Information for a friend who is starting out with photography. As well as needing somewhere to post this so that i can link it, I thought it might be worth sharing for anyone else interested. If I've made any horrific omissions or mistakes please note me and let me know so that I can include it. Also if anyone has any questions or would like more information on other techniques ive picked up along the way i'd be more than happy to share
I can also help you with a few exercises that can demonstrate the principles below if you find yourself a little confused.
Lastly, I'm not a writer so forgive me if this is all a bit much.
Ok Let's begin....
Getting To Know Your New DSLR
Before we take a look at your camera and how it works, I feel as though we must first address a major issue that every budding photographer will come across at some time or another - personal advice.
Advice is a lot like an Opinion - almost everyone has one and almost everyone will be more than happy to offer it regardless of whether or not they are even remotely qualified to do so.
For that reason, It is incredibly important to note that any advice you receive from anyone is going to be based directly on the advisers own experiences (or indeed lack of) in relation to the topic at hand, and therefore may well include any pre conceived prejudices they may have. This prejudice may be based on advice they themselves once received and consequently accepted as truth, or it may be the result of personal bias based on their own preferences - especially regarding equipment selection. When accepting advice, it is extremely important to recognise these facts and maintain an open mind, seeking clarification from alternate sources where possible. For this reason I am going to avoid giving advice as much as possible and focus on a few quick facts to help you get up and running. This article is not intended to be a definitive guide on all photographic techniques and principles, but rather a helping hand offered to anyone picking up a camera with manual controls for the first time and are looking for a place to start. Yes, it is oversimplified to a large degree, but from the verbal carnage I've witnessed in online photography forums, simplicity is for the most part beneficial at the earliest stage of learning.
Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO
The holy trinity of creative photography, and all three relate directly to each-other. Is is for this reason It is imperative that anyone beginning in creative photography understands the function of each, as making changes to one will immediately affect the remaining two. Every image you capture is a combination of all three settings. All the other buttons on your camera are for fine tuning and specialised features that are not important for now. If you can get your head around these three things you're halfway there, and will have a massive head start in knowing what to look for in a lens when it comes time for you to add to your kit.
The aperture of your lens is like the iris of your eye, controlling how much light is let into the camera during an exposure and arguably the single most important feature when it comes to creative control. It is represented by a number proceeded by the letter 'F', for example F1.4, F2.8, F16 and so on. The smaller the number, the more light is entering the camera and vice versa. The most important thing you need to know about aperture is that it also affects how much of your scene will be in focus.
You most likely would have seen classic portraits of people with beautiful, creamy soft backgrounds that really make the subject of the portrait stand out. This depth is largely controlled by the aperture. The larger the aperture (the smaller the aperture number) the more 'out of focus' the background will be. The smaller the aperture (or larger the aperture number), the more of the scene will be in focus, however with less light reaching the sensor a slower shutter speed and/or higher ISO value will be required.
From here on you can get as technical as you like regarding the mathematics behind it, however my advice for now is just to have a play and experiment with different sized apertures over a variety of subjects and with a multitude of lens options. You will pick it up pretty quickly.
- Big aperture for softer backgrounds.
- Small aperture for more of the background in focus, but at a cost to shutter speed or higher ISO sensitivity.
Other Things to Consider:
- How far you are from your subject and what length (zoom) lens you are using will directly impact what affect the aperture setting will have on the image. If your subject is close, your choice of aperture will have more of an effect than it would if your subject was very far away. If you are using a lens with more zoom this will also be the case. Aperture settings on wide angle (zoomed out) lenses does very little to the depth of an image by comparison.
- Not all lenses are created equal and quality or sharpness can vary widely from model to model. Just because a lens may offer a larger aperture than another, it doesn't always mean that image quality at this setting will be optimal. Do your homework on this one.
This concept is much easier to grasp. Shutter speed represents how long the image sensor of the camera is to be exposed to the scene, or how long the shutter will remain open. It is represented by a display depicting fractions of a second such as 1/800, which indicates that the shutter will remain open for an eight-hundredth of a second, or such as 3/1 where the shutter will remain open for 3 seconds.
While the shutter is open, any changes that occur within the scene or to the framing of the scene will be recorded as motion blur, so typically you are going to want this speed to be as fast or as short as possible to prevent such blur from ruining your image. In certain situations however, a slower speed may be used to promote blur for artistic effect, to convey motion or speed or to create a sense of chaos or otherworldliness.
- Faster shutter speeds for less chance of motion blur.
- Longer shutter speeds for artistic effect.
Other Things to Consider:
- If a moving subject is the only part of an image you wish to blur during a longer exposure, consider using a tripod to ensure the rest of the scene remains sharp and unaffected by the natural shake of your hands. How slow you can go handheld without using a tripod will depend largely on the steadiness of your hands and whether or not your lens comes equipped with vibration reduction technology.
- If a slower shutter speed is desired than the intensity of the available light source will permit, Neutral Density Filters are available for most lens types that will darken the scene, essentially acting like a pair of sunglasses for your lens and allowing you to shoot longer exposures than would otherwise be possible.
The ISO setting of your camera relates to how sensitive your image sensor will be to available light, a sensitivity formerly controlled solely by the specifications of the film you were using. A modern digital camera allows you to change this setting on the fly and selecting a higher ISO number value will promote the ability to use smaller apertures and faster shutter speeds than would otherwise be possible with the lighting conditions available. A lower ISO number value will therefore do the opposite, however this setting does not come without considerable cost to image quality, particularly on cheaper or compact camera bodies that utilise smaller image sensors. The higher the ISO, the 'noisier' or grainier the image is likely to become. Anyone who has taken an image with their cellphone in a dark room will have noticed the prevalence of green, blue and red dots spread throughout an otherwise more vague, gritty image lacking in fine detail. This is a result of the cellphone's camera software boosting ISO sensitivity as it struggles to expose an image with the low intensity of light it has available.
- Higher ISO results in faster shutter speeds than would otherwise be possible and therefore allows you to continue handheld shooting in low light situations.
- The higher the ISO the greater the cost to image quality and fine detail.
Other Things to Consider:
- When shooting indoors or in small outdoor areas, consider using a flash or a larger aperture as opposed to a higher ISO setting if you want to avoid a loss of image quality. Using a flash properly however, is an entirely separate skill set of it's own and is quite difficult to master as it's effect on the scene will not always be obvious until afterwards. Many newer photographers will avoid using a flash to light their pictures and will even advise against it, claiming to favour natural lighting over the use of a flash. More often than not though, it is because they themselves are uncomfortable with, or are unfamiliar with the correct techniques of using one. Experiment with an external flash if you can get your hands on one, and you will have much more control over your images in the long run.
- Cameras with larger image sensors and newer technology will handle higher ISO boosting better than others, however usually come with a higher price tag to match. At the end of the day, make do with what you have and experiment to see what you can get away with.
Now that you know what your camera is doing and why, the next step is putting it all into practice. You are going to make mistakes and many of them, however thanks to the joys of digital photography you can get instant feedback on your camera's rear monitor so that every tweak you make to your settings is available for review immediately, so don't be afraid to experiment. It doesn't cost any more than the initial purchase price of your camera to practice your techniques, and you can practice and learn at whatever pace you are comfortable with and in your own time. As a starting point, I suggest taking photos of the same scene with different settings to get a feel for each one, taking time to look at what difference it made to the final image. I also recommend getting a good understanding of aperture before anything else, as the majority of the time you will probably find yourself shooting in Aperture priority mode anyway. Aperture priority mode lets the camera choose the optimal shutter speed for you based on your manual aperture selection, so as to let you concentrate solely on framing and depth. Lastly, avoid leaving the ISO set to automatic while learning aperture and shutter speed, as it will make it harder to discern the relationship between the two and is not a good habit to get into.
Unless I know I'm shooting in tough lighting from the onset, when out and about I tend to leave the ISO set at 200 and only make changes to it reactively when the aperture settings I desire will not yield a fast enough shutter speed for the image I want.
- Leave ISO set to a low fixed value such as ISO200
- Set the desired Aperture so as to give you the depth of focus you desire.
- Check the Shutter speed to make sure it isn't too slow for your image.
- Boost ISO if Shutter speed too slow.