Use your camera and play

If you own a Single-lens reflex camera (SLR) – whether it’s a digital or a film camera – it’s a pity not to use the different possibilities. Of course I set my camera on full-automatic too at times, but the only advantage then is the speed of taking a picture. If you want to have special effects like depth-of-field for example, you have to put the camera on half-automatic or manual.

use camera



There are 3 elements on your camera that have a relationship with dark and light:
• diaphragm
• time


The range of the diaphragm depends on your lens and can be for example f/5.6 – f/22. Or it can be f/1.4 – f/32. The lower the first number the better the lens is!
A low diaphragmnumber means a big lens opening and little depth-of-field. Compare it to your eyes: in the dusk your pupils are big and you don’t see very well.

big pupilskeyboard

A high diaphragmnumber means a small lens opening and a lot of depth-of-field. Compare it to your eyes: in the sun you will squeeze your eyes. Squeezing your eyes also means that you see more.


If you put your camera on half-automatic and preset the diaphragm, the camera will take care of the time. The rule of thumb is:
• high diaphragmnumber <-> long time
• low diaphragmnumber <-> short time

Tip: use a tripod if you want to have a lot of depth-of-field.


blurring because of movement

Another preset is time. If you deliberately want a blurred picture use a long time. And for a frozen movement the time must be as short as possible.
In half-automatic the camera will combine the preset time with the right diaphragm.

frozen movement


Playing with these presets gives you a good feel for your camera. The main advantage in digital cameras is of course, that you can take loads of pictures and throw away afterwards what is not right.

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Want to take it a step further? Put the camera on half-automatic with the diaphragm preset on f/11. On the display you can see what time goes with that preset. Let’s presume it is 1/200. Than turn the button on Manual, set the diaphragm on f/11 and the time on 1/200. Take a picture. Change the time to 1/100 and take a picture. Change the time to 1/400 and take a picture. If the sun hasn’t disappeared behind a huge cloud in the meantime you get a good feel of the impact of changing the time.
You can handle a similar process by changing the diaphragm and leaving the time on 1/200.


Sometimes playing with time and diaphragm isn’t enough. If the light is very poor you can put the ISO (filmspeed) to a higher value.
The poorer the light the higher the ISO-value.
Most cameras can’t handle a high ISO very well and there will be some distortion, especially in big areas that have little details. So if you can avoid it, that’s better. Try to photograph as much as you can with a low ISO-value, for instance 100 or 200.


Not too hard on yourself

It took me a pretty long time before I mastered the relationship between diaphragm, time and ISO. The most difficult for me was the fact that a low diaphragm-number means a big opening and little depth-of-field. For some reason I thought it wasn’t logical. It helped me to make it some kind of mantra and repeating it to myself a lot:
• low diaphragm-number – big opening – little depth-of-field
• low diaphragm-number – big opening – little depth-of-field
• low diaphragm-number – big opening – little depth-of-field

If you were used to put your camera on full-automatic and because of this article you have been playing with half-automatic and manual, please let me know what you think of it in the commentbox below. I am really curious.

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