If you’re fairly new to photography, seeing all the different buttons and knobs on your camera can be a bit baffling. Well, lucky for you most of the cameras come with predefined settings and presets for different kind of shots. The basic camera settings for shooting landscapes, macro and portraits etc. are already programmed into the camera. You just need to locate them and learn to use them to your advantage.
The first thing you need to understand while taking photographs is to understand what you want to shoot. If you know what you want, you can use the basic camera settings and presets in the camera to your advantage. I personally like the presets in dSLRs, but the presets often require a bit of tweaking.
Another factor, before we move on slightly complicated things, is focus. Now most cameras come with an option to use auto and manual focus mode. Auto focus mode will focus on a part of the picture for you. With manual focus, you will have to use the focus ring to focus the image. It is a complicated skill to master and requires practice. I would suggest that you use auto focus till you get the hang of it. However, when you become more familiar with photography, you will likely want to use manual modes for both the settings and focus.
Here is a landscape taken with a small aperture size (large F-Stop). You can notice that the waves on the front are almost as sharp as the mountains and clouds in the back ground
Okay, now moving on to the fun bits. There are three major factors that contribute towards the mode of shooting. The aperture size, the ISO speed and the shutter speed.
The aperture is a tiny hole on the lens of your camera. Light goes in through the aperture and fall on the light sensor, which projects the photo. Now what would a change in aperture size does? Well, no rocket science there. Light passes through a tiny hole; increase the size of the hole and more light passes through it.
This picture has a relatively large aperture size (smaller F-Stop). You can see that only the object is in focus as opposed to the entire contents of the picture.
Aperture size is measured by an F followed by a number, something like F2.8 or F9.6 etc. What you need to understand is how changing the aperture size changes the size of the area of focus. With a low aperture size like 2.2 you are focusing on a small part of the photo, whereas a large aperture size focuses on a larger area of the photo.
As an example just consider a portrait and a landscape. Now if you are taking a portrait you would prefer to focus on the object to make it stand out, while out-focusing the back ground. But in a landscape you want the whole scenery to be crisply in focus the fields at the front, mountains in the background and clouds in the sky.
So for a portrait you would use a small aperture size whereas for a landscape you would use a large aperture size.
Here is a photo taken with a very slow shutter speed. Notice the blur caused by slight hand movement.
Next up is shutter speed. Shutter speed is basically the speed of the opening and closing of the aperture. Defined as the length of time for which the aperture opens to allow light to pass through it. When taking a picture, you have to strike a balance between the aperture size and the shutter speed. Fast shutter speeds can freeze motion. Slow shutter speeds do so at a slower rate, giving moving objects a blur.
If you use a very slow shutter speed for a hand held camera, even the slow movement of your hands, which is almost unseen, can cause blur in your photos. On the other hand if you use high shutter speed, the light entering the aperture reduces significantly. It can cause your photos to be too sharp with color aberration and grains.
The last thing is ISO. ISO settings allow you to tweak the light sensitivity. It enables you to take brighter pictures where there is low light. However, on the down side, high ISO levels compromise the quality of your pictures.
Well these are the basic setting for your camera. If you are new to photography, I would suggest you keep using the presets to take photos in different scenes. But you should keep practicing with different settings for shutter speeds, aperture sizes and ISO settings. Once you are proficient with these settings you will find that you can take more dramatic photos with relatively simpler cameras.