The Single Biggest Mistake You're Making with Your New DSLR

27004184 M image So, you've got a bright, shiny, new digital camera, full of bells and whistles and fun things to try out. I can relate. Along with bigger, better sensors and unbelievably fast circuitry, new DSLRs are packed with incredibly intuitive technology. These new smart cameras come with a whole range of preset shooting modes that automatically select the "optimum" settings for particular situation.

I'm looking at the selector on my Canon EOS®, for instance, and there's a neat row of nine, really cool symbols for "creative modes". Whether I'm shooting portraits, landscapes, sports, macro, or even night portraits, all I need to do is select the right icon and shoot. Heck, I can even use the intelligent auto mode and the camera will analyze the scene and set everything on my behalf - even popping up the flash if it's needed! If my lens is in AF mode, all I need to do is press the shutter button.

You've figured out where I'm going with this, right? If not, let me just come right out and tell you that while you should try out each of these settings and get to know what they do, relying on them too heavily is the quickest way to lose your technical edge.

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I hear you, haters. Before you write me off as just another "old school purist", let me tell you that, while I am "old school" in terms of experience, I'm a techno-geek, too. I love what those settings on this camera do. Unfortunately, there were many disappointments when I started to use them. When I sat down later and thought about why, it came down, for me, to one thing: mindset.

There are two sides to photography: the creative and the technical. In theory, the automated settings on my camera should have let the camera handle the technical side so I could concentrate on creativity. In reality, the camera couldn't think for me, but I sort of expected it to.

In Sports mode at a basketball game, for instance, I knew that continuous shooting was on and a high shutter ISO and shutter speed were set, as well as the fastest focusing mode. As a result, I got just a little lazy. My panning wasn't quite as accurate. My grip wasn't quite as stable. I wasn't quite as selective with the point of action. Worst of all, I didn't even look at the aperture size and shutter speed when I took a bust of shots. At the end of the game, the images I ended up with weren't the ones in my head when I tripped the shutter.

The camera didn't know I wanted to stop that cheerleader in mid-spin, so she was just a blur. I had several shots that were snapped just before or just after the peak of the action. Several more were badly motion blurred. None of this was the camera's fault. I was using a highly capable tool incorrectly. Similar experiences came with trying the other settings, with various degrees of failure and success.

Here's my solution (the old school one): When I pick up my Canon EOS, it's in Av (aperture priority) mode. That's my preferred shooting mode, and it's one step away from Tv (shutter priority) mode and 2 away from M (manual). Consequently, when I'm framing my shot, I'm conscious of the aperture size and shutter speed settings and adjustments are right under my index finger, just above the final step, the shutter button. I know what I'm trying to achieve, so I take control of the setting that's most important to me and let the camera adjust the others to give me the correct exposure. The camera even lets me know if something's completely out of range.

Yes, I've oversimplified that. There are a lot of other steps I may take in setting up a shot if I have time. On the other side of the coin, I will, on occasion, switch to one of those "creative modes" when I need settings selected quickly. (I'll bet you didn't expect that.) My camera is capable of delivering amazing photos automatically, as long as I don't forget what it can't do.

So, despite what you may have thought, I'm not going to tell you not to use the automated settings on your DSLR. What I am going to tell you is that you still need to be a photographer. Don't disconnect your brain to count on the one in your camera. You're the craftsman/woman. The camera is a tool and so far, it's not capable of reading your mind or allowing for your mistakes. I, for one, hope we never see the day that it is.

Article by Dana Crandell


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