Day 18: A DSLR Manual Settings Primer

A Digital SLR Manual Settings Primer When I’m learning something new, one of the more frustrating challenges is finding out what the fundamental elements are, and what element goes with what observable effect. From this, I can derive a basic mental model that I can use to fumble my way around whatever logical systems have evolved. Most fields, at least at the very beginning, are not that difficult to understand if you assemble these pieces of knowledge; everything after that is familiarizing one’s self with the conventions that have evolved over time. The problem is that the experts talk shop using those conventions, and explanations become self-referential. Today’s product-of-the-day tackles the challenge of explaining manual camera controls.

The idea was inspired by my good friend Sid Ceaser, the photographer who explained to me how strobe lighting worked. When I had been learning more about cameras, I was constantly confused by the use of the term “F-stop” in the various contexts that it applies. Over time I developed a simpler mental model and “got” it, but it took quite some time to discover the underlying principles in a way that tied it all together. Today’s product of the day, I decided, would be an attempt to lay out what I knew on a small piece of paper. After about 4.5 hours I have a nifty 4×6 inch recipe card that has some useful information on it. Though it’s not what I expected, it’s something, and I’m again surprised at how much one can get done when not obsessing over NOT knowing what will come.

Anyway, this could be a beginning of a series of cards I work on with Sid, covering the basics from a more artist-friendly perspective. You’ll note that I completely avoided mentioning F-stops, instead presenting rules for making an image brighter or darker along a scale that is clearly-marked. That way, I avoid explaining concepts like how aperture numbers seem to get bigger when they are really physically smaller, which lets in less light, if you even notice that they are fractions. I also avoid talking about the doubling of light meaning a stop, but then having to explain that stops of exposure for ISO, shutter, and aperture are all slightly different. What a mess! Other cards can start to sort that out; some knowledge of the properties of light is necessary for understanding the inverse-square law and studio lighting. But if you just want to use your new Canon Rebel to take some pictures? Turning a few knobs in the right direction is far more rewarding I suspect, at least in the beginning…

Let me know what you think! Here it is:

» Download DSLR Manual Camera Settings Primer: Basics PDF

Adobe Acrobat Reader is recommended for printing. The built-in "Mac OS X Preview" and "Chrome Browser" PDF viewers do not always draw dotted lines correctly.


Groundhog Day Resolution Posts for 2014

I am challenging myself to create a new product every day for the month of February 2013. The Challenge Page lists all the products in one place. Check it out!