Another in my series of Help and How-tos on the Canon t4i but I will let you in on a little secret – just about everything that is covered in this video can applied to ANY camera with manual modes and the first half of the video describes describes basic camera terms and how changing those affect your photos.

Complete Video – Scroll down for shorter clips

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Full Text


If you are interested in becoming a better photographer you should spend time learning these modes and using them – the camera is only so smart and you, with a little work can do a better job of exposing your photos to get the look you want – it may be a more true to life look (aspen trees) or it may be a more magical altered reality – either way you have the control and the brains to make the photos you want.

Very quick basic photography lesson

Shutter speed refers to the length of time the shutter is open during an exposure – exposure being “the act of taking a photo” Commonly measured as hundredths of a second, i.e. 250 which really means 1/250 – but it can also be measured in 10s of a second and even full seconds. The longest shutter speed you can set with the T4i without uing Bulb mode is 30 seconds this means the shutter stays open for full 30 seconds. – we will talk about that another time.

Aperture – Aperture refers to the size of the opening inside the lens and is expressed as an f-stop almost all lenses have adjustable f-stops. The smaller the f-stop number the larger the opening and the larger the f-stop number the smaller the lens opening. In this example I have the 50mm f/1.4 USM lens on here and that means the largest aperture this lens is capable of is f/1.4 The smallest opening is f/22- that’s a pretty small opening and f/1.4 is a pretty large opening – – The larger the opening the more light that is let in during an exposure, the smaller an opening the less light. To repeat – As the numbers get smaller the opening gets larger and vice versa. Another result of changing the aperture is the depth of field, how much of the photo is in focus, larger apertures f/1.4 produce photos with shallow depth of field, only a small amount is in focus, narrower apertures produce images with larger depth of fields – more of the image is in focus. A had the draft script for this video online for comment and Jeremy Caplan left a great comment – when thinking about aperture and depth of field simple remember that smaller numbers mean smaller depth of field – larger numbers mean larger depth of field.

Final thought before we dive in – the camera wants to expose everything as a middle gray light level – easiest way to see this is to take a photo of a blank white wall – the photo will actually come out much more gray than white -This doesn’t mean that everyone is going to be gray in the photo, it just means that brightness value the camera is trying for is a nice middle value that usually does a decent job of getting it right. – just keep that in the back of your mind

deep breath – let’s get right into the modes and I think the bit about shutter speed and aperture will become clearer

Canon Creative Modes

First Mode is P – Program AE (auto exposure) and I really don’t see any reason all beginners can’t start here – the camera sets the aperture and the shutter speed but allows you to adjust EVERYTHING else – ISO, you could set it on AUTO to make this a little easier, You can shoot RAW in this mode,- big thumbs up there, you decide if you want to use flash, the flash wont pop up unless you ask it to and if you do pop up the flash using the little button on the side it will fire. In this mode if you rotate the main dial to the left shutter speed decreases and aperture increases, rotate to the right and the shutter speed increase and aperture decreases – this keeps your exposure centered. If you don’t want your exposure centered – maybe you are taking a photo of a snowy scene and remember the camera is going to make that snow more gray than white – hold down the AV button on the back of the and rotate the main dial to the right to over expose.

P mode is best for someone that wants to shoot RAW and maybe try out some of the other settings available like Auto Lighting Optimizer -Which does some helpful correction of the contrast of your image, metering modes, white balance.

note that if you pop up the flash your shutter speed will be limited to a maximium of 1/200, you can’t have a faster shutter speed synced with the flash (unless you have an external flash capable of high speed sync) also note that if you adjust aperture you can run into the maximum or minimum your lens is capable of and further turning the dial will have no effect.

Next mode is Tv- this is for our higher speed photographers out there and is similar to the sports photography mode on the basic side of the dial except you can adjust the shutter speed – turing the main dial to the left lowers the shutter speed, longer exposures and turning the dial to the right means shorter exposures. The camera adjusts the aperture to keep the exposure centered. If you want to freeze fast action – dancing, running, cycling, drag racing – you need to be at an appropriate shutter speed – the faster the action the faster the shutter speed – Dancing usually starts around 1/125 of a second – a few other factors like your distance from the action and the focal length of your lens can make a difference too. Maybe you want to go in the other direction and blur some action – like flowing water or pan with a someone driving, set a slower shutter speed, flowing water can start to be blurred around 1/8 of a second and around a few seconds can get very smooth but you will need a tripod to avoid shaking the camera during these longer exposures.

Unlike in P mode where when you hit a limit the main dial will stop working – in Tv and Av mode the other value, in this case aperture will start blinking to let you know your exposures is going to be too dark or too bright – You should readjust your shutter speed so that the number stops blinking, unless you want to under or over expose the images though I don’t recommend this as the best way to achieve that.

Av – This mode allows you to adjust the aperture, either to create a shallow depth of field or to make sure everything you want to be in focus is is in focus. Rotating the main dial to the right increases the f-stop which if you remember actually decreases the size of the opening and increases your depth of field. Rotating the main dial to the left decreases the f-stop and decreases your depth of field – this is great for portraits where you can really separate your subject from the background by shooting at a wide aperture. Or if your subject is standing at the edge of the grand canyon you would want to increase your aperture to make sure the foreground and background was in focus. Similar to Tv mode the camera will adjust the other value to keep the image properly exposed. A difference from Tv if you are using a lens with variable aperture, like the 18-135 STM, as you zoom the largest aperture you have available to you decreases at 18mm the 18-135 STM can shoot at f.3.5 but as you zoom that f-stop increases to 5.0 and then 5.6 – the camera will automatically adjust in this mode, or any others, as you zoom – it is just something to be aware of. Something else to be aware of – most lenses performace best stopped down a bit from maximum, meaning a lens may not give the best image quality when you shoot at the largest aperture possible and stopping down a few stops will give better image quality- you may also hear the term sweet spot of a lens – most lenses have a sweet spot around f/5.6 to f/8 This does NOT mean that you should shoot every photo between those apertures or even really get hung up on the idea of the sweet spot but it is something to be aware of and if you aren’t choosing an aperture for a desired effect and you have enough light. then yes you probably want to shoot in that range.

Last mode on the Dial – M, nothing new here except you get to adjust BOTH shutter speed and Aperture independently, the camera shows you the predicted exposure on the meter but you get to make 100% of the decisions. In this mode turning the main dial adjust the shutter speed – Turning the dial left decreases shutter speed and turning the dial to the right increases the shutter speed. To adjust aperture hold down the Av +/- button on the back of the camera as you rotate the main dial – Left decreases the f-stop(larger opening) and turning it to the right increases the f-stop (smaller opening). If you look at the dial and and don’t see the little exposure level indicator you will see a small triangle that points to the left or the right of the indicator – this means that the image will underexposed by more than three stops or over three stops respectively and you need to adjust either your shutter speed or aperture to bring the exposure indicator onto the screen but not necessarily to center it, centering is what the camera would do and the whole point of manual if for you to make the decisions – for now to keep it simple let’s use the example of a snowy day – the camera thinks centered is middle gray so you want to overexpose slightly, this means you adjust your aperture and shutter speed to put the exposure level indicator a little to the right of center – how much? As you practice there will be lots of trial and error – lots of taking a photo, looking at the resulting image and taking another one but 2/3 of a stop is a pretty good guess to start with.

Now this may seem like loads of work but knowing your camera, understanding the various modes and how they work are going to give you better results than any new piece of gear you can buy. So there I just saved you some money, now you can pass that my way 🙂 Seriously though, I have a link to Amazon below this video – I’d love it if you used that for any amazon purchases, not just camera related – I earn a small percentage and it not only helps keep these videos ad free but allows me to set aside time to work on these tutorials. I will have future videos that expand on many of the topics covered in this overview. Please leave a comment if you have a question or send me an email.

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  1. Thanks for the video… I’m new to photography and just discovered your site/blog… Looking forward to learning everything I can.

    • Hi Maria! Thanks for taking a moment to say thanks! I always appreciate that. Pop over to my Facebook page and give it a like, lots of tips there and a nice giveaway will be starting soon.

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