Learning photography is not an overnight process. Even the transition from novice to serious amateur is going to take a considerable amount of time. That doesn't mean it has to take years before you can start taking great shots in all kinds of situations. Even entry-level DSLR cameras come with a range of shooting modes that allow you to determine how much control you have, while letting the camera do the rest of the work. This tip will walk you through the basics of using the most common automatic, semi-automatic and manual modes.
Before we start, let's be clear about one point: If you're serious about photography as a creative art, your ultimate goal should be to learn to take full control of your camera. Like any craft, there's no substitute for knowing how to properly use the tools of photography. Using the automatic modes on your camera will let you get a feel for how everything works while you're learning, but don't stop learning. Okay? Alright, then; let's get started!
Intelligent Auto Mode
Here's the setting that almost every novice is going to try out when that shiny new toy comes out of the box. It's called different things on different cameras, but it's usually pretty easy to find on the mode selector if your model includes it; it's almost always highlighted somehow.
This mode analyzes the scene you're pointing the camera at and adjusts all the settings for the situation as it sees it. The camera has control of everything; it will pop up your flash for you in low light, select metering modes and if it detects a face, it will even set focus points for it. It's really a very sophisticated system and works pretty impressively – most of the time.
Using this mode is like using a very expensive point-and-shoot camera. You may get some great results, but you're going to be disappointed at times.
(Success Tip #1: How to improve your photography with little time to spare)
Other Auto Modes
Every major DSLR camera manufacturer has its own set of automatic modes that allow you a little more creative freedom, allowing you to set individual properties before you turn over control to the camera. While they have much in common, there are enough differences that I'll just tell you to look through these in your manual and determine whether they're practical for you.
Most entry-level DSLR cameras include a set of preset shooting modes for common scenarios. This group of modes is known by different names from various manufacturers, but several common modes will be included, such as: Portrait, Landscape, Sports, Night Portrait and Closeup.
These modes simply apply settings for all of your camera's controls that are known to yield the best results – most of the time - in the situation they're intended for. You're still in point-and-shoot mode, but you get to tell the camera what you're shooting. You might want to try these out when you're at your kids' sports events and such, until you become more familiar with the camera.
Autoexposure (AE) Modes
In these modes, you have control over the ISO setting, flash and metering modes, while the camera adjusts the exposure with the control(s) you allow it to use. There are 3 basic modes.
Program (P) Mode: This mode basically sets both the shutter speed and aperture size for you according to how it meters the scene. It gives you the least creative control among the AE modes, although most models will allow you to override some settings. Consult your manual for information on how.
Aperture Priority (A or Av) Mode: This mode lets you select the aperture setting, while the camera sets the shutter speed to balance the exposure. This mode gives you creative control over the depth of field in your photos.
Shutter Priority (S or Tv) Mode: When shooting in this mode, you select the shutter speed and let the camera select the aperture size to balance the exposure. This is the AE mode to use if you want to have control over motion blur for action shots or motion effects, or when camera movement might ruin a shot at a low shutter speed.
This is the mode most pros swear by and you should eventually be comfortable with using. It's the only mode that really gives you complete control of the camera. You set the shutter speed, aperture size, ISO, metering mode, autofocus points, flash – everything. Of course, you can do it with the aid of the camera's built-in light meter, so that's nice.
Don't let this one intimidate you. You can learn to use if with a few simple guidelines and you'll be glas you did. Fortunately, I can tell you exactly where to learn everything you need to know:
There's also much more to learn about the shooting modes for your particular camera, and as always, the best place to learn about that is the instruction manual. Don't be shy; study them,try them and learn which ones give you the best creative edge.