Which Button is for the Composition Mode?        

Pritchard store

Open Gates bw

Forest path

Canon Beach 2

Palouse falls 2

Which button is for the composition mode?     Yes, I did get asked that question the other day, but it is not as silly as it first sounds. I’ll go back to the conversation from which it comes.

A customer stopped by my shop wanting to get a different camera other than the one he had been using for over 20 years.

I was showing him a couple of cameras and explaining the different modes like “aperture priority”, “shutter priority”, “program” and “manual” when he made the statement, “All that seems a bit complicated, just show me which button is for the composition mode because mostly I like taking scenics”.

The other customer in the store stopped her browsing, turned, and just looked at me. I’m not sure if she was troubled by his statement, or also wanted to know about this secret button.

I replied, “Composition is what you do, not the camera, to position your subject within the viewfinder frame,” and added; “composition also deals with perspective and the relationship you create between subjects in the foreground and background.”

Does all that seem too complicated of an answer? I was making squares and rectangles with my hand and moving things around on the counter as I explained it hoping to make it clear to him. Now, however, let us go back to his question of the “composition button” and what he was trying to achieve with his camera. Remember his last camera was from the 1970’s. Even auto focus was new to him.

Cameras programmed since the 1980s are pretty capable of getting the exposure correct in all but the most contrasty lighting conditions. If he were to get serious now that he was about to get a DSLR he would be trying to discover how other successful photographers compose a scenic. Or he would be doing some reading, joining a camera club, or taking some classes that would teach him composition. My impression was that he just liked to take pictures and capture memories of the places he has been. So I think either the mode with the “little mountains” or with the “running person” on the dial of the camera I was showing him would give him exactly what he was looking for and we could, if we wanted to, call them composition modes.

The exposure mode I feel most comfortable with is manual and I am continually thumbing through the different menus on my camera to reset things. I make my living using a camera so I have a camera in my hand a lot of the time. I think each of us needs to use our cameras in ways that make us comfortable so we won’t happen to be confused and experimenting with the settings at that moment when the action happens in front of our camera.

I used to call that a “Kodak moment”. Hmmm, I think I need to find a new phrase now that I am no longer using Kodak films and that company has pretty much disappeared.

In any event, I recommended that he not worry too much about composition and experiment with the different modes his camera has to offer other than “P”. Hopefully he’ll stop by again and I can get him using his DSLR as more than just a point and shoot camera.

In closing this article that started with thoughts of composition, I particularly like this quote of Alexander Lee Nyerges of the Art Institute of Dayton, Ohio, when discussing an exhibition of Ansel Adams of the American West.

“His landscapes were operatic in composition, complete with lighting, tragedy and drama—luring those who viewed his works to seek Nature and capture the spirit of the wilderness.” I am certain Adams had a special button for composition.

Grab your camera and go to the Rodeo

                                                                                                    I had finally reached Olympic games overdose. I enjoyed watching the Olympics, but in British Columbia, Olympics coverage was everywhere. Every radio station, television network, newspaper, and conversation had something about what was happening and I couldn’t get away from it. However, now they are over and I expect many (ok, I guess I’m included in this) might be going through some sort of withdrawal.


Well, for those who enjoyed watching and applauding athletes at their best I found a great way to get out of that withdrawal, however, they just need to be willing to get up off the couch and leave the comfort of their air-conditioned home.  Happening right now all over North America there is that time-honored tradition of the western Rodeo. Each year I look forward to the annual Prichard Rodeo. There are others all over BC that are worth attending, but I’m lucky because, “just down the road apiece” from my country home is the Pritchard Rodeo grounds.

As I strolled down the dirt lane to the bleachers, concessions, and rodeo arena, I looked around and could see some of my neighbors lounging in the fenced off beer garden, and others with their children waiting in the shaded bleachers. Then, of course, I checked out the photographers standing at the railing readying their equipment.  The first friendly face was local news photojournalist Hugo Yuen; we exchanged greetings, talked a bit before he left to get some of the participant names. He had a list to cover for his paper, so he was shooting fast and leaving.

I wandered on, watching photographers positioning themselves along the railing, I wanted to see what cameras they were using, and waved at the arena manager, Don Swift, as he readied participants and turned to see professional rodeo photographer Bernie Hudyma striding towards me. I knew I would see him there. He’s a good photographer and I always like to hear what he has to say. I’m sure many of the rodeo participants were also glad to see him arena side because of the pictures he will have waiting for them.


For those that haven’t yet photographed a rodeo, I’ll begin with the words, “Grab your hat and camera and do it!” You will have fun and get enjoyable pictures to share with friends and relatives.

Here one can see drama, explosive action, anticipation, heartbreak, defeat, excitement, athletic prowess, both male and female physical excellence, teamwork, sportsmanship and, of course, triumph. Then there isn’t, in my opinion, anything much better than attending a rodeo. And for those of us that are dedicated photographers, the action of a rodeo is the perfect way to spend the day.

My advice for first-timers is to get a DSLR. Little point and shoot cameras are great for taking pictures of family groups, and subjects moving slowly in one direction, but you won’t find much of that at the rodeo. When you shoot with the DSLR take the camera off the “P” mode and select  “A”, or  “S” mode if you own a Nikon, or on a Canon select AV or TV. Aperture priority means the photographer selects the aperture and the camera chooses the shutter speed. In shutter priority, it is the other way around, the photographer selects the shutter speed and the camera controls the aperture.

Fast moving, quick changing, rodeo subjects jump into the sky, quickly increase or close the distance from where the action began and, of course, constantly change the exposure by bouncing in and out of bright sun and deep shade.  While following the constantly changing scenarios it all happens very fast, and all one really needs is to control one part of the exposure equation.  Whether that is the shutter or the aperture really depends on what is important.

For example, when I am photographing the directional motion of horse racing or drag racing I prefer shutter priority. When at the rodeo I want more depth of field. That’s the field of focus in front of and behind my subject. Those horses and bulls move fast and I don’t want one moving out of my area of sharpness before I can refocus.

I suggest a zoom lens that goes to at least 200mm. Most modern lenses focus fast enough, following the action, and setting the focus takes a bit of practice, but there is lots of time to experiment at a rodeo, so just shoot and shoot and shoot. As I wrote, if you haven’t yet photographed a rodeo, grab your hat and camera and do it! Find a rodeo near your home and have fun.

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com