technical: camera controls

Camera controls

Whatever camera you use, it will improve your photography if you understand some basic principles that will allow you to get the best out of your camera. Remember, its not the camera that makes the photo, but the photographer.

A camera is just a tool, although in the right hands a very effective one.

View of SLR camera from above

a diagram of a single lens reflex camera


The first thing to get right is exposure. This means allowing the right amount of light to reach the film to make a well exposed image containing highlights, shadows, and maximum detail in the mid tones. Some cameras will do this automatically, all you have to do is load the most suitable film for the prevailing light conditions, then just snap away. Other cameras allow you to adjust either the aperture, or the shutter speed, or both, so you have more control over exposure.

Aperture + Shutter speed + Film speed = Exposure

Light metering

A light meter measures the intensity of the light, and finds the correct combination of aperture and shutter speed to obtain the best exposure according to the film in use and the prevailing light conditions. If your camera has an automatic system you may not even be aware that this is happening. If your camera has a manual or semi automatic exposure system, there may be a needle in the viewfinder that moves up and down according to light levels, or a green light that comes on when you have found the correct exposure settings.

Manual exposure setting

The photographer must select both aperture and shutter speed in order to obtain the best exposure. The light meter shows when this has been set correctly.

Aperture priority

The photographer selects the aperture, the camera automatically selects the shutter speed which will produce the correct exposure.

Shutter speed priority

The photographer selects the shutter speed, the camera automatically selects the aperture which will produce the correct exposure.

Tip: Don't point your camera into the sun, you will get lens flare and your subject will be a silhouette. In fact backlighting in any situation can be difficult, a lens hood will help, and so will lighting the subject from the front using flash / over exposing by one stop.

a picture showing the effect of backlight

The choices of aperture and shutter speed, as well as controlling exposure, also have a profound effect on the way the image looks.

See Aperture and depth of field and Shutter speed and movement