Photographers: Take the camera off “P” mode and read the instructions.

I am sure some inspired individuals who have purchased a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera might say, “Why did they waste all that paper on an instruction manual? They could have saved the trees, and I don’t need to read it anyway because the pictures are just fine with the camera set on program mode, and if some pictures don’t work, I’ll just delete and try again till everything looks good.”

I have written about this very topic in the past, but I am continually disappointed that it still comes up while talking to amateur photographers and sometimes even with those who make claims like “I shoot weddings”.

After removing their new camera they likely toss the box with the instructions aside, fumble around looking for someplace to stick in the memory card, spy a dial, select the letter P or A, turn on the camera, and start making pictures. If lucky, the on-camera flash is default programmed to pop up and flashes in low light environments and the magical technology produces usable pictures with factory settings in spite of the photographer’s lack of knowledge.

These new DSLR-toting photographers never move that dial off the P mode, and wonder what all the fuss is about for confusing modes like “aperture” priority, or “shutter” priority, and/or “manual” mode, and rationalize their opinion by saying, “I am not a professional and my pictures are mostly for me, my family and friends, and, anyway, the instructions are confusing.”

I hear stories about photographers that complained loudly that their new cameras aren’t working as they think they should, and angrily return their camera to the store they purchased it from, only to be shown by a patient sales clerk the section in the manual that solves the problem. Again as I wrote, it’s disappointing that they hadn’t taken the time to read their manual.

When a photographer comes to me asking for help with their new DSLR I begin with the suggestion, put the camera on P and shoot away, but only for one week. That’s right .…. only one week! And while that week passes my advice is to start reading the instruction manual that came with the camera, it is the best way to change that new camera from an expensive point-and-shoot into an amazing tool, and will help those interested in transforming their personal photography.

The instruction manual will have a chapter on “exposure Modes” with details regarding Aperture priority – a good place to start. Do more reading, and select aperture priority on the camera, focus on something and make the numbers change that appear in the viewfinder or LCD screen. The aperture controls the amount of light the lens is letting into the camera.

Practice with the new DSLR, get used to it, and experiment with everything in its menu, learning to use not only Aperture priority, but also Shutter priority and Manual modes. I have to emphasize that new owners should read their instruction manuals, re-read, and read again, and then try using another mode.

Photographers that own a DSLR need to understand when and why to use different exposure modes and reading the manual that came with that new camera allows them to set the menu to their personal shooting priorities. My camera manuals are all dog-eared, full of post-its and notations. That should be the norm for photographers that are serious enough about photography to learn about their camera.

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