Now that we've covered how the fundamental parts of a camera work, it's up to you to figure out how it applies to your particular camera. First, let's start with what kind of camera you have. Is it camera phone, a point & shoot, or a dslr?But before we get into different kinds of cameras - we want to make something very clear regarding the Momtographer's philosophy on cameras and equipment. Cameras are just the tools that deliver what your eye sees. A great image can be made with a toy camera if you understand what to look for when setting up your photo. Endless piles of money and gadgets will not help you take better pictures if you don't become a student of light and composition. In fact, starting out weighed down by the learning curve of a high-end DSLR may frustrate you with dark blurry images while your next door neighbor snaps away happily with their pocket point & shoot.
So don't ever limit yourself by what you have NOW. Instead of being intimidated by Miss Photomom of the year with her 3-foot long lens at the park, talk to her! Ask questions. We're confident she didn't start out snapping from day one with super-duper equipment. And if you're the mom with the crazy cool camera setup - challenge yourself to take a step back and start taking pictures with your camera phone. You'll be amazed at how much your creative eye will grow from the challenge!
KINDS OF CAMERAS
If your primary camera is your camera phone - you are definitely not alone! In just a few short years, virtually everyone will be carrying a powerful pocket camera with them at all times. Where camera phones excel in convenience factor, they limp a good bit in user controllability factor. We're not going to lead you on - this means that the preceeding articles in the FUNdamentals section don't apply to you. BUT WAIT! This is actually good news for developing your creative eye - you get to become a serious student of Light! So skip on over to the Light! section of Serious Snap, and become a master of the pocket - from your pocket!
Point & Shoot
These powerful little cameras are the best of all photography worlds. They're portable with their built-in lens, powerful, and super smart - they do most of the work for you! Most of the time, all you have to do is turn it on, point and shoot and the camera will decide all of the basic settings for you! But if you want more control (and we think you will) some of the more advanced point and shoots let you change modes (which we'll describe below). The most advanced ones will even allow you to dig in and make individual adjustments to settings like aperture, shutter speed, ISO and white balance. You'll have to read your user manual to determine what your camera offers and how to access those powerful settings.
The reason point and shoots are so great is because so much technology has gone into making them smart. You can get seriously good images from a nice point and shoot, and some momtographers will never need (or want!) to outgrow them!
Now we're talking camera. DSLR's are built for moms who eat, sleep and breathe every detail of photography. They are cameras built entirely around the premise of giving you total control of every element of your picture taking (everything except the thirteen-year-old who hasn't smiled in a year). You can even choose what kind of removable lens you'd like to use. They are powerful tools that require a commitment of skill and time to make full use of. In fact, when you first start out with a DSLR, it's likely the pictures taken with a more basic point and shoot will look better until you get a firmer understanding of what you're working with.
It sounds like a lot of trouble - but could you imagine a racecar driver hopping behind the wheel of an automatic and expecting spectacular results? Shooting in manual (or half-manual as we'll explain below) and choosing what kind of lens you want to use allows you much more precise control of the light entering your camera than it's point & shoot counterpart. And as you learn which lighting circumstances create challenges, you'll have the tools at your fingertips to make the best of them.
DSLRs come in a variety of sizes and price ranges, but they're typically larger and more expensive than a point and shoot. The good news is, many of the lower-range DSLRs have modes that allow your camera to behave like a point and shoot when you don't have time to fuss with manual mode. This is great when you're in public and you need to spend most of your time making sure your child is not getting knocked over by see-saws, or falling down the steps you're photographing them on!
Now that you've identified what kind of camera you have, pull out your manual. The following describes in generalities what kind of modes your camera is likely to have, but each manufacturer organizes and names things differently, so you're going to have to read up on your specific camera.
PROGRAM OR AUTOMATIC
Wanna take pictures straight out of the box? This mode is for you! You point, click and shoot - and the camera does all of the guesswork. It measures the available light and makes the decisions about aperture, shutter speed and ISO automatically. If you care little about having complete creative control or doing much past making sure that the setting is pleasing and the outfit is ironed, then this is a comfortable place for you to hang out for a while! Try the tips in our Brand Spankin' New section and see how you can still acheive the "WOW" factor.
When might an expert user use program or automatic? We can think of two situations. The first is when light is constantly changing, like on a partly cloudy day or when your little one is running in and out of shade on the playground. The second is when there's just not enough time or space to stop and think about your camera settings - like on a theme park adventure or when you're in a large crowd and it would be unsafe to think too much about your photos.
There's a third situation, but don't tell anyone!!! Whenever you hand over the camera to dad, grandma, or any other user you don't want to have to coach through a picture, flip it into program or automatic. We know this works, or you'd never see pictures of us with our families :)
APERTURE and SHUTTER PRIORITY
Now we're cookin'! Consider these modes half-automatic settings that do exactly what they allude to: You tell the camera what's most important to you, but you'd like it to do most of the work. Is it important to get a shallow depth of field for a portrait (small f-number)? Aperture priority will let you set the aperture you want and the camera will do all of the guesswork from moment to moment on what the shutter speed should be.
Conversely, Shutter Priority mode is for those moments when the most important thing is either freezing or blurring motion. Want to see every drop of water displaced from the sprinkler as your baby girl leaps through it? Plug in a high shutter speed number and let the camera measure the light and decide what your aperture needs to be.
In some cameras, they make it even more simple. Sports Mode is Shutter Priority set to a high speed to freeze that winning goal kick. Night Mode is made for extreme low light settings with a fixed low shutter speed (tripod recommended to elimiate blur from shake!).
There are a couple of Aperture Prioity modes as well. Portrait mode affords a fixed lower f-stop setting giving you an open aperture for a narrow depth of field, letting the focus be on just your subject.. The landsacpe setting is Aperture Priority with a fixed high f-stop, closing down your aperture so that everything in the scene stays in focus.
If you're the kind of person who slays dragons before breakfast and/or already knew most of this stuff either before coming to us or mastered it sometime after finding us, then this may be the mode for you! This is the mode that puts you in the drivers seat of the Indycar - when you shoot in manual, you have precice control over every part of your camera.
Whether you start here or work your way to this point, having full control over your camera (and therefore your photographs) means committing to shooting in manual. There is a curve to learning this mode, but we are here for ya every step of the way! There are lots of settings to consider, but with a fair amount of practice, we think you'll be swimming with the big fish in no time!