Read the instructions: Part 3

Modern DSLRs are feature-packed, and are capable of producing amazing images. In order to consistently get such results, all one has to do is take the time to learn how to control them.

  • Jan. 17, 2011 6:00 a.m.
The image and its histogram as seen on a Nikon DSLR: The white graph represents the tones in the photo of the flower. Dark tones are on the left in the graph

The image and its histogram as seen on a Nikon DSLR: The white graph represents the tones in the photo of the flower. Dark tones are on the left in the graph

Modern DSLRs are feature-packed, and are capable of producing amazing images. In order to consistently get such results, all one has to do is take the time to learn how to control them.

If readers haven’t done it yet, get out that manual, read it, and set up the custom menu or shooting menu to your personal style of photography.

Although instructions sometimes may seem poorly written, my view is that it is because technicians, and not photographers, do the writing. However, if new owners practice and experiment as they read, the camera’s controls will become clearer page-by-page. Readers can make their own notations.

To help with deciphering instructions I’ll include some terms:

The sensor might be a CCD – Charge Coupled Device, or a CMOS – Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor. When a picture is taken, the sensor is struck by light coming through the camera’s lens and each of the thousands or millions of tiny pixels convert this light into electrons. The number of electrons, usually described as the pixel’s accumulated charge, is measured and then converted to a digital value in a camera component called an analog-to-digital converter. Pixel means Picture Elements and one megapixel is equal to one million pixels.

The screen, or low-power monitor, on the top and rear of a digital camera displaying settings or the photo itself are the LCD – Liquid Crystal Displays. It is also used to view the menu and set the White Balance to compensate for different colours of light being emitted by different light sources. And, finally, one of my favourite digital camera LCD features is the Histogram, which is a graphic representation of the range of tones from dark to light in a photo.

Most DSLRs have preset modes, and there is always a Program mode that might be useful for a casual event like a party, but I would avoid using that mode for anything important.

While discussing Aperture Priority, Shutter priority, and Manual modes (that give photographers complete control over how subjects are exposed) camera manuals will introduce metering procedures that determine how the camera sets exposure, like “colour matrix”, “centre-weighted”, or “spot metering”. Matrix would be selected for analyzing and averaging a complete scene’s exposure, centre-weighted meters about 60 per cent of the image’s centre, and spot only meters about two per cent of the view a photographer sees.

Selecting a metering choice depends upon the subject, for example, I prefer centre-weighted when I am photographing a bride and her father coming up the isle. Matrix is excellent for a wide scenic or group shots, and I chose spot metering when I photographed big-horned sheep under quickly changing light conditions a few weeks ago.

Many scenic and wildlife photographers prefer to use the A or aperture priority mode where the photographer controls the camera’s f-stop or aperture, however, many sports/action photographers opt for the S or shutter priority mode in order to capture events where there is lots of movement or activity.

In a future article I plan to discuss the use of the camera’s Exposure Compensation feature. Exposure compensation is a fast and efficient way to gain control over any automated mode, and I encourage readers to review it in the instruction manual and experiment.

Today is a bright and sunny day. For scenics I could choose the M or manual mode. That mode will give me exposure control over the contrast between bright whites and dark shadows of the snowy treelike scene. Unlike the example of the skier I gave last week, this time I’ll be photographing static subjects handheld, and want a shutterspeed fast enough to stop camera shake, but won’t require a high speed for moving subjects, so 1/125 might be enough.

Making tests are easy. To begin expose for the snow, then check the histogram on the LCD to make sure the “mountain-like” graph doesn’t touch the right (over-exposure) side. Then make individual test exposures for mid-tones and shadows. Try making the histogram’s “peak” close to the LCD’s centre line.

Take the advice I have given in this and my previous two columns, read the manual, and make it part of your camera system.

Practice, experiment, and that new DSLR will be an active part in helping readers become better photographers. These are my thoughts this week.

Contact me at emcam@telus.com or at 250-371-3069 or Enman’s Camera at 423 Tranquille Road in Kamloops. I offer professional wedding photography, photographic instruction, and sell an interesting selection of used photographic equipment. My website is www.enmanscamera.com.