When you bought your DSLR, did you expect instantly fabulous photos?
Are you finding instead that some are good, but most still suffer from the same problems you had with your old compact camera?
Don’t despair, because it’s not you, it’s the camera (I know, phew!)…and you just need to show it who is boss!
Luckily, I can show you how…
Better Than Snapshots
What you might not know is regardless of how expensive or fancy your camera is, when used in auto, it’s not going to take any better shots than a decent compact camera. When the light is good, without too many variations between light and shadow, your camera will do an ok job. The rest of the time will be a hit and miss affair.
Jumping out of Auto
When shooting in manual mode, you can take control of the settings that create your photos, and not only take photos that are technically sound and well exposed, BUT help you gain the skills to reproduce your creative vision (for example that beautifully blurry background that professional photos have).
A ‘well exposed’ image, is when an image is neither too bright, or too dark! It has captured just enough light to ensure you’re photo looks just the way you envisaged! And how do we capture a well exposed shot in manual? We wee need to balance our settings… and the exposure triangle is the concept to help you do that!
The Exposure Triangle = Balance!
When we shoot in manual, we’re choosing the settings of each of our three elements, to create a balance that results in our desired exposure. Each does something slightly different to let light into our camera.
The elements are Shutter Speed, Aperture and ISO, and collectively are known as The Exposure Triangle.
Other than bringing light to the sensor, it is just as important to understand the additional effect each element has on the shot, so that we know how to achieve our vision, how to avoid problems such as out of focus shots, and where to begin when deciding on our settings.
If our settings are out of balance then we may let in too much light…
Or we don’t let enough light in, or we end up with dark and/or blurry photos… or our subjects are out of focus! All of these are controlled by getting just the right balance between our settings for each shot that we take!
The idea of the Exposure Triangle offers a visual way to remember that an exposure that looks great will require that we balance all of these out!
All settings BALANCED = Correct Exposure
So what are our settings?
What is it? Shutter speed is the length of time the shutter remains open after you press the shutter release. The longer it remains open, the more light gets to the sensor.
How is it measured? Shutter speed is measured in fractions of a second. Eg. 1/100 = one hundredth of one second; 1/10 = one tenth of one second. A shutter speed of 1/100 is faster than a shutter speed of 1/10.
How does it affect the photo? Shutter speed captures or freezes motion. The longer the shutter is open, the more motion it captures (resulting in blur). A faster shutter speed will freeze motion.
What is it? Aperture is the size of the opening of the lens when you press the shutter release. The bigger it opens, the more light it lets in. The smaller the opening, the less light.
How is it measured? Aperture is measured in f-stops, a value that comes from a complicated mathematical equation based on the diameter of the lens opening. But we don’t need to go that far into it.
Depending on the lens, f stops can range from f/1.2 to f/22. f/1.2 has a very large opening, and lets in lots of light. f/22 has a very small opening and lets in less light. A low numbered aperture (eg f/2.8) is referred to as a wide or large aperture. A high numbered aperture (eg f/16) is referred to as a small aperture.
How does it affect the photo? Aperture controls the depth of field, which is how much is in focus in front of and behind your focus point. A wide aperture, say f/2.8, will have much less area in focus than a small aperture of say f/16.
What’s more, the dof is also affected by the lens length, and the distance of subject to lens.
Confused? This should help:
Low number = big opening = more light = less depth of field (blurry background)
High number = small opening = less light = more depth of field (all sharp from front to back)
To put that into a real world situation, you would use wide apertures if you wanted a sliver of focus on your subject and a nicely blurred background, such as a portrait. You would use a small aperture if you wanted most of the scene in focus, such as a landscape photo.
What is it? ISO is a measure of the sensor’s sensitivity to light. The higher the ISO value we set on our camera when we take a shot, the more the sensor can make of the light.
How is it measured? Most cameras start at ISO 100, increasing from there incrementally by one third:
100 125 160 200 250 320 400 500 640 800 and so on
Each increment increases the sensitivity of the sensor to the light by one third more than the previous setting. This means that your sensor will be twice as sensitive to the light at ISO 200 as it is at ISO 100.
How does it affect the photo? As you push your ISO higher and higher, more and more grain becomes evident in the shot, and at very high ISO settings you might also begin to notice a loss of sharpness. BUT pushing your ISO lets you capture images in lower light situations!
So Now What?
So this is where you need to choose a setting for each of the three elements that balance together and create an exposure. How do you do that?
The EV Meter
Before we talk about how to choose your settings, I need to mention the EV Meter. (Read more about Metering here)
The EV Meter is an indicator of how much light is hitting the camera’s sensor (see image).
Very generally speaking, when you hold your camera up to a scene, if the needle is sitting in the centre (at 0) it’s telling you it will be perfectly exposed. If it’s sitting to the right of 0, it’s telling you it’s going to be overexposed (too bright), and if it’s sitting to the left of the 0, it’s telling you it’s going to be underexposed (too dark).
The camera can be tricked by the varying tones in the scene, or the camera’s idea of perfect exposure might not match your vision, but this is a good starting point, and your settings might just require a little tweak.
Where to Start?
Start by deciding what effect you’re after – your priority is either going to be freezing or capturing motion, or a specific depth of field.
For example, if you are photographing your child in a running race, you probably want to freeze that motion so your first choice should be shutter speed. Due to the effect of high ISO settings, I always aim to keep my ISO at 100 as a starting point.
So it is always my last resort element to use to get light. So my next decision has to be aperture. In this instance, I would decide a child running will need a shutter speed of around 1/800 to freeze that motion.
Then I will hold the camera up to the scene, check where the EV meter is sitting, and adjust my aperture to get it into the centre. I will only adjust ISO up from 100 if I am not able to get a balanced exposure using my chosen aperture and shutter speed settings.
Conversely, if I wanted to photograph a portrait headshot with a really blurry background, then aperture is going to be my first choice. I might decide to shoot at f/2.2 which is about the widest I would go to ensure I get both eyes in focus if my subject is facing me directly, and will ensure a beautifully blurred background.
Then with an ISO on 100, I’ll hold the camera up to the scene as before, and check where the EV meter is sitting, and adjust my shutter speed to get it into the centre.
I also need to keep in mind that my shutter speed still needs to be fast enough to freeze any small movements of my subject or the camera shake it can record whilst handholding it.
Ready for More?
Our next Enthusiast Photography Course is kicking off very very soon and we step you through step-by-step to help you master your camera and start taking images you LOVE! Xx
With hands-on challenges, break down of all the concepts into easy to understand lessons, and a community of women to support and encourage you!