Scott's Photography
A Day With Your Camera - Learning the Most Important Features

September 2, 2013
By Scott Lewis

I have a confession to make. I thought of this idea almost 3 years ago. So I am very remiss in not doing this sooner.

What does it mean to learn the most important features of a camera? Glad you asked. As I see it there are the obvious features, like Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, etc. But these are things you probably already know if you are ready this.

The features that I feel are most important are the features that are not automatic. Features that you probably rarely use, but should use quite often. Features that if you knew them well, you would use them a lot more. And many of these features are things you may already have an understanding about, and even know how to do in your camera... but do you know them well? Do you know them so well that you can do them quick enough that you could do them between shots if needed?

That is what we will cover here. Granted, this article is not going to tell you how to do this on your camera... unless you own a Canon EOS T2i dSLR. What this article is going to tell you is how I do it with my camera... and it should inspire you to read your manual so you can duplicate what I do below... which is write down the steps for these important features... so you can learn to do them fast enough that you will use them whenever they are needed, not just once in a while.

Adjust ISO - I must admit I got this idea from Scott Kelby. I took one of his seminars, Shoot Like A Pro. If you have never taken any kind of professional training before... you should consider this one day seminar. It was amazing. It largely reinforced things I knew... like turning up the ISO in low light to get a shutter speed fast enough to hand hold. But the important thing he mentioned with this tip is that we should not care so much about increased noise. Why not worry about noise. For three reasons. 1) We have noise reduction software. 2) What's better a blurry photo or a noisy photo. I'll take a noisy photo over a blurry photo any day. 3) Who cares about noise? This one I never thought about. You want to know who cares about noise? You do!!! Yes, you are reading this because you are a photographer, so you care about noise. Non-photographers don't care about noise. And if you are posting your pictures online at 3 or 4 inches in size... nobody cares about noise. Even if you are posting high resolution images online they are still being seen at 72 dpi (monitor resolution), and nobody really cares about noise. The only time noise should be an issue is if you are going to print... and not 4x6 printing... large prints. If you are not printing at at least 8x10, then don't worry about noise, and raise your ISO. If you are printing at or above 8x10... get your camera on a tripod and set your ISO to the lowest number.

So now I gave away one of Scott Kelby's tips. I hope he does not mind. Hey... take the seminar and you will learn a lot more about using your camera. Highly recommended.

How it works on my camera: There is an ISO button on the top of my camera, just behind the main dial. Press the ISO button, scroll the main dial select an ISO, press the ISO button again.

Extra: My camera also has Auto as an ISO setting. In Auto it will go up to a certain maximum ISO. For my camera: Press Menu, go to Tab 3, scroll to the second row (ISO Auto), select, move up or down to choose a maximum ISO, press select, press Menu.

Exposure Compensation - This should be the number one feature you learn on your camera. So why did I list it second. Because I wanted to emphasis what I learned from Scott Kelby at his seminar. I thought that would be the most important topic to you. Today's cameras take amazing photos. They always seem to be perfectly exposed. Hand your fancy camera to a 6 year old and put it in Auto. Have them take pictures... and they may all look like crap, but 95% or more will be perfectly exposed crap. So why is exposure compensation so important. Because as a photographer you should be looking for more creative ways to use your camera. If you are looking at a backlit scene, or some poorly lit environment... what are you going to do? If the subject is too dark, even though the camera says the "overall" exposure is correct, what do you do? If the camera is just plain wrong, what do you do? You use exposure compensation to get the camera to do what you feel is the right thing to do.

Take a picture. Is it too dark? Increase the exposure compensation. Take another pictures. Still too dark? Adjust again. Repeat until it looks right on the back of the camera. Simple. If it is too bright, lower the exposure compensation. You should be able to do this without thinking. You should practice this until it is muscle memory.

How it works on my camera: There is an AV+/- button just to the right of the top right corner of the LCD. Press and hold the AV+/- button, turn the main dial right to increase (make brighter) - left to decrease (make darker), release the AV+/- button.

Aperture Priority Mode - This is almost too basic for this article. However, I put it here because it is becoming my "go to" way to take pictures. When I have my zoom lens on my camera (28-135mm f/3.5-5.6) I put the camera in Av mode and set it to the lowest number (f/3.5). That's it. 90% of my pictures are now taken this way. This is a great walk around lens/method. The range of zoom on the 28-135mm (which on my cropped sensor camera is actually 45-216) is great for most of my needs. Leaving the aperture at f/3.5 (allowing it to go to f/5.6 when I zoom in) gives me the maximum amount of light for getting a good picture. In wide angle it gives a little blurred background, while zoomed in it gives a nice blurred background (bokeh) if the subject and background are far enough apart. I find myself spending less time messing with these settings once I started shooting this way. And the results have been very good.

How it works on my camera: Turn the mode dial to Av, spin the main dial until the lowest aperture number is displayed.

Zoom to 100% - How large is the screen on your camera. If it is more than 3 inches, congratulations... it is too small. Most of us have screens smaller than 3 inches. Everything looks in focus at 3 inches. You do not what to spend a lot of time clicking zoom, zoom, zoom, zoom, zoom to get to 100%. Open your manual and find out how to go straight to 100% and back, quickly, so you can take the next photo right away.

My Camera does not have a direct to 100%. It will magnify from 1.5x to 10x. However, holding the magnify button will move it toward the 10x magnification very quickly, if not instantly.

How it works on my camera: press the playback button, press and hold the magnify button.

Extra: If you navigate from shot to shot with the main dial or arrow buttons, it will maintain the magnification, so you can look at a few images quickly. Press playback button to return to full screen (zoomed out) and press playback button once more to leave playback mode.

Set Focus Points - Of course, if your focus is not spot on... you may be headed into this option... setting the focus point, or points. My camera has 9 focus points. Not great, but simple and effective. I can set it to use all the focus points (think auto), or I can set any one focus point to be the one that is used. I find that this works best when I have a subject that is to the side of the scene. Many of you are thinking... that's easy... just focus on the subject, hold the shutter down locking the focus, recompose, and take the picture. You would be right, 80% of the time. I use that technique myself. But what about when I have my 50mm f/1.4 lens on, and I am going for some serious bokeh. The distance between the lens and the subject will change when you recompose. And at f/1.4 you have such a narrow depth of field you will through the subject slightly out of focus. In these cases I use the far left or far right focus points of my camera.

How it works on my camera: press the AF point selection button (top right button on the back of the camera), move the main dial until the preferred focus point is highlighted, press the AF button again.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Although I use this technique a fair amount, I find it easy to forget. Meaning... I forget I did it. Get into the habit of going back to auto (all focus points) right after using this. Press the AF select button, scroll the main dial until all the focus points are highlighted, press the AF select button again. If you don't do this, when you get home you are going to find a lot of photos ever so slightly out of focus. So, practice this going back and forth a lot, until it is muscle memory.

Set White Balance - I am as guilty as you. Admit it, you just leave your camera in Auto White Balance. If you are like me and shoot in RAW, why bother. When you get it to your computer you can set the white balance then. Yes you can, or you can take two seconds (yes, practice this feature until it takes you no more than 2 seconds) and all your pictures are color correct when you take them. If your camera is set to save JPG (and not RAW) you absolutely should learn this feature. Adjusting white balance after the JPG is saved... a lossy file format... means you might be limited to how much correction you can get. RAW is far more forgiving, but why waste the time. What if you have to upload photos before you can make adjustments? Are you shooting photos at a sporting event where you need to upload immediately. You better be shooting in JPG, and and you better set your white balance correctly. This one is so simple that you should always do it. Before you start shooting... look up... what kind of light are you under... set it and go.

How it works on my camera: press the WB button, press < or > to select the icon needed, press set.

Alternative method: You can preview the white balance in Live mode. On my camera... select Live Mode, Press Q, the first item on the left (for me) happens to be White Balance. With White balance highlighted scroll the main dial through the white balance options while looking at the screen. When the color looks right you're done. Press Live Mode again to return to normal picture taking and your white balance is set.

Depth of Field Preview - I was excited to check out this feature. See... a friend got a high end camera... a full frame DSLR (mine is a "crop" sensor camera, APS-C). The DOF Preview button on my camera is supposed to show you the depth of field with the camera's current aperture. Now... when I looked through my friend's camera I noticed a lot of bokeh (blurry background) right in the viewfinder. Much more than my own camera. He allowed me to take the same picture with his camera and mine. He emailed me the picture I took with his camera so I could compare it to my own camera's. Well, the depth of field (bokeh) in both images was very similar. Much more similar that I expected from the view through each camera's viewfinder.

Just today... I took my camera outside and focused on a close object and noticed a little out of focus for the background. Perfect... I expected to see even more out of focus when I pressed the DOF Preview button, to show me exactly what I could expect.

NOPE. Nothing changed. So I jacked the Aperture all the way to 22 and lo and behold... when I pressed the DOF Preview button the viewfinder got dimmer, and the image was in focus close and far.

So the DOF Preview button works exactly the opposite of what I expected. It allows me to see how much will be in focus when using higher aperture settings (numerically higher). The out of focus I am seeing normally what is expected.

What this tells me is that I want a full frame camera were the viewfinder shows bokeh better in the camera before you shoot the picture.


That's it. The 6 most important features you should know on your camera... and know so well you use them all the time without having to think about them or look them up... because you are going to look them up right now.