DSLRs offer numerous operational shooting modes, but some can be a little harder to master than others. While it’s simple to pick a scene mode on entry-level cameras to suit almost all photography situations, DSLRs offer a much more sophisticated method of control via a plethora of adjustable settings. You can let the DSLR do all the work via an automatic mode, or enjoy a partial level of control via a custom drive mode. Alternatively, you can take the weight of the world on your shoulders and manually control every single aspect of the shot yourself – the choice is yours.
For those that are not quite ready to adjust settings individually, engaging a DSLR’s automatic mode will turn all exposure control over to the processor. Any shots taken under this mode will see the camera responsible for the aperture, shutter speed, focus, ISO, white balance and flash.
When first starting out, watching what settings your camera automatically engages to capture a certain environment can be a great way to learn which settings to use, so pay close attention. Some DSLRs may even offer a creative Auto Mode, which will give you some degree of control over an images appearance via a simple menu screen, while still undertaking the majority of the exposure adjustments automatically.
Program AE mode
Engaging this mode will let the camera select the aperture and shutter speed to best accommodate the exposure of any given scene (as determined by the focus and metering mode currently engaged). This mode will allow you to make minor changes to other settings like AF mode and flash usage. You may also be able to change the aperture and shutter speed combination while maintaining the same exposure level via a Program Shift tool. This will allow you to have more control over your depth of field and exposure time for any given shot, without the added hassle of exposure management.
Aperture and shutter priority
If you want to take one step further than the simplistic automatic capture of every shot, but aren’t ready to try handling exposure control, aperture and shutter priority modes offer the ability to specify one setting (aperture) and have the camera match the other settings (shutter speed) accordingly. If you’re looking to capture a shot with a specific depth of field then naturally you’d choose shutter priority (Av). On the other hand, if you want to capture an image with specific shutter speed (e.g. prolonged exposure) then shutter priority (Tv) is your best bet.
If you want the ultimate control over every aspect of your shot then manual mode is only one dial turn away. Manual mode offers the operator the ultimate in adjustable settings control. It will do your camera no harm to experiment to your heart’s content in this mode, but achieving the image results will take a long time to perfect. Practice is the only way to learn how each individual setting adjustment will affect other settings and the overall success of the image.
Regardless of which settings you’ve enabled on your camera, you have two ways to go about focusing the light that enters the lens. Located on the lens (although sometimes on a DSLR body) lies a switch which can be set to manual focus (MF) or automatic focus (AF). If the AF mode is engaged, the camera body will digitally deliver a set of mechanical instructions to a lens via the lens socket. If MF in engaged it will be up to the operator to ensure focus is achieved via the manual operation of the zoom level (if applicable) and focus ring. Each camera will have many types of AF modes to choose from. These may include Spot AF, Single-Point AF, AF Point Expansion, Zone AF and Multi-Zone AF. Each AF mode is designed for a specific purpose, so take some time to get acquainted with the use of each.
The beauty of the DSLR is that despite its many advanced modes and functions, it can operate at a beginner’s level for first time or inexperienced users, and gives the user the opportunity to learn, experimenting with the various settings until you’re comfortable with what the camera can do in your hands.