Home How-To Helpline September 2007 HelpLine
Thursday, July 19, 2007

September 2007 HelpLine

Play Nicely With Photoshop Files

Labels: HelpLineHow To

Smart Use Of Scene Modes

Q) Eventually, I hope to purchase a digital SLR, but it will be awhile. I long for the ability to manually control shutter speed or aperture. My current camera doesn't have those capabilities. Is there some way I can fool it?

Sandy G.
Via the Internet

A) When I first read your question, I really wondered how I could answer it. There are so many models of compact digital cameras with so many different controls. Then I remembered that I did exactly what you're asking about when I recently did some shooting with a compact digital camera.

The key is to learn what your camera is doing when you use its scene modes. There's more going on when you flip through those funny icons of the runner or dog or whatever your camera uses to indicate the various scene-mode settings.

Let's take the Action or Sport mode. The camera will attempt to freeze the action, so it'll do whatever it can to set the shutter speed to a fast setting. This means that your aperture will be wide open. To increase the shutter speed more, you could adjust the ISO higher. If your camera has a Landscape setting, it might want the aperture to be stopped down to increase depth of field so that more of your image is in focus. 

I don't have enough space in this column (or probably a year's worth of columns) to diagram all the options available for each scene mode on every camera. But there's a fairly easy, though somewhat time-intensive method for you to discover what your scene modes are doing. Set up your camera on a scene and shoot it using all the different scene modes your camera has. Next, download your images and look at the EXIF data to see what changed with each image. You might have to shoot several different types of scenes to see what changes. Some scene modes may not change anything related to exposure, so you might not see changes in the EXIF data.

Reader's Surprise

Q) Thanks for the reminder to back up in your June HelpLine. I was in the habit but, somewhere along the line, became lax. After reading your article, I checked to see the last time I did it, and I was shocked—it was almost a year ago!

Kathleen Dombrowski
Oxford, North Carolina

A) I know that I keep pounding away at the concept of regular backups, but I'm constantly reminded by readers about the importance of this subject. Kathleen's letter has a good ending, but I receive many that have bad ones. I've heard sad tales of priceless loss of images, or whispered comments on how a month's worth of work was gone in a second. While I won't visit this topic every column, I hope we'll all keep it front and center.                 

If you have questions, please send them to HelpLine, PCPhoto Magazine, 12121 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 1200, Los Angeles, CA 90025 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .



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