Leaving the Automatic Zone
If you've bought an automatic SLR, you may be tempted to leave the camera in fully automatic mode and snap away. This mode relies on the camera's light meter to adjust shutter speed and aperture, and it will automatically set the focus for you if you want it to. Most of the time, auto mode will deliver acceptable or better results. Objects will be in focus and properly exposed. When you are first learning to shoot, leaving the camera in auto mode can simplify things greatly, allowing you to concentrate on learning the other photographic skills you'll need.
Auto mode is fine, and it's certainly easy, but it's not going to give you the best picture possible every time. Eventually you might hear a pesky little voice in your head asking, “Would the shot of the kids playing at the lake be better if I could see more details related to them and less of the lake's ripples and glints?”
The answer to this questions is, of course, yes! That's why it is so important to know how to take your camera out of auto mode and control such things as shutter speed and aperture yourself. It's also important to know how such factors affect each other and how to select the best settings to render the images you want.
Be prepared. This discussion can get rather technical. If you're not particularly technically oriented, you might even find it a bit overwhelming, so take things slowly. Study each aspect thoroughly. It really helps to have your camera at your side so you can see what the various settings and controls look like.
Keep in mind that much of the information that follows is more suited to SLR users who have either automatic cameras that allow manual settings or fully manual cameras. However, if you have a point-and-shoot that allows some manual overrides, you'll find plenty of information in this chapter that applies to you, as well.
Finally, this is all meant as a broad overview. The best way to learn more about the mechanics of picture taking is to take pictures. Lots of them. Use the information to guide your explorations; for specific help on leaving the automatic mode for your own camera, read the instruction manual that came with it or a guide written specifically for it. If you have lost your original manual, sometimes you can order or download one from the manufacturer's website.
FIGURE 6-1 Whether they are point-and-shoot or SLRs, all cameras have certain features in common: a way to view the image, a way to adjust focus, and a shutter release.