Beginner Cat Photo Skills

From Auto to Aperture Priority Mode with Your Cat

Auto has been on my mind a lot lately. Some readers here at Dash Kitten use it for most of their photos and are nervous or unsure about trying other options on their cameras. How do you overcome the scaries or challenges to use your camera differently? How about a move from auto to Aperture Priority a preset mode on your DSLR?

  • Aperture Priority called Av mode on my Canon and A on a Nikon.

Yes, it can be a challenge but let me see if I can encourage you to take some easy steps towards this fun and interesting mode for your camera. Your cat deserves the best images so grab your explorers’ cap and let’s try some feline photography.

I am covering the DSLR camera in this post as I feature Aperture Priority. I suggest that you check your camera manual for similar functions for your compact or smartphone. I have added some thoughts about smartphone and compacts and the issue of modes at the end of the post.

You Made a Start with Auto Camera Mode

If you take photos of your cats on automatic (auto for short) for a blog, for social media, or to print as greetings cards you will be confident with your camera’s basic operation. This means you are confident holding your camera and you are ready to expand your skills from auto to Aperture Priority.

Auto to Aperture Priority. Black and white photo of a cat in profile.
Toulouse 2019 – F 3.5 and a Zoom lens

What are Modes and Pre-sets Anyway?

As you learn more about your camera you will become familiar with the settings that work best for a portrait, or for capturing your cat active in the garden. Camera manufacturers realised this and created settings, known as presets/modes to make your photography quicker and easier. An example is portrait mode which sets a larger aperture with a shallow depth of field. This focuses on the subject closest to the lens and gives the background a soft bokeh when you take a cat photo.

Find The PreSet Modes On Your Camera Dial

Whether you are looking at DSLR camera settings or a good point and shoot camera you will find yourself looking at camera symbols and names.

The icons are almost identical regardless of your camera type and will include icons representing a profile face, a mountain or a sprinting athlete. For DSLR users these may be on a PASM dial (programme, aperture, shutter manual dial) which you can turn to adjust as a first step.

Canon Sports Setting for Camera
The PASM dial on a DSLR.

……portrait photographers love f-stops like f/1.4, f/2, or f/2.8.

Photography Life

What is Aperture anyway?

Aperture is the adjustable opening at the front of your camera that lets the light in. Adjusting this affects your depth of field and gives you the soft-focus ‘bokeh’ that makes cats look amazing. You will find F-stops marked with an F 4.0 (shallower) or F 22 (deeper) the F stands for ‘focal length’.

Aperture Priority Mode

This might be A, AV, or marked at ‘Aperture’ and it’s a good first step. You learn to set your aperture and the camera takes care of the shutter speed. This is why its a good bet for an action shot or cats in motion.

Here’s a quick video on how your camera’s shutter works and the difference it makes to your backgrounds.

Reading about different F-stops can confuse beginners as you move from Auto to Aperture Priority so, if I give you a couple of settings to try you can then see how your camera takes pictures using these.

You can explore other F-stops in your own time. Playing with your camera and seeing what works is better than struggling through a dozen articles and getting stressed. Make sure you have the best light you can for Aperture Priority too.

  1. Set your F-stop to F 4.0 or the nearest setting. Take photos of your cat.
  2. Set your F-stop at the opposite end of the scale F 16 or F 22 maybe. Then take more photos.
  3. Download your photos and compare the difference in the backgrounds.

Now you have an idea how the F-stop and shutter work, let me give you a few examples of the difference they can make.

My dad taught me basic photography when I was a teen. I remember being very confused by the aperture settings. Since it was pre-digital photography, he had me set my camera at F8 until I got the hang of things. Aperture priority is a great setting for many occasions!

Beth, Daily Dog Tag

Cat Photo Taken with a Larger Aperture F 3.5

Cat looking upwards with a green background.
Toulouse Closeup

This sample photograph of Toulouse was taken with my inexpensive 50mm lens and shows how a move from auto to Aperture Priority can transform a shot. The settings are as follows:

  • F stop setting is a larger aperture F 3.5.
  • The camera adjusted the shutter speed to 1/400 (one four hundredth of a second) which is fast.
  • I was working at my usual ISO setting of 200 (it was a bright day).

In the portrait you can see that the distant garden is a softly blurred background green that is the perfect setting for Toulouse’s sharply focused face and detailed eyes.

For a good cat photo, you already know that you should focus on your cat’s eye area, or face. The eye seems to embody the soul of your cat and needs to be in focus. People are hard-wired to look at the eyes of a cat (or a human) so do your best to focus on the eyes.

Cat Photo Taken with a Medium Aperture F 8

Auto to Aperture Priority allows you to conjure up lovely bokeh effects
Toulouse Leaping in the Garden

This sample photograph of Toulouse was taken with my Canon kit lens. The setting are as follows:

  • F stop setting is a larger aperture F 8.
  • The camera adjusted the shutter speed to 1/125 which is not as fast as the 1/400 above.
  • I was working at my usual ISO setting of 200 (it was a bright day).

If you look at this photograph you will see that the focus is, again, on the face and, although the background is overexposed, you can see the definition of the foliage, the grass and the shadows. It is not one poetic fuzz, the cat has some context you can see it is in a garden.

Cat Photo Taken with a Small Aperture F 22

Auto to preset modes - Cat stretching on a balcony with a view

I have no cat photos that use this aperture so I am showing one from 20TwentyPhotos at Envato.

  • The F stop setting is a larger aperture. I am guessing around F20/F22 because the whole image is sharp. After all, if you were taking pictures in Sedona, AZ I guess you want it to look spectacular.
  • I have no other details of the stock image but the point is to show you sharp focus from front to back in the photo. This hits the spot.

Auto to Preset Modes Summary

I hope I have encouraged you to take a few steps in a new direction with your DSLR camera. Moving from auto to preset modes only takes one step and a willingness to explore fearlessly, just like your cat.

The important things is to give yourself permission to play around with no expectations, but look at your photos and see which setting worked well for you. Discover if your camera can use aperture priority or has an alternative.

I am finishing with a look at the question of Aperture Priority for compacts and smartphones, and smartphones modes.

Can Compact and Smartphones Handle Aperture Priority?

If you compare them with the construction of a DSLR then no, but compact cameras and smartphones are becoming more sophisticated by the year so check your camera to see if it has an equivalent.

The reason soft-focus backgrounds are hard to achieve with a compact is this. Point and shoots cameras are geared to provide a pin-sharp image throughout the exposure because they are often used for holidays, family snaps and a more relaxed photographic style. The demand is for easy to use cameras that guarantee almost perfect sharp images every time. Because of this real ‘depth of field’ fuzziness is mostly missing.

  • If you have a compact, check out what it can do by checking the manual, and by watching the short and well made YouTube videos created by camera. enthusiasts.

Do Smartphones Have Modes?

Auto to Aperture Priority. iPhone showing the lenses available - auto to preset modes
Stock Photo – iPhone selection of camera lenses

As usual it depends on the smartphone. The phone in your pocket is developing at a rapid rate so I strongly recommend you do an online search and check out your smartphone’s pdf manual. You might be shocked at the creative options your camera is hiding. Recent Samsung cameras have options including ‘food’, night shooting and sports modes (see the full list here) and with a good smartphone, you won’t feel deprived by not having a DSLR.

Smartphones might have some (or all) of these lens types and features:

  • Ultra-Wide Angle Lens – wider than your usual lens.
  • Standard/Wide lens – available on all cameras
  • Telephoto lens – can reach much further than digital zoom (and you might need a tripod to stop camera shake).
  • Depth or Bokeh feature – adds the much loved soft focus around a portrait or your cat
  • Monochrome lens – not a lens but a specific feature on some smartphones for crisp and sharp black and white images
  • If you have a mirrorless camera the pattern of operation is different. I recommend studying your manual and checking out tutorial videos for the great things your camera can do.

New Camera Mode User Resources

  • F-STOP RECOMMENDED READ: If you want to read about F-stops I recommend you bookmark this post by Photography Life for later reading.
  • Exposure Triangle
  • PASM – What does it mean? PASM is an acronym for Program, Aperture Priority (Referred to as Av on Canon), Shutter Priority (Referred to as Tv on Canon), and Manual. These exposure modes, especially the first three, are a great way to explore how exposure variables interact. It’s Just Light

6 thoughts on “From Auto to Aperture Priority Mode with Your Cat”

  1. My dad taught me basic photography when I was a teen. I remember being very confused by the aperture settings. Since it was pre-digital photography, he had me set my camera at F8 until I got the hang of things. Aperture priority is a great setting for many occasions!

    Reply
  2. Thanks for your blog hop. The photos are amazing and your tips are really awesome, I am learning slowly and getting there thanks to you

    Reply
  3. These are fantastic tips. I don’t think my phone has all this fancy stuff, but I admit I never look. When I want action shots of my dog(s), I take a movie and grab stills. Perhaps I should make time and take a look what options my phone’s camera has 🙂

    Reply
  4. Here is a funny:

    I always thought that TV referred to getting your pics to show on the TV screen with a cable,and similar with AV, therefore I haven’t ever used those settings on my P&S Canon. LOL, LOL!
    Um…duh…didn’t read the manual properly, at least not those sections. I am busted!! Hah!

    Oh, well, now I have things to learn and practice. On the two pups that is:)

    Reply
  5. Such amazing information and we always learn so much here! Thanks for joining our Thankful Thursday Blog Hop!

    Reply

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