7 December 2011

Jumpstart your prowess - Turn the dial

A friend recently bought a bridge camera and told me "I just bought this fine camera but I don't know how to use it; so I just set it to auto". So here I am, blogging about how to get to know your camera for the first time.

Any digital camera has a few common features that are easy to understand and use. We get comfortable with a few of those features and stick to them every time we use the camera. I am speaking about the times when we shoot in auto or landscape or portrait preset modes for starters. In this article, I will make a mention of the usual features that a bridge/slr camera has that can be used on and off to take your camera past the AUTO mode.

What is wrong with AUTO?
Shooting in auto is not only the not-so-smart thing to do with a smart camera, it's just so wrong! Would you peddle your way to office seated on a motorcycle? Would you play a mario or tetris on an PS3? Do you watch non-HD content on a heavenly HD tv? If you do, then bhagwan hi maalik hai :o Here are some reasons why you should break free from the nauseating habit of the auto mode.
  • When you shoot in auto, your camera decides the shutter speed, aperture and iso for you. Every manufacturer has its own algorithm to help the camera decide what settings to use in different environments. So with an auto mode, different cameras yield different results. This is why we see manufacturers claiming that their camera is the best in the creed for night shots or that their camera has the best focusing mechanism.
  • Modern cameras have a horde of sophisticated features like face-recognition which get employed for focusing in auto mode. The drawback of this is that if you are shooting a pic of your dog and there is a person in the frame, the camera will focus on the person and you dog might be out of focus!
  • The archilles heel of digital cameras is its focusing mechanism - cameras are blind as a bat when it comes to low contrast or dark areas. Try this in auto mode - choose a plain wall which has just one color and no pattern/design on it (dark or light, doesnt matter). Now try to focus on it. It is highly probable that you will have to try a few times before your camera is able to get a focus lock on the wall.
Switching to manual/priority modes gives you complete control over your camera. Now you won't focus on the stranger in the crowd instead of your sweetheart; you'll be able to capture shots in the dark and much more.

Priority modes 
Aperture (Av)
Use this feature when you want to change the dof and want the camera to choose the shutter speed. This is helpful if the subject is stationary, like a tree or an immobile. The reason the subject needs to be sufficiently stable is that the camera will set the shutter speed to provide a bright picture - it will not care for the relative movement between camera and subject.

Priority mode - Shutter Speed (Tv)
This is used if you want to vary the shutter speed and capture a fast moving object or slow down/create blur in your images. The camera will choose the aperture that provides a bright enough picture, thereby claiming control over the dof.

Manual Mode (M)
In this mode, you can alter both shutter speed and aperture. This mode gives you complete control over the camera. Most photographers always shoot in this mode.

Preset Modes
Portrait Mode
This can be used to click close-up photos, the kinds that you would click if it were a portfolio shoot. In this mode the camera uses shallow dof, thus rendering the background out of focus and giving a portrait effect.

Landscape Mode
This does the opposite of portrait - it uses a deeper dof thus keeping more objects in focus. This is necessary when you are clicking a pic of a wide area, a street view or the horizon wherein the objects in the frame are placed at different lengths from each other.

Snow Mode
This mode uses settings that compensates for excessive reflected light. This is useful to avoid overexposure due to the light reflected by the snow around you. You can take care of this using manual settings also, but as compared to an auto mode, this is a better choice in snowy conditions.

Sports Mode
This mode simply increases the shutter speed so that you can freeze a fast moving object like a car or a running person. You can increase your chances of getting a sharp pic in any mode by employing the art of panning.

All cameras have an ideal distance range in which the subject should be, for sharp images. If the subject comes too close to the camera, you would need to shift to macro mode or change the lens itself to a macro lens. Macro mode in cameras is used to let you get up close (and personal?) with the subject. This is useful if you want to click a lifesize pic of a housefly or a millipede. But macro mode by default switches to shallow dof and is prone to camera shake.

I hope I have been convincing to some extent, in my argument against the auto mode. The only way to enjoy your camera is to go manual; auto is for your amma appa :)
Happy clickin!