Camera Settings and Controls - How a 35 mm Camera Works - Basic Principles of a Photography Camera

Posted Jan 24, 2009
Last Updated Jun 21, 2012

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Camera Settings and Controls - How a 35 mm Camera Works - Basic Principles of a Photography Camera

Understanding the basic functions of a camera and how to use manual settings and get a general understanding of the camera controls and principles.

The main controls of any 35mm camera are the shutter speed, aperture settings and the focusing mechanism. On some cameras you will need to set the film speed manually; on most modern cameras this will be done automatically for you. This is the first thing that you should check if you have a manual camera.

The camera lens and the focus ring controls the critical focussing of a subject within the viewfinder (eye piece). Always ensure that your main point of interest within the composition is the main point of focus. This ensures a well focussed negative and sharp prints.

Controlling the film exposure is the next crucial process when making a photograph. This is done by using a combination of the shutter speed and aperture settings. The shutter speed dial is found on the camera body and the aperture control is located at the rear of the lens.

The shutter speed controls the duration of time that the light  is allowed to fall on the film for. The aperture setting controls the amount of light that reaches the film

By referring to the camera’s built in light meter you can combine various combinations of shutter speed and aperture to achieve the correct exposure needed for a given film speed.

General Shutter Speeds :   1s  1/2s  1/4s  1/8s  1/15s  1/30s  1/60s  1/125s  1/250s  1/500s  1/1000s

S is for seconds, or a fraction of.

Aperture Settings :  F 32     F22     F16     F11     F8     F5.6      F4       F3.5           F2.8   F2



When considering shutter speed, you will probably be hand holding the camera, so you should select a shutter speed of at least 1/60s as this will prevent camera shake during exposure. If the available light that you are working in does not allow this shutter speed, you may then resort to mounting the camera on a tripod and using a cable release to prevent camera shake at lower shutter speeds. Alternatively if you are to be working in poor levels of light you may choose to select a faster film to use in the camera which will then give you increased exposure range. To freeze action in faster moving images you will need to use a much higher shutter speed depending upon how fast the subject is traveling.

When the shutter speed has been set you will need to set a corresponding aperture that the camera’s light meter shows to be correct, in the view finder. The combination of both ensures the correct exposure of the negative.

Shutter speed and movement

Fast shutter speeds such as 1/250s will freeze action sequences and lower speeds such as 1/30s will create blur, suggesting movement.

Aperture and depth of field

The selection of the aperture also dictates the DEPTH of FIELD that your camera records. That is, the amount of picture plane in your image that is in sharp focus in front of and behind the main subject.

The smaller the selected aperture , the greater the depth of field . The depth of field is the area behind and in front of the point of focus that is sharply recorded.

These are the basic steps in understanding how a camera works. You'll need to experiment and keep detailed notes to expand your knowledge and understanding of the camera functions as a tool of creativity.


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