There are plenty of people in our consumer based economy that have expensive cameras and have no idea how to use them to their potential. I’m looking at you, you duck-faced mirror selfie taker and you, tourist who points the camera at every moving thing and end up with no worthwhile vacation pictures. Time to learn how to use a camera and actually think about how you take your pictures before shooting, so that you get exactly the shot you want. “Why would I want to learn how to use my 500 dollar camera?”, you might ask yourself. Have you ever shot a picture and ended up only with dark faces and a blown out background? Have you ever tried to get a picture of your friends and ended up only with blurry pictures and thought, “Dang, even my 500 dollar camera can’t get good night time photos.” By the end of this series, you will know exactly how to manipulate your camera so you can walk away with the exact picture you want. But first you need to learn how the camera works.
First step in learning how to take pictures is understanding exposure. What is exposure? Wikipedia says, ”exposure is the amount of light allowed to fall on each area unit of a photographic medium (photographic film or image sensor) during the process of taking a photograph.” Or in other words, how bright or dark an image is.
For example, this photo is underexposed:
while this photo is overexposed:
and finally this photo has the correct exposure:
To understand how exposure works, you have to understand exposure triangle. The exposure triangle consists of three elements: aperture, shutter speed and ISO. I will eventually go into detail what each of these elements do, but in the meantime, here are the basics:
Aperture is the size of the diaphragm that opens and closes in the lens. Like this.
A large aperture has a small f-stop number and lets in more light whereas a small aperture has a large f-stop number and lets in less light. If you look inside the lens while taking a picture, you can actually see the diaphragm open and close.
Shutter speed is how long the shutter stays open. Intuitively, a longer shutter speed lets in more light and a shorter shorter speed, the opposite.
ISO is something a bit harder to explain. But know that you want to use higher ISO when there is less light. I will go into detail in a later section of the series.
So exposure is described like this, 1/100th, f/4, 100 ISO. Meaning the shutter was open at 1/100th of a second at an aperture of f/4 and ISO of 100. If you wanted, for some reason, to increase the aperture, you would have to decrease the shutter speed by the same amount of units to maintain the same exposure. These units are called Stops. A stop is just a quantized measure of light. This again is a complicated subject that we will discuss later. Just think of it as a universal measurement like in chemistry, “the mole.” If you don’t understand that, it’s ok. Just understand that if you increase one you have to decrease the other to keep it in equilibrium.
You might now have the question, how do I know if my photo is exposed correctly? this is where your camera’s meter comes in handy. If you look through your viewfinder you will see something like this:
The area in the red box is your camera’s meter reading. You want to try to keep the arrow at 0 by balancing the shutter speed and aperture to keep the photo perfectly exposed. (Your camera has multiple metering options that I will go into another section.)
This was a lot of information in a short amount of time but after you play around with your camera for a little, the concepts will become second nature. So flip your camera to M (manual) and play around with your aperture and shutter speed settings.
Have fun shooting,