The modes you may have available  Nicholas Towers

Manual mode: You control both shutter speed and aperture. This mode gives you complete control over the image-making process, but you have to keep a close eye on changing light conditions.

Program mode: The camera makes all the choices for you. Most cameras follow an algorithm designed to create the best chance of an acceptable image. Because the major cause of rejected photos is the perception of poor focus, program mode algorithms place a priority on getting the camera’s shutter speed fast enough to prevent blur from camera shake. Indeed, even in this day and age of high-speed auto-focus, many apparently out-of-focus images are actually blurred from camera shake and not out-of-focus from poor focusing technique. As light levels increase, the algorithm chooses faster and faster shutter speeds until it reaches a speed that avoids blur from camera shake. The program then starts closing down the lens opening, which increases the area of sharpness throughout the image. Program mode is a nice, easy way of ensuring acceptable pictures. If you just want to grab a photo and go back to having fun, this is the right mode for you.

Shutter Priority mode: This mode lets the user pick the shutter speed and then the camera chooses the appropriate lens opening for proper exposure. There are a couple of ways to use this mode. One way is to use it to set a minimum shutter speed necessary to freeze action. The other is to set the camera to the slowest shutter speed necessary to prevent camera shake so that the camera stops the lens down to the smallest opening possible. This creates the maximum depth of field (depth of sharp focus) possible for the lighting conditions under which you’re working.

Aperture Priority mode (AV): This mode is the reverse of the previous mode. Here the user chooses the lens setting and the camera sets the shutter speed. Aperture Priority is useful for stopping action because the user can set the lens wide open so the camera chooses the fastest possible shutter speed. This mode can also work when you want to have exact control over the range of sharpness throughout the image such as for portraiture or landscape photography.

DEP mode: A mode offered by some cameras. This setting is for situations where you need to keep an exact area in sharp focus. DEP modes call for the user to select the near and distant focus points and then the camera picks an aperture (lens opening) setting that will keep everything within those two points sharp. Although this choice can produce nice results, remember that there’s no guarantee the resulting shutter speed will be fast enough to prevent blur from camera shake or stop motion. Using a tripod or setting the camera on a solid surface may be necessary.

Many cameras also offer little icons such as a running person, mountain, flower, and head and shoulders view of a person. As explained in the following list, each of these symbols is a code for a certain type of automated exposure:

Sports mode: Represented by the icon of a person running. When you press this button, the camera chooses a shutter speed and aperture combination designed to freeze the motion of fast-moving athletes.

Landscape mode: Represented by the mountain icon. Press this button when you’re shooting scenic photos, and the camera picks settings that allow for the maximum depth of field. It also produces a sharp overall image without worrying about fast shutter speeds because there is little motion to worry about stopping.

Portrait mode: Represented by the head-and-shoulders icon. Press this button to activate the camera’s auto mode for portrait photography. This program opens the camera lens to create shallow depth of field and throws distracting backgrounds out of focus.

Macro mode: Represented by the flower icon. For close-up photography, press this button to activate the camera’s close focusing settings and to close the lens down to create the greatest possible depth of field. This mode should also turn on the camera’s LCD screen for use as an electronic viewfinder.

Your goal at this point is to create a technically good photograph. This isn’t the same thing as a good photo, but it is the first step. A technically good image is one that’s properly exposed, properly focused, and has accurate color. By setting up your new digital camera with some thought, you can put yourself into position to achieve this goal. A technically good exposure means your image has a complete tonal range from black to white with discernable detail in the shadow and highlight areas. It’s this last requirement that can prove a challenge for digital cameras. Most people making the switch to a digital camera do so from color negative film. Unfortunately, digital sensors don’t handle the degree of contrast that color negative does, so new digital users find themselves confronted with blown-out highlights and blocked-up shadows. Generally, digital sensors compare more closely to transparency film (slide film) than color negative. Just as with transparency film, it’s better to slightly underexpose a digital image in order to save the highlights, rather than try for a properly exposed photo.

One camera control that helps you deal with such a situation is the exposure compensation feature. This option lets you dial in a certain amount of compensation depending on your lighting conditions. Because cameras vary, it’s impossible to say exactly how to set up a specific camera, but usually this feature is labeled as Exp. comp. and provides settings in one-third increments. Manufacturers most commonly provide this feature as a control button, or you can find it by navigating through the LCD menu. Choosing negative compensation cuts exposure (increases shutter speed or aperture) while choosing positive compensation boosts it (reduces shutter speed or lens opening). For the casual photographer, setting a camera to be ready on a moment’s notice is fairly easy, provided you’re familiar with your model’s idiosyncrasies. It’s important to know whether your camera automatically defaults to its original set-up every time your turn it off or remembers its last settings. You do want to be familiar enough with your camera to be able to quickly set its ISO settings, exposure automation, and exposure compensation settings. A generation of newspaper photographers ago, the motto was “F8 and be there.” The idea was to set your camera to F8 and pre-focus the lens to its hyper-focal distance (the point where depth of field provides sharp focus from just a few feet all the way through infinity). This way, the photographer was ready to just grab the camera and shoot without having to worry about focusing or setting controls. In fact, under such discipline a photographer of 40 years ago could still get off a shot faster today than someone using a point-and-shoot digital camera or all but the best digital SLRs. After you attach your camera strap, install the batteries, and load a memory card, it’s time to configure the camera’s controls. To set up your point-and-shoot camera, follow these steps.

1. Select an appropriate ISO setting for your anticipated shooting conditions. (100 ISO for most daylight conditions, 200 ISO for very overcast or cloudy lighting, 400 ISO for evening lighting or shooting indoors.)

2. Set an exposure priority. Most of us get comfortable with a particular setting that meets our needs and rely on that. Shutter priority (TV) is a good choice because you can set it for a minimum speed that prevents blur from camera shake. Or you can go with aperture priority (AV) and pick a setting that keeps the lens wide open so you’re always sure of the fastest possible shutter speed.

3. Set the exposure compensation. The setting depends on lighting conditions, as follows:

• Flat lighting (overcast or cloudy days, subdued indoor lighting): No compensation required.

• High contrast lighting (noonday sun, bright indoor lights): Use about one full stop of compensation (−1).

• Back lighting (where your primary light source is almost directly behind your subject): Use two stops exposure compensation (+2). Better still, use flash (either accessory or built in) to help balance the light between foreground and background. (If you use this approach, dial down the exposure compensation to +1 if your back light is very powerful (i.e., the sun) or turn it off completely if it is some lesser source.

4. Choose motor drive or continuous shooting mode, if available. Many cameras offer a continuous shooting capability. For at least a few, the camera provides this option by dropping your resolution to a lower setting. If your camera does, you may also have to pick a particular lower setting. There are times when this choice is worth it; just be sure you don’t give up too much in the way of resolution. If your camera provides this capability without lowering resolution, consider whether you have enough memory to use this feature. The way you change this setting varies from camera to camera. Usually, it’s a user-controlled setting on DSLRs and a menu function with point-and-shoot cameras. Having a continuous shooting capability is handy for many types of photography, including sports and action. It’s also nice for dealing with fast-moving subjects such as pets and children.

It’s hard to buy just a camera. There’s usually at least a couple of items you want to use with it, plus there’s the stuff you have to carry, such as extra batteries and lens tissue. Those wishing for more detailed information about the many items, can have some fun by visiting eBay and checking out the many categories of photographic accessories offered there. It’s not that I don’t enjoy writing about them—Lord knows, I love talking about this stuff—but it’s easy to get carried away with this topic. Once you start talking about accessories, it’s wise to consider something to put them in. Because even a basic point-and-shoot camera in the hands of the most casual photographer needs extra batteries, lens cleaning cloth and possibly extra memory cards, some kind of carrying bag is a good idea. Still, there’s nothing wrong with a handbag, fanny pack or belt pouch for those taking a minimalist approach. There are tons of good camera bags on the market. Lowepro, Tamrac, Tenba, Billingham, and Domke are just a few companies that make great camera bags, but there are plenty of others. There’s enough choice that someone searching for just a simple camera bag may be a bit overwhelmed by all the different styles and options out there. Choices include shoulder bags, fanny packs, backpacks, suitcase style bags, chest pouches, modular systems and bags that swing around to your front when you need a piece of gear and then return to hanging off your back when you don’t need access. Oh yeah, you can even get a camera vest that looks sort of like a fishing vest. These items can be quite handy because they have plenty of pockets for gear and distribute the weight more evenly over your body than an over the shoulder bag. An extra benefit is your teenage kids, and possibly, even your spouse most likely won’t want to be seen with you while you’re wearing it, providing you the much needed peace and quiet you’ve been craving. Picking the right bag is a question of analyzing your needs, leaving a little room to grow and making sure you find something that’s rugged enough to survive rough handling and easy enough to use quickly. If you’re the type that carries a lot of equipment and your bag contents vary from assignment to assignment, then consider one of the modular designs such as Lowepro’s Street and Field system, which uses a combination of camera bags, webbed belts and harnesses with individual lens and accessory pouches. Such a system lets you configure for a light day with minimal equipment and then add on gear till you’re loaded up like a Sherpa on an Everest expedition. Tamrac and Kineses are two other manufacturers who make such modular systems. Lowepro has also come out with a waterproof camera backpack called the Dryzone. This bag has a watertight main compartment that enables you to keep your gear dry even when in deep water—provided you seal the bag properly!

Try to stay with name-brand bags. Although it’s tempting to save a few bucks by buying generic or house brands, usually these aren’t as well made or easy to use. Here are some key things to look for when shopping for a camera bag:

Top panel with flap. Make sure that the flap extends down beyond the main compartment to cover the side of the bag at least an inch or two. This way, if you’re caught in a rainstorm, water will be directed down the side of the bag instead of leaking into the main compartment.

Box stitching with an X. This is a very strong type of stitching that adds extra reinforcement. You should expect this type of stitching at the important weight-bearing junctures of the bag.

Shoulder strap that attaches fully to the bag. Is the shoulder strap merely tacked on where the bag meets the strap or does it extend down the sides and under the bottom of the bag? The latter type is much stronger and safer.

Appropriate material. Bags can be made from canvas, nylon, leather, or something you can’t quite identify. Good quality nylon can be durable and handle the elements well. Canvas doesn’t hold up to abrasion as well as nylon, but it hugs the body better and tends to be softer. Leather is certainly stylish, but it’s also expensive and requires more care. If you’re not carrying much gear and your camera bag is as much a part of your look as your clothing, then leather can’t be beat.

Padding. There are a couple of schools of thought when it comes to protecting camera gear. Most bag designers pad the bag everywhere to provide the maximum protection. A few (such as Domke) provide padded compartments for the lenses, but no extra padding for the rest of the bag. Many photojournalists favor this kind of bag because it’s lighter and conforms to the body more comfortably (important if you’re moving quickly with a camera bag).