Make Perfect Exposures With Any Camera - 8/25/08
Stop shooting all-auto-all-the-time and you’ll quickly learn to make great pictures
That's not to say that photographers shouldn't use their automatic modes: by all means, if the tool works, use it! But if your goal is to learn the ins and outs of camera controls, stop relying on automatic settings and expect to understand exposure.
For example, if you're out tomorrow taking pictures (and it's not a loved one's wedding or other once-in-a-lifetime event) try your hand at using the camera's light meter, manual aperture and shutter speed controls. Now that most people are using digital cameras with instant-feedback LCDs, it's easy to see what changes those controls produce. Slow down the shutter speed and...what do you know the shot got brighter. Slow it down too much and it gets blurry too. You've just learned about allowing more light into the camera, and stopping motion (or not) with shutter speed. It may make for some failed pictures at first, but eventually you'll get the hang of it.
Continue your manual experiments. Stop down the aperture and realize the correlation between those big numbers and a smaller opening. See with your own eyes that f/22 lets less light into the camera, but it also dramatically increases the depth of field. Discover that the little light meter inside the viewfinder actually helps you manually adjust the exposure and the pictures still turn out right. It's an unbelievably simple yet powerful way to understand how cameras work. Watch the scale jump as you point from darker to lighter subjects and scenes. Now you're getting the hang of it.
The best thing about learning photography in manual mode is the feeling of empowerment it provides. Years from now, when you're shooting fully Auto and the camera is being fooled by a tricky lighting scenario, you can confidently switch to Manual and take control-creating great photos the old fashioned way, like a photographer.