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Photography 1.06: These Camera Controls Will Make You a Better Photographer

Updated on June 8, 2020
Photography Focus profile image

Here's another article in my series teaching the basics of photography. I have over 30 year professional photography experience to share.

Getting your first camera is exciting. For some people, this excitement builds as they learn the camera controls that make you a better photographer. For others, the excitement can turn to frustration because they think taking great photos is easy when you have a fancy camera.

Learning a few of the basic camera controls will make you a better photographer. It’s not so difficult, but it does take some study and practice. In this series, I aim to equip you with the essentials so you can progress on and improve your photography with pleasure.


Basic Controls - Exposure and Focus

In this article, you will learn two of the most important control on your camera. These will help you take sharp, in-focus photos that are well exposed. A well-exposed photo is not too light or too dark.

Good photographs are usually in focus and exposed properly. The exception is fine art photography where anything that’s technically bad is acceptable. If you want to sell your photographs or publish them, it’s a good idea to make sure they are well exposed and in focus.

This is essential for good photography. Learning how to set the controls for your camera so you achieve these two things will set you up to take great photos more consistently.

For people who are used to using their phones to take photos with, you don’t need to control exposure and focus settings. The phone camera takes care of these issues and makes the choices for you.

Have you ever noticed that most photos taken with a phone have pretty much everything in focus? This is because the sensor in the phone that captures the image is very small. There are few situations where getting your subject in focus will be a problem.

It’s also because the lens on your smartphone is very wide and (mostly) does not zoom in. With your camera, you are not always using a wide-angle lens, so this differs from your phone. With a longer lens, or when you zoom in, where you focus becomes more critical.

The size of the sensor in your camera is also much larger than the one in your phone. It may have the same or similar megapixel count, but the physical size of the sensor is larger. This means you have to be more precise with your focus.


How To Get Your Photos In Focus

Focus controls on your camera can be manual or automatic. Most photographers prefer to use auto-focus. The lens will focus automatically when you partly depress the camera’s shutter release button. That’s the one you use to take the photos with.

It’s possible to use other buttons to control the auto-focus. I will cover these in another article.

In the past, all cameras were manual focus. Learning to focus your lens manually has advantages. When the light is low or there’s not much contrast in your subject, auto-focus may not work well. Knowing how to us manual focus can save you some frustration.

However you choose to focus, you must first know what you want to focus on. You will typically want your main subject to be in sharp focus.


How To Take Well Exposed Photos

For photos to be well exposed the right amount of light has to enter the camera and reach the sensor. If too much light hits the sensor, the photo is said to be overexposed. It will appear too bright. When too little light enters the camera, the photo is underexposed. It will appear dark.

In some conditions, where the light is even and low contrast, it’s possible to expose the whole composition well. When the light is harsh and strong there will be high contrast. It may not be possible to have an evenly exposed photos. In this situation, you need to choose how best to set your exposure to get the photo you want.

Your camera has various different exposure modes, from fully automatic to fully manual. All the auto-exposure modes are pre-programmed to factory defaults. They will predict and calculate the settings. These are often okay, but generally lack much creativity.

Manual mode allows you the most freedom to control how you want the exposure of your photos to look. Using auto-exposure modes is easier, but often results in generic-looking photos. Working through this course I will teach you how to use manual exposure on your camera for the best photos.


Three Exposure Controls

There are three controls that influence exposure. These are the shutter speed, aperture, and the ISO. Each of these can be set to control the way your photos are exposed.

The shutter speed controls how long your camera’s sensor is exposed to light when you take a photo. The aperture controls how much light enters the lens. The ISO manages how responsive the sensor is to light.

Understanding how these settings work together will help you control them better. You can use any of the auto-exposure modes, but you might as well keep using your phone to take photos if you choose to do this because it will be much easier. Easy does not always mean you’ll take great photos!

Getting well exposed, sharp photos is essential to good photography. This is what this series of articles aims to teach you.


Photography Challenge: 1.06

Lens - Standard

Exposure Mode - aperture priority

Focus Mode – Any

Location – Outdoors

Time – Any time of day

The first thing you do when you find something you want to photograph is to look through the viewfinder or at the monitor. Next, you’ll half-press the shutter button to bring your subject into focus.

It’s important to see a clear image before you can compose your photo. Start with simply identifying your subject and focusing on it. In future articles, I’ll teach you more about how to be precise in controlling focus.

Take some shots as you practice focusing on your subject. Make notes about different things you may notice. Does your camera always focus on where you want it to?

Try having some objects in the foreground, even blocking part of your subject. What happens when you use auto-focus in these situations?

Move about as you are taking photos for this challenge. Take some with the main light behind your subject. Then take some more standing so the light is behind you. Did you notice any difference in the exposures? Was the auto-focus affected when the light was behind your subject?

If you want an extra challenge, take the same series of shots at night. Notice the differences in your exposures. How does your auto-focus perform in the dark?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Photography Focus


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