Saturday, January 31, 2015

Understanding White Balance

Have you ever taken a picture only to find that it is too yellow or too blue? Maybe the colors just look off and not quite how they looked when you took the picture. Most of the time this is due to a white balance issue. When you shoot in manual you get to choose the white balance settings. So let's see how white balance can affect your photos!

1. What is white balance?
White balance is the color temperature of light, or as I like to think of it the color tone of light.  Different light sources have different temperatures. Indoor lighting like household lamps are often tungsten - they put off a yellow tone. Fluorescent lights put off a blue/purple tone.

2. When shooting in manual, try setting your camera to AWB (auto white balance)
Just like ISO, cameras handle white balance differently. Keeping your camera in AWB (auto white balance) works well especially if you shoot in RAW. I almost always keep my camera's white balance set to AWB for a few reasons...
1) my camera handles white balance well
2) I'm usually shooting fast and don't want to fuss with setting my white balance constantly
3) I shoot in RAW and edit white balance later, if needed

But that is just me, everyone will have a different preference when it comes to white balance. In the photo example above, the image is shot in AWB.

3. If AWB doesn't cut it, you're shooting in JPG or working in a specific light, pick a specific white balance setting
Sometimes you need to set the white balance for the situation you're in (like low light, inside with tungsten, etc.) Just remember to reset to AWB when done - otherwise you may take a ton of pictures out in the sun only to realize later that everything is blue. This is very important if you're shooting in JPG - because it's hard (and often impossible) to fix white balance in editing. If you're shooting RAW files, you have the ability and flexibility to fix things like white balance after the fact.

4. Cameras feature custom white balance settings
These advanced settings can be created using a grey card. Honestly I have never fussed with custom white balance.

Here are examples of how different white balance settings can affect your photo:

Piggy was photographed outside in even shade and for this, AWB worked pretty good. To give you an idea how WB settings in camera can affect your picture, I took a picture of piggy with the different WB settings on my camera. Some will look really bad because that wasn't the proper WB for the light situation I was shooting in. Notice that in this example the "shade" setting looks best. That was the lighting I was shooting in. Flash comes up a close second but is slightly more blue in tone.

So remember the next time you are shooting in manual, take into consideration the white balance setting. If your camera handles AWB (auto white balance) well and you decide to shoot in RAW then great. If it doesn't (or you want to shoot in JPG) simply choose the proper white balance setting for the light you're shooting in. Don't forget to keep an eye on your white balance settings - when you set it, it stays that way until you change it again.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

ISO - The Basics

If you've been following along with my Shooting in Manual series and practicing with your camera then yay! I mean hey, you've come a long way from pressing the shutter in the dreaded "M" mode and getting a blindingly white picture of nothing. Or a major blur of who-knows-what. Right? Well in this post we'll be focusing on the third big player when shooting in manual: ISO

1. What is ISO? It's a Red Bull for your camera!
I've mentioned before that ISO is the camera's sensitivity to light. Or as I like to call it, a Red Bull for your camera. It's the boost you give your camera when you need more light. Let's say you're at the museum and using a flash / tripod is not allowed. You're already shooting wide open (the biggest aperture hole you've got) and it's still not enough light. The light meter says you need to use a crazy slow shutter and it's going to be stupid blurry. What can you do?

Bump up your ISO!

2. Use a higher ISO setting anytime you need more light - but be aware of noise
If you need more light, bumping up your ISO is a great option. But just like downing a case of Red Bull, there are consequences. A really high ISO setting will show digital noise or "grain" in your picture. The less light in the scene - the more grain is noticeble.

Each camera handles ISO differently... some get too grainy at ISO 800, others at ISO 3200. The more expensive the camera, the better it can handle ISO. Just play with your settings to see what's the highest ISO you feel comfortable using. Since high ISO causes grain, you'll want to shoot in the lowest ISO possible if you can. If you want to be artistic and have grain in an image then crank up that ISO. And if given the choice between grain in the image and NO IMAGE AT ALL by all means bump up that ISO. It's better to have a photo, than nothing.

3. What you need to know:

  • The choice of ISO setting is up to you - the person taking the picture and what you want from the photo

  • Don't forget to check your ISO when setting your light - be sure to do this with every new location or change in light

  • You can leave your ISO in auto but I recommend controlling it manually for the best results

  • If you don't have a tripod or can't use flash - bump up that ISO to get the shot. A grainy shot is better than no shot

Here are some photo examples to give you an idea what ISO setting to choose in certain situations:

On bright sunny days your ISO can pretty much be as low as possible. If you have the ISO too high and it's really bright, you could have an overexposed photo no matter how small your aperture (or fast your shutter speed.) This is why it's important to keep an eye on your ISO. Don't forget to change your ISO back to low if you go from a darker location (like inside a museum) to a brighter location.

If it's a cloudy day, I'll typically choose an ISO around 400. This is also a great starting point for shaded areas (like the candy apples below.)

Sometimes I still want more ISO - in this example I wanted to use a smaller aperture so I could get more of the ferris wheel in focus. Since I didn't have a tripod, my choice was to bump up my ISO.

Here's one of my favorite images from the Seattle Aquarium. I needed to use a lot more ISO for the shot so I bumped it up to 1600! It allowed me to take advantage of the ambient lighting while still having enough depth of field (aperture) and shutter speed to get decent focus.

I love this photo of Sleeping Beauty's castle @ Disneyland. It was pretty much pitch black, the last bit of twilight almost gone. I didn't have a tripod and I really wanted to get a picture of the ambient light (so no flash!) This is a great example of when you might want to use a high ISO to get the shot. Otherwise I would have had to use a slow shutter that would have been too blurry to see much of anything or used flash. Because there was very little light, the grain in the photo shows up even more. That was my creative choice.

ISO is a pretty simple concept and once you get an idea of the range to pick your ISO settings. Don't be afraid to change your ISO and see how it helps in your photography. Just remember to change the ISO settings back to a lower setting - because once you set it manually it stays that way until you change it.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Shooting in Manual Mode - Quick Tips for Photography

I finally made a quick tips guide for shooting in manual. Sure, it's similar to other photography cheat sheets out there but I wanted to add some specific tips I thought beginner photographers might find helpful.

Feel free to pin this, print it, save it to your phone, hang it up and decorate it with beads and candles and all that jazz. Heck you can even print it out and make a paper ball toy for your cat. Whatever floats your boat.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Aperture vs. Shutter Speed

So now that we know more about aperture and shutter speed and what they can do for a photo - it's time to answer those ever popular questions: which one do I choose? How do I know which setting to choose first??!  The thing to remember is your choice of settings will always depend on a couple of things: 1) the look you want for the photo 2) what type of lighting situation you're shooting in and 3) what you're shooting.

Now you should know that just because you want to use certain aperture or shutter speed does not mean you'll always be able to shoot with it (with natural light anyway.) If you're shooting in a very low light situation and want an aperture like f/11 with a shutter speed of 1/200 and you don't want to use flash... well more than likely it's not going to happen because that's a small hole and you'll have very little light. You'll get an underexposed image.

It's the same thing if you are outside shooting on a bright, very sunny day and you want to use a wide open aperture like f/2, but don't have a fast enough shutter to stop too much light from pouring in that big aperture. You'll get an overexposed image. In either of those situations you'll basically have to decide to compromise the setting you initially wanted to get a correct exposure. Or you can always wait until you have more or less light, add flash, etc.

That being said, people still wonder which settings to use in a certain situation. There's no magic setting I can tell you. I can say anytime you're in a low light situation you'll usually always shoot with the biggest aperture you have and a higher ISO (unless you add flash.) If you want to freeze motion you'll need to either use a fast shutter speed or you can use flash (flash freezes motion.)  It will always depend on the situation, the lighting and what you want.

Here are some examples...

settings:  f/4, 1/125, 100 iso

In this family portrait of my cousins, aperture was the most important choice. I wanted an aperture that would blur the background some but I needed the siblings in focus. I chose my aperture first, then adjusted my other settings accordingly.  When shooting living things I also like to keep my shutter speed at least 1/100 or faster, so after choosing my aperture first I will bump up my ISO to get my shutter where I need it to be.  In this case, a 1/125 shutter speed was sufficient as they were posed and being still.

settings: f/2.8, 1/200, 200 iso

In the photo above, the race has started!  I knew I wanted to capture and freeze the motion of the riders so shutter speed was my obvious first choice.

(photo left) settings: f/6.3, 1/800, 200 iso
(photo right) settings: f/2.5, 1/3200, 160 iso

Aperture was my first choice for these wildflower photos.  For the photo on the left I wanted a smaller aperture to get the entire field in focus - while the photo on the right I chose a big wide open aperture to focus on just a couple of bluebonnets in a blur of surrounding color.

settings:  f/10, 60 seconds, 100 iso, tripod

Anytime you want to try light painting (as in the image above) shutter speed is your first choice. Very slow shutter speeds allow enough time for you to run around and draw with light.

settings: f/22, 30 seconds, 250 iso, tripod

If you want to freeze or blur motion, shutter speed should be your first choice. A fast shutter speed is a must for catching fireworks. If you want the fireworks to leave trails of light then you'd want to use a slower shutter speed. In the photo above I used a 30 second exposure... the fireworks move really fast so we still get plenty of definition in them. Notice the trail of lights on the bottom right from a car driving by.  It was moving slower and so we had this continuous trail of light. If you wanted even more definition in the fireworks (less blur) then you'd need to use a much much faster shutter speed.

setting:  f/5.6, 1/200, 500 iso, bounce flash

Since I wanted both of the wedding rings in this shot to be in focus - aperture was the most important choice here. Anytime you shoot in a macro setting the shallow depth of field is intensified even more.  This means a smaller aperture is necessary to get both rings in focus. While f/5.6 is not a super small aperture, it's still not a wide open aperture so there's more depth of field in this shot (with just enough blur.) Also since this image was shot inside at night, I had to use flash. The flash was bounced off the ceiling with an external flash.

settings:  f/3.2, 1/250, 200 iso

Anytime you want to focus on your subject and make it stand out, while getting a nice amount of background / foreground blur - aperture will be your first choice.

settings:  f/5, 1/250, 2500 iso

For this engagement photo at Baylor University, the shutter speed was important to get and freeze the motion. So I chose my shutter speed first then set my other settings accordingly.

settings: f/2.8, 1/100, 2500 iso

One of my favorite photos is this moment of Audree, before she walked down the aisle to get married. Because she was standing in a wedding chapel that had pictures of other brides behind her, I wanted to focus only on her, and I chose a big wide open aperture to get this look.

settings:  f/2.8, 1/100, 3200 iso

Another photo of Audree with her dad during the father daughter dance. After taking several photos with flash, I wanted to capture the ambient light in the moment. So my priority was aperture first (wide open) and a very high ISO to help get both shots without flash. Notice the grain in the images- I was willing to use a high ISO for both of them to get the look I wanted.

settings: f/4, 1/160, 100 iso

When shooting Cari's bridals, she had mentioned a shot where the bride was spinning in her dress.  To get this shot we were going to need a fast enough shutter speed - so the shutter speed was our first choice. Then we adjusted our other settings accordingly.

If you're new to shooting in manual - keep practicing! Next time you're out shooting be aware if you want to choose aperture or shutter speed first, depending on what you want. Aperture will always be my favorite choice but I do love shutter speed and all the fun stuff you can do with it.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Shutter Speed - The Basics

So this post is all about Shutter Speed. Once you really get to know both aperture and shutter speed, you're almost set to jet shooting in manual. You'll always pick one or the other first depending on how you want the picture to look. Then you'll adjust all your other settings according to that choice. Ready to learn about Shutter Speed? Let's kick it!

1. What is shutter speed?

So aperture is the hole in the lens that lets in light, right? Well the shutter is the curtain that determines how long light can enter that hole. Think of it as someone sleeping in a room with black-out curtains. Another person walks in and pulls the curtains open. Maybe they keep the curtain open a while and it gets really bright. Maybe they push them open and close them really fast and it's just a flash of light (or in my room, a wake up annoyance.) Anyway... that's how the shutter works. Or think of the kitchen sink analogy Bryan Peterson uses with aperture. The shutter speed would be how long you keep the faucet running.

Shutter speed = how long light can enter the hole.

2.  Shutter speed controls motion

For creativity, the choice of shutter speed will control motion in a picture. The faster the shutter speed, the more it will freeze moving subjects. If you have kids running-all-willy-nilly and you want to capture this, you need a fast shutter speed. Sports? Fast shutter speed. Hyped up pets? Fast shutter speed. The slower the shutter speed, the more moving subjects will blur. Painting with light? Slow shutter speed. Do you want that hockey puck to look like a little black blur? Pick a slower shutter speed.

3. Shutter speed and focus

Shutter speed plays an important role in how sharp in focus your pictures will look. This is not depth of field like aperture but the sharpness of the subject you've focused on.  f you find that your subject is not in as much focus as you'd like... too slow of a shutter speed is often the issue. At a certain point, a shutter speed will get too slow and you can't hand hold the camera to hold it steady enough for sharp focus. Even if we hold as still as possible our body moves ever so slightly. Plus some people might be more shaky than others. No matter your freezing statue skills there's always a point where no one can hold a camera still enough for a very slow shutter. It will blur. We call this camera shake.

This also applies to living subjects. At the very minimum I shoot 1/100 when photographing people.  That's because even if someone is posing still for me in a photograph, they are alive and have those slight movements that come from breathing, etc. That motion combined with my own shake of the camera can make things in less sharp focus. The faster the shutter speed, the more sharp focus you'll get.

I have often shot inanimate objects (like a wedding cake) at a minimum of 1/60 shutter... if at all possible I would prefer to shoot it with 1/200 for a sharper focus. Of course you might not have enough light to do this and you might have to use a slower shutter that isn't where you can hand hold it. That's when you have to put the camera on a tripod. If you take detail pictures a lot, investing in a tripod can make a world of difference for your detail photos.

4. What you need to know:

  • shutter speed is often referred to as just "shutter"

  • it is most often designated by a fraction - 1/100 of a second (though some cameras show it as the whole number, it is given that it is a fraction)

  • a " designates the shutter speed as a second... so 2" is "two seconds" of time

  • shutter speed controls motion in a picture

  • "hanging the shutter" is photog speak for using a really slow shutter (let lots of light in)

  • "bumping up the shutter" means shooting in a faster shutter speed

  •  to get sharper images, shoot in at least 1/100 or faster.  1/200, even better

  • for really fast subjects (you want to freeze) hit 1/400 or faster shutter

  • to blur moving subjects, pick 1/60 or slower shutter speed

  • at about 1/50 or slower, you really need to use a tripod

I took this picture at night with just 2 lamps on in a room.  Since I wanted a smaller aperture to get the Rubik's cube in more focus, I had to use a slow shutter to let in more light. In this situation I used a tripod because no matter how still I held the camera... I couldn't hold it still enough to get it in focus.

This picture is a midway ride at the State Fair. I didn't have a tripod (I didn't want to lug it around) but at night of course I wanted a blurred image. I ended up hand holding this shot, standing as still as possible at 1/30 shutter speed. Sometimes I will brace myself against a pole or short brick wall in a pinch. I couldn't get a complete motion blur in this shot but I still love the effect.

Panning is another effect that is usually only attainable by using a tripod. Of course, here I am again in the middle of nowhere (not wanting to lug a tripod around.)  So this isn't the perfect example of panning but it still works. Panning is when you focus on the subject (lock the focus) and track it from left to right.  In this case I had the focus locked on my face but I'm spinning in a circle.  Yes, I'm holding a giant camera and spinning like a crazy girl. I get dizzy too. My camera likes to live on the edge.

Painting with light is another fun effect when using a slow shutter speed. To do this you must use a tripod. I usually pick a slow shutter speed and play with the other settings until I get the exposure how I want it. You can use the glow of a cell phone, glow sticks and even Christmas lights to get the effect. Just move the lights around while the camera is taking the picture. It's a lot of fun.

Make a date with your camera and focus practicing with just shutter speed. Take at least 3 pictures with shutter speed in mind: try your hand at capturing motion blur of a subject, then try freezing motion. Don't have a moving subject? Make something move. Cars, people on bikes, kids at play, etc. are all great subjects for capturing motion. You'll need to pick the shutter speed first, then adjust the other settings accordingly.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Kit Lens - Aperture Range

Most people starting out with a new DSLR have a standard kit lens. Did you get your camera as part of a set, complete with a lens? Then you have what we call a kit lens. YAY! You're ready to shoot pictures! snap. snap. snap.

So the kit lens is really what we call a beginner lens. Photographers have dubbed them kit lenses because they're often included in kits but you could buy one separately at any time. Kit lenses have lesser build quality that makes them more affordable for beginners. The materials are mostly plastic which also makes them more lightweight. This doesn't mean a kit lens is a bad lens. It is great for someone just starting out. However kit lenses do have their limitations.

One of the biggest issue beginners run into with their kit lens (when they learn to shoot in manual) is the choice of aperture. Kit lenses have an aperture range which means some apertures are only available to shoot when you're using a certain focal length.

What is focal length? It's how much of the image you can fit in the shot. 35mm, 50mm, etc. When you zoom in and out and you can fit more of the image into the shot? That's you changing the focal length. It's your view. That's my best down to earth explanation. In kit lenses the biggest aperture available is usually only useable at something like 18mm which is a pretty wide angle. If you wanted to shoot closer than that (zoom in) you'd find that suddenly you can't shoot the biggest aperture. That's the aperture range.

If you're not sure you have a kit lens just look at the lens barrel. For example, an 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 lens is a kit lens. The aperture range is listed as f/3.5-f/5.6 meaning, you probably can only shoot with aperture f/3.5 in the 18mm focal length of your lens.

This is one of the most frequently asked questions (and source of irritation) when people start shooting in manual - so I thought a little post that explained why you can't shoot with certain apertures would be helpful. It's not that big of a deal but it can be frustrating when you want to shoot with a certain aperture but suddenly you can't. That's the kit lens limitations for you. But you're just starting out and that's okay.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Aperture - The Basics

So you're gonna learn to shoot in manual. YEAH!! No kidding, shooting in manual is super easy and I'm going to show you how one post at a time. The key players in manual mode are aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Commonly referred to as the big 3. Well in this post we're going to learn all about lovely aperture. Seriously, I love aperture. Aperture, you can sit next to me. Aperture, I'll share my popcorn with you. Aperture, you're the best thing ever.

I mean you did make that background all nice and blurry today. Aperture, you rock. I talk to things a lot guys, it happens.

Let's just get on with it already...

1. What is aperture?

Aperture is basically the hole inside the camera that allows light into the lens. The larger the hole, the more light can enter. The smaller the hole, the less light. I really like Bryan Peterson's analogy of light compared to water coming out of a faucet. Think of aperture as the opening of a faucet. The more you open the faucet, the greater amount of water goes into the sink. If you turn the water on high, it often hits something and splatters out. Water be everywhere! Now if you turn the water on low, it is a more controlled amount and doesn't splatter as much. Even better, it might not splatter at all and you have dry pants.

Now... think of light as water.

When you have a big hole, tons of light pours in. The light hits your subject, then scatters everywhere else. When this happens, the subject is in focus and everything else is blurred. That's what makes background blur and dreamy bokeh. Bokeh is what we call all that blur of light behind a subject.

Now, when you have a small hole... a smaller amount of light is coming in. This light is more controlled, less messy. The light hits your subject but doesn't scatter. When this happens, everything is in focus. That's how we get images with a great depth of field. This water / sink analogy can also be used with a paint bucket. Have you poured a crap ton of paint out at once? Did it splatter? What happened when you used more control (or those little lids with the hole?) Less splatter. And probably less blue paint in your hair.

2. Aperture controls depth of field

Pictures with shallow depth of field (aka subject in focus, background out of focus) require a big aperture such as f/2.8. Pictures with everything in focus (from front to back) require a small aperture such as f/22. Now lots of people get confused with this, because f/22 looks bigger than f/2.8 - seriously I get that. It drove me banana pants crazy. It helped me to think of it as a fraction (this is kinda not technical but sorta true, but not really) so if you imagine that 1/2.8 is much bigger than 1/22, I don't know it works for me. My mom likes to see it as a pizza. I still don't get the pizza thing.  But hey, you gotta do what works for you.

3. What you need to know:

  • aperture is called an "f-stop"

  • it is designated by f/ (such as f/2.0)

  • it controls the depth of field (shallow focus or greater focus) in a picture

  • "open up the lens" means make the hole bigger

  • "stopping down the lens" means to make the hole smaller

  • "shooting in wide open" means shooting with the biggest aperture your lens has

  •  shooting wide open is helpful in low-light situations

  •  big apertures = the smaller numbers (blur background) like f/1.2, f/2.0, f/2.8

  •  small apertures = the bigger numbers (lots of focus) like f/18, f/22/f32

  •  for small groups of people stay at f/4 or smaller (for more depth of field)

Now let's get into some photo examples of aperture!

f/1.2 is a very shallow depth of field - its a very big hole. You can easily take a picture of someone and only get their nose and an eyeball in focus. It's tricky getting things in focus at such a wide open aperture but you get better at it with practice.

f/2.0 is still pretty shallow, but has a bit more focus. Any of the apertures in in the f/2 and f/1 ranges are tricky with getting things in focus. When taking a picture of people, pick a focus point and focus on their eyes. I love shooting wide open.

f/3.5 - is the usual suspect. You know that kit lens that came with your camera? Probably opens up to f/3.5.  This is a great aperture for shooting a small group of 2-3 people, but it is limited on the amount of creamy blur you'll get. f/3.5 isn't very good for low light situations... when you really need to let in more light.

f/14 is a small aperture.  It's going to get lots of stuff in focus, from front to back. Use this type of aperture on vacation when you love the surroundings, at that big family reunion (giant group of people) and anytime you want most everything in good focus. Usually the only time I use this small of aperture is when I'm on vacation - I do love breathtaking vistas... I want to remember it all.

Ready to try your hand at shooting in manual? Focus on aperture for a week. Choose a subject (or two) and try changing the aperture to see how it changes the look of the subject. You'll need to pick the aperture first, then adjust the other settings accordingly. Don't forget... anytime you change the aperture the other settings (shutter speed and ISO) will have to be adjusted as well (given you achieved a correct exposure in the first place.) If you change the aperture but forget to adjust the others, then your photo will be too dark or too bright.

Have fun and happy shooting.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Intro to Shooting in Manual

If you've ever wanted to break away from your camera's control of the galaxy (ok, ok, your photos) then it's time to learn how to control your camera. We're gonna start cracking the whip here and decide when to use flash. When we want stuff blurry in the background. When we want dinner! Oh wait, my camera refuses to cook me dinner. Well we are going to learn how to shoot in manual. Let's start with an introduction, shall we?

Reader: meet your camera and all it's glorious photo taking possibilities
Camera: say hello to that person who's always pressing your buttons with reckless abandon

I personify almost everything BTW. I'm weird like that. ;)

So here's the thing: when you shoot in automatic, your camera controls the big 3, metering, etc. and you have no say. Camera says "I do what I want!" Now If you shoot in aperture or shutter speed priority (aka training wheel mode) then you can control either aperture or shutter speed and the camera controls the others. Camera is still pretty much calling the shots. But when you shoot in manual you get to boss your camera around! And that's wayyyy more fun.

And now, an intro to shooting in manual...

Photography is light. We create pictures with light. Without light, we have no picture. Too much light results in a "blown out" or overexposed image. Too little light and it's too dark. But just the right amount of light and we have a correct exposure.

So how do you get a correct exposure? One that's not too light or too dark? You control the big 3:  Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO. Basically you'll always pick one first, then adjust the others accordingly to get a correct exposure. Once you learn how to get a basic correct exposure you can start to be creative and then decide if you want to blur the background or get everything in focus etc.  That's what we call the creative correct exposure. We'll get to that later. For this post we're just going to focus on getting a correct exposure. Not perfect, just enough light and dark to make a picture!  Here's the 411 to get you started:

1. Aperture
The aperture is the “hole” inside the camera that allows light into the lens. The larger the hole, the more light can enter. The smaller the hole, the less light. Think of it as the hole of a faucet. For creativity, the choice of aperture will control the depth of field of a picture. Pictures with shallow depth of field (aka subject in focus, background out of focus) require a large aperture such as f/2.8. Pictures with everything in focus (from front to back) requires a small aperture such as f/22. People get confused with this, because f/22 looks bigger than f/2.8 - I think of it as a fraction (this is kinda not technical but sorta true) so 1/2.8 is much bigger than 1/22. My mom likes to see it as a pizza. Whatever floats your boat!

2. Shutter Speed
The shutter is a “curtain” that opens and closes and determines the length of time light is allowed to enter the camera. Think of this as how long you keep the faucet running. When you're done, you turn the faucet off. Yep, that's it! For creativity, the choice of shutter speed will control motion in a picture. The faster the shutter speed, the more it will “freeze” moving subjects. So if your kids are running-all-willy-nilly fast shutter speed it is. The slower the shutter speed, the more moving subjects will “blur.” Painting with light? Slow shutter speed.

3. ISO
The camera’s sensitivity to light, or ISO, is best thought of as a “boost” of power for your camera. I like to say: it's a Red Bull for your camera.  It gives you wings! Well, a little wing anyway. For creativity, photographers often “bump up” the ISO settings to create a grainy effect in camera. Most of the time though we need the extra boost to shoot in places with less light, such as at the museum where flash is a no no.  Bumping the ISO enables faster shutter speeds in lower light with less blur.  The only thing, as with drinking a crap-ton of energy drinks, there's a trade-off. The higher the ISO the more grain there is in the photo. Either way, it's your call.

4. The Light Meter
The big 3 are super important and all, but really they're nothing without the light meter. To set the proper exposure (for the image you want) you have to use the light meter. The light meter is a device inside the camera that reads how much light is in a scene. Taking a “meter reading” on the subject or scene determines how to set your aperture and shutter speed.

Most DSLRs are automatically set with evaluative metering. How this works is the camera will "see the whole scene" so if you're at a beach, it sees a crazy amount of light.The sand is bright, the water reflects back light... WOW!!! We don't need this much light, underexpose, underexpose!! (that's the camera talking btw.) But really, you still need the light because now uncle Fred in his speedo is too dark. Switching your camera to SPOT metering will enable you to get your meter reading off your subject, whether it's a statue, your baby's face or uncle Fred's ridiculously poor choice in beach attire.

Good to know: the area your light meter takes a reading is usually signified by a big circle (or half circle) in the center of the viewfinder. Just walk up to your subject and fill it with that circle while choosing your settings. Then you can step back and compose the shot, leaving the settings you just chose.

5. Light Meter Indicator
This one little thing confused the crap out of me as a beginner. I kept taking classes and no one would point out this little basic thing: get the tick mark on "0." Anyway, you need the light meter indicator to see what your light meter is telling you and how to set your exposure. Basically all you have to do is make sure the little tic mark is set in the middle or on "0." Once you're on zero you pretty much have a correct exposure.

I say pretty much because the light meter is always a guide. You might find that it's still a little dark or bright and you can adjust for that. For example: you want to shoot in aperture f/2.8 - you set that.  Then you look in the viewfinder and set the shutter speed until the tic mark is in the middle. If the shutter speed is still too slow you can then bump the ISO to help the tic get to the middle. Guess what? You just made a correct exposure!

Overexposed images have too much light. The picture has lost details in my face, my wedding ring, my necklace. Sometimes you can bring back some of the details (if you shoot in RAW) if not, it's gone. When it is completely white we call that "blown out" and the details are gone, you can't recover them.

Not enough light! When shooting in automatic the camera will either pick a slow shutter speed or pop the flash if there's not enough light. When shooting in manual if there's not enough light your images will be similar to the one above or just completely black. No light = no picture.

Yes. A correct exposure. When photographing people take the meter reading off their face or the fairest skin in the group.

It's important to note that the possibilities are endless with shooting a correct "creative" exposure.  You can shoot one subject with different settings, get different results and correct exposure.

Now that we've gone over the basics of shooting in manual, try it out!

Don't worry about composition, perfect light, good focus or creativity... for now just pick an aperture (or shutter speed) then adjust the other to get your light meter indicator to "0" to capture a correct manual exposure. I call this process "setting the light" and just FYI when you get your light set for a certain scene, you don't have to keep reseting it UNLESS the light changes on you. So if you're shooting outside in the same spot for about 5-10 min. and the sun suddenly goes behind a cloud, then you would need to adjust your light and vice versa.

Also, try to be aware that you are not accidentally changing shutter speed when you think you're changing aperture and so on. This can happen easily with beginner cameras that have a button with multiple functions.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Understanding Buttons and Knobs on Your Camera

So many buttons, so many knobs, so much confusion right? If you're new to your camera or you've put off getting friendly with yours, this post will help put you in the right direction. This is actually the first step in learning to shoot in manual.

Sounds so basic, B-O-R-I-N-G!!! No, really this is an important thing to learn. The fact is if you're going to shoot in manual, you'll need to know where all those buttons are and how to change the settings on your camera. It can be one of the most difficult things about shooting in manual (remember when you first learned to drive?) but once you practice it becomes really easy.

Don't worry about trying to understand what these buttons and knobs do just yet. For now you just need to be able to change them and locate them on your camera. So grab your camera, manual and find the following items...  you'll need to be able to change:

  • aperture

  • shutter speed

  • iso

  • white balance - change to auto white balance (aka AWB)

  • metering mode - change to SPOT metering*
    *not all cameras have spot metering, so the next best thing is "center weighted" metering.
Again, every camera is different. How to change your aperture / shutter speed etc. will depend on your camera. Here are a few images of a Canon Rebel XSi to give you a general idea of what you're looking for...

Another thing to be aware of, is there are different types of lenses for cameras. Not all lenses are compatible with all cameras. Brands do not mix (you can't shoot a Nikon lens on a Canon body.)  Also be sure to take note of the attach points. Red dots attach at the red dot and white "squares" at the white ones. The Nikon I have here, for example, has a white dot. Basically this is the where you would line up the lens before attaching it to the camera. If you feel like you're fighting a wild horse while changing lenses... that might be why.

And when you start to get different lenses for your camera, here are ways to differentiate lenses:

Examples for the Nikon crew!

I haven't figured out where to change the ISO on this Nikon and I don't have the manual.  Soooooo.... check your manuals. Beginner camera bodies are notorious for having one button with multiple functions.

Hope this post on buttons and knob helps out! Remember the more you change the settings on your camera, the easier it will become. Soon enough it will be like you've done it all along and you'll be able to change settings without even noticing. Being able to easily change settings will make your journey into shooting in manual a piece of cake.