I get asked how to use modern digital SLR cameras to make good photographs and though I don't really know, my basic chutzpah is going to force me to answer anyway.  I'll rely on what I've learned from better photographers and this is about as close to giving them credit as I'll come.  That's that chutzpah thing again. As far as any basic philosophy is concerned I'm not a purist—something that will no doubt irritate the perfectionists and professionals.  There is no such thing as a bad photo of something or someone special.  Sure, we'd like clear, crisp photos with vibrant color that are meticulously composed.  As the poet should have sung "It ain't (always) me babe."  I know some of my sites show people or things that will be viewed by such entities as parents and grandparents.  Everyone strives for perfection but rather than deleting a poorly focused shot with less than good lighting or composition, I operate under the conviction that there are no bad photos of something or someone you care about.  I plead guilty  for creating a term  for a  class of photos  called "Grandparent Quality."  Many years ago I was talking to an experienced photographer and I sheepishly mentioned that I had only managed to take one really good photo of a sunset with my old film Minolta SLR.  His response made me a photographer.  He said:  "That's one." I'm still working on two.

                                                                                The back of a modern SLR looks like a mystery.  It isn't.

I want to show you how to quickly learn how to make adjustments and then urge you to go out and learn by trial and error.
I urge you to be self-taught at everything.  I have and my teacher is getting better all the time.  It's been an uphill journey.

The directions that came with your camera will tell you how to attach a lens, install a battery and memory card.
Now flip the lever from off to on.

There is a dial right above the lever.  Turn it to the green box and your camera is ready to go to take snapshot style photos.  The camera will make all the settings you need automatically.  You just point and shoot.  The flash will even deploy if the camera determines it is needed. Most cameras will have a similar dial.  By turning the wheel counter clockwise you will access specific settings to photograph portraits, night scenes, sports, landscapes etc.  The camera does the work and you just aim and click. 

Turn the wheel clockwise to the letter M and a different world is available.
The M, AV and TV settings are the three basic modes for controlling the camera.

The letters P, TV and AV refer to settings where you pick one setting and the camera picks the others.  We'll skip right ahead to M.  It stands for manual and here you will choose all of the settings yourself.  Once "M" is understood you can use the other settings if you wish.  I don't usually stray from the manual setting.  Incidentally, this is not Manual focus.  That's different and you will usually set this to AF for auto focus.
This is the creative zone of the camera and it will be where you can best deal with things like the fast moving sporting events in bright sun or dark arenas.  There is nothing wrong with using the automatic settings if they work for you.  In the early years of exploration of North America the legendary Hudson Bay Company warned its explorers and trappers that there was nothing to be gained by traveling tough for the sake of traveling tough.  In law and science there is the concept of Occam's Razor.  It states that when two theories seem correct, the simplest one is superior.  My favorite rock band had a philosophy that guided efforts: "The situation is the boss."

When you turn the camera on you can access this information screen by pushing the button labeled INFO. Depending on your model, you may need to push more than once or even use the MENU button.  Each camera may be different but on this Canon 60D there is a football shaped button to the right of the MENU and INFO buttons. It has a circle inside a box.  Push this and one of the settings on the screen will be highlighted.  The wheel right below the INFO button controls highlighting the screen.  Click on the left side of the wheel (9 o'clock position if it were a clock face) and the highlighting moves left.  Up (12 o'clock) , down (6 o'clock) and right (3 o'clock) are directed by pushing those parts of the wheel.

The camera is a light/image gathering device.
Basically, the M stands for manual.  Here you will control how long the shutter stays open to admit the light that brings you the target image.  This is called shutter speed or exposure. Here the camera is set at 1/125.  That means when you depress the shutter button, light will be allowed in to your sensor for 1 125th of a second.  Divide a second into 125 units and your sensor will be exposed for only one of those units.  That sounds fast but in photography it is rather slow.  A speeding baseball couldn't be photographed at that speed.  A runner would be a blur at best.  The pictured camera can actually be set to expose the sensor (the digital equivalent of film) for 1/8000th of a second.  At that speed a 100 MPH baseball can be frozen in mid flight so well that you could count the stitches on the ball.  Actually, this can be done at a speed a lot slower than 1/8000th.  The exposure or shutter speed on this camera can be slowed down all the way to 30 seconds.  In other words, the camera sensor is open for 30 seconds.  Excess light or any movement is your enemy here.  Many cameras have a B setting where a bulb is used to open and close the shutter for as long as you wish.

Your next creative control is for Aperture.  In the photo, F00 is the aperture setting.  The camera operates much as your eye's iris and pupil do to admit light.  Where your aforementioned shutter speed controls how long the sensor is exposed, the aperture controls how big the opening will be during that exposure.  Everyone has experienced going from a dark room into bright sunlight and being overwhelmed by the brightness.  Your iris had been open as wide as needed for the darkened room and it is slow to react to the bright light and remains open too wide.  The reverse happens when you go from  sunlight to darkness.  Your aperture setting controls the size of the opening when you make a photo. Here is the confusing part.  The aperture will be expressed as the letter F followed by a number.  In the above photo, an F00 is shown because I had no lens attached at the time.  In photography the SMALLER the F number, the LARGER is the opening.  Lenses get much better (and much more expensive)  with lower aperture numbers.  Thus an F1.8 admits more light than an F2.0.  These designations are called "stops" and lenses are said to be faster as the aperture number gets smaller.  My fastest (and thus best) 2 lenses are F1.8 and F2.8.  A typical Zoom lens that comes in a camera kit will be in a range of 3.5-5.6.  It would be called a slow lens .  Photographers try to buy the fastest (lowest F number or aperture) they can afford.  For action photography, the faster lens (with the bigger light admitting size and lowest f number) will enable you to use the fastest shutter speed as well as the next setting: ISO.

The final creative setting is called ISO.  It refers to the sensitivity of the sensor to light.  Again, the lower the number the better.  However, as the available natural or artificial lighting decreases, you will have to raise the ISO number.  The lower number as lower sensitivity to light and at say 100 ISO you'll get smaller grain and thus sharper photos.  At higher ISOs you'll get larger grains and less sharp photos.  The excess grain is called noise by photographers.  The camera in this article can shoot ISO settings from 100 to 12,800.   You would try to keep the ISO number as low as possible as sharpness will decline as the number increases.  At 12,800 the photos are very grainy (noisy).  There are processing programs such as Noise Ninja, Photo Studio and Lightroom, among others, that will help reduce the noise to much better levels.  I have shot at as high as 6400 and corrected the noise with such programs.  The AUTO ISO setting is useful.  You set the shutter speed and aperture and the camera picks the lowest ISO that will work.  The problem with AUTO ISO is when you have something bright in the photo that will mislead the computer into adjusting for just that bright object.  (ISO stands for International Organization for Standardization and in film it was called ASA.)

OK, your photos are too dark.  What do you do?  You can slow the shutter speed and/or lower the aperture to a lower F number and/or raise the ISO number.  You may have to adjust all three.  Photos too bright?  Try speeding up the shutter and/or closing down the aperture opening by raising the F number and/or Lower the ISO number to make your sensor less sensitive. You'll probably change all three.

Other than M (Manual), your camera will have other programs such as for Shutter Priority   (TV or Time Value For Canon,  S for Nikon and Minolta).  Aperture Priority (AV or Aperture Value for Canon and A for Nikon).  In TV you set the shutter speed and ISO and the camera picks the appropriate aperture.  In AV mode you pick  the aperture and ISO and the camera picks the shutter speed.  A lot of sports photographers like the AV mode especially outdoors with sun and cloud variations.  Other modes will include P for Program where the camera aids in adjusting the modes.  B stands for bulb and here you set the aperture and ISO and manually control the shutter speed by opening the shutter with one click and closing it with another.  C will stand for Custom Mode where you can go back to a programmed set of combinations that you frequently use.

OK, those are your creative categories.  Practice adjusting these various settings in different conditions and you might even take notes.  I believe that there are certain "sweet spots" for every camera and every situations.  Get the fastest lens you can afford but know that the ZOOM lens you got with the camera will work well with good lighting and the right aperture and ISO settings.

On this camera there is a button with a rectangular box with an arrow inside.  This button displays the last shot you took.  Turn the wheel above it to scroll through the other photos you've taken.  For now I would advise you not to delete photos from the camera.  You might be surprised to find you can "save" a shot with your processing app and besides, while deleting you might miss a good shot or (gasp) accidentally delete a great one.

For now, set these as indicated and later you can read and experiment with different settings.  AISERVO  This auto focus mode is best for capturing movement,  AI SERVO (AI stands for artificial intelligence) is best for tracking action but it works well for all around needs.

There are other settings you can use to improve your photography.  For now, use standard settings when in doubt. 

AWB stands for Automatic White Balance.  The AWB setting will serve you now.  Other settings in this category are for specific types of light such as sun light,  cloudy, and different artificial light.    I'd leave this on AWB and experiment later after I've mastered shutter speed, aperture and ISO.

Somewhere there should be a setting for HIGH speed continuous shooting. Use it for sports and most applications. On this camera the screen control is right below the ISO and shows a stack of photos and an "H."

For metering modes, evaluative metering works for now.  It's control is next to the Quality control. Highlight Evaluative Metering and push "SET" in the control wheel.

For auto focus points use the center point for now. 

You can shoot well with the creative settings and you can pick up these other settings as you progress with the main controls. You can get excellent photos using shutter speed, aperture and ISO adjustments.  The other controls will help you fine tune your efforts.

All cameras have image quality controls.  On the example camera this is shown in the lower right corner of the screen right above the 999 (which is a shutter count showing remaining shots).  The partial circle with the L next to it represents the highest quality of jpeg (compression of photo).  It will produce the highest megapixel photo.   When you highlight this number you'll see the other choices as far as picture size and quality.  The lower the megapixel number the lower the quality.  The advantage of a lower quality is more shots on the card and the quicker loading of images on the computer.  The Holy Grail for photographers is the RAW setting.  Here everything is captured and you can make great adjustments in post processing with programs  such as Lightroom, Photoshop etc.  The downside is the files are huge (approaching 15 MB in some cases) and thus fewer shots per card and long loading times.  What should you use?  Experiment!  If I'm shooting 200 shots of a sporting event I use a jpeg setting.  For a keepsake shot of a loved one or a special sunset, RAW is the only choice...for me.

For those wishing to do sports photography  here are some random thoughts.

Be careful.  It is NEVER good when the photographer becomes part of the action.

You generally need a media or photo credential to shoot from anywhere but the stands.

Flash photography is usually not allowed.  It is a distraction to others and a danger to players.

Never use a tripod while near the action. The NCAA forbids it as does common sense.
A monopod is fine because you are not likely to leave it to run from the action.
Tripods are too dangerous in collisions for the photographer and the player.

No shot is worth the danger to you or the players,


These photos were made from about 75 feet away.







I think it's safe to advise people to buy the best lens they can afford.  Many cameras come in a kit with a zoom lens somewhere between 50 and 300mm in an aperture range between F 3.5 and F 5.6.  This lens will only be a problem in low light situations where you can't use a flash or the movement of the object you're shooting is too fast to use a slower shutter speed. Later on you might consider the so called "nifty fifty" offered by several excellent manufacturers in an excellent F 1.8 and a great F 1.4.  The F 1.8 usually sells for only around $100!  I'm familiar with Sigma lenses and they have a 70-200 F 2.8 that is wonderful in low light.  There are teleconverters that increase the focal length of the lens they are attached to. The most common is a 2x often called a doubler.  Beware of quality concerns and note that if you put a lens or a lens-teleconverter on your camera that raises the lens F number above F 5.6 you will not be able to use your camera's auto focus.  That is a big deal.  Zoom lenses are very popular and affordable.  A 50-200mm zoom rated at F 3.5-F 5.6 will have an F 3.5 at the 50mm end and progress as you'd expect to the F 5.6 at the 200mm end.  You would lower your shutter speed and/or raise your ISO to compensate as you altered  the aperture.  Remember that if you make the opening (aperture) smaller (with a high f number), you'll have to allow the light to enter longer (shutter speed) and/or use more sensitive sensor setting (ISO).

Crop factor refers to the fact that normal sized cameras make a photo that shows less of the target than a full frame camera.  The normal frame camera  (the Canon 60D shown above and used to make the Buddha images is such a camera) can be used in the enlargement of a photo from regular size to the full frame size.  For this purpose, a Canon 60D using a 70mm lens produces a photo as large as a 112mm lens.  The enlargement factor between this camera and a full frame camera (equal to the old standard 35mm in size) is 1.6x.  The 190mm lens is equal to a 304mm lens. My 400mm lens set up is equal to a 640mm lens. 

Of course quality will drop when you either enlarge a photo of compress it to make it take up less space and load faster.  Think of a Buddhist Mandala.  These are sand drawings we make and then destroy .  This is about photography and not Buddhism so I'll leave the interpretation of this to you. (Hint: It's about the impermanence of all things)  If you wanted to enlarge a sand painting you would have to move the colored grains further apart.  The image wouldn't be as sharp but it would be larger.  To compress the photo from say 10 MB to a much smaller or lighter size you would also remove grains of sand. This would lower the total weight of the painting while keeping the image the same size but quality would suffer.  In both operations you would lose clarity and sharpness.  The most common form of file format for compression is called jpeg  (JPEG or JPG).  It stands for Joint Photographic Expert Group.  All things being equal, a 10 MB photo is far superior than the same photo compressed to 10 KB       

Optical Stabilization (OS) and Image Stabilization (IS) are computerized motors that compensate for excess movement and camera shake when you use them when making a photo.  Make sure you turn them off (usually a switch on the side of the lens) when not in use and don't use them with a tripod although some experts say a monopod is OK to use.  They add cost to the lens.