More Tips: Mastering Any Digital SLR

You’ve heard the cliché: if the clock on your VCR still blinks, then you must be ill-equipped to deal with anything digital.

I don’t think that’s true. Especially when it comes to digital photography and digital cameras.

Actually, if you still own a VCR, I say, lose it. Well, maybe not yet. First, you’ll need to convert all your analog videos to DVDs or digitize and store them on hard drives.

If you don’t own any analog video tapes of any kind, then you should be using TiVo.

The biggest difficulty any digital SLR owner has, especially one who is a beginner, is figuring out where the controls are to change settings.

The 1st part of my earlier post where I outline the 8 controls you need to understand and know how to change on your particular digital SLR, will give you a quick shortcut.

As a recap, here are the 8 functions or controls you’ll need to learn how to:

  1. Take some pictures on automatic, program, aperture or shutter priority
  2. Download the images onto your computer
  3. Format the card
  4. Change the ISO
  5. Change the Shutter speed and Aperture
  6. Change the White Balance
  7. Change the Compression or Quality
  8. Choose which Autofocus Sensor in your viewfinder to use.

When you’ve mastered those 8, try these next:

  • Enable the histogram for image preview. You might be asking yourself what does this do.

The histogram is the most reliable way for you to determine if you have properly exposed your image.

How that picture you just made appears on that tiny LCD monitor is not a good indicator.

Under dark surroundings the image may look great and in bright sun, it will look underexposed.

Learning to interpret what a good histogram is the best method and not at all difficult.

  • Change the metering mode. Essentially these settings allow you to tell your camera’s meter what you want it to favor when taking a light reading.

Since light meters are “dumb” and tend to want to average out every scene, they can get fooled in tricky lighting situations.

  • Set the output of the flash. Some digital SLRs have built-in or pop-up flash units which resemble a crab’s eye.

Changing the default output of your flash allows you to either “fill” or “over-power” the ambient light giving you even more control over the look of your picture.

    • Set separate buttons to trigger auto-focus and shutter release. Canon and Nikon and possibly other camera makers understand the necessity of splitting the function of actual shutter actuation and autofocus. Why is this useful you might ask?

    When you just want to follow focus and track your moving subject like in sports photography, you can hold down a button on the back of the camera and activate the autofocus.

    When your subject stops moving, all you have to do is remove you thumb from that button momentarily, then press the shutter release button with your index finger.

    You should probably understand this fact about the lens kit that was bundled with the camera. My guess is that you have a zoom lens like an 18 mm to 55 mm or a 28 to 105 mm.

    Most beginners don’t realize what those numbers mean on the lens barrel. Those apertures vary according to what focal length you have the zoom set at.

    The sooner you understand this, the better you can appreciate the limitations you have.

    • Disable shutter actuation if there is no memory card. Fancy speak for set your camera not to fire when you don’t have a card.

    This is a throwback to the days of film. Many a photographer has been burned thinking they had film in their camera, so just make sure you can’t trip the shutter if there is no memory card.

    • Reset to factory default. When things go awry, learn what happens if you have to do this. It will save you a ton of grief.

    The layers upon layers of options under the myriad menus in today’s digital SLR makes card-counting by professional Black Jack players seem like child play.

    • Disable the beep when autofocus is achieved. This is probably more my pet peeve than anything.

    As the photographer you can see or confirm your subject is in focus, you don’t need to hear an audible signal. It’s distracting, amateurish and drains the batteries.

    Other less used functions especially for flash photography especially when using dedicated original speedlites of flash units from Nikon or Canon might include high shutter speed sync, automatic flash bracketing and rear curtain sync.

    4 thoughts on “More Tips: Mastering Any Digital SLR”

    1. Shannon,
      I don’t favor Canon or Nikon. As it turns out I had an old 80-200 f2.8 autofocus lens from film days, so when I left the newspaper, I stayed with Canon.

      These days, there’s not a whole lot of difference. In the film days, Nikon would focus clockwise from infinity to min. distance or maybe the reverse of Canon.

      Mounting a lens is opposite but you get the hang of it soon enough.

      The competition between these 2 makers is good for consumers. It would be nice if there was more actually. Thanks for visiting and commenting.

    2. Nice tips Pete! I can still remember my parent’s VCR blinking years ago! What’s your fav digital slr camera these days? I’m a big fan of Canon, but Nikon’s are nice too.

      My Digital SLR

    3. Scott,
      Thank you for commenting. I visited your blog and I love the color scheme and the look. Great choices all around. I especially like the integration of smugmug into your gallery page.

      Great Colorado landscapes!

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