Welcome to Post 3 in the “So You Wanna…” series.
Missed the first two posts?
Post 1 – Purchasing A Camera
Post 2- Purchasing A Lens
Here’s where we get to it and you need to really need to read and practice. You’ve got your camera, you’ve got a lens. Now… we have to talk about actual photography and images. This post is going to have lots of external links because this is a loaded topic and one that will take time and, perhaps, more information than just this post can provide. I’m absolutely giving you the bare minimum and going fast through big topics – but there are A LOT of resources in this post and I’d recommend going through each one and taking your time. Feel free to ask questions in the comments or email me if you have something you can’t figure out (firstname.lastname@example.org). Others may be having the same issue and I can add more to this post!
We can’t talk about the camera without talking first about EXPOSURE and what that is. Exposure, in it’s simplest terms, refers to the brightness or darkness in an image. Too bright? Just right? Too dark?
This image, below, is overexposed. There are “blown” areas which are too bright and have lost detail.
This image is properly exposed. His skin has detail and none of the areas are pure black.
This image is too dark. There are “clipped” areas which are too dark and have lost detail.
There are exceptions. Typically (and this is overgeneralizing and open for interpretation) you want the skin to be properly exposed. That’s the most important portion of an image. Bright areas can often be “blown” and in a case like this, it’s considered “correct”. This image also has lots of very dark areas that are “clipped” and too dark. However, it still works.
Notice how I’m using quotes around the word “correct”. There is a lot of room for judgment in photography. Photography is a creative exercise and you are expressing your vision. However, learning all of the rules and getting things “correct”, first, is important. To consciously make your decisions about each image and know why you did something (not just convincing yourself you did something on purpose… which I have done!) is the ultimate goal. This takes practice. Lots. I’m still learning. I will ALWAYS be learning. The hardest part is allowing yourself to feel the frustration and then walking away from the camera for a bit and coming back refreshed.
Ok – so now that I’ve explained exposure… how in the world do we make the decisions? How does one get an image from their mind into their camera? You change, create, and fix exposure using three items – Aperture, & Shutter Speed, ISO.
First we will discuss Aperture. We talked for a minute about aperture back when we were discussing lenses. The lower the number the more wide open and more light you can get into your camera. This is a good thing. Think of it like a pupil – to let more light in you want a wide open pupil. On a sunny day when you need less light you want a smaller pupil.
When you buy a lens that can go to f/1.8, f/2.0, f/2.8 you can let in more light because the opening is larger- even though the number is smaller. Alternatively, if you use a smaller aperture (larger number f/5.6, f/11 and higher) you will let less light into your lens – imagine a smaller pupil. I know it seems backwards… you’d think that a higher number would equal more light, but alas, it’s not.
To recap ….
LARGE pupil for lots of light – aperture opening f/1.8, f/2.0, f/2.8
SMALL pupil for a little bit of light- aperture opening f/5.6, f/11
(remember our lens discuss… most kit lenses that come with cameras have apertures that start at f/4.0 or f/5.6…)
Aperture is the reason that I ended up picking up a camera. I love the look of a beautifully blurry background… and this is how you achieve that background. The post, “Aperture- The Basics” on Click It Up A Notch does a fabulous job of explaining this concept.
Here’s my trusty uninterested assistant… Make a note: when my aperture changes, my other settings change, too (more on this in a moment)
Image Below is at f/1.8 (notice the blurriness behind her) Other image settings Shutter Speed 1/250 ISO 200
Image Below is at f/5.6 (less blurry behind her) — Other image settings Shutter Speed 1/125 ISO 1600
Image Below is at f/11 (even less blurry behind her) — Other image settings Shutter Speed 1/125 ISO 4000
Next up is Shutter Speed. This is most important when you have a moving subject. If your image is blurry, shutter speed is most often the culprit. When the kids are moving around I need a fast shutter speed to freeze their action. Slow shutter speeds are used to show intentional movement, like in this post on Clickin Moms, Slow Shutter Speed by Allison Zercher. When I am hand holding my camera I typically keep my shutter speed at 1/125 of a second (will show as 125 on the camera) or faster (1/250, 1/400, and up). If I go below 1/125 of a second there will absolutely be camera shake from my hands and the image will be blurry. If my subject is moving at all, I try to keep my shutter speed at around 1/400 of a second and faster.
The image below is shot at shutter speed 1/30 of a second — other settings aperture f/10 ISO200
The image below is shot at shutter speed 1/400 of a second — other settings aperture f/2.2 ISO400
Finally there is ISO. For whatever reason this was the hardest concept for me to wrap my head around. I confused it with a pixelated image (which just means that the image isn’t big enough). ISO is the little bits of grain in an image and goes back to the film shooting days. Film is purchased by the ISO (also referred to as ASA) rating. A rating of around 800 or 1600 was usually for indoors whereas you’d use 200 or 400 for outdoors. You can set the ISO in your camera and it serves as a cushion when you don’t want your shutter speed to be slower or your aperture to be any more open. In return, it introduces more and more grain as the number getting higher (and digital cameras can go high!) Here is a post from Click It Up A Notch demonstrating ISO even more.
Minimal Noise (cooresponds with Low ISO)
Lots of Noise (cooresponds with High ISO)
So now that we know what everything IS… how can we use ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed to create an image? These three are called “The Exposure Triangle“. All of them have to work together to create an image in your camera. Cameras have a lot of bells and whistles – but really it all comes down to these three things and how they work together.
So let’s talk about your camera modes, now (don’t confuse these with “Manual and Auto” on your lens – keep that one Auto, especially for now!).
MAIN CAMERA MODES:
Automatic (could be a green square… or “Auto” on cameras)
PROS: Automatic mode chooses everything for you – the ISO, the Aperture, the Shutter Speed. It surveys the scene and makes it’s best guess. You are able to set it and forget it.
CONS: This can leave you frustrated because your control is minimal.
Aperture Priority (also called Av & A on cameras)
PROS: Aperture Priority allows you to choose your Aperture setting keeping control over how much blur behind your subject exists. The camera will choose your ISO and Shutter Speed. This is great when you want a blurry background (apertures like f/1.8, f/2.8) or you choose to have everything in sharp focus (apertures such as f/11).
CONS: You aren’t controlling your shutter speed and can often end up with blurry images because your shutter speed is too slow.
Shutter Priority (also called Tv & S on cameras)
PROS: Shutter Priority allows you to choose the Shutter Speed. The camera will choose your ISO and Aperture. This is great for sports or freezing motion.
CONS: The camera may give you a very high ISO or an aperture that isn’t quite what you would have chosen.
Manual (also called M on cameras)
PROS: Manual allows you to choose the Shutter Speed, the ISO, and the Aperture so you have complete control over your image and making it just as you want it.
CONS: You have to understand how everything works together and be able to switch things up quickly, sometimes.
So you know what the terms mean, you know what the modes mean. How do you put them into action? Read your camera manual to learn how to change your ISO, Shutter Speed, and Aperture. You can often even set-up special buttons to allow you to do it faster than going into your menu, too.
I shoot in manual mode – all the time, though I suggest starting in Aperture Priority. This will help you to assess how the other settings change when you change your aperture. I can honestly say that I haven’t ever worked in Shutter Priority – but my kids aren’t in sports yet and I usually shoot when they aren’t moving and running around so I’ve never really needed it. I jumped in head first back in 2009 and went straight to manual mode while learning the concepts. My first few pictures were black. Totally black. I had no idea how to make them not black. I’m going to cover shooting in Manual in another post, however. Here is a hint if you want to get started on shooting in manual. When you looking into your viewfinder, you will see some dashes. That’s your meter. Your goal is for your meter to be in the center. Again, more on that in the next post.
I learned how to achieve proper exposure and how to understand how ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed work together by reading the book, “Understanding Exposure” by Bryan Peterson. It’s an amazing first step and he explains everything with images, shares settings and I found it to be so comprehensive.
Need more and want to be held accountable? Try Amy Lucy Lockheart’s 3 week workshop, “First Steps With A DSLR“. I am slightly biased because Amy was and is my own mentor. Her work is gorgeous and she is a wonderful teacher. If you haven’t taken a workshop with Clickin Moms before, I highly recommend them because they are thorough, you get regular feedback and you work with a group of women learning the same thing as you. You certainly can learn on your own, but man, if you can swing it… I learned so much faster with a dedicated teacher.