One of the hardest parts of photography at the higher levels is figuring out all of the things your camera can do. Point and shoot cameras have a lot of very basic features and can do many things well but higher-end cameras such as hybrids and DSLRs come packed with exponentially more features, settings, menus, and options. Learning how to navigate all of these settings beyond just the normal ISO, aperture, and shutter settings can be a bit of a nightmare. Some DSLR manuals can match best-selling novels in length and the technical details can be downright intimidating for a novice at that level. We’ll go over some of these items below.
1) Back Focus Button — If you’ve been relying on your camera’s front focus button to dial in your shots, you may find that using the back AF (auto-focus) button is a real time-saver. The front focus button is really designed for single-focusing whereas the rear button allows you to switch from single to continuous focusing more easily.
2) Auto Exposure Bracketing — AEB is great to use when you’re having trouble figuring out which level of exposure to use or when you’re trying to create a high-dynamic range photo (HDR). Most cameras will “guess” at the level of exposure by taking three photos — one at the current exposure, one underexposed and one overexposed (each by the same amount). AEB captures images at a wider range of exposures and recomposes them to help you achieve a better balance of exposure in each section of the photo. The standard icon for this feature/mode looks like the image to the right.
3) Depth of field preview — In cases where you want to focus on one aspect and blur everything else out, you can use the depth-of-field preview button to help you make certain that your camera is going to capture the image the way you want it captured. Understanding how to dial in this setting could take an entire post (and might, in the future) so, for now, we’ll leave you with this helpful YouTube video.
To find this button, you’ll need to check your camera’s manual.
4) Mirror Lockup Mode — This feature is available on most DSLRs and allows you to take very sharp, crisp landscape and architecture photos. It does require that you be using a longer exposure setting and a tripod and is not recommended for hand-held photography. Basically, this setting (usually found under Custom Functions) causes the internal mirror to come up and lock into position the first time the shutter button is pressed. The shutter remains closed, however. The second time the shutter button is pressed, the shutter opens and the image is taken. Ben McCallum has an excellent video explaining this feature.
5) Custom white balancing
— This isn’t so much a feature as it is a technique to help you deal with the fact that light changes and you can’t always control it. For example, if you’re a parent and you want to take photos of your child at a basketball game, you can’t exactly control the gym’s lighting set-up. However, you can set up a custom white balance setting and use a card or cover to help you adjust for the situation you find yourself in. Marlene Hielema has a great video on how to set this up and what tools are best to use for this.
Using these tips and techniques can help you add a lot of depth and gain much more control over your camera and your photography. If you find any of them useful, be sure to share your results with us over on Facebook and to pass them on to others!
— da Bird