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What are these letters on my camera? 
Wednesday, January 28, 2009, 03:26 PM
Posted by Ryan Miller
In these uncertain times I believe family and friends are more important than ever before, at least in our life time. One of many ways to bring us closer is with the camera. How else can we easily share our memories than with a digital camera and Facebook! In fact, as of October 31st, 2008, Facebook's Doug Beaver said they store over 10 billion photos. Yikes!

So it is safe to say, the picture is quite important to us and worthy of attention. In this article I want to take a few minutes to explain some of the technical settings of your camera. We are all busy, so I will split this article into two messages. A quick explanation of certain settings for those who simply want a quick tutorial and a more detailed message explaining how those settings will result in more creative pictures. The 2nd message to this article will arrive in a few days.

I would like to mention that just because I know these technical details does not mean I am an expert in applying this knowledge. I am still learning the same as everyone reading this. As with most things in life, you will only get better with practice...and yes I need to practice more.

Does this article apply to my camera?
When one talks about getting creative with your camera we are usually talking about the SLR. SLR stands for Single Lens Reflex. Basically we are looking through the lens when setting up our shot. The other common camera is the digital point & shoot. Rather than looking into a viewfinder as with a SLR, we look at the rear LCD screen to setup the shot. Both camera styles allow us to see what the camera sees. However, the digital SLR typically affords more control over camera settings. Therefore this article applies to all SLR's and some higher end point & shoot cameras which include the Canon G10 and Panasonic Lumix LX3.
These two cameras are commonly used by photographers when shooting for personal yet creative purposes.

Message One
So let's get to it.
There are several settings which determine how a picture will look. The scope of this article addresses just two of these settings.

The first setting is the Aperture Value and is the "iris" of the lens.
In a given amount of time, this setting allows more or less light to hit the sensor. In other words, opening a faucet half way for five seconds allows for more water to flow than opening a faucet a quarter way for the same five seconds. The opening determines the amount of water to flow.

The other setting is the Shutter Speed.
With a given aperture value, this setting changes the amount of TIME for light to hit the sensor. In other words, opening a faucet half way for ten seconds allows for more water to flow than for only three seconds. Here, the time determines the amount of water to flow.

In short, aperture is the size of the opening while shutter speed is the amount of time.
In the 2nd message, I will explain how your images are affected by changing these settings.

Typically there is a dial or button arrangement at the top of the camera.
Let's first address the four items ubiquitous to cameras with such a dial or button.

P - Program Mode
No this does not stand for Professional. :)
With this setting, you are allowing the camera to change the aperture value and shutter speed to accomplish a properly exposed picture. Even your digital SLR camera behaves like a quality point & shoot in program mode.

A or Av - Aperture Priority
With this setting, you only set the aperture value (faucet opening). The camera then decides the best shutter speed value to accomplish a properly exposed picture. Now you are getting creative!

S or Tv - Shutter Priority
With this setting, you only set the shutter speed value (faucet running time). The camera then decides the best aperture value to accomplish a properly exposed picture. Once again, use this for creative reasons.

M - Manual
With this setting, you set both the aperture and shutter speed values. In this case, the decisions are removed from the camera.
Once in a while, your camera simply cannot obtain the proper exposure and you are forced to take over the settings. Other times you simply want a specific effect.

This first message explained Aperture and Shutter Speed. However, we did not discuss how those settings affect your pictures.
I should point out that most of your shooting (and mine) will be done in Program Mode as your camera typically does a fine job with adjusting settings. Additionally, program Mode is especially handy with busy situations involving kids or animals.

In my next message, we will discuss how aperture changes the way your camera focuses and how shutter speed can freeze the scene or create a since of motion.

Happy Shooting!
Ryan Miller
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