Photography 101 Camera Functions

Photography 101 – The Mysterious Letters on your Camera

Photography always fascinated me. I was in love with the idea of capturing forever the perfect moment in a push of a button or taking basic everyday things and photographing them from a new angle in a way that makes them so much more interesting.

I had a secret dream of becoming a photographer.

What crashed it?

Well, I was pretty young at the time (I think like 16?) and I was all about the creative aspect of photography. Then both my brother and brother-in-law got themselves some fancy cameras and pretty much shattered my dreams. Don’t get me wrong, I love these guys to death, but their view on photography was ALL about the technical aspects. So when they started throwing around words like parameters, aperture, raw images and going into all the different lenses that were “necessary” for good photos and the prices of it all, I packed my bags and moved outta town.

Over time I decided to pick up a camera again and slowly start learning the various functions each camera has. I quickly realized it’s really not THAT scary and complicated.

Then my brother-in-law handed down his Nikon D3200 and the real learning process began.

If you’re starting out as well and feel intimidated by all these letters on the dial of your camera and these ever changing numbers on the screen, I welcome you to my basic guide to photography voodoo. I am by no means and expert, so I promise to make this as SIMPLE as I possibly can.

Let’s get started!

Photography 101 : Camera Functions


M for Manual Mode

This is the one you’re probably familiar with. The Manual Mode aka the Stay-Away-From-It Mode. At least that’s how I always viewed it.

This is the mode in which you set all the camera functions up yourself. So if you have no clue how to work with ISO, aperture, how to set shutter speed and the exposure, or what any of that means, this mode can be over-whelming and super discouraging.

But it’s ok! Don’t let the M intimidate you. It can be super tempting to just pop that sucker into “Auto Mode” but as you gain more knowledge about the different camera functions, you’ll be eager to try out your skills. The M mode is where you’ll want to go for that.

It is the most, I guess you can say, annoying mode, because as you’re out and about taking pictures, things like lighting and motion affect your photo. As a photographer, you have to be quick with your fingers or the moment will slip away. As clouds roll in and decrease your light you’ll have to quickly change your settings only to change them again when the clouds move on and the sun comes out again. Let’s face it, ain’t no body got time for that.

Some cameras will have a couple Custom Modes, in which you can adjust your own settings and switch to them quickly. Kind of like a filter on your Instagram photo. But not all cameras have this feature so the M mode is most reliable when you’re in a more controlled setting, like a studio or when you have the time to play around with your settings to get the exact result you desire.


A for Aperture Priority

Aperture. I don’t know why but that word scared me when I was first getting into photography. But in reality, it’s super simple.

When I look at my Nikon D3200, there’s a grey circle with a yellow circle inside. There is also a meter with some numbers above it. One of the numbers has a F in front of it. E.g. F7.1.

This is what photographers call an F-stop.

That’s your aperture!

The Aperture Priority is a mode where you yourself set the Aperture and ISO and the camera automatically adjust the shutter speed (which is how quickly your lens captures the photo, but more on that later).

So when to turn your knob to the A?

For a long time I believed that since aperture controls the light, that’s what I need to focus on when I was in a low light scenario and needed my camera to let as much light in as possible. This is not the proper use of Aperture.

Aperture is what decides what in your photo will be blurry and what will be sharp. If you want to focus on a single person or object and blur your background, you want to be in A Mode. If you find your camera focusing on one spot, when you want to capture the entire image, A Mode all the way!

S for Shutter Priority

Shutter Speed is the swooshing sound you hear your lens make when you take a photo. It’s how long your lens is open to capture the photo.

Shutter Priority is the mode in which you set the ISO and Shutter Speed and the camera adjust the aperture.

A higher shutter speed will capture movement. However this also means your lens won’t have time to let a whole lot of light in. This can result in dark pictures. To counteract this you’ll want to increase your ISO. However this will only get you so far, depending on what type of camera you have.

You could also use Shutter Priority Mode to decrease your shutter speed for a really neat blurred effect, like people walking by in a city or a car speeding by.

P for Programmed Exposure

Think of the P as a more flexible Auto mode. This is actually the mode I use the most when I’m on the go and don’t have the time to adjust all the settings each time I point my camera, but still want some sort of control over whats happening.

Your camera will adjust your shutter speed and aperture to show you what it senses it should be, however then you’ll have the option to tweak the settings your way.

Another thing you’re allowed to control in P Mode is the ISO. In Auto mode your camera will set that for you. In P mode, whatever ISO you set, the camera will not touch. So if you’re out on a bright day you’ll want the lowest ISO possible. But if you’re shooting in low light but don’t want to use flash, you can set your ISO much higher.

ISO is tricky though because a high ISO is what produces the grainy, pixel-y, effect in a photo. The better your camera, the less grain with high ISO you’ll see. The suckier the camera, the less you’ll want to increase ISO.


So there you have the break down of the four basic camera functions and how to work them so that they don’t work you. I will be coming out with more articles on photography so stay tuned and  please share some love and leave a comment below if this article helped you gain a better understanding of your camera functions.

Happy shooting!

I'm Sandra, creator of Whispers of Adventure. I'm a crazy dreamer with a love for adventure and new experiences. With my passion for writing and capturing the moment with a lens, I hope to inspire you for your next adventure!

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