Read the instructions: Part 2

New DSLR owners should now be past their initial excitement, slowing down from constantly taking pictures of family and friends, and hopefully, have read a couple chapters of the instruction manual that came with their camera.

  • Jan. 10, 2011 7:00 p.m.

New DSLR owners should now be past their initial excitement, slowing down from constantly taking pictures of family and friends, and hopefully, have read a couple chapters of the instruction manual that came with their camera.

From the previous column, readers should now have a basic understanding of the “A” or aperture priority mode. I indicated that Aperture priority means the photographer chooses the aperture, and the camera chooses the shutter speed.

The F-stop, originally derived from the Latin word “fenestra”, or opening, refers to the lens aperture or the “opening” that allows in more or less light.

The next section to review covers the “S” mode, or Shutter priority. Shutter priority means the photographer selects the shutter speed, and the camera chooses the aperture. Shutterspeeds might be shown as, 500, 250, 125, etc., and are actually fractions of a second.

When photographing sports, or fast moving subjects, I usually select shutter priority. At the drag races last summer I selected 1/5000th of a second, and at the horse races I used 1/500th of a second: in both instances I didn’t care what my aperture was; I was only interested in stopping the action with a high shutter speed. The camera manual discusses Shutter priority.

The decision for photographers is when would one select aperture priority, or when shutter priority be desired. This is explained in the instructions that came with the camera.

Manual mode, the “M” on the dial, or in the menu, is the method used to control the exposure manually, and is where the photographer selects both the shutter speed and the aperture.

The shutter controls how long light exposes the sensor, and the aperture determines how much light enters the camera.

Why would anyone care?

Well, for example; let’s photograph someone standing on a bright, backlit ski slope. If we were to just use the P, A, or S modes the camera would average out the total scene and our subject would end up appearing as a silhouette.

In this instance I would walk up close to the subject, and using manual mode I would select an exposure for the subject only who was standing on the ski hill, then I would walk back to my original position to take the photograph.

This is my preferred method of handling “natural light” portraits whether it is for one person, a couple, or groups of people.

The instruction manual covered how to install the batteries and memory card in the camera, changing the lens from manual to autofocus, why one should use the P, A, S, and M exposure modes and how to turn on the camera’s menu.

The menu headings depend on the manufacturer. However, there should be something like Playback, Shooting, Custom and Setup. Read the manual, make notes in the margins, and mark up anything that is unclear.

I advise to begin by finding “Image Quality”, select JPG, and then select the highest JPG quality.

Then scroll to “Resolution” and select the largest quality; then find “White Balance” where one can select “Auto”, but I expect results would be better by choosing for the current lighting conditions. Scroll through them, as one reads the instructions and recommendations, before making selections.

We have already chosen Auto for ISO. Next, search for a heading called “Sharpening”. Many photographers like to sharpen the final image using post-production software, but for now readers will opt for in-camera sharpening, so scroll through the menu and select the highest. (Personally, I have found that sharpening sometimes depends on the final printing process and readers may need to work with their lab.)

Here is some terminology: JPG files – that means Joint Photographic Group and if the camera makes RAW images it is using an image format that has no in-camera processing like JPG. However, RAW needs a post-processing program to make images.

Those that used to refer to a film’s speed as 50 or 400, were really discussing its sensitivity to light. The film box said ASA or American Standards Association. Then in the late 1970s it changed to a more international designation of light sensitivity: ISO or International Standards Organization.

The assignment for this week is to read the camera manual referring to A, S, and M modes, and next week I will finish this off with some advice on using those modes.

In addition, review JPG selection, read about white balance, and about ISO.

These are my thoughts this week. Contact me at or at 250-371-3069.

John Enman operates Enman’s Camera at 423 Tranquille Road in Kamloops, and offers professional wedding photography, photographic instruction, and sells an interesting selection of used photographic equipment. Check out his website