There is so much that your DSLR can do that you might never use. I have been photographing for almost 5 years now and have only recently discovered functions that I now use all the time. There is myriad information on the internet about the ins and outs of each mode and function and how to master them all. But that can be overwhelming if you don't know the difference between full manual, aperture priority and auto.
So if you've only ever used your DSLR in auto mode, this is a super simple rundown of what the functions are and why you'd want to use them.
In this setting you choose your depth of field and the camera does the rest for you based on the light available. So all you really need to do is choose whether you want a shallow depth of field (i.e. subject in focus, everything else out of focus), or if you want everything to be in focus (i.e. for landscape photography). The camera will then measure the light and adjust the shutter and ISO settings for you.
One thing to remember with aperture, which is measured in F stops (F2.8, F8, F16), is the smaller the number, the shallower depth of field, plus the more amount of light let into your camera. The higher the number, eg. F22, the greater depth of field, so more things in focus, but less light is let into your camera.
As a rule, shallower depth of field (F2-F4) is better for portraits or detail shots and in low light conditions, greater depth of field (F8-F16) is better for landscapes and in bright daylight.
In this function you choose how fast you want your shutter to fire. Say you're photographing a sports game where the subjects are moving quickly, you want your shutter to fire fast to freeze their movement. So you test the shutter speed until you have it at the right speed and the camera will sort out the aperture, ISO etc.
Full Manual Mode
In full manual mode you can basically overwrite what you camera wants to do and do it all yourself. This means you can choose the aperture, shutter speed and ISO settings. While you likely don't need to do this in the beginning, if you're interested in taking long exposures of landscapes, Astrophotography or if simply the camera is not measuring the light how you want it to, manual mode is a good bet.
What is ISO? I hear you ask.
Basically ISO is your camera’s level of sensitivity to light. Without explaining that in any more depth, you can change the ISO in your camera from a low ISO (eg. ISO 100) to a very high ISO (eg. ISO 3200). Lower ISO creates very crisp clean images, however you need more light, (either bright day light, flash, a low Fstop aperture or a slower shutter speed). If there isn’t a lot of light you can increase the ISO so that your camera can capture the image. This however, will create grain in your image, making it less clear. As a rule of thumb you want less ISO to avoid getting graininess in your shots.
Other things things you should know:
Unlike old point and shoot cameras that had one focus point in the centre, on your DSLR you can choose where in the frame to focus. It's different on each brand of camera, but you should be able to find this either as a button on the back of the camera or in the main shooting menu. Use the arrow buttons to move the focus around the frame.
You can see the difference between the two images below. The first has a very shallow depth of field (F2.8), with only the subject in focus, the second has a greater depth of field (F11) with a lot of the image in focus.
White balance is the colour your camera picks up from the scene. So when you’re outside in sunlight the colour is very different to inside under fluorescent lights. There is an auto mode you can apply here and the camera will do it for you. But if you take a shot and it looks too cold or too warm for example, you can change this setting. Most makes of camera will have different options to choose from like full sun, shade, tungsten light, fluorescent light, flash etc. Again this should be in the main shooting menu.
If you liked this blog post, I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. If there is anything I have missed (of course this is a very basic overview) please let me know!