This article is for those with a point and shoot camera or even those with a DSLR who have been taking pictures in full auto or program mode. We will take a look at some of the other settings and begin to get an understanding of how these settings work.
On most cameras from inexpensive point and shoots to high end DSLRs, there are at least four other settings that are denoted by small pictograms. These are a face, a mountain, a flower, and a person running. You may have more, but most cameras have these, so we will take a look at each one and understand when to use them.
Before we get into those, it would be helpful to gain some understanding of the two basic things that control how a picture is made; shutter speed and aperture. You may have purchased a point and shoot so you didn’t have to learn this stuff, but knowing a little bit about it will go a long way to making better pictures and understanding mistakes. Basically, a digital camera is a box that allows light to hit a sensor and store information. In past times, they worked the same way, but the light hit film instead of a digital sensor. The two things that control how the image looks is how long the light is allowed in and through how big of a hole. These are shutter speed and aperture, respectively. That’s it. Everything else is just bells and whistles.
The combination of shutter speed and aperture determine how much light hits the sensor. The right combination and you get a well exposed image. The wrong combination and your image is either over or under-exposed. But these two variables do more than just control exposure. Shutter speed also can freeze or blur motion. Think of a picture of your child swinging a baseball bat. Is the bat sharp and frozen, or is it blurred? This is a result of the shutter speed. Aperture on the other hand, controls what is called depth of field. This simply means how much of the picture is in focus. If you take a picture of someone with a forest in the background, is the forest in focus, or slightly blurred. This is a result of aperture.
That’s all we really need to understand about these two settings for the purposes of this article, but it’s important to have a basic knowledge to appreciate the different modes or settings we are going to discuss. All four of these will attempt to get a proper exposure; the difference is the combination of shutter speed and aperture used.
First is the face, or portrait mode. This mode will use a large aperture and adjust the shutter speed accordingly. (Confusingly, a large aperture means a small number. – f5.6 is a larger aperture than f11.) What this will do is give a sharp focus to your subject – a person’s face, for instance, but throw the background out of focus. This makes the subject stand out more from the background and is a pleasing affect for pictures of people.
Next is the mountain, or landscape mode. This will do just the opposite and use a small aperture to try and get as much of the image as possible in focus. Landscape mode is good for, well, landscapes, when you want the tree in the foreground to be in focus as well as the distant mountains. Note, there is a limit as to how much of the scene can be in focus at one time, but this mode will do as much as it can.
Third is the flower, which is close-up or what is called macro mode. This uses a very large aperture for a very narrow depth of field, but also controls how the camera focuses. This if for very close-in work, like a flower or insect. You will notice that even though what you are taking a picture of is very small, it is hard or impossible to get all of it in focus. You will need to decide precisely what part of the image needs to be sharp. This mode allows you to get very close to the subject and still get part of it in sharp focus.
Finally, there is sports mode. This setting simply uses a fast shutter speed to try and freeze the motion, such as a person running or swinging a bat. A fast shutter speed of course has a trade-off in aperture. To get the fast shutter speed the camera needs to freeze motion, it will need to use a large aperture which in turn, gives narrow depth of field. For most sports scenes this is fine, as you would want to separate the subject from the background.
As you get used to your new camera, use and play around with these extra settings. They will not only give you variety in your pictures, but will help give you a better understanding of how your camera works. This will give you better control over your pictures and more appreciation for what you can accomplish.