I was at a birthday party a few days ago, and one of there was this guy who just recently bought a DSLR and started to learn about photography. A friend of mine, who is a very good advanced photographer was giving tips to this guy on learning about photography. He was telling the guy that basically he should just concentrate on learning about composition and did not have to worry too much about other aspect of photography. I just suggested that other than composition, the new guy should learn about camera control as well, like shutter speed, aperture and ISO settings. Well, my advanced photographer friend was quite agitated by my suggestion. He dismissed what I said and told the guy that he could learn all that in one day and not to waste time and just concentrate on learning about composition. Basically he just continued talking to the guy about his point and I did not get a chance to have another word with the guy anymore.
Well, I absolutely agree that composition is an important part of fundamentals on photography. However, I have to strongly disagree with my friend that camera control is not important and easy to learn in a short time. While it is true that you can easily learn what is shutter speed, aperture and ISO all in a day, being able to use these effectively in real life is another matter.
Camera control is not a problem for any advanced, well experienced photographer. In fact setting the appropriate shutter speed, aperture and ISO becomes an innate action. My advanced photographer friend, and any other advanced photographer for that matter, does not have to spend a lot of time thinking about what settings to use for a particular shot, it would just come to him like a reflex. However, I think that is what made him forget that beginners and inexperienced photographers need time to learn and practice on camera control. It is not something that you can learn to do completely in a day.
It is just like you can learn all about how a gearbox, steering, brakes and gas pedal work in a day, but that does not mean you will know how to control a car effectively and become a good driver in one day.
When I pick up my camera and looking at a particular scene or subject to shoot, I will almost instant know what settings to use. Whether to use aperture or shutter priority mode, set the appropriate aperture or shutter speed and ISO. But that is not something I could do from day one. It was a long process of learning and practicing before I could achieve that. I still maintain that leaning about these basic camera control is elementary and is something that anyone who is serious about learning photography must learn and have total confidence in controlling them effectively.
Of course cameras nowadays are fairly smart with all kinds of auto mode and function and in fact might do a reasonable job under many situation. However, there is no camera that is smart enough to set the appropriate setting for every situation. Not knowing how to control the camera settings effectively is the primary reason why many beginners in photography often find their shots incorrectly exposed or blurry. For example, there are often situations where the camera metering would not give the most ideal exposure. If you do not adjust the camera settings accordingly, the shot will turn out under or over exposed. The common reason why many shots are blurry is because shutter speed was set too slow by the camera, which is too slow to freeze a moving subject or may be too slow to allow hand holding without getting a blurry shot.
The shot at the top was taken one night after having dinner with some friends. It was shot with Canon EOS 5D Mark II with EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM. The camera settings were ISO 3200, aperture priority mode, aperture f/2.8, shutter speed 1/30 seconds and +2/3EV exposure compensation. How did I know those settings would work? From experience of course.
I cannot stress this enough. If you are a beginner of photography and you are serious about learning and improving your photography, you must learn about camera control. Not just what they are, but you must learn how to control them effectively to give you the photos that you want under any situation.