10 things you should know about your DSLR settings (but probably don’t)

Through the teaching I have done over the past years I have noticed there are some things about cameras people don’t generally know, even people who have been to college. I find it amusing that people continually want bigger and better cameras but don’t realise their cameras can do all the things they are looking for; they just don’t know how to use them correctly. Don’t worry, I will not just say read the manual! If I had been told this stuff when I started out, it would have saved me years of practise.

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1. Don’t ever use Automatic mode. This is one of the first things you should know about your DSLR. Rather buy a point ‘n shoot/compact if you want to do that and save yourself a lot of money.

2. Use Aperture Priority a lot: I use it 90% of the time. Just watch your shutter speed if you do this so you don’t get blurred photos. When you use it consider how much depth of field you want. This is especially important for wildlife and adventure sports photography.

3. Shutter Priority: I use this 5% of the time in situations when I need to achieve slow motion (with a tripod) or freeze fast action

4. Manual mode: Use this 5% of the time to carefully control the entire camera and shot that you want. Great for still life and studio work.

5. Use continuous or burst mode to capture action: These days with the massive memory we have available it is safer to use this mode. It does take a bit more time in post-production but you never miss the shot. The slower continuous mode is fine.

6. Use exposure compensation when shooting in the priority modes: For very dark scenes you may want to go darker so that any light points aren’t totally blown. Dial in a negative EC. If shooting in snow or white sand then you may want to add EC to avoid grey looking backgrounds.

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7. Learn to use your flash (don’t be scared of your flash so that you never use it): You must control your flash output. I generally turn mine down by at least one stop.  Flash is very handy for fill in and you must know how to use it and when to have it on different modes such as rear curtain.

8. Get to know your Focus Modes intimately and change them when you need to: Know when to use follow focus or AI Servo and when to use single shot or fixed focus. Know about the focus points for your specific DSLR and how to move the points manually. Know how to find the modes and focus points efficiently. For even more focus control in many situations learn about “back focus” or simply flip your lens to manual focus.

9. Use metering modes wisely: Evaluative is most common and your camera will meter the entire scene and try to compensate for everything. There are situations that it will not work and spot is better.

Tip: when working fast in extreme lighting situations try using your exposure lock button to measure on mid tonescenes and then re-frame and shoot for your subject.

10. Use live view for fine focus: After you hit the magnification button you can manually focus perfectly. I use this all the time for telephoto photos and then for macro work.

So, if you just concentrate on learning these 10 things over the next month, your photography skills will probably jump up by 100% – mine did.

Bonus tip

Learn how to turn the camera onto silent mode when needing to use it in quiet environments. This way you can avoid having that gorgeous leopard run up a tree when you press the shutter and the camera beeps.

Hope you found these things you should know about your DSLR helpful – any advice to add from your personal experience?

Fiona Ayerst

Blogger Profile - Fiona Ayerst

Fiona is a world renowned underwater photographer and winner of numerous awards. Passionate about documenting the underwater world, she hopes that her photos will inspire greater marine conservation efforts. She developed and oversees the Underwater Photography internship for Africa Media

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