Under control

“Control. Control. You must learn control.” Yoda – The Empire Strikes Back

So, you got a shiny new digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera for Christmas. Now you’re going to take better pictures than you have with your old point-and-shoot or smartphone, right? Not necessarily so.

If you set your new camera on auto and just hold it up then press the button, don’t expect photos that are much different from what you were using before.
The main advantage of a DSLR is the ability to control the camera to make it do what you want it to do. Automatic settings, such as shutter priority (you set the shutter speed; the camera sets the aperture), aperture priority (just the opposite) or program mode (the camera sets both shutter and aperture) are convenient to be sure, but they may not give you what you want or even be totally accurate.


Auto settings tend to average out the exposure for a scene. If there’s a situation where there’s too much dark or too much light areas, it may throw off the camera and cause it to over- or underexpose the scene. Conversely, there may be times you want to over/underexpose your photo for creative purposes. The camera isn’t capable of deciding when to or not to, do that. Only you, as the photographer, can do that.

Determining how much depth of field (what’s in focus, from front to back, in a scene) is also up to you. Sometimes you may want a lot, other times very little. If you use an auto setting the camera will probably give you something in-between; an average.

To get the most out of your DSLR, I suggest you study up. Taking a class is the most obvious path. Community college such as Delta offer comprehensive classes that can help you learn how to use your camera. There are also online classes. The main advantage is that you can learn at your own pace. Honestly, I’m old school so I don’t know how effective they are or which ones are better than others. Like anything else, the more work and effort you put into them, the more you will get out of them.
Camera clubs, such as the Stockton Camera Club, are also great resources. Members tend to free with advice and tips. They have workshops and field trips. It makes learning more fun when you’re out with like-minded colleagues. I’ve judged the Stockton Camera Club’s monthly photo contest several times now and I’ve seen people advance from rank amateurs to accomplished photographers.

Legendary photographer Ansel Adams is reported to have said “the single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it!” Once you’ve learned how to control your camera with proficiency, to make the technical decisions without thinking, then you spend your time and energy making the creative choices that will take your photos to the next level.

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