It's All About Control

I was talking with one of the owners of the guitar shop I teach at and we got onto the subject of photography because I gave him one of my business cards ( He was still using his Nikon D60 in automatic mode and I was telling him he should read the manual and learn to use P mode. DSLR's are meant to be used in the more manual settings rather than the automatic settings. Here's a great website for all you DSLR owners who still use it in automatic mode:

This started me thinking. With the prices of DSLR's constantly dropping and with more and more consumers able to buy them, the sheer photographic possibilities available to everyone have exponentially increased. Heck, I wouldn't have been able to afford a DSLR even 5 years ago, but now the cameras, lenses, and equipment are at a very reasonable price. So this makes me ask the question: why are there still so many people who aren't taking advantage of what their camera can do?

I think one of the main factors is that cameras have a horrible user interface. There are so many menus and buttons on a camera, even on consumer point-and-shoot cameras, that most people don't ever learn what their camera is capable of. Reading the instructions is the main remedy for this, but as the owner of the guitar shop told me, most people want to just start taking pictures. If camera manufacturers were as concerned with user interface as Apple is with their computers, then for sure cameras would be a lot easier to use and more people would take advantage of their capabilities. Unfortunately, no camera manufacturer is working on user interface, so we're stuck with all the buttons and menus . . . at least for now. The iPhone may change things in the future.

Another factor is that people upgrading from a point-and-shoot to a DSLR are still thinking in point-and-shoot mode. In other words, taking pictures was just about pointing the camera and pressing the button. However, taking this approach will only result in pictures that look the same as if a point-and-shoot camera was used. Taking good pictures with a DSLR requires a MINDSET change. The tutorial website I linked to above has a great analogy of cooking and I would like to extend the analogy to DSLR cameras.

Using a DSLR camera is like becoming a cook. With a DSLR, you have control over all the ingredients that makes a great recipe (e.g. picture). If you were a great cook, would you have another cook make all your recipes and food for you? This is exactly what is happening when you use a DSLR in automatic mode. The camera makes all your decisions for you, so the quality of your pictures is left up to the camera. But to take better pictures, or to be a better cook, you need to study how the ingredients affect the end results. You need to experiment with the ingredients/settings and see what happens. You need to learn about aperture, shutter speed, ISO sensitivity, white balance, lens focal lengths, and lighting. Sound like a lot of stuff? Cooking is more complicated than learning a DSLR camera . . . trust me, I'm learning to cook (and I'm still learning photography too, but I digress).

I think once people make this mindset change and start thinking of a DSLR camera as cooking, then it won't seem so complicated. Today's cameras are so much better than cameras 10 years ago. Even point-and-shoot cameras have more power than my dad's old 35mm SLR camera did. So why not learn how to harness all that power? And once you learn what you're doing with a DSLR camera, the skills you learn transfer to point-and-shoot cameras. Your pictures will start looking better even with less capable cameras. So get out there with your DSLR, take it out of automatic mode, and start cooking some great photos.


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