Reading a camera manual is about as much fun as listening to a fingernail scratch across a blackboard. But for those of us who plow through the pages, the rewards are many. When I run a workshop or teach a class and discuss camera functions, inevitably I hear comments such as:
"Wow, I didn't know my camera could do that."
"So that's what that button does."
"Now I know how to use that feature."
The list of quotes goes on. So while it may not be the most interesting thing you'll do in your life, I encourage you to break out the manual and give it a read. But for those who just shuddered at the thought, let me share three features that many digital SLR's have that should be understood and used by all photographers.
Plus/Minus Icon for Exposure Compensation: It's important to obtain a proper exposure to prevent blowing out highlights or blocking up shadows. If highlights are blown out with no recorded detail in the pixels, the result is blank white distractions - translation = not good. If the shadows block up, where shadow detail had the potential to be recorded, you're left with black areas void of detail - translation = not good. To prevent either scenario, use the exposure compensation button. The icon is represented with a plus and minus sign separated by a forward slash. Dialing in MINUS compensation darkens the overall image and dialing in PLUS compensation lightens the overall image. So when should it be used? In the accompanying image of the columbine in the rocks, I had to dial in MINUS compensation. After I made the initial exposure, I checked my histogram and noticed there was a spike of pixels on the right edge. My flashing highlights were covering the delicate white parts of the columbine. The camera meter read the dark sky and shadows in the rocks and naturally determined the scene to be dark. As a result, the bright areas now lacked detail. Knowing that detail would be lost, I set the exposure compensation to MINUS one half stop. I retook the shot and checked the histogram. It was perfect. I still had wiggle room on the left side so I knew there was shadow detail. Had I not dialed in the compensation, the bright columbine petals would have been stripped of detail.
MAPS: Normally found on a dial on the top of the camera, the letters MAPS is spelled out. The M stands for manual exposure, the A = aperture priority, the P = Program exposure mode and the S = shutter priority. When photographing action, many photographers turn the dial to the S setting to be able to set the camera to a specific shutter speed to stop the action. If the action is repeatable, take a photo with the shutter turned to the one your gut tells you is needed. Take a look at the LCD to determine if you were correct. If there's too much motion, adjust the setting to a faster shutter speed. You may need to increase the ISO if the light levels are low. I encourage you to use the A for aperture priority to control the depth of field. Spin the aperture to f16 to create a greater range of focus or to f5.6 to create less. The apertures found in between will provide increments of more or less. For a landscape, you'll typically want to have a lot of depth of field so stop the lens down to f16. For a portrait of a flower or person, you'll typically want to narrow the depth of field to produce an out of focus background. To achieve this, open the lens to its widest opening. If you use these settings properly, you'll learn how to take charge of the final look of the image.
MIrror Lock Up: Depending on the camera brand you own, this feature may be found in the Shooting Menu - the one with a camera for an icon, or it may be a button or switch on the camera itself. On my camera, there's a dial position that says "Mup." What this stands for is Mirror Up. The reason it's used is to create a sharp image when using a telephoto lens accompanied with a slow shutter speed. A phenomenon known as mirror slap can detract from the sharpness of a photo. The shutter speeds that contribute the greatest amount of slap range from one half second to one thirtieth. They are most impacted using lenses 200mm and longer. These lenses magnify the subject which in turn magnifies any mistakes. To prevent mirror slap, lock up the mirror. With the mirror already in the up position, its movement can't degrade the sharpness of the photo. I locked up the mirror when I photographed the Bryce scenic as I used a 200mm lens and my shutter speed was 1/8 second. I also used a cable release. The outcome was a sharp image as locking up the mirror negated the mirror slap.
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