Photography: Intimidating? Yes, but you can do it
I am a football fan. I love football. Do you know how sometimes in training camp the veteran players will make the rookies carry their pads and helmet off the field after practice simply because they don’t feel like doing it and it serves as kind of an initiation? Well I am certainly still a rookie at photography and probably couldn’t hold Laura Kurz’ or Ed Brown’s pads at this point. Last year around Christmas I took the plunge from one of your basic point and shoot digital cameras to a more advanced DSLR (digital single-lens reflex). DSLR cameras are usually bigger than normal point and shoot cameras and have several options that make photography much more confusing than using a point and shoot camera.
Regardless of which type of camera you have (a basic point and shoot or more advanced DSLR) I am going to outline some pointers in this blog that have helped me and will help you. All camera’s usually have an assortment of shooting modes… you have your portrait mode, your landscape mode, your night shot mode, and various other pre-programmed camera modes. All you have to do is turn the dial to the setting that you want and shoot away, regardless of which type of camera you have. Well, have you ever been in a place where you use one of these pre-programmed modes and you just don’t get the result you’re looking for? Let me guess most of these blurry shots come in low light situations, right? The most common answer… use the flash. The flash will take all that blurriness away and make everything perfect. Sure you can use the flash and you probably will get the picture you’re looking for but the subject(s) will be drowned in artificial whiteness and natural color will be taken away.
The uncommon answer? Venture into the camera’s manual modes. There are three manual modes on most camera’s that will help you make your pictures look fantastic as long as you know how to use them. These three modes are Tv (shutter priority), Av (aperture priority), and M (Full Manual Mode). Before going any further let me explain what these three modes mean.
What is Tv? Tv is the shutter speed of the camera. Do you ever take pictures of your kids playing sports and think you got a great action shot of them only to look down at the LCD screen and realize it’s a blurry mess? This is because your shutter speed on the camera was not fast enough for the shot. In this mode, if you’re shooting action shots, your shutter speed should be set extremely high so the camera’s shutter captures the image as fast as possible. This will make the image as clear as possible without any of the blur.
What is Av? Av is aperture control of the camera. In other words, this mode controls how much light gets into the camera. Remember the low light scenario we were talking about a few paragraphs up? This is the mode that will ease all of your pain in low light scenarios. This mode also controls the depth of field of a picture. Have you ever seen a professional photo where the subject sticks out but the background is blurry? That’s right you can do that too… with your current camera… within the Av mode. Within the camera there is a small lens, which resembles a human eye, that gets bigger and smaller depending upon what the aperture is set at. If the aperture is set at a low number the lens gets bigger, allowing more light in. If the aperture is set high, the lens gets smaller allowing less light in. So to paraphrase… low aperture number = more light. High aperture number = less light. So what would you use in a low light scenario? You want as much light coming into the camera as possible, so you would use the lowest aperture number possible.
What is Manual? Now that you have an idea of what Tv and Av do, it will be easier to explain manual mode. When you are in Tv, you are saying to the camera “ok I’ll select the shutter speed but I want you to select the aperture.” When you are in Av, you are saying to the camera “I’ll select the aperture but I want you to select the shutter speed.” In full manual mode, you select all the settings… aperture AND shutter speed. This mode can be a bit overwhelming at first but I promise you if you get used to this mode, you’ll never go back to those pre-programmed modes and your pictures will turn out so much better. If you want full control of your camera, this is the mode you want to be in. Tv and Av are great modes and will give you better results than any of the pre-programmed modes, but sometimes you need an excessive amount of light or need a faster shutter speed than the camera will pick for you. When defining your settings within manual mode, here’s your cheat sheet:
Av: lower number = more light coming into the camera. Higher number = less light coming into camera
Tv: the lower (slower) the shutter speed = more light coming into camera. the higher (faster) the shutter speed = less light coming into camera.
Try starting off in Av and Tv separately so you can get the hang of what each mode really does. Then as you get the hang of them, venture into the manual mode to apply both settings at one time.
Another main aspect of a camera that people often forget or don’t even know about is the ISO feature. On most camera’s an ISO level can go from 100 to 800 but on some DSLR’s the ISO feature can go up to 1600 or even 3000. Remember back in the days of loading film into your camera you had to buy 100 or 200 ISO film if you were going to be outside shooting pictures or 700 or 800 ISO film if you were going to be shooting in low light? Well now days with digital camera’s the ISO feature is included within the camera and all you have to do is adjust the ISO setting depending on your lighting conditions. 100-400 ISO should be used in outside-fair lighting conditions. 400-800 should be used when you’re shooting inside. The only downside to the ISO feature is, the higher the ISO you select the more noise and grain your picture will have.
Hopefully these four basic photography skills will help you along your way to becoming a pretty good hobbyist photographer. After you get these down pat, then you can venture into the world of white balance, telephoto lenses, and manual exposure times… haha… I know I’ve already made your brain spin too much today. But let’s get the basics down first. Hopefully my rookie terminology helped you understand a little bit more about photography. Your memories will thank you for reading this blog.