If you got a fancy new DSLR camera this holiday season, you might have been disappointed to discover that having a big lens sticking out of the front of your camera doesn’t magically turn you into Ansel Adams. And the thick owner’s manual may tell you how to fiddle with your camera’s settings, but it doesn’t explain anything about the basics of actually making a decent photograph. For that, you can drop a couple hundred bucks on a community college photography class, or just pay $9.99 for Master Your DSLR Camera, a tutorial e-book for iPad that includes interactive lessons from Mary F. Calvert, a finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Feature Photography. (Advantage: iPad.)
There’s not much in here that you couldn’t glean from a few library books, but Open Air Publishing (the creator of the app) has gone to some pretty clever lengths to make these photo-101 lessons as immersive as possible. Interactivity and instant feedback are the best ways to learn any new skill, and Master Your DSLR Camera marshalls all of the iPad’s tapping, touching, swiping multimedia horsepower to get its points across.
My favorite feature uses a slider button to illustrate how differences in shutter-speed settings affect the camera’s ability to freeze fast-moving objects. The slider represents a range of shutter speeds, from fast to slow; drag it toward the slow side, and watch as an image of falling water morphs from crisp to blurred. Granted, the technical concept here isn’t exactly rocket science—a slower-moving shutter means that fast-moving objects have more time to streak across the image sensor, creating motion blur—but still, seeing it illustrated in this simple interaction is much more intuitive than any other tutorial method I’ve seen.
Moreover, this iPad app is camera-agnostic—it doesn’t matter what brand or model of DSLR you have, because the essential principles of photography (like shutter speed, aperture, and the like) haven’t changed in about a century. Spend an hour with this app, and you’ll learn the same basic bag of tricks that even old Ansel used to rely on.