Camera Control

This holistic approach to camera education applies to both still photography and cinematography. Differences between the two mediums are cited where most applicable. Because the basic idea is the same, and because modern cameras have become a hybrid of equally impressive still and video making machines, this discussion will be general enough to cover both fields.

Most cameras offer a set of base functionality that isn’t hard to learn. Knowing what controls what is the first step. The next step is knowing when to use it. And the final (and trickiest) part is mastering it so that control becomes subconscious and intuitive, especially in the case of still photography or documentary videography.

Exposure

The topic of exposure merits its own page of explanation. Here we’re looking at how to control exposure rather than at what exposure is. Exposure is determined by controlling aperture, shutter and ISO. Aperture can often be controlled directly on the lens and via a primary wheel on the camera body. Shutter speed is usually determined by a secondary wheel and ISO is often relegated to a menu or push button+scroll wheel control.

Focus

Elements within a lens move to change which plane of depth in your image appears sharp. Large apertures or large digital sensors create shallow depth of field, making accurate focus even more critical. Your accuracy is very quickly revealed when shooting with a long f1.4 lens or with an IMAX camera. In the traditional cinematography world, focus is someone’s job. 1st assistant camera (1st AC) or focus puller holds responsibility for keeping shots sharp. Modern cinema cameras equipped with technologies like phase-detect auto focus are increasingly proving that auto focus can be used professionally, especially in a documentary or event world. High resolutions like 4k and 8k accentuate focus errors. Both still and video cameras now have settings where focus can be achieved once (AF-S or “single”) or continuously (AF-C). The auto focus area is easier to define on modern cameras with touch screens where you simply tap where you want focus to be. Advanced processing in today’s cameras can even recognize the subject and track it through the shot, maintaining focus on a moving subject.

Cinema Camera Controls

Peaking

A focus assist tool that outlines in-focus areas in a colored highlight.

Scopes

Waveform, false color, and histogram scopes all assist you in setting your exposure.

Neutral Density

Dark filters that allow you to shoot at wider apertures without increasing shutter speed.

Photo Camera Shooting Modes

M

Shooting manually means you are in direct control of all the exposure decisions. The camera meter is active, but it’s there to provide information only. Aperture and shutter speed are explicitly defined by you. ISO is generally manually defined as well, but even in Manual mode ISO can be automated.

A

Aperture priority means you set the aperture and the camera sets the shutter speed (and often ISO).

S or Tv

Shutter priority means you set the shutter speed and the camera sets aperture (and often ISO). This can sometimes be useful when shooting video since the shutter speed is usually fixed.

Custom (C1)

Custom settings allow you to define a set of parameters that can be recalled simply by flipping a dial to a custom mode. For example, one could select a custom setting designed for shooting kids, configured something like shutter priority, auto ISO, auto AF area and focus tracking.

Photo Camera Drive Modes

Single Frame

Shoots a single frame, no matter how long you hold the shutter button down.

Burst

Shoots multiple frames for as long as you hold the shutter down and until the camera’s buffer is filled.

Timer

Waits a user-specified period of time before triggering the shutter.

Bracket

Takes a series of images at different exposures, usually for compositing into a high dynamic range image.