Cut The Confusion-Settings In A New Camera
More: Ballard Light Capture
Got a new camera? So you bought one of those mirrorless cameras, a good point and shoot, or a first DSLR.
Welcome, you are in for some great fun. Maybe I can reduce the confusion or worries about all those settings and switches. Full automatic pilot gets you started. On a Canon that’s a little green rectangle on the Mode dial or menu. Nikon uses a capitol “A”. You should take some shots, probably in undemanding circumstances like with the flash on indoors or in good light outside. Hopefully both. Because you are building your own notebook of what works or not without even realizing it.
Go out and take some more images, just for practice. Day, night, sports and maybe a flower. Don’t worry about web worthiness for now.
Or try this exercise. Put an object on a table or out on the grass. Take the same picture in each and every mode preset the camera has. Sports (running man icon), macro (flower icon), night, and so on. This is your own photo 101.
The images have metadata. In that metadata though is what settings the camera auto pilot chose when you took the image.
In film days we had to keep notes. On paper. With pencils.
We had to know frame by frame what we did before to learn to move forward. Since digital that’s the easy part. It’s just in there. It’s the education of a pro built in.
Reading that metadata comes as a feature in whatever software you choose to view or alter your camera files. Let me start with a good free one. Picasa, downloadable from Google. Picasa does a lot. We’ll get into other functions later. For now take a look at this screenshot.
This is what you see after I had clicked on this image in the main menu. Observe that right column. I put a red check mark by some important bits of data for you. I was on manual setting at the time but the data shows just the same in that column. First the date, so you know when that shot is from. Seems silly now but years up the road it will matter.
On down a few you see it reminds me if I used a flash for more light on the subject. Nope, this subject brings its own light. If I were to have flash, it would be remote units back by the wall behind the fire so as to not wash out the color.
Next is exposure time. How long was light allowed to “expose” the sensor to the light rays? Lots of cameras have no physical shutter, in those cases this is a pure digital function. We call that shutter speed. In low light the flash might activate bringing more light if needed on autopilot. In my furnace fire photo shown in Picasa the sensor was exposed for a very short 1/8000th of a second. My camera has at that speed as a major feature; other cameras often are not that fast at entry level prices. Expect 1/4000th or 1/2000th.
Then we have the “F” number. This is a numerical description of the size of a hole in front of the sensor. The smaller the number the bigger the hole is. AKA Aperture. Every aperture brings a certain effect. Obviously a big hole lets in a lot of light and that lets the camera set a faster shorter duration of light hitting sensor. I had that set wide open as I could at 3.5, this number will vary by lens if you can change them on your camera.
Next is ISO. What it means is how sensitive the sensor is to light. The trade off is high sensitivity settings bring digital noise and that can be fugly. In film it was grain and not as unattractive. Noise reduction is a big thing these days. In the camera and in Photoshop or Picasa.
When you get Picasa or PS or whatever you like, look at your images and their metadata. The settings the camera chose for you will be a great hint at where to go on manual settings. These are now your middle of the road guideposts for where to start settings in manual. Take them as pro tips, the guys that program all this into the camera are pretty good. Then explore from there.
Next time perhaps I can explain what those settings can do for you, but already treading near tldr territory. If you like the Page please do retweet. Feel free to comment or ask a question.