What Does This Button Do? :: Digital Photo Secrets

What Does This Button Do?

by David Peterson 1 comment

Have you ever wondered what all those buttons and settings on your camera do?

I used to. I wondered why camera makers bothered with adding all those dials and modes when Auto mode was all I ever needed to take good shots.

It wasn't until years later that I realised that the only reason my shots were just 'good' and not 'Amazing' was because I had not ventured out of Auto mode.

I was holding myself back!

Camera makers add those extra switches and options because they know that Auto mode does not work all the time! It's a pity they don't tell us that in their marketing material.

Here are just some of the situations where Auto Mode does not always work properly:

  • At night
  • Sunset / Sunrise
  • Fast moving subjects (like at sports)
  • When there are darker and brighter parts of your image
  • Any image without any white elements (like clouds, or a white shirt)
  • At the beach
  • At the snow
  • Landscapes
  • And in many more situations

That's quite a big list!

Images like this are not possible in Auto Mode.
Taken by Mike Blythe during the Photography Dash, who said:
"I could not have created this photo before the Dash".

Why doesn't Auto mode work all the time then?

Because camera manufacturers don't know what you're going to be photographing before they make the camera, they have to build the camera to "guess" what the best possible photograph will be, no matter what you're pointing it at. Unlike us, cameras aren't that smart. They can't interpret what's going on in the scene. In short, your camera doesn't know what's important.

You might know that you want to emphasize the blue in your aunt's sweater, but to your camera, all colors are the same. Your camera doesn't want to emphasize anything. It just wants all of the colors to be balanced and even. It wants there to be just as many light colors as there are dark colors, a sort of average. Sometimes this works, but in a lot of situations, it leads to boring and bland photos.

Your camera has eyes, but it has no vision.

So what can you do? The answer is quite simple. Don't let your camera decide how to take your photo. Abandon Auto mode!

Now I know that's not such an easy request.

Yes, there will are plenty of times when you'll just want to take a quick snapshot. Auto mode works well for that. However, if you really want to improve your photography or you want to create photos with true artistic merit, that's where knowing what some of the buttons and menus on your camera do really helps.

For example, you've probably used the 'scene modes' before. Like "Portrait Mode", "Landscape Mode" or "Beach and Snow Mode". Camera manufacturers added these modes to help you tell your camera what you are photographing.

What you may not know is that there are literally dozens of other settings available to you that will vastly improve the resulting image. Just a button press away.

The February 'Photography Dash'

During February, I'm running a course that will show you exactly what those dials and settings on your camera mean, and how you can use them to take photos that will make your friends go 'wow'.

We'll cover a lot more than just the scene modes. We'll look into what ISO is, how it can be a blessing when shooting in low light. Or (if you don't know how to set it correctly), a curse that could ruin your image. I'll show you how different shutter speeds vastly alter your images. Don't get the shutter speed right, and your images will always be blurry.

We'll also explain White Balance; the 'mm' numbers on your lens; all about Aperture; what EXIF is; and much more.

You would expect all that from a regular course about photography.

However, this is not just a regular course.

Because I've added another element.

The key element that will propel your camera skills to the stratosphere!


A vital part of the Dash is encouraging you to practice with your own camera. Twice a week, I provide fun and interesting photographic challenges along with each lesson. By taking part in the challenge, you're 'locking in' that knowledge so you'll know exactly what to do when you really need to take a good photo (like at your daughter's wedding).

And that's how to truly master your camera.

At the end of the Dash, you'll feel great because you'll also have a portfolio of wonderful photos - that you took yourself - to admire, or to show off!

Take charge of your photography. Register in The Photography Dash today.


  1. Doug S says:

    Very good article. I found out one thing using a automatic point and shoot. Do exactly what Dave says and more. When I take pics of my classic car engine I switch to night portrait so the flash fires. On close up portraits I use fill flash and place a clear pc of saran wrap in front of my flash so it diverts some of the lite to soften the image. Facial shots are pretty washed and skin is softer. My wife loves them. Backlight setting is perfect to shoot inside in front of a window. When shooting inside keep the lites on since the more lite the better picture. Lastly download Picasa from Google and learn how to use a simple free software tool that will make your pictures sparkle. Best to Dave on a excellent article and good luck in taking the best possible automatic pic possible.

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