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January 7, 2011 - Dave Hecei
DSLRs have really become popular with amateur and advanced amateur photographers. While not as compact as a point-and-shoot (P&S) pocket style camera, DSLRs can be as easy to use as an advanced P&S model. While a P&S can be smaller and lighter, a DSLR camera is much more versatile and has a larger image sensor for better image quality. Unfortunately, most will set their DSLR to AUTO, or the green box, and shoot away. This is the point-and-shoot mode and you shouldn’t use it, except in ideal lighting situations where you need to grab shots and go.

Okay, we need a quick tutorial on how a digital photo is made (I’ll try to be brief). To make a photograph, or exposure, light needs to come through the camera lens and focus onto the sensor, or if you’re still old schooling – film. Exposure is controlled by the aperture and the shutter speed. The aperture controls how much light comes through the lens. The shutter speed controls how long that light hits the sensor. The proper combination of these two elements creates a well-exposed image. Modern cameras have super computer brains in them that can ‘see’ the scene and calculate the proper aperture and shutter speed combination for proper exposure.

If you still want to shoot in a fully automatic mode then you want to set the mode dial on your DSLR to P or Program. There is a difference between P and Auto. They both will free you from having to set shutter speeds and apertures, but the Program mode allows for much more control over recording the image.

The AUTO mode on most DSLRs will turn off any overrides. In the AUTO mode, the ISO is usually set to AUTO, White Balance is set to AUTO, Flash is set to AUTO, and exposure is fully AUTO. In the AUTO mode you cannot adjust any of these settings. Why would you want to, you’re in AUTO mode right?

When you start advancing in photography you will learn how different aperture and shutter speed settings affect an image. Using a faster shutter speed will allow you to freeze an image, or the reverse a slower shutter will allow you to show motion by using blur. The aperture controls depth-of-field, or the area in front of and behind the subject that is in focus.

In the Program mode, most DSLRs will allow you to ‘shift’ the exposure settings. What this all means is that by rolling the control dial, or wheel, up or down will shift the shutter speed faster or slower. Of course, when you shift the shutter speed to the next faster speed the camera will automatically change the aperture more open to compensate for the loss of light. So ‘shifting’ will not change the exposure it can be used to select a specific shutter speed or aperture.

All this really means is that you have more control in the Program (P) mode while still shooting fully automatically.


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Nikon D3100 Mode Dial (green Auto)