Tell me if this sounds familiar...
You've been dabbling in photography for awhile now, but find yourself wanting to learn more.
Yet, you have a fancy camera with all sorts of buttons, dials, and menus, many of which still perplex you.
You're in the zone between being a beginner and an enthusiast photographer!
It's an odd place to be because the chances are that you take some pretty good photos that make you proud, yet you feel like whenever you have your camera in hand that you just don't quite know what to do next.
The key now is to develop an understanding of some advanced camera controls that will help you take your photography to the next level.
Let's explore a few of these essential controls.
Aperture Priority Mode
For many beginners, all those lettered stops on the camera mode dial are confusing. Yet, these various modes can open up a whole new world of possibilities in terms of how you use your camera.
Aperture priority mode (indicated as A or AV on your camera's dial) is the natural next step up from shooting in fully automatic mode.
In aperture priority, you get to determine the aperture and ISO while the camera handles the selection of the shutter speed.
That means that you get more creative control over how your photos look, but without all the stress and pressure of shooting in full manual. See how Wayne Moran explains aperture priority mode in the video below:
As you no doubt already know, aperture is one of the factors that influence depth of field, so shooting in aperture priority mode allows you to manipulate depth of field with greater ease.
If you want a nice, bokeh-filled background like in the image above, simply select a large aperture like f/2, a low ISO like 100 or 200, and fire away knowing that the camera has your back for the shutter speed.
If you want a large depth of field with everything in focus, as is common in landscape photography, select a small aperture like f/16, an ISO of around 400, and, again, start firing off shots knowing that the shutter speed will be automatically selected for you.
That doesn't sound too scary, does it?
Shutter Priority Mode
Another semi-automatic shooting mode you need to try now that you're a more advanced beginner is shutter priority mode (indicated as S or TV on your camera dial).
In this instance, shutter priority mode gives you control over shutter speed and ISO while the camera makes a determination of the appropriate aperture to get a well-exposed photo.
Again, because you don't have to determine all these settings yourself, you can concentrate more on freezing or blurring the movement of an object without all the weight of working in manual mode resting on your shoulders.
For example, if you want to freeze the action of the subject as was done in the image above, simply set a sufficiently fast shutter speed (i.e. 1/500 seconds), an ISO of around 400, and the camera will determine an aperture to match.
Conversely, if you want to blur the movement of the subject, a longer shutter speed and a lower ISO needs to be selected, but the camera will still select an aperture that results in a well-exposed image. See how that works in the video above by PhotoPlusMag.
The tricky part of working in shutter priority mode is understanding what shutter speed is needed. This takes some trial and error to learn what is fast enough to freeze the movement of certain subjects and what's needed to blur the movement of others.
That understanding really only comes with practice!
Change the Autofocus
Taking greater control of how your lens focuses on a subject is a more advanced technique that you're ready to undertake.
There are two primary autofocus categories: single and continuous.
Single autofocus is best used when there is a single subject, often in a stationary position.The camera will find the focus point and keep it activated on that subject until the shutter button is released. In other words, it has a single focus on a single subject.
Continuous autofocus does just what it says - it constantly adjusts the autofocus to track a moving subject. This is a better way of maintaining focus for situations in which you're photographing your dog running around, your kid playing soccer, and the like. See continuous autofocus in action in the video below from Mike Browne:
In both instances, the autofocus points can be selected (on many cameras, anyway) such that you get to decide which autofocus point is used for focusing.
For example, if you want a shot like the one above in which a moving subject is to the side of the photo, you can select an autofocus point on the left and frame the shot accordingly while keeping the subject in focus.
The manner in which you change the focus point depends on your camera make and model. If you aren't sure how to make this change, simply refer to your camera's owner's manual.
Use Live View
That big, beautiful LCD on the back of your camera isn't just a way to read the camera's menus or quickly review your images.
It's actually a very helpful tool that can help you ensure that you get the focus just right in your photos.
All you have to do is zoom in.
When reviewing an image, if there's any doubt as to whether your subject is in focus, all you have to do is zoom in on the subject to 100% and inspect it for sharpness.
Now, this isn't a fail-safe option as the LCD isn't going to give you as accurate a view as your computer screen.
However, checking the focus on the LCD will, more often than not, give you a good enough idea of how the focus is. That means you can usually catch blurriness out in the field and simply retake the shot for sharper results, rather than getting an unpleasant, blurry surprise when you get home and look at your photos on a larger screen.
Wrapping it Up
In the end, there are tons of things you can do to improve your understanding of photography and the quality of your images.
But one of the central components of doing that is taking greater control over your camera and relying less on it to make decisions for you, and more on what you know, your creative eye, and your aesthetic preferences to produce an eye-catching shot.
Give each of these more advanced controls a try in the coming days to get a little more comfortable with your newfound control over your camera.
With time, you'll find that using them becomes second nature and you'll be left wondering why you didn't seize that control long ago!