being in focus. This makes you look like you know what you’re doing. However, this is not so good for landscapes, where you want to see all the detail possible. As an extreme example, here are some shots taken with f/11 (the highest my camera will go) so nearly everything is in focus.


I haven’t found that this makes as big of a difference (at least for my camera/lens) as a low aperture number does for close ups. Still, shooting in A mode and just adjusting it depending on whether you are doing portraits or landscapes seems to be a solid way of making things simple while still getting nice shots.

What A mode doesn’t let you do, though, is deal with movement. Prioritising the aperture allows the camera to adjust the shutter speed as it pleases to compensate for whatever aperture size you pick. If you pick a very small aperture (f/11…) it may want to keep the lens open longer to get more light in. This is okay when you are standing still, but when you are moving you may run into trouble. Take these car shots for example:

DSC00569.JPG That’s f/11, so the camera goes to 1/3 of a second shutter speed to compensate. It’s a cool effect, but you might not want that. Or you might want it even more extreme. You might want to have a super fast shutter speed so that you can take perfect (ish) landscapes from a moving vehicle (or…shots of moving people and sports, if you’re into that). S mode is Shutter Priority mode, and it lets you only control the shutter speed while the camera adjusts to the correct exposure by changing the aperture size.


You’re never going to get a perfect shot while in a moving vehicle, but I’m happy with these. If you wanted to take shots of sports, for example, you’d want to set the Shutter speed to something fairly quick (1/1000 of a second, maybe) which will make the camera shake less noticeable and, more importantly, will freeze-frame the action so you have basically no blur whatsoever.

So, I find Aperture Priority mode is the most useful. I’ll probably be  using that for the majority of my shooting. If I need to shoot something that’s moving, or I want there to be a bunch of blur (waterfalls, yay!) I’ll use S-mode. I consider these to be slightly less manly than full manual, but all that really matters is that you get some nice pictures.




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