Say ‘No’ to Auto.
Photography is a little bit like one of those seven-layer bean dips. It’s an art that has many different steps to create but the finished product turns out as a creative, beautiful masterpiece that’s easily spiced up. Well, that’s why I’m here – to give you a play-by-play of how to get started in the wonderful world of photography.
Whether you’re just getting started with your DSLR or just found an old film camera at a thrift shop – the basic functions are, more or less, the same. There are three main factors of photography : aperture, shutter speed and ISO / film speed. Because – to be honest – anyone can pick up a camera and shoot in the “automatic” mode (where the camera sets the shutter speed, aperture and ISO for you). Sure, it’ll take a mediocre photo that is “technically correct” but it strips away any beauty and creativity that you can draw out of a photo.
Photography is broken down into three parts: aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Those three things together produce an exposure, or how dark or how light your photo is.
Aperture is the tiny opening in the lens, through which light travels into the camera body. The aperture can add depth to your photo, by blurring out the background, or can bring everything into focus. It’s a little bit like the pupil of your eye. When you’re in a dark room, your pupil is bigger because it needs more light to see and focus on things. But when you’re outside, your pupils are tiny. Aperture is expressed by numbers called f-stops, which describe the size of it or how big or small the lens opening is. But the thing you have to remember is – when your f-stop has a large number, the opening will be the smallest, letting in the least amount of light. So, for example, an f-stop of f/22 means the opening will be tiny and f/1.4 will be huge, leaving it wide open.
It’s important to understand aperture because the size of the aperture has a direct correlation to the exposure of your photo. You’ll know how to set your aperture by determining how much light should enter the camera body. If you’re in low-light setting, like indoors at night, an aperture like f/1.4 or f/2 would be best, (if your lens allows it) as it would let in the most light. But on a sunny day, a higher f-number like f/16 would be better. Best thing to do is take a bunch of settings on the “aperture priority” setting (or the “A”) and only change the f-number to see which one is better exposed.
Depth of field, or DOF, is a huge topic that can be a post in itself. But to summarize – it’s the area of the image that will be in focus. Basically, a smaller f-number, like f/1.4, will sharpen the main subject in your photo but highly blur the background. (quick tip: When composing your photo, imagine multiple people standing in line, moving away from you. If you’d like to get 16 people in focus, set a large aperture, around f/16. if you’d like to only get the first person in focus, and have the rest be blurry, set it around f/1.4. (It’s not a direct correlation, but you get the point!)
2 photos shot with very small aperture settings. On left: Shot with Canon ae-1 with an aperture of f/1.8, shutter at 1/60, and iso 400 film // On right: Shot with a canon T3i at f/1.8 and 1/1,000 shutter
Shutter speed is much less complicated. It simply controls the amount of time the shutter is left open for the light to enter the camera body. In most cases, shutter speed is measured in fractions of seconds. The bigger the denominator equals the faster the speed. Most of the time, you’ll be shooting at 1/60th or faster, but anything lower than that – such as 1/30 – will cause the camera to be shaky and will give you a blurry photo.
If you’re shooting something in motion, you’ll want a shutter speed that has a very high number in the denominator (like 1/1000). Anything less than 1/60, you’ll likely need a tripod or a sturdy surface to place your camera. If you want to capture actually show when something is in motion – such as cars or ocean waves – you’ll want a low number in the denominator (and a tripod, definitely).
Shot with a Canon T3i with the shutter open for 5 seconds and an aperture of f/20. Take advantage and experiment with your tripod!
ISO is the level of sensitivity of your camera to the light that’s available. The lower the ISO number (such as ISO 200), the lower your camera’s sensitivity is to light. The higher the ISO number increases the sensitivity to light. The increased sensitivity makes it easier for your camera to capture images in low-light settings without having to use a flash, like an indoor concert. But, the higher ISO numbers add “noise” or grain to your photo. A lower ISO gives your photo a smooth look with softness but lower ISO work best in brighter settings. (Quick tip: Use your ISO as a “safety net” setting. if possible, always try to keep it very low so your image doesn’t get grainy. If your lens isn’t fast enough or the environment is too dark, then increase the ISO to add some brightness.)
Shot with an Olympus E-M5 with the shutter setting of 1/20 and aperture of f/2.5. The ISO was likely set above 6,000 to make up for the dark environment and slightly moving subjects. The ISO really brightened things up here, but also added a slight grain.
A FEW QUICK TIPS…
// Bring your camera everywhere. Literally, EVERYWHERE.
// Practice, practice, practice. You will learn way more by practicing with your camera versus on the internet or books. Trust me.
// I stick to shooting in the manual “M” or aperture priority “A” settings only. It gives you more control over setting the aperture, ISO and shutter speed.
// BIG TIP: Carry a notebook around when you first start out. Write down what settings your camera is at then shoot a bunch of photos. Then set your camera to a different aperture, shoot. Keep switching everything up and write it all down. This will help you gain an eye for what each aperture looks like in different lighting and what you should set the rest at.
All photos in this post were shot by Mandi Dudek and Andrew DiPaolo
Get out there and start shooting!