Monday, April 18, 2016

Do you want to learn how to use your camera? The excuses stop now!

During the adoption of our eldest, I bought my first "big" camera. It was a Nikon D40. I took a lot of blurry photos with it, which is ironic because I was mostly taking pictures of things that weren't moving, like flowers.

Over the years, my photography has improved. I can now photograph moving things, like my kids, with moderate success. (Although I still can't get a straight horizon EVER.) My biggest improvements have come as a result of taking a lot of really bad pictures.

In addition to the practice, I've upped my photography game by taking some online classes, purchasing Photoshop actions, reading photography blogs and, shock of all shocks, following one of my father's universal piece's of advice, which is to "read the manual."

Initially, when I started trying to learn I was stymied by the instructions and tips because I didn't understand the lingo or acronyms.

If you're in the same boat, here's a little Photography 101 primer. These tips apply to your phone camera AND your DSLR. To adjust these setting in your phone, go to your camera, choose Settings, now choose Manual Mode instead of the factory default Auto Mode.

Image: Nikon USA

Shooting in Auto - When you shoot in auto, the camera chooses the ISO, shutter speed and aperture for you. All you need to do is focus and shoot. But the goal is for you to Shoot in Manual, where you set these elements yourself. It's the difference between a builder grade house and a custom-built house.

(L: Shot on Auto; R: Shot in Manual)

(When you're shooting in A mode, you're in Aperture Mode. You're setting the aperture while the camera chooses shutter speed and ISO.

When you're shooting in S mode, you're shooting in Shutter Speed Mode. You're setting the shutter speed while the camera is setting the ISO and aperture.)

The Exposure Triangle - The exposure triangle is ISO, shutter speed and aperture. You need each of these 3 elements to be balance to achieve a properly exposed photograph.

ISO - Stands for International Standards Organization and originally dealt with film. Today, it's your camera's sensitivity to light. I like to think of it like light bulb wattage. When the room is bright enough, you can use a lower watt bulb, like 45W. When the room is dim, you need a higher watt bulb, like 100W. Your camera is the same way, with the baseline sensitivity being ISO 100. When you're at ISO 100, you're in a well-lit, bright environment. The darker the room, the higher you need to raise your ISO.

Shutter Speed - Shutter speed is the length of time your camera's shutter stays open. Put another way, it's the amount of time from when you push the button to when you hear the click. The faster the shutter speed, the more you'll freeze motion. Sports, running cheetahs, etc... are shot at higher shutter speeds.

Aperture - The aperture controls how much light comes through the camera's lens. The increments in which you can open and close the aperture are called f-stops. The f-stops generally range from f1.4 - f32.

Diagram source: Nikon

When your camera is at its lowest number, the aperture ring is "wide open." This means it is letting in the maximum amount of light. Think of it like four lanes of traffic - the light is coming in broad. This means the foreground will be in focus, while the background is blurred.

When your aperture ring is closed tighter (bigger number, like f16), the light coming in like a single lane of traffic. Because the light is more narrow, both the foreground and background are in focus.

See the examples below. In both photos my focal point was the same but compare the backgrounds.

(Aperture setting: f2.2)

(Aperture setting: f11)

So, how do you know when you have a proper "exposure triangle" (ISO, shutter speed and aperture are all in balance)?
Your camera's exposure meter should tell you when the picture is properly exposed. Fiddle with your settings until the meter reads 0 or +1. The negative numbers indicate a photo that's underexposed while the positive numbers indicate a photo that's overexposed.

See, it wasn't that hard, was it? On Wednesday, more photo resources!


  1. Happiest of birthdays, Dear Friend! I miss you tons and will buy you some cake the next time I see you!! Xoxo