Janice: Carol makes some great points near the end of her post regarding the functions of the camera. We take so much for granted sometimes about how much photographers know and don't know. If I tell you something you already know I hope you will realize that I am not being "holier than thou," but just trying to be thorough.
I have often said that if I were in charge of the world, and could start new photographers, I would make them all use an old, fully manual, SLR camera and 35mm slide film. The older films, especially, were totally unforgiving. That meant that if you didn't get the mechanical stuff right, the photo was anywhere from awful, to unusable (you could have a totally black or totally clear slide)
. But what a great instructional tool. Modern technology makes it much more difficult to see our own mis-steps when shooting. Point and Shoot cameras are largely designed to be as "foolproof" as possible, which works well for 85% of shooting conditions and shooters. But when you want to start to control what the image result and/or get creative, you really need to be in control of the camera. Al often works in full manual mode, which gives him 100% control. And because he has a great command of the technical stuff, he is able to get the result he is planning - rather than just get lucky, or close.
I use it a lot too (but probably less than Al), but I use one of the set "modes" on my camera called Aperture Priority most often (it, too, requires that I have a full understanding of what that means and what the camera is and isn't doing). What these approaches allow us to do (within the bounds of reality) is "make" instead of "take" photographs.
The reason for the above (boring) explanation is that Carol mentioned "exposure compensation." Its a nice tool, but in order to understand it, IMO, you have to understand exposure theory (too long an explanation for here, but at the risk of patting myself on the back, I recommend that you read my Blog on "Getting Exposure Right" at this link: http://lightcentric.wordpress.com/2009/ ... ure-right/
. There is a series of a kind of Photography Basics that stemmed from some long e-mails to my sister a few years ago, trying to help her). To really get this stuff down, it really helps to be able to work in full manual mode. But many consumer point and shoot cameras simply do not have a "manual mode." A lot of slightly more advanced ones do, however, have "exposure compensation" buttons or dials. That is what Carol was referring to. They can be a shortcut to get you to the result you might get using full manual mode.
Another thing she mentions is the histogram (that funny, graph thing on monitor on the back of the camera). The histogram is one of the coolest tools that came along with digital. In the days of film, we didn't have this "real time" exposure measurement tool. We had to get it right and we didn't see the results until the lab delivered the prints or slides - always well after the fact. The little image on the camera monitor will show us gross errors, but it really isn't a very good tool for fine exposure judgments. The histogram is. Again, feathering my own nest, I wrote a blog explaining how the histogram works as a tool: http://lightcentric.wordpress.com/2010/ ... histogram/
These 2 tools are really useful. Once you can read the histogram, you can dial in either + or - exposure compensation to change the results of your image. The light meters are pretty good, but they don't always get it right. The exposure compensation button lets you adjust this and the histogram tells you how far you can go.