If you never exceed 25 mph, purchasing a Corvette doesn’t make sense. A $2,000 set of gold clubs isn’t practical if all you do is play miniature golf. If you just send emails, a high-end computer is overkill. Along the same lines, if you purchase a sophisticated high-end DSLR, you'll want to take advantage of its capabilities to get the most from it. If you've received a new DSLR or if you haven’t gone deep into the manual of your existing one, I want to share a number of key features so you can take advantage of the technology. Even if you’ve owned a DSLR for a while, read below to test your knowledge of the things you should know.
Autofocus Modes: Your choice of autofocus mode should be based on whether your subject moves or is stationary. If it moves, use “continuous” or “servo” mode. Be sure to place the active autofocus point over your subject. Many new photographers don’t realize that a focus point has to be activated and placed over the point of desired focus. Keep your finger pressed halfway down on the shutter. Regardless of where the subject moves, the camera should track the subject’s motion. Birds in flight, sports, moving wildlife, pets, cars, etc. are subjects to photograph in continuous mode. If the subject is stationary, set the camera to “single” or “one shot.” Different manufacturers have different naming schemes. Press the shutter halfway to lock focus. Depending on where the active focus point is placed, the lens will lock onto that point. If you move the camera and keep your finger pressed halfway on the shutter, the focus will remain locked on that point. Move the focus point to a different spot and the lens will now focus on that location. New to the market is autofocus where you let the camera choose what it thinks is the subject—it defaults to what’s closest and biggest in the center of the frame. If the subject is obvious, it works great. I prefer to not let the camera think it’s smarter than me. Back button autofocus is popular with wildlife photographers. If you feel comfortable, give it a try as it has its advantages.
Choose The Proper Active Autofocus Point: As I mentioned above, it’s imperative to place the active focus point over the subject you want sharp. For instance, if the active focus point is centered in the frame and your subject is on the right or left, the camera WILL FOCUS where it’s told but not where YOU WANT. If the subject is stationary, placing the focus point is easy, but if the subject is active, you have to work harder to keep the focus point over the subject. The hard part comes in remembering to MOVE THAT FOCUS POINT over your subject. For instance, if you want a sharp image of your child in the foreground but the active focus point appears at a point in the background, you’ll wind up with a fuzzy photo of your child and a nice sharp background.
Depth Of Field Preview Button: This button may be one of the most under-used features on your camera. It allows you to look through your viewfinder and preview the amount of depth of field that appears at the time the shutter is pressed. It stops down the lens to the set aperture. For instance, when you look through the viewfinder without depressing the DOF button, you view the scene at the widest aperture. If the aperture is set to ƒ/11, the resulting photo will NOT look the same. At ƒ/11, the depth of field is greater. When you press the DOF button, you preview the end result of how much more comes into focus. If the lens is set to wide open, no change will be seen. Some photographers shy away from using the DOF button because the viewfinder gets dark. This is especially true when using small apertures of ƒ/16 or ƒ/22. With this in mind, let your eyes adjust to the darkness to see the effect. The darkening effect has no bearing on the exposure. So, anytime you need to preview the exact amount of depth of field you’ll attain at any aperture other than wide open, begin to use the DOF button. It’s imperative for macro work, landscapes and any other time you need to know exactly how much depth of field will be created based on the working aperture.
Stay tuned next week for more tips on taking advantage of your DSLR’s capabilities.
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