When I first started getting interested in photography, all the things I needed to learn overwhelmed me. There were so many new terms – it was like learning a different language. I would read books to learn more, only to put the book down in frustration because I didn’t understand what the author was talking about. There were things to learn about exposure, composition, depth of field and even . . . gasp . . . math!
When I bought my camera I discovered a new level of apprehension, there were so many buttons and menu options. The camera manual was no help. It was so dry it was like reading the assembly directions to my latest Ikea purchase!
Through practice and learning from other photographers, things slowly began to make sense and the next piece to the photography puzzle came easier. Eventually, I was able to take photos and consistently achieve the photo effects I desired. My passion now is to assist new photographers in learning the technical aspects of photography and, hopefully, reduce the frustration I experienced in my early days.
There are different levels of control, depending on your camera. There is everything from fully automatic to fully manual, with some cameras having the ability to perform somewhere in between.
Got 10 minutes? I'll show you how to use your camera!
In other words, let's learn – what in the world are all those buttons for?!
Fully Automatic Settings on Your Camera
The green square (on my camera), or green “auto”, gives all the control to your camera. The camera reads the light, assumes you are hand holding your camera and selects the settings accordingly. If the camera deems it necessary, the pop-up flash will engage. All you have to do is point your camera at your subject and hit the shutter button. Easy peasy!
I like to be in control of my camera’s settings; however, the fully automatic function gives all of the control to the camera. The user can only point and shoot. If you want more control over your images, but don’t want to deal with the camera settings, you can utilize the little pictures on your camera dial. These are still fully automatic settings, but you gain a little bit of control over your image. Each picture tells the camera what kind of photo you are taking. Your camera can now choose better settings based on this information.
The Portrait Setting
Face: This is the portrait setting. Once the camera knows you are taking a portrait it will adjust the settings to slightly blur the background. This will separate your subject from the surrounding scene so they stand out.
My poor niece was tired of getting her picture taken, but she was a good sport! The image below was taken in auto mode. Notice the background: She is far enough from the background that it blurs slightly.
In the image below, taken in portrait mode, the background is blurred more. This separates her from the background and minimizes the distracting elements behind her.
The Landscape Setting
Mountain: This tells your camera you are shooting a landscape. The camera assumes the scene you are photographing is really far away. Therefore the camera will adjust settings so the focus is the same throughout the image.
The photo below was taken in the Columbia River Gorge. The Vista House looks closer, but I’m far enough away that it’s all on the same focal plane. Everything is in focus from the foothills in the background to the Vista House in the foreground of the image. The biggest difference you will see between using auto and landscape modes is color vibrance. Landscape mode will give you richer color.
The Macro Setting
Flower: This is the macro setting (for taking close-ups) and one of my favorite styles of photography. The camera will make setting adjustments so you can focus on your subject as close as your lens allows. You can also create a beautiful blurry background to really make your subject stand out. This setting is great for newborn fingers and toes. It's also good for flowers – my favorite use of macro photography.
The photo below was taken in auto mode. If you notice in this image the background is somewhat blurred, but there is still enough detail that the tulip, unfortunately, blends in.
In this image, taken in macro mode, the background is blurred to give it a beautiful soft feel. This allows the tulip to stand out and take center stage.
The Action Setting
Running man: This is the action setting. Selecting this option tells the camera that your subject is moving. The camera adjusts the settings so you can freeze the action. You will need a lot of light for this setting because the camera takes the picture really fast. If you don’t have enough light, the pop-up flash will engage. This setting is how you can capture your sports enthusiast shooting a layup or your toddlers as they zoom past you at a 100 mph, giggling mischievously.
The photo below was taken in auto mode. You can see as my nephew jumps off the swing, I missed the actual jump. He is also out of focus.
This time I moved for a better angle and used the action mode. This allowed me to hold down the shutter while the camera continued to take pictures. As a result I was able to start taking pictures as soon as he started to jump resulting in me capturing him mid-air.
The Night Setting
Star: This is the night setting for your camera. The camera will adjust for shooting in the evening or in dark places. You’ll need to have a steady hand because the camera will take the picture slower to let in as much light as possible. The pop-up flash will also engage to add more light to the subject.
I used the night shot mode on the photo below. Using this mode allowed me to use the flash to light the tulips so I could also capture the color of the sunset. I would love to see what you come up with using the night mode!
P or Program: In this mode the camera still makes all the decisions, but you have more control than the previous options give you. Using the program mode will allow you to turn off your pop-up flash, or change the ISO on your camera. The ISO is a term carried over from film days. Basically it refers to how sensitive the film, or in digital cameras – the image sensor – is to light. This setting requires a basic knowledge of exposure and how ISO affects the outcome of your image.
Auto mode: Sometimes the camera doesn’t think you need a flash as you can see in the image below of my niece. The bright background fooled the camera and so my niece is not lit.
You can change to program mode and turn the flash on to add more light to the scene if needed. Look how much brighter the photo below is!
Sometimes the flash will fire because there is not enough light. But instead of lighting your subject, the flash will wash it out. In this case you can change to program mode and adjust your ISO to a higher number. This will allow you to take the picture without the flash, giving you a much nicer image.
If you want to take better photos of your family and life, having an understanding of these automatic functions will help. If you are first starting out in photography these settings are great to use while you are learning about composition.
You can learn how to compose your image without having to also figure out how to adjust the settings on your camera. Once you are ready to take your photography to the next level, you can move into the semi-automatic modes.
But until then, I'd love to see the gorgeous photos you create using your camera's automatic settings! With these tips, you'll be well on your way to beautiful photos without spending hours on photography classes or books.
Teresa Hunt is a memory saver and chocolate lover from Oregon’s beautiful Willamette Valley. She loves helping her clients capture their special moments through portrait photography and sharing her view of the world through her landscape and macro images. She also has a passion for teaching photography through workshops and online classes. You can view her website at Teresa Hunt Photography, follow her on Facebook or on Instagram. And grab her free guide: 5 Easy Ways To Take Better Pictures With Any Camera