Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Hello, Beckie here :o) One year ago, I had a 5-year old dSLR (digital SLR) that had never been taken off AUTO mode. I thought that “photography stuff ” was too complicated and technical for a busy working mom like me to ever learn. Sound familiar? Let me tell you…I WAS WRONG.
Here’s a revelation: as digital scrapbookers, we’re already pretty darn technical. Photography isn’t harder – it’s just different! You know that “deer in headlights” look you get when you try to explain digital scrapbooking to someone? How hard it is to explain what a “digital scrapbook kit” is? There are some critical fundamentals of photography that you need to understand, and much like digital scrapbooking, you need to invest in the proper equipment. Once you learn the foundation – I promise you – a whole new world opens up.
So are you ready to get started? YOU CAN DO IT!! here we go!
Photography – BASICS
Remember in my last post when I mentioned that photography was all about using and capturing LIGHT? ok – that’s critical. Everything you do with your camera and your equipment is about getting the correct amount of light to your camera’s sensor to capture the image you want. This is called exposure. The goal is proper exposure. Too much light? Overexposed – all white and not much detail in the images. Not enough light? Underexposed – all dark and not much detail in the image.
dSLR cameras have what is called a meter. The idea is to get this meter to read 0 (right in the center of the line you see displayed in the view finder). I have a Canon, and for me, if the meter reads to the left of 0 it means I need more light. If the meter reads to the right of 0 it means I have too much light. Note: I believe that meters on Nikon cameras read the opposite direction, so please be sure to check your camera’s manual to be sure!
I had the opportunity to attend a seminar taught by Kirk Tuck where he used an analogy that TOTALLY made sense to me. Think of a bucket, and that in order to achieve a properly exposed photo you need to fill that bucket with water using a hose. The three settings you control on your camera that let you create the perfect hose, regardless of the “size” of the bucket (amount of light required):
- Aperture: how wide is the hose? is it a garden hose? or a fire hose?
- Shutter Speed: How long should the water be left on? Measured as fractions of a second. Your camera only displays the denominator, i.e., 250 for a shutter speed of 1/250
- ISO: what is the water pressure? values between 100-1600 (some cameras can be extended all the way up to 12000!)
With that analogy, the trick is to start understanding what the proper bucket is for each situation, which in turn helps you understand the right hose for the job. What is critical to understand is that there are always MANY WAYS to fill the bucket! you could use a fat hose for a short amount of time, or a skinny hose for an extended period of time. The end result is still the same: a bucket filled with water. This is what makes photography so intimidating and even a tiny bit frustrating in the beginning, but so thrilling and limitless once you grasp the concepts!
Now is a good time to mention that, due to lighting conditions and often limited light, indoor photography is a bit more challenging without the proper equipment. For almost a year I’ve been practicing outdoors, where I could learn to use a very short list of equipment well. So we’re going to focus on these situations first.
Now back to our bucket, hose, and water analogy…
Sunny Day = TINY BUCKET.
Ample available light means that information and light are just flying right at your camera’s sensor without any extra help from you. You’ll end up with settings that actually serve to reduce the amount of light hitting the sensor so your photo isn’t overexposed.
Tiny bucket tells us:
- ISO: you want a low ISO (low water pressure) because you don’t need any help from water pressure here. Start with ISO100. Note: increasing ISO often increases the “noise”, or grainy appearance in a photo. So you want to use the lowest ISO setting necessary to obtain proper exposure. Higher end cameras handle ISO values of up to 1000 or even 1600 very well, but some cameras start to introduce noise into an image with settings between 400-800.
Now you need to determine subject matter priority. If you’re like me – and chasing kids – you want a FAST shutter speed to minimize blur caused by motion so that the kids are as in focus as possible! If you’re taking pictures of the flowers in your garden, motion isn’t a problem, so really, shutter speed isn’t a huge concern. You might care more to capture one gorgeous rose in focus with the other plants artfully blurred in the background. In this situation, you want a LOW aperture number (F-stop). And ready for this..
Once you know which one you WANT to control based on the subject matter, the camera meter TELLS you how to set the other one to achieve a properly exposed photo!
And here is where that “multiple ways to fill the bucket” comes in. Even with a tiny bucket you can decide if you want a fat hose or a skinny hose, or to have the water run for a long time or just a short while. This is where its important to think about the specific situation, or subject matter priority.
Subject matter (running children) tells us: SHUTTER SPEED is the priority. But you need to be aware of the proper boundaries for aperture, too.
- FAST shutter speed: absolutely never below 250 for moving kids, speeds of 1000+ are common when shooting outdoors. Higher numbers means the hose will be turned off very quickly.
- Aperture (F-stop) boundary: LOW aperture numbers (f1.4 – f2) are very difficult to focus. For moving subjects, you probably want the aperture set at F8 or above until you’ve practiced using various focus modes (definitely not covered in this post, LOL!). The higher the number, the skinnier the hose.
Subject matter (still objects) tells us: APERTURE is the priority, as this will determine how much of the image is “in focus”.
- Aperture: If you want one single rose, set to F2 or F3. If you want the entire rose bush, set to F5 or F6. If you want everything you see with your eyes to be in focus in the photo, set to the highest F number you can.
- Shutter speed: Matters very little here, unless its windy. If the flower is moving around, this is just like a moving kid – and you need a faster shutter speed. If it’s not windy – just set the aperture as you want it and adjust the Shutter speed as necessary to get the meter to read 0.
let’s do one more…
Cloudy, overcast, or dark = big bucket.
We need to use settings that will help the camera receive sufficient light to capture a photo that is properly exposed and not underexposed (too dark).
Big bucket tells us:
- ISO: Set your ISO up higher, which gives you better pressure and helps you fill the bucket. An overcast day, or later in the evening when the direct sunlight is all gone, start out with ISO between 200-320. This also works for very shady locations. The idea is to set ISO just high enough to let you have the range of shutter speed and aperture that you need based on your subject matter priority.
Subject matter priority still applies! Everything we covered above regarding Shutter speed and aperture is still applicable to these situations – the key is learning to set ISO high enough to achieve the shutter or aperture values you desire. With the proper ISO setting, you can use the same shutter speed and aperture values as in the first example. At some point the required ISO will be so high that the noise may become too much of an obstacle in the photo, which means you need to find a different spot with more light (remember all that stuff we discussed about finding light last time?). You’ll want to take pictures with various ISO settings on your camera to determine how high you’re willing to go on ISO. I’ve printed quality pictures up to ISO800 and I’m learning to trust ISO1000 :o). A lot of phographers will tell you to learn to “embrace the noise”, meaning – a little bit of noise is a tradeoff you should be willing to accept for a properly exposed, crisply focused photo!
A higher shutter speed allowed me to “freeze” the motion of the bubbling water. I could have DEFINITELY even taken shutter speed higher for different (better??) results. This is where its fun to play! I took this photo at a nearby garden center when we were picking out flowers for the yard!
I included this photo because it’s a great example of how you can easily go up to ISO 800 with MINIMAL noise! I zoomed WAY in (way past 100%) in the closeup included, and you can still barely see the noise. So don’t be afraid to increase your ISO! This photo was taken in my house in a poorly lit area and you’d never know it. One note: The shutter speed is WAY too low on this. There wasn’t opportunity to make the hose bigger (a lower f number) because focus is tough below 2.5, so I SHOULD have gone ahead and set the ISO to 1000. I would have been able to get the shutter speed up to 125 (which is the best that can be expected in a low-light indoor situation!). Luckily it still came out pretty good (I already scrapped it, LOL!).
I LOVE this photo. PERFECTLY illustrates what a low aperture lets you achieve. That artistic blur is called “bokeh”, (rhymes with mocha). See how small the plane is that’s actually in focus? This is why it is VERY hard to use lower aperture settings like this and achieve good results with people. In this case, I knew the ball wasn’t going to move on me! I still took 5-6 shots to make sure I had a good one.
I wanted to include a portrait! My daughter is a willing model, so I was comfortable using the lower aperture setting. This was in our backyard in the shade – I had ISO up to 320 so I could keep the shutter speed high for the series of photos I was taking of the kids. (my son is NOT a willing model and I was also taking pics of him, LOL!)
So what does AUTO mode mean?
Auto mode means you’re virtually guaranteed a properly exposed photo every time, but you have NO control over the settings your camera uses to achieve the proper exposure. In many cases this works fine, but you can’t ensure that the shutter speed is high enough for a running child, or achieve the cool blurry background (called bokeh) that is possible with lower aperture values (f4 and below).
Taking it off AUTO
Did you know that there’s actually a way to take your camera off AUTO without going to full MANUAL? Look at the settings dial on your camera…on Canon dSLR you’ll see “AV” and “TV” in the list. (Nikon cameras have this to but I don’t know what they are called, sorry!)
This is a way to tell the camera you want to control ONE of the variables, while allowing it to automatically set the other.
AV = Aperture Value (also called Aperture Priority mode). YOU set the f-stop you want, the camera automatically sets the shutter speed.
TV = Time Value (also called Shutter Priority mode). YOU set the shutter speed you want, the camera automatically sets the aperture.
So…your mission…pick an evening where you do nothing with your camera but PLAY. No pressure to have good photos, just taking pictures purely for the purpose of learning. Play around with these new camera modes, or even with FULL MANUAL mode (“M” on the dial) if you feel like it!
I practice every week. I love trying out new settings, or playing around with new situations to see what works to capture a great photo. Sunsets, sunrise, full sun, cloudy skies – each one of these situations presents a different set of challenges!
I want to say FIRST and FOREMOST – that the photographer makes the pictures, NOT the camera. More/better/newer equipment just makes it easier sometimes!
Both Nikon and Canon both have a very loyal following. I happen to be a Canon girl myself, largely because Canon entry level dSLRs are affordable and produce exceptional results. The newest Canon, the Rebel T2i, is something you should look at if you’re in the market for a dSLR. I’ve seen nothing but rave reviews about the capabilities of the T2i for the price ($899 US). Be aware that once you buy a dSLR and decide to start buying new lenses, it is difficult to switch brands as the lenses are not interchangeable between the two brands, so do your research first!
LENSES… Most dSLR cameras come with a “kit lens” that has a variable focal length and a range of aperture values. The t2i kit comes with an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6. What does all this mean? Well, some of it we’ll save for a later post – but the 18-55 indicates that it is a WONDERFUL all-purpose lens (for getting up close on subjects as well as getting lots of people in at one time). The down side to a kit lens is the limited aperture.
You can learn to shoot in full manual mode with a kit lens! So don’t be held back waiting for something better before you start trying to improve your skills! But having a “better” lens does make it a little easier to achieve those WOW shots :o)
Once you’ve played around with your camera and you want to start taking those truly gorgeous shots with bokeh (the blurred background) – you should consider investing in a 50mm lens. Both Canon and Nikon have a 50mm 1.8 that sells for right around $100. (note: the focal length is fixed at 50mm, and the 1.8 represents the LOWEST aperture possible). There’s also a 50mm 1.4, but runs several hundred more.
Here’s what’s in my bag:
- Canon 7d
- Canon 50mm 1.8 lens
- Sigma 30mm 1.4 lens
- Speedlite 580EX II (gift from my hubby, still learning how to use it!)
- lens cleaning cloth
- lens cleaning brush
- spare 16gb CF (Compact Flash) memory card (and another IN my camera)
- lipgloss (never leave home without it!)
A little note: I kept my super old Canon EOS Rebel (the very first one!) until just three months ago; I was at the point where I used my camera EVERY SINGLE DAY for many months before I decided to make the investment in a new camera. The biggest justification for me was “burst speed”, or the number of pictures that can be taken in rapid succession. I do lots of sports pics for the family and this was an important feature for me.
OK – that’s a TON of information for one post! I just can’t stress enough – you NEED TO PRACTICE! try out one of the semi-manual or even full manual modes, keep the pictures, then come back and look at them on your computer to see what worked and what didn’t! If you want to read more, I recommend either (or both, LOL! of these two books):
Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson
Digital SLR Cameras and Photography for Dummies by David D. Busch
I hope I’ve helped de-mystify photography for you just a bit, and maybe even encouraged you to read and practice a bit more! If you have questions or comments please share below!!
Happy clicking…and scrapping!