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Learning Photography Week 1

I am excited to spend this month with you all and hopefully together we can all learn more about photography and how our cameras work to get the best photos possible with the equipment that you currently have.  I should state that I am NOT a professional photographer, just a mom, who pattern tests, and loves photography, and is continuously learning more and more about photography through fellow photographers. 

Since this is Week 1, I figured that best place to start would be to understand your camera and all the various settings you can choose from.  Now, I am fully aware that not everyone will have a fancy digital camera or multiple lenses, and that the only camera you may have is your cellphone.  Well the good news is you can still get a great photo with your cellphone!  If you have a newer model phone, you will have the option to take photos in “portrait mode”.  When you use this mode your camera uses a wider aperture, some phones go down to an f/stop of 1.8 even!  With a wider aperture you will be able to make a background that is more blurred.  See the photos below, the first one is just in regular photo mode on an iPhone, while the second photo is taken using the ‘portrait mode’, notice the difference with the backgrounds!!! The key to getting a good photo with a phone is to have great lighting and use portrait mode.  Most photos taken with a phone will need to be taken outside or right by a window to get adequate lighting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This next section, we will be talking to people who own DSLR’s or digital cameras.

Are you one of those people who bought an expensive (sometimes $1,000’s of dollars) on a nice camera but shoot in A, or Automatic mode?!  It can be intimidating with so many options to choose from when shooting one picture.  I hope through the course of this week, that I can convince you to try and play around with some different settings.    (You will need to refer to your owner’s manual for your specific camera since all cameras are slightly different.)

Let’s start with some basic vocabulary.  I feel like learning how to USE my camera, I had to learn a new language!  Below are the three pillars of photography:

ISO – In very basic terms, ISO is simply a camera setting that will brighten or darken a photo. As you increase your ISO number, your photos will grow progressively brighter. For that reason, ISO is a good tool to help you capture images in dark environments or be more flexible about your aperture and shutter speed settings.

However, raising your ISO has consequences. A photo taken at too high of an ISO will show a lot of grain, also known as noise, and might not be usable. So, brightening a photo via ISO is always a trade-off. You should only raise your ISO when you are unable to brighten the photo via shutter speed or aperture instead (for example, if using a longer shutter speed would cause your subject to be blurry).

 

Shutter speed- Shutter speed is the length of time your camera shutter is open, exposing light onto the camera sensor. Essentially, it’s how long your camera spends taking a photo. A long shutter speed, will create movement in your photo (insert water, and stars photo).  On the flip side a short shutter speed will do just the opposite – it will freeze a motion (insert water drop pictures) Shutter speeds are typically measured in fractions of a second, when they are under a second. For example 1/4 means a quarter of a second, while 1/250 means one two-hundred-and-fiftieth of a second (or four milliseconds).

Most modern digital and mirrorless cameras can handle shutter speeds of up to 1/4000th of a second, while some can handle much quicker speeds of 1/8000th of a second and faster. On the other hand, the longest available shutter speed on most digital or mirrorless cameras is typically 30 seconds. You can use a longer shutter speed by using external remote triggers, if necessary.

 

Aperture – is referred to as the opening of a lens’s diaphragm through which light passes. It is calibrated in f/stops and is generally written as numbers such as 1.4, 2, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11 and 16. The lower f/stops give more exposure because they represent the larger apertures, while the higher f/stops give less exposure because they represent smaller apertures. This may seem a little contradictory at first but will become clearer as you take pictures at varying f/stops.

 

 

Now that we understand a little bit of terminology, let’s look at the dial on the top of your camera, you will see things like P mode, Tv mode, Av mode, M mode, and with some camera B mode and Custom modes.  In this lesson we will only talk about P, Tv, Av, and Manual Modes.
Let’s dive into what each of these presets is for and when to use them.

P Mode, is also known as Program Mode, and is a good choice for those who are just weaning themselves off of Automatic (A) Mode.  In this mode, the camera determines the shutter speed and aperture, and lets you determine the ISO.  Remember you want to keep your ISO as low as you can, depending on the light situation to avoid graininess in your pictures.  Turn the mode dial to Program and lightly tap the shutter release button. You’ll see a combination of aperture and shutter speed appear. Move the camera around and you’ll see either the aperture, shutter speed or both change. Now let’s shift the settings.  To activate Program Shift, rotate the camera’s control dial in one direction to select a wider aperture/faster shutter speed or in the opposite direction for a smaller aperture/slower shutter speed. This process can vary between models. If a combination of aperture and shutter speed is unavailable, try changing the ISO setting on the camera. Increasing it will make the sensor more sensitive to light, while choosing a lower setting decreases the sensor’s sensitivity.

First one is shot at ISO100 (because I was shooting into the bright light outside) and the camera told me that for this scenario that the aperture would be best at 6.3 and the shutter speed to be 1/200.

 

 

 

I didn’t love how much of the house I saw across the street so I overrode the Program setting by rotating my camera’s control wheel so that my aperture was set at 1.4 and my camera told me that we would need a shutter speed of 1/4000.  I took the picture again and the background is much more blurred with still good lighting.

 

Tv Mode, is also known as Shutter Priority Mode.  Shutter priority can be selected by turning the dial to S or TV depending on your camera. Shutter priority mode allows you to select the shutter speed and then the camera adjusts the aperture to a value that will work with the shutter speed you’ve selected to create a properly exposed photograph.

Shutter Speed controls how quickly or slowly your shutter closes. This allows you to control that amount of light that goes into the lens. The longer the shutter is open the more time the light has to get into the camera and hit the sensor to create the image. It also controls how much movement is visible in your photo. As the shutter speed increases movement is frozen, whereas decreasing the shutter speed increases the visibility of motion. If freezing movement, such as a twirling skirt, is your main focus, shutter priority is a good place to start.

This first photo was taken with a very fast shutter speed, 1/5000, with the intentions that I wanted to “freeze” the water droplets.  Since in Tv Mode, you can choose what Shutter Speed you want, the camera will adjust your aperture accordingly.  You do have the ability to adjust the ISO depending on how much light is available.  For this frozen water picture, my ISO was 2500 (camera picked this for me), and my aperture was f/3.2 (camera picked this for me).

 

For the second photo I wanted to have the water appear more fluid so I used a much longer shutter speed, causing the water to be blurred.  The only downfall to this, is that ANYTHING moving in your photo will appear blurry if there is any movement at all.  The details on this photo is ISO 100 (camera picked this for me), aperture f/32 (camera picked this for me) and the shutter speed was 0.5 seconds.  

Av Mode, is also known as Aperture Priority Mode.  Turn the mode dial on top of the digital camera to select Aperture Priority mode, we can tell the camera how big or small we want the aperture opening to be. On most digital and Mirrorless cameras, there is a command dial that can be turned in two directions. By turning one way, you open up the aperture, and by turning in the opposite direction you narrow the aperture. If you look at the LCD screen, you will notice a number that changes as you alter the command dial. Wide apertures are represented by smaller numbers, and narrow apertures are represented by bigger numbers.  Now that we understand where the aperture is, what it does, and how to modify it on a DSLR, why do we actually use it and why is it one of the most common semi-automatic shooting modes?

The main reason for using Aperture Priority is because it allows us to control Depth of Field (DOF).

In very simple terms, DOF is the area of a photo that appears acceptably sharp and in focus. To have as much in focus as possible, we normally use a narrow aperture (a larger number) – as in a landscape. To produce areas that are blurry or out of focus in front of and behind the main subject, we normally use a wider aperture (a smaller number) – as in a portrait of a person where the background is blurry.

The photo was taken in Aperture Priority mode with the Aperture set to the widest at f1.4. It resulted in a very shallow Depth of Field where the person in the foreground only in focus but everything in the background is blurry (out of focus). This was shot on my 50mm 1.4 lens, which is a common lens and affordable as far as lenses go 🙂  The camera settings ISO 100 (I chose this since it was a bright sunny day), f/1.4, shutter speed 1/2000 (camera chose this for me). 

 

 

 

 

 

This photo of a sunset was taken in Aperture Priority mode as well but in order to maximize the Depth of Field, I set Aperture to f11. Everything, from the grass in the foreground to the trees in the background, is in focus.  Camera settings ISO 1600 (picked by the camera), aperture f/11, shutter speed 1/8 (picked by the camera, I need to set the camera on a rock to avoid movement at a shutter speed this low)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lastly, we have Manual Mode, most typically labelled M on the cameras dial.  After you feel comfortable and understand how your camera works, you are ready to take full control of the outcome of your pictures.  In Manual Mode you control the shutter speed, aperture and the ISO.  These three settings work together to control the how bright or dark your photo is (known as exposure), as well as change the overall look of the image.  Learning to shoot in Manual Mode will give you control over shooting in difficult lighting situations.  An example of this would be if your subject is back lit.  If the light behind your subject is much brighter than your subject itself, then your camera will try to adjust the settings in order to capture the brighter light. This will result in your subject being completely underexposed, and hard to see. Not good.  Another example of when Manual Mode is necessary, is shooting the stars at night or any night landscape.   The first thing to know is that it might take a little while before you get really comfortable shooting in manual mode, especially when you’re first learning photography. You have so much to think about, like composition, lighting, subject interaction, etc., that it can be tough to constantly keep your aperture, shutter speed and ISO in mind as well.




The big thing to keep in mind is that eventually it will feel natural and intuitive! With enough practice you will start to adjust your settings quickly and easily. So stick with it! Now here is where I want YOU to practice.  Play around with settings on your camera, take pictures, take LOTS of pictures, post some pictures to the Sofilantjes Sew and Show group in the picture folder labeled Photography Week 1.  I will go through all the photos posted there and offer help and suggestions, in the photography world it’s called Constructive Criticism, or CC.  I feel that you can really grow in your photography skills by suggestions and guidance, I know that is how I learned, and that is how I continue to grow with my photography.  I can’t wait to see all your photos!!!!!  See you next week where we will be talking about Composition, Lighting and Backgrounds!

One thought on “Learning Photography Week 1

  1. Thank you!

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