So after several years of taking good pictures with your digital compact, you have invested in your first DSLR, digital single lens reflex camera. You bought it because you are off on the holiday of the lifetime and you outgrown the limitations of your compact camera It’s time for you to move to a more creative world of artistic photography. However, the sheer number of settings on your new toy has overwhelmed you and now you are wondering should I just take my compact? Well don’t, with just a little bit of extra knowledge, you can take that DSLR and get the creative travel shots you know you are capable of.
PASM – What the hell does that mean?
Most DSLR’s will have a dial on the top which amongst others will have these four modes P, A, S and M. So what do they mean? Well the simple fact is these four modes along with focusing are your route to creative imaging. Lets work through them one at a time.
P is for Program. This is probably what you are most used to on your compact. If you are in hurry to take pictures, or expecting the unexpected, this is the mode to leave your camera on. The camera will make all the technical decisions for you, leaving you to concentrate on the creative framing of the shot. The shot shown here was taken from a cruise ship in the Suez Canal. The lighting was beautiful but there was no time to prepare the camera. I quickly switched to the P mode allowing a brief amount of time to concentrate on the composition.
Often, P mode will get it right
A is for Aperture Priority. This is personally, my favorite mode. With your camera set to A, you will set the aperture that you require and the camera will work out a relevant shutter speed. The main advantage of this is, that it allows you to control the depth of field. Put simply, is the amount of the image that remains in focus, in front of and behind, the point where you actually focused. The two examples below show this effect. In the first, I have concentrated on just the flowers and thrown the background out of focus. This is called a shallow depth of field and is created using a wide aperture. A low number, on most lenses, of between f2.8 and f4, represents a wide aperture. In the second, I have closed the aperture down to a smaller size. This has created in image where nearly everything is in focus. Typically the aperture used to get an image in focus from front to back would be between f8 and f16.
Aperture at f2.8 Aperture at f11
S is for Shutter Priority, this allows you to set the shutter speed, whilst the camera will set the aperture. This is useful if you are trying to capture moving subjects such as wildlife or sports events. A higher shutter speed will freeze the image whereas a slower speed will induce a feeling of motion to the image. In the examples below, a high shutter speed has been used to freeze the motion of the penguins leaping from the water, whilst a slow shutter speed, combined with a technique called panning has added a sense of motion to the old Cuban car. Simply put, panning is where you follow the motion of the subject with the camera and is an ideal companion to shutter priority.
High Shutter Speed – 1/500th or higher Slow Shutter Speed – 1/125th or less
M is for Manual. Once you feel you understand the nuances of exposure, set your dial to M and play with the Big Boys. M is full manual mode. Here you will set both the shutter speed and aperture to give you full creative control over the image. At first it’s going to feel strange, but as you get a feel and understanding for the relationship between light and exposure, it will become more natural. Don’t be afraid to experiment and don’t delete the images until you see them on your computer screen. Whilst the screen on your camera can give you a good indication of what the picture looks like, its not until you view them on a big monitor that the subtle differences in exposures will become apparent. In this shot, I had an interesting subject, great light and plenty of time to produce the image. By using manual mode I was able to control the exposure of the sky whilst maintaining some definition in the foreground
Using Manual Mode to creatively control the light
F is for Focus. The last BIG control you can use for creativity is focus. You will not find the focus switch on the PASM dial, on most cameras it is a switch on the side of the lens, marked A and M. Whilst auto focus these days is a wonderful thing, fast and accurate, but it only focuses where the camera’s computer believes you want to focus. Switch to manual focus and experiment. If you combine this with the Aperture Priority mode, you can create some wonderful and creative images. In the example below, I have used manual focus and a large aperture to concentrate the eye on the flowers at the top, which in turn helps to convey the emotion of the image.
Hopefully by the time your return from your holiday, not only will you have created some fantastic images, but also learnt how, there are so many different ways to control the exposure, using your DSLR. Don’t be afraid of the settings, play with them, see what they do and in course you will naturally gravitate to the one you feel most comfortable with. Remember, there is no one single way to take a great photo.
Jason has a serious case of wanderlust (provided he can take all his camera equipment with him!). He has worked with some of the best United Kingdom Canvas Printing and Australian Canvas Printing Companies.