2. Understanding the Buttons

Even the simplest cameras have an array of settings and buttons to press. Unfortunately there is very little standardisation in buttons across cameras and so it is not possible to cover every camera on these pages. There are some principles that can help you to get started though:

  • Set your camera to Auto: This is normally the default setting or is reasonably obvious to find. In Auto your camera will do all the work to take the picture, all you will need to do is line the shot up and press the shutter button. Auto does not always produce the best results but it does help you to get used to the camera before you learn the other settings and it is perfect for quick snaps.
  • Learn about one button at a time: Don’t feel you need to learn everything in one go. It will take time to learn about all of the functions on your camera and even longer to perfect how and when to use them. Instead try to learn about one function at a time and experiment with how altering this function changes the way your pictures appear.
  • Keep the instructions to hand: Instruction books for cameras are some of the worst you will come across, largely because most camera include loads of functions you will never use but that still need to be covered in the booklet. One good thing about the instruction books that come with cameras is that they tend to fit in camera bags. Don’t sit and try to learn the whole thing in one go, you don’t need to and it’s normally impossible. Instead take it step by step and refer to the instructions one section or setting at a time.
  • Ideally find someone with the same or similar camera: Even if you can’t find someone with your precise model, normally a brand or make will use similar buttons, functions and symbols on all of their models. This usually makes it possible to figure a slightly different model out.

The Shooting Modes

Many cameras, especially SLRs will include a wheel or dial that allows you to select the shooting modes. Shooting modes are quick ways to set the camera for certain conditions where you do not need to worry about some of the more technical settings. Cameras without this dial or wheel will most likely feature the same functions in their menus with similar symbols.

Here is a list of some of the most common shooting modes, although your camera may have more to explore.

AUTO: In this setting the camera will automatically adjust the settings of the camera to the light available and the distance of the object you are focussing on. This won’t always produce the best results but is useful when you are getting used to the camera or want to take a quick snap.

LANDSCAPE MODE: The symbol for this mode normally looks like a couple of mountains. This setting will balance the greens and blues of a typical landscape for distance shots in daylight.

PORTRAIT MODE: Many camera will feature a symbol with a picture of a person. This is the shooting mode suited to portraits of people. The camera will automatically find the setting to produce good results, such as avoiding red-eye and reproducing good skin tones. Like other automatic settings in your camera this will always be your camera’s ‘best-guess’. As you advance you may learn to set your camera up for better results.

MACRO: This setting is often represented by a picture of a flower. It is good for taking pictures of close up objects, like a flower.

SPORTS: Usual represented by a symbol of a runner. This mode is best for taking pictures of moving objects.

SHUTTER PRIORITY: On a Nikon or Sony this will most likely be shown by a letter ‘S’. On a Canon it’s helpfully labelled at Tv (Time Value). This setting allows you to set the shutter speed (see lesson 4) and will set the camera up to take the shot at that speed.

APERTURE PRIORITY: Most commonly represented by a letter ‘A’ or Av on a Canon. This setting allows you to set the aperture (see lesson 5) and will set the rest of the settings for the best picture at your chosen aperture.

MANUAL: In this setting you have full control. This can be brilliant once your are used to the camera but is probably something to work up to unless you are already an experienced photographer.

Other common modes available on you camera might include:

  • A movie mode for filming short clips.
  • A night mode for darker conditions.
  • A programme mode which allows you some flexibility to choose the shutter and aperture