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Getting to Know Your Camera


Alaska Photo Treks

Cameras are amazing artistic tools with a myriad of controls designed to help make creative decisions. Placement of these controls can vary widely across camera makes and models, but their functionality remains fairly constant. This prep worksheet will help you locate the most essential settings, which means you’ll spend less time searching and more time using them during a photography class, workshop or tour. The illustrations shown are approximations and may not look exactly like your camera, so keep your owner’s manual handy as well. If you are using a point-and-shoot or smartphone camera, search the menu settings to see if there are options mimicking the features listed below. Once you’ve located the controls and learned how to adjust them, it’s helpful to write notes so you can quickly remember. Don’t worry about how they work. We’ll show you that!


camera shutter


The shutter is a curtain-like device between the aperture and sensor. It can be made to open at different speeds so that light falls on the sensor for more or less time. Where is your camera’s shutter control?


Aperture is a diaphragm-like device inside the camera lens. It can be opened or closed to let more or less light fall on the camera sensor. Where is the aperture control on your camera?


ISO refers to how sensitive the camera sensor is to light. The sensor records the scene being photographed. It is located behind the shutter and can be adjusted to be more or less reactive to light. A high ISO means the sensor is very reactive and needs less light to achieve proper exposure. How do you adjust ISO?

Shooting Mode

This is the control where you will find auto, scene, and manual modes. The symbols and names of these settings vary from camera to camera. On Canon cameras, aperture and shutter priority modes are called [TV] and [AV]. On most other cameras, they are called [S] and [A] respectively. Locate the shooting mode control on your camera.

EV [Exposure Compensation]

The EV control allows for camera exposure overrides when shooting in aperture priority, shutter priority or program modes. It can be used to easily increase or decrease exposure. Note: there may be two on your camera. Built-in flashes usually have their own EV setting to control flash output. Locate EV on your camera.

Metering Mode

A camera light meter measures overall light reflected from the subject back to the meter, and then calculates exposure based on the reading. By default, it’s set to matrix mode. This means the meter measures light from a wide area of the frame. There are other options that can help pinpoint a specific area in the picture for correct exposure, including zone, center, spot and partial metering. Read your manual to see what metering modes are available on your camera model and locate them.

Focus Mode

Focus can be optimized to for certain subjects. AF-S [One-shot on Canon] locks focus on a stationary subject. AF-C [Al-servo on Canon] locks focus on a moving subject and tracks it through the frame until the shutter is deployed. Find focus modes on your camera.

Focus Point Selector

This controls the point where the scene will be sharpest. There are many different types of focus point selectors. Consult your manual to find the focus point options.

Drive Mode

Drive mode controls the number of frames shot with one shutter click. You may choose from single shot, continues low [multiple shots at a slow rate], or continuous high [multiple shots at a high rate]. Drive mode is also where the timer is usually found. Locate drive mode on your camera.

Meter Display

The meter is a tool to help determine proper exposure. It displays in manual mode. A good exposure is calculated to be at 0. Overexposure occurs on the + side, and under exposure on the -. The meter also displays in aperture and shutter priority modes when the EV button is activated. Activate the meter on your camera by partially pressing the shutter button while in manual mode, or the EV button while in aperture priority or shutter priority.


Histograms are another useful tool to help you calculate good exposure. Metering systems can be fooled in certain light conditions, and it’s sometimes hard to judge exposure just from viewing a photo on the playback screen. You can choose to have the histogram appear in the photo review mode by going into your camera playback settings and making the selection to display. Consult your camera manual to locate and display this feature.
white balance settings display

White Balance

Light can have a color temperature and tint. Some light sources are close to neutral, but most are either on the warm or cool side of the scale. Modern cameras are fairly good at balancing white balance automatically and therefore their default setting is Automatic White Balance (AWB). However, there are other presets available in your settings, and often a way to set white balance manually. Find the White Balance setting on your camera.
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