Learning camera basics doesn’t have to be horrifying or boring. At first you might find yourself wondering if you’ll ever get ‘f-stops’. However, after awhile, and the more you use the tools, your mind will suddenly tick over and there will be an ‘Ah, I get it!’ moment. This level of understanding is really fundamental to controlling the results of your photographs. And if you can take the time to learn
them before jumping in, you’ll be thankful later. It’s kind of like baking a cake. We can all buy a cake mix at the supermarket and pump out a reasonably ok cake. However, if we were a chef, we would follow our own recipe, and of course it wouldn’t just be a cake – it would be a bakery master piece.
The idea is to know the tools well enough to know when, how, what, why and where.
Even if you have been shooting for ages and you think you might know all the camera basics, I’m going to challenge you because I know myself that I can’t be reminded enough of how ‘stuff’ works…
apertures, shutters, and iso’s
There are three basic elements in understanding how exposure works; the aperture, the shutter, and the ISO.
So, we are going to do a quick run down of each.
First is the aperture. – Your lens.
It’s often explained as being like the iris of your eye. It opens up, to let more light in, and closes to let less light in. What is confusing about aperture is that the ‘wider’ the opening, the smaller the number that it’s called.
For example – a ‘small’ aperture is f1.4, f2.0 or f2.8. Where as a large aperture is f8 or f11. An aperture when open wide is a smaller number. So if the iris is big, the number is small. If the iris is small, the aperture number is big.
What does aperture really do? Well it controls the amount of light that is let in, however more importantly to us; it controls the depth of field.
The shutter speed – the curtain in your camera.
Think of the shutter as just that … a shutter. It opens to expose the photograph – just like a curtain, and closes again. The higher the number that the shutter is, the FASTER it does it. And the faster it does it, the less light that it lets in. Shutter speeds can be minutes long – or faster then the eye can blink. So a slow shutter speed would be : 1/25th – if you had a fast moving child and your shutter speed was at 1/25th the child would be blurred. Simply because the lower the shutter number, the longer it is left open to expose. Allowing for more movement to be recorded. In a single frame that movement is going to appear as a blur. A slow shutter also lets a lot of light in. On the opposite scale if you had a shutter speed of 1/2000th then you’re likely to freeze the moment in time. When thinking about shutter speeds the two key things to remember are:
1. If your shutter speed is anything below 80 – you are better using a tripod. Anything above 125 is a safer bet.
2. If your shutter speed is around 2000, you would want your aperture to be wide open or there simply wouldn’t be enough light let in to expose the photograph.
The ISO – the film speed
Whether you shoot digital or film – the ISO value is important.
The ISO on a film camera is the film speed. On a digital camera it’s simply amplifying of the image sensor. ISO speed defines the amount of light that is let in. And the more light that is let in – the higher the ‘grain’ to cope. You may have noticed that some photos have more ‘grain’ or ‘noise’ then others. This is judged by the ISO rating. The lower the ISO, the less grain. A fine grain film would be 50 or 100 ISO. However this doesn’t let in much light – so it can be more difficult to work with.
A very high grain ISO would be 1600 or 3200. As you can imagine, this
speed lets in a lot of light, is very very easy to work with however the
grain is very obvious. So, the key thing to remember about ISO’s is: If you want a sensible amount of grain, and a reasonable amount of light – try an ISO of 200
to 400. If you’re working in very low light conditions you can use a higher ISO –
it allows for so much more light – such as 1600. However, remember your photograph will be very grainy.
Depth of Field
Depth of field is the distance between the camera and what is in focus in front of you. It also refers to what is out of focus behind what is in focus. Point and shoot camera’s are not very adept at playing with wonderful depth of field concepts, and sometimes that is what people notice the most about professional shots. Changing the aperture: either having a wide-open aperture to focus on a small part of the subject (i.e. baby foot) or having the aperture stopped-down to keep most of the scene in focus (i.e. traditional family portrait) controls depth of Field (DOF). Using a shallow DOF (wide-open aperture) in some images makes the focal point quite obvious. This is a wonderful technique.
There are many uses for shallow DOF, including putting the focus on a body part,
rendering backgrounds out of focus, or highlighting 1 person in a group of people. The possibilities are endless, and we encourage you to play around.
Play with your camera. Next week we will talk about human connection.