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Posts tagged “camera settings

Shooting in Manual Mode

(This is lesson 10 of my “How It’s Done” series of photography lessons)

Manual mode is often misunderstood and underutilized.  Many photography beginners shy away from manual mode because it seems too complicated.  There is also a misconception that “real” photographers shoot exclusively manual.  The truth is, manual mode can be cumbersome to work with, but sometimes it is necessary.  It isn’t difficult to learn manual mode and there are certain occasions when you are forced to shoot in manual.  I use manual mode from time to time, but only when I have to.  This past week I found myself in two different situations that required manual mode.  I’ll break down my thought process so you can see how I go about using manual mode.

This first example is not meant to be the greatest looking series of photos in world.  I was walking through the parking garage at Boston Logan airport, on my way into work, and thinking about how I was going to write this article.  The variation in lighting inside the parking garage gave me an idea.  Manual mode is useful when there is so much contrast in a scene that your camera can’t decide on a correct exposure — a scene like the parking deck.  The outside of the parking garage is lit by daylight and inside is deep shadow.  There is too much contrast between the inside and the outside of the parking garage for your camera to make a good decision about exposure.

Above is a photo of the parking deck taken in Av mode with no exposure compensation.  The camera made a really bad exposure decision.  The camera had no idea what it was looking at.  It didn’t know that the inside of the parking garage is a dark shadow.  The camera’s logic tries to render the scene as close to neutral grey as it can (read my exposure compensation article if I just lost you).  The result is the large shadow areas are rendered too light and the brighter areas are completely over exposed.

What could I have done to get the proper exposure?  I could have dialed the exposure compensation down, done some bracketing, and eventually found a working exposure setting.  I had a better idea though.  Most of the parking structure was made out of a nice neutral grey concrete.  Leaving my camera in AV mode and using no exposure compensation I simply filled my camera’s frame with some concrete and snapped a photo.  The histogram from this photo was right down the middle and the exposure looked right to me.  Because the concrete was close to neutral grey I figured I could transfer the settings into manual mode and get a good setting for the entire parking deck.

Above is the photo of the concrete.  Notice the settings:  f/8.0 and 1/250 second.  Now let’s see what happens when I use those settings to take a picture of the parking deck.

There, that’s better.   The concrete and the signs are the right brightness and the interior of the garage is nice and shadowy.  It could be argued that you could use the exposure lock button on your camera to get the same effect, but remember I am just showing you an example and exposure lock is another lesson.  Next, I’ll show you a couple real world examples of manual mode.
This first photo is very similar to the parking deck example.  Notice the large dark shadow area that fills a large portion of the frame.  Left in an auto mode your camera would undoubtedly chose an exposure for this scene that is too bright.  My idea for this picture was to capture the white, wind blown sea foam in front of dark boulder.  I wanted the bolder dark, almost black and the sea foam bright white.  What did I do?  I metered the grey rocks and the beach sand.  Both gave me a an exposure setting of f/8.0 and 1/400th second.  I dialed those settings into manual mode and took some test shots.  It worked.  The boulder was black and the sea foam was bright white, right on the edge of blown out.  Perfect!
This photo isn’t such an obvious time to shoot in manual as the last example.  This is Ella at the farmer’s market getting her face painted.  It’s late afternoon and we were in the shadow of a tall downtown building.  The light was kind of dim, but not at all contrasty.   These conditions should be easy for my camera’s light meter.  However, in the background there were a bunch of white tents and also (not visible in this photo) a large black banner.  The face painter is wearing a bright shirt and Ella’s shirt is black.   That’s a lot of all black and all white.  I was afraid that as I moved around and changed compositions my frame sometimes would be full of lots of white and sometimes be full of lots of black.  If I didn’t use manual mode I would be in exposure compensation hell.  And, there was one more reason to go manual — the bright sky.  We were down in the shadows, and I knew that an exposure setting that would render the faces correctly would be too bright to maintain the sky.  The sky was going to blow out no matter what.  I know my light meter hates to let anything blow out.  If I stayed in an automatic mode, any shot that included sky would get underexposed because my camera would try to keep the sky from blowing out.  The solution was to shoot in manual.  I don’t carry a light meter so to figure out the right settings I took some test shots and bracketing in Av mode.  Once I found the sweet spot I dialed those settings into manual mode.  I took a whole series of Ella getting her face painted using those same settings.  All the shots had perfect exposure.

Does that all make sense to you?  Please leave a comment if you have any questions.

Continue to lesson 11

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*David is a California Photographer . You can order prints of the photos featured on this blog by clicking on the image or visit our website at photos4u2c.com Support this site by using one of my links to Amazon.com. Thanks!

A Path Into the Woods

(Note:  This is lesson 10 in my “How It’s Done Series“)

This is the final lesson in the technicalities chapter of “How It’s Done”.   By now you should be able to take technically competent photos.  You have been issued a license to experiment.  The subjects we covered might have seemed complicated.  But, believe it or not, with enough practice everything we talked about in the past nine lessons will become second nature.  You will be able to make decisions by feel rather than thought.  In this lesson I am going to try to show you how I think about the technicalities while I am out shooting photos.  This is intended as both a review of the material already covered and hopefully an insight into how things become easier with some practice under your belt.

The camera setting I always base technical thought process around is aperture.  I almost always am in aperture priority mode (Av mode).  When I am in Av mode I feel like I am standing on solid ground.  For instance, imagine I am shooting hand held in marginal light.   I have my camera in Av mode and the aperture is set to f/8.  Let’s say the meter is giving me a shutter speed of 1/20th second (remember in Av mode the photographer sets the aperture value and then the light meter calculates the correct shutter speed for the light).  Since I am hand holding the camera I am not happy with that slow shutter speed.  While in Av mode I know I have two options that will get me a faster shutter speed:  open the aperture or increase ISO.  Now, I have to decide what trade off I am willing to make.  If I bump up the ISO I’m going to increase the noise in the photo.  If I open the aperture I am going to loose depth of field.  What choice I make depends on the subject.  If depth of field doesn’t matter, I’ll open the aperture.  If I need the depth of field then I bump up the ISO.  Or maybe I split the difference and do a little of both.  That thought process takes less than a second and, most likely I will change my mind a switch settings a few shots down the line.  Photography is not about knowing an exact setting to go to for every situation.  It’s more important to know how to adjust, and readjust, and keep dialing things in until you’re happy with the results.

What about exposure compensation?  It’s important not to over think exposure compensation.  If you are taking a photo of something darker than neutral gray try dialing down the Ev a little.  Take a photo and look at the results on your LCD.  Does it look alright?  If the photo looks too dark move the Ev back towards the center and try again.  Or, maybe your photo still looked too bright.  In that case pull the Ev back another notch or two.  It’s really that basic — lots of trial and error.  After you do enough of this mucking around you’ll develop a feel for your meter.  Pretty soon you’ll find yourself dialing in the right Ev value by just looking at a scene.  You won’t have to bracket much anymore.  Other times you’ll get stymied and you’ll have to do a ton of bracketing.  It happens to the best of us.

Now that you kind of know what you’re doing it’s time to do some playing.  Use all sorts of apertures.  Fiddle with the exposure compensation.  If your camera is set at f/8 and Ev +0 for more than a couple frames in a row, you’re doing something wrong.  Don’t be afraid to fall flat on your face.  The best opportunities for learning come from mistakes.  I have a hard drive full of garbage photos.  They don’t haunt me.  They are my foundation, my path to the top of the mountain.

So where do we go from here?    I’m sure some of my more astute readers have noticed that we haven’t touched on white balance since lesson two.  There is a reason.  Remember way back in lesson one when I told you to shoot in RAW mode?  I wasn’t joking.  You should be shooting in RAW and, that’s where “How It’s Done” is headed next — Photoshop RAW converter.  I’ll teach you how to set the white balance and about 500 other things.  Stay tuned.  I am going to take a break from the lesson writing until after the holidays, but in January come back ready for some Photoshop Learnin’.

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*David is a California Photographer . You can order prints of the photos featured on this blog by clicking on the image or visit our website at photos4u2c.com Support this site by using one of my links to Amazon.com. Thanks!

What is ISO and a Deeper Look at Your Image Sensor

(This is Lesson 7 of my “How It’s Done” series)

I was going to make this lesson a quick and breezy discussion of ISO.  From the many conversations I have with new DSLR owners, I’ve found that ISO is one of the most misunderstood concepts in digital photography.  It doesn’t have to be that way.  Understanding ISO is a pretty basic concept.  It’s a lot less confusing than other concepts we’ve already covered like aperture control and depth of field.  I could probably explain ISO in a paragraph or two, but that would be doing you a disservice.  The whole purpose behind this series of lessons is to give you enough photographic knowledge that you feel confident about your photographic decisions.  The last thing this world needs is another photographer that leaves his ISO permanently set at 100, or even worse, sets his ISO to auto and leaves it there for the life of the camera — yuck.  America, you can be smarter than that!  You have a real technological marvel living in the heart of your camera.  By the end of this lesson you will know how to push that Ferrari hidden in your camera to the edges of its performance envelope.  To get to that level we’re going to dip a little into the technicalities, but don’t worry, we won’t go so deep that you fall asleep.  At the end of this lesson you’ll know how ISO effects image quality, when you want to use a high ISO, and when you want to go low ISO.  Also, you’ll know enough basic image sensor theory that you’ll have confidence in your ISO decisions.

Let’s start by delving deeper than we have previously into the workings of your image sensor.

Your image sensor is an array of millions of light sensitive pixels.  When you were shopping for a camera undoubtedly mega pixels were a factor in your buying decision.  One mega pixel equals one million pixels.  Each pixel is a microscopic light sensor.  The more pixels packed onto an image sensor, the more detailed a picture that camera is able to produce.  My first digital camera was a 3.2 mega pixel Canon Powershot S30.  I couldn’t make prints larger than 8×10 inches from that ancient Powershot because of pixilation (Note: pixilation is when a picture starts to show the individual pixels that make up the image because it is printed too large.  It looks like a bunch of jagged squares).  Today’s DSLRs pack in so many pixels that you don’t’ have to worry about pixilation until you print your pictures larger than poster size.  Who really needs more pixel horse power than that?

A more important question than “how many mega pixels?” is “how does an image sensor work?”  Here’s the quick (all you really need to know as a photographer) explanation.

We’ll start with the smallest component of the sensor, the pixel, and work our way up.  Each one of your millions of pixels is a tiny hyper sensitive solar cell.  When light hits a pixel, the pixel converts the light energy into little charge of electricity.  The amount of electricity created is proportional to how bright the light is.  A brighter light means more electricity generated.

To me, the next part of image sensor technology  is even more amazing than the millions of tiny solar cells .  Attached to each pixel on your camera’s image sensor is an itsy-bitsy voltage meter.  Think of how amazing that is!  Millions of perfectly calibrated microscopic voltage meters living and working inside your camera.  (When I took high school electronics class we did a lot of voltage metering.  The voltage meters we used were the size of a shoebox and weighed five pounds.)  The voltage meters attached to your pixels each take a very precise measurement of the charge on each individual pixel. The voltage reading is then converted to a brightness value.  The brightness values are a range from 0 to 255.  For example, a pixel that has no measurable charge is assigned a brightness value zero value, while a pixel that is a midtone would be assigned  value of 128, and the brightest highlights in a photo would have a brightness value of 255.  (Does that sound familiar?  You might want to reread lesson # Understanding exposure one pixel at a time)

All this information generated by the image sensor would be useless if it weren’t organized in a specific way.  The millions and millions of pixels on your sensor are arranged in a very specific pattern called a Bayer array.  Each one of your pixels actually has a red, green, or blue color filter covering it.  In a Bayer array 50% of the pixels have green filters, 25% have red, and the remaining 25% have red filters.  Don’t ask me why green gets twice as much representation.  That’s a doctoral thesis above my level of understanding.  Just know that the array works, and make a note in the back of your mind that in photoshop the green channel has twice as much detail as the red and the blue channels.  Below is a picture of a Bayer Array lifted by permission from Wikipedia.

Each one of your pixels sees only in a single color.  Fortunately, red, green, and blue can be mixed to form all the colors of the rainbow.  Your camera knows the location of each pixel and what color filter is covering the pixel.  It’s the job of your camera’s image processor to place each pixel’s data, mix the colors, and create a recognizable picture.

Now that we have an understanding of all the parts , lets break down what happens in the split second your camera takes a picture.

Step 1 — The shutter opens and the image sensor is blasted with light

Step 2 — Each of the millions of pixels absorb light and transform the light energy into a tiny electrical charge (brighter light equals more electricity  — less light equals less electricity)

Step 3 — The electrical charge at each pixel is measured by the pixel’s own individual voltage meter and the measured voltage is translated into a brightness value on a scale of 0 to 255

Step 4 — The brightness value from each pixel is tagged with the pixel’s location on the Bayer Array and the information is sent to the image processing computer

Step 5 — The image processing computer sorts all this data creating a recognizable photo

Step 5 and ½ — If you didn’t turn off all the automatic junk we discussed in lesson one “Disillusionment is a Positive First Step”, this is when you camera’s imaging computer adds stuff like auto saturation, and auto sharpening.  These things are better dealt with by you, the photographer, in Photoshop, rather than in a hap hazard, uncontrolled way in the camera.  Turn that stuff off!  Give your camera and yourself a break.  Skip step 5 and ½.

Step 6 — The processing computer then sends the photo data to the camera’s memory card for storage.  The file type is either encoded as Jpeg, or RAW, or one of each.

You got it?  Is this all making sense?  Good.  We’re almost back to our main topic of discussion, ISO, but first we have to cover a couple quick topics.  We have to talk about how your image sensor screws up.

The bane of  digital image sensors has always been shadow detail and digital noise.  Digital sensors have, in their short history, never been very good at recording details in the darkest areas of photos.  Things are getting better.  Newer sensors can see better in dark areas than could sensors of just a few years ago.  However, engineers are far from perfecting digital sensor’s shadow performance.  Ironically, film was the opposite.  Color film was great at shadow detail and poor at recording highlights.  Color film photographers were able to work around this limitation in their medium just as digital photographers make do with the limitations of their equipment.  The key is to understand the problem first.

There are two reasons why digital camera’s have a tough time with shadows.  The first is simply the physical limitations of a pixels sensing ability.  Remember, a pixel is basically a solar cell with a volt meter attached.  It’s hard for a pixel to sense light where there isn’t much light to begin with.  The tiny electrical charge created by a pixel that’s pointed at a shadow might be too small to be metered .  Or, the charge could be so small that the camera’s computer has to throw away the data because it’s not above a certain threshold.  For advanced readers, think of the blacks slider on Photoshops RAW converter.  Anything that falls below the black threshold is rendered as black.  You can roll back the black threshold to get more shadow detail, but you also get a lot more noise.  The noise is random pixel readings.  When things are this dark,  a pixel’s voltage meter is reading tiny charges.  At this low range your pixels might be measuring a charge created by the heat of the camera rather than a charge created by light striking the sensor.  You’re at the limits of your sensor’s abilities.  It can’t tell the difference between a good and bad measurement at this range.

Where shadows are concerned, digital cameras have another factor working against them.  Remember the 0 to 255 brightness scale discussed earlier?  Well, I neglected to tell you one important fact about that scale.  The scale is nonlinear.  (Holy crap Batman!  Nonlinear!  That smacks of High school algebra!)  Don’t despair dear readers.  I’m not going to graph some indecipherable curves in my quest to teach you how your sensor works.  Just understand that when your camera records shadow values the brightness levels are a lot wider than in the highlights.  In the 0 to 255 brightness scale a step from a value of 2 up to 3 is a much bigger step than a step between the values 128 and 129.  Because of this method of measurement, your image sensor is simply more sensitive to the highlights than it is the shadows.

To better illustrate the problems recording shadow details I posted below a snapshot of my dogs.  This photo was taken at ISO 640.  For my old Canon 5D that ISO is starting to push into the realm of noise and poor shadow detail.

Notice that this web size (950 pixels wide) photo looks OK.  Jack, my black dog, looks pretty sharp and his fur looks fairly well rendered. Now look below at the two 100% crops of Jack’s face.

The image on the left is Jack’s face as it was displayed in the full sized photo.  It doesn’t look terrible.  However, I want you to take a look at the areas of darkest shadow.  Notice how there isn’t a very smooth transition from dark black to slightly lighter gray.  That’s because of the big steps between lightness levels that we talked about earlier.  Also, there is a touch of noise in the dark spots.  That’s from the camera making incorrect readings at the lower end of its sensing abilities.  Take a look at the right image now.  In this image I opened up the blacks a little in the Photoshop’s RAW converter.   I moved the blacks threshold slider (those super imposed sliders at the bottom of each picture) from 5 to 2.   That move tells photoshop I want to display data that is even deeper in the shadows.  Don’t worry if you don’t understand that photoshop stuff yet.  What I am trying to do here is demonstrate how thin the shadow detail is in the dark areas.  In the right image take a look at how grainy and pixelated the eyes look, and also take a look at the messy shadow in the lower right corner.

To contrast with those messy shadows in Jack’s face, I posted below a 100% crop from the other dog’s neck and head.  Gatsby’s fur is a nice midtone and my camera does a good job capturing it, even at this high ISO setting.

Take a look at that nice sharply rendered red collar.  It looks great.  It’s a midtone.  It should look great.  The fur around it looks good too.  Now, look at the inside of Gatsby’s ear.  Uh Oh, here comes the bad shadow detail again!  It’s the same down near his dark eye.  Granted, those areas are slightly out of focus, but the camera still is putting noise in the dark spots regardless of focus.

So what exactly am I trying to tell you?  You aren’t ever going to be satisfied with pictures of your black dog?  Unless your picture is perfect looking at 100% size it’s a total failure?  No!!  All I am trying to do is point out some limitations at the extreme edge of your sensor’s ability.  Now that you understand the limits of your sensor, you can work to overcome them.  Maybe, when taking pictures of your black lab you can try some fill flash, or maybe you can experiment with a slight overexposure and then push details backwards into the shadows via Photoshop.  Heck, you could even say, “That slight shadow noise doesn’t even look bad.  Only a perfectionist would be bothered by it.  Screw it!  I’m gonna go out and take some pictures.”  All those are correct answers.

OK.  Now, we can finally circle back to ISO.

Your camera’s ISO setting often (sort of incorrectly as we’ll discuss later) defined as how sensitive your image sensor is to light.  An ISO of 100 is less sensitive than ISO 200.  Each 100 doubling of ISO value is equal to one stop of aperture or one stop of shutter speed.  For example, let’s say you are shooting a football game on a cloudy day.  You have a really expensive lens and you are shooting at f/2.8.  Since it’s cloudy you notice that your shutter speed is only 1/60th second.  Your photos aren’t coming out very crisp.  The action on the field is just too fast for that slow shutter speed.  Being a smart photographer you decide you want a faster shutter speed.  Your lens is already dialed down to its fastest aperture.  What else can you do?  You turn up the ISO.  Let’s say you dial up the ISO to 400.  That’s two full stops faster than ISO 100 (going from 100 to 200 is one stop, from 200 to 400 is another stop).  Now, with the same lighting you get camera settings f/2.8 and 1/250th.  That’s fast enough for this action.

Here’s the big catch when it comes to ISO, you are not actually turning up the sensitivity of the image sensor.  You are turning up the gain.  There is a big difference.  With a high ISO your image sensor doesn’t miraculously find a better way to see.  What happens as you raise ISO is the million little volt meters we talked about earlier add some amplification to their signals.  This trick of electronics does a great job brightening midtones and highlights, but it doesn’t do such a stunning job with shadow detail.  Remember, your image sensor already has some problems when dealing with shadows.  Adding amplification doesn’t always solve those problems.  A lot of times it actually amplifies them.  That’s where you can get a lot of digital noise — using a high ISO and taking photos of dark objects or deep shadows.

Don’t let that last paragraph persuade you away from shooting at high ISO settings.  That’s the last thing I want to do.  Too many photographers are afraid to bump up their ISO for fear of a little noise in their images.   Modern DSLRs do a great job suppressing noise at high ISO.  Also, Photoshop keeps coming up with better and better noise suppression software.  The combination of these two technologies makes high ISO photography better today than it ever was.  I think there are a lot of photographers out there who had bad high ISO experiences with older DSLRs and now they never try high ISO with their newer cameras.  It’s a shame because the new cameras do a great job.  My suggestion is to try lots of different ISO settings with your camera and determine where the noise level becomes unacceptably high.  Keep in mind how big you will be displaying your images.  If the biggest you’ll print your picture is 8×10, you can go hog wild with ISO before any noticeable noise appears.  If you’re printing a poster you’ll have to be more conservative.

Just like in previous lessons I’m going to give you a list of ISO settings and possible uses.  Of all my lists, this one needs to be taken with the biggest grain of salt.  These settings are based on my Canon 5D Classic.  That camera design is old, but it’s also a full frame camera with big pixels.   The sensor size might give some of  your newer APS-C sized cameras a run for their money.  Or, your  new camera might have a better ISO response than mine.  Keep that in mind as you read this list.  I also included some photo examples to spruce up this otherwise blah looking article.

ISO 50 — This is the setting for long exposures when shooting on a tripod.  It eliminates noise when the shutter is open more than several seconds

This photo of downtown Seattle is an ISO 50 photo.  My camera was mounted on a tripod and the shutter was open 30 seconds.  Look at the flag in the bottom of the frame to get an idea of how long the exposure was.  I had almost no digital noise in this photo.  ISO 50 does a great job when taking pictures at the edge of dark.

ISO 100 — I use ISO 100 for 80% of my shots.  As long as the shutter isn’t open more than a few seconds, ISO 100 gives virtually no image noise.

This photo of a Wisconsin farm in the dead of winter was taken at ISO 100.  There was plenty of sun and snow so shutter speed wasn’t a concern.  In fact, I was so cold while taking this photo that I probably didn’t even think about ISO.  It was zero degrees and the wind was whipping.  Luckily, my camera lives at ISO 100.  If it’s not set at ISO 100 when I turn it off there’s a good chance that the next time I use my camera I’ll be shooting in the wrong ISO for 10 minutes or so.

ISO 400 — This is my setting for action shots.  If I am shooting something with lots of motion I’ll bump up the ISO to 400.  At this setting I get almost no noise as long as the shutter is open less than 1/250 second.  That makes ISO 400 perfect for chasing action.  I also use this setting if the light is low, and I don’t have a tripod.  At slower shutter speeds I start to notice a bit of noise in the shadows, but this can usually be cleaned up with some creative noise reduction in Photoshop.

This photo of Ella riding the General Lee at the State Fair was taken at ISO 400.  It was sunny and bright, but I wanted to be sure that I had enough shutter speed to stop the action.  I discuss this photo in more detail here.

ISO 3200 — This is my last resort setting.  If I am hand holding the camera and already way down at f/2.8, sometimes ISO 3200 is the only way to go.  The noise is pretty bad, but it can be cleaned up enough to make a decent web sized photo.

Here is a shot taken at ISO 3200, f/2.8, and 1/40th second.  I could have used flash for this and got a crisper picture, but I really wanted the fire to do all the lighting.  I cleaned up the noise in Photoshop.  The picture could have been sharper.  I tried to focus on Matt’s head, but the auto focus grabbed the shoe hanging in the right side of the frame instead.  Night photography is hard.

Well, that’s about all I have to say about ISO and image sensors.  For further reading and a little ISO pep talk let me recommend this article I wrote last winter.

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*David is a California Photographer . You can order prints of the photos featured on this blog by clicking on the image or visit our website at photos4u2c.com Support this site by using one of my links to Amazon.com. Thanks!

Exposure Compensation

(This is lesson 8 in my “How It’s Done” Series)

In this lesson we’re going to try to untangle the tricky subject of exposure compensation.  If you stick with me through this lesson you can be proud of yourself.  This is the lesson where we weed out the weak.  The reward for completing this lesson is you will be able to take successful photos in natural light.  Once you understand exposure compensation you can call yourself a photographer.

Any discussion of exposure compensation must first start with light metering and metering modes.  We’ve covered setting aperture and shutter speed in the previous lesson, but glossed over light metering.  You must have a basic understanding of metering so you know when to trust your meter, and what type of lighting will trick your meter.  Exposure compensation is all about compensating for nonstandard lighting and subjects.  Your high tech light metering system is great, but like all things mechanical it sometimes has a hard time operating in our random world.  Once you understand the basics of metering you will be able to predict when your meter is seeing the world correctly and also know when you’re meter needs some help.  You’ll be able to add some exposure compensation to create great photos even in tricky lighting situations.

Inside your camera is a fairly sophisticated light meter.  This light meter looks at a scene and calculates what combination of shutter speed and aperture is required to properly expose your camera’s sensor.  The meter works almost instantaneously.   Try it out.    Pick up your camera.  Put it in Aperture priority mode (Av mode for Canon).  Now set your aperture to f/5.6.  Point your camera around the room and watch how the calculated shutter speed changes.  Point it into a dark corner and you get a slow shutter speed.  Point your camera out the window and you get a fast shutter speed.

Depending on your camera model you should have several different metering modes.  The two modes common to most cameras are evaluative and spot metering.  Evaluative is the mode I use almost exclusively.  In evaluative mode your meter looks at the light in the entire frame and makes its exposure computation based on the entire scene.  In spot metering mode the meter reads one specific spot and calculates exposure based on the light at that spot.  Spot metering is useful when your primary subject is in lighting that is not typical for the rest of the frame.  For example, a ballerina lit by a spot light on an otherwise dark stage.

For the purpose of this lesson we are only going to talk about evaluative metering.  The concepts we’ll discuss will work for both spot and evaluative modes, but it will keep things simpler if we stick with the more commonly used mode.

So what exactly is your meter thinking when it calculates exposure?  In the olden days of the 1990s that would be an easy question to answer.  In older cameras the basic principle of evaluative metering was that your camera thought the entire world was neutral gray.  When you pointed your camera at the world your meter assumed it was looking at neutral gray and it would set exposure values so that the tones (lightness/darkness) in the resultant photo averaged out to neutral gray.  Now, with modern digital cameras the engineers have gotten more bold.  Today’s cameras still think in terms of neutral gray but the exposure calculation has been augmented in many ways.   For instance, Nikon’s advertising literature states that new Nikon DSLRs evaluative metering system compares the scene being photographed with 10,000 programed exposure scenarios.  From this information an accurate exposure is instantly calculated.  That’s great.  Modern DSLRs do a great job calculating exposure in complex lighting situations.  I have personally observed the progression in exposure technology on the Canon side of things.  My current camera does a much better job calculating exposure than my first DSLR purchased back in 2002.  However, even with all these advances there are still many situations where my camera gets the exposure wrong.  You still need to understand exposure compensation if you want to be a successful photographer.  Let’s start with the basics.  Let’s go back to neutral gray.  Even with all the new ways of calculating exposure your camera still thinks mostly in terms of neutral gray.  We’ll start with gray and work up to the ways your modern camera tweaks its exposure calculation.

Below is a sample patch of 18% gray.  Without any other cues your camera thinks the entire world is made up of this 18% gray.


When you press the shutter button the metering system will let just enough light into the sensor for the tones in the resultant photo to average out to the gray color.  You don’t believe me?  Here are some examples.

What you are looking at in the above diagram are the three worst photos ever posted on this blog.  The middle photo is my black suitcase and a pad of paper.  The gray mess of a photo on the left is an unfocused closeup of the pad of paper.  The photo on the right is an unfocused photo of the back of the black suitcase.  All three pictures were taken in aperture priority mode at f/5.0.  When the frame was filled with the black suitcase the shutter stayed open for 1.3 seconds and the resulting photo is a blob of gray.  With a white piece of paper filling the frame, the shutter stayed open for 1/15th second.  The photo that resulted is also a mass of gray.  With no other cues the light meter assumed that both scenes should be neutral gray.  Take a moment to think about the shutter speeds in both the gray pictures.  All three of the photos were taken in the same crumby lamp light.  Why did the camera calculate a different shutter speed for each picture?  The answer is the camera doesn’t know what it’s looking at.  It wants to make everything neutral gray.  To turn a black suitcase gray the shutter had to remain open 1.3 seconds.  To turn the white piece of paper gray the shutter stayed open only 1/15 of a second.  In the middle photo the camera’s exposure computer worked correctly.  The paper is white and the suitcase is black.

The close up of the white paper is underexposed.  If we wanted to render the paper white we’d have to order the camera let more light into the sensor (longer shutter speed) during the exposure.  The opposite is true for the close up of the black suitcase.  It is over exposed.  To render the suitcase a darker black, we’d have to order the camera to reduce the light (shorter shutter speed) during the exposure.  How do you do that?  Exposure compensation!

Exposure compensation is set differently on each camera.  You are going to have to check your manual.  I use Canon cameras and the exposure compensation is set using the thumb wheel on the back of the camera.  Luckily for us teachers, the exposure compensation display is the similar on most cameras.  To make your photos darker, move your exposure compensation to the left, towards negative numbers.  To make your photos lighter, move the exposure compensation to the right, towards positive numbers.  Each click of compensation is equal to 1/3 of an f stop.

The above animation shows four different exposures.  I overlaid an exposure compensation scale and I also show you the aperture and shutter speed used in each shot.  This scene is typical of the type of situation where you would use exposure compensation.  As I was setting up for the picture I thought to myself that the landscape in the frame was probably slightly darker than neutral gray.  It was a tough call to make because in the frame are some pure white clouds and bright buildings.  However, the dark lagoon is taking up a large swath of the foreground and the dark colored hills in the background were darker than neutral gray.   I was guessing this scene’s tones averaged out to darker than neutral gray, but wasn’t sure how much.  To hedge my bets, I took the four different shots.  Each one has a slightly different exposure compensation.  This method of shooting multiple exposures of the same scene is called bracketing.  The hope is that one of the frames comes out with the correct exposure.  To my eye I like the third shot the best, the one shot at EV -1/3.  As you get more familiar with your camera’s metering system you get better and better at guessing exposure compensation.  You won’t end up with a hard drive jammed full of wasted bracketed frames.  If I wasn’t making a tutorial out of this, i probably would have only shot two frames instead of four.  One would have been at EV-1/3 and the other would have been with no compensation, EV-0.  Practice bracketing and you’ll quickly learn to make this type of judgment call.

The above picture of an egret is an example of a time I used positive exposure compensation.  I was following this egret along a white sand beach on the Sea of Cortez.  The bird is obviously white, and the background was lighter than neutral gray.  The scene was screaming for plus side exposure compensation.  The tricky part about setting exposure compensation when shooting white subjects is the possibility of blowing out the highlights.  The trick is to take some test shots and use both your camera’s histogram and over exposure warnings.   I shot images from EV +1/3 all the way up to EV +1 and 1/3.  After checking the histograms I settled on EV +2/3.  At that setting the brightest parts of the white bird weren’t overexposed (blown out), but the white did come right up next to the right side of the histogram.  At EV +1 the birds head starting flashing on my LCD.  That’s the warning that I over exposed.  I knew I had to have an exposure compensation less than EV +1.

Are these concepts making sense?  If your frame is filled with tones that are darker than neutral gray you need negative exposure compensation.  Dial the needle to the left.   If your frame is filled with tones that are brighter than neutral gray you need positive exposure compensation.  Dial the needle to the right.   How much is enough?  You have to experiment and bracket.  After awhile you will get a feel for your camera’s evaluative metering system and you’ll be able to pick out the correct EV with very limited frames wasted to bracketing.   To drive the point home below are lists of times you might need exposure compensation.

When you would need negative exposure compensation:  close up photos of tree bark, a frame full of blue sky, your friend’s black trench coat, a photo of your navy blue car, a portrait of a buffalo, any time your frame is full of really dark stuff

When you would need positive exposure compensation: a snowy scene, a foggy scene, close up of a white sheet of paper, photo of white linen, a white sand beach, a photo of your white car, any time your frame is full of really light stuff

It is important that you practice these concepts and get to really know your camera’s metering system.  Like I said earlier, modern cameras do more than calculate a neutral gray exposure.  Some manufacturers obsess over not overexposing highlights.  Maybe your light meter is underexposing every photo that contains bright white clouds because your camera manufacturer doesn’t want even the tiniest speck of cloud to overexpose.  If this is the case, simply nudge your exposure compensation a click or two to the right.  In my day job I am a pilot and we have a saying, “Fly the Airplane!  Don’t let the airplane fly you!”  I believe that thought is applicable to photography also.  Know what your camera is doing, but also know what results you’re looking for.  If your camera’s auto exposure isn’t doing what you want it to do, change something.  Control your exposure!  Don’t let your exposure control you!

Because I am not completely knowledgeable in all the magic inside my camera’s exposure computer I do a lot of chimping.  Chimping means to check the camera’s LCD often and make adjustments based on what the LCD is telling you.  The chimping thought process is not very deep.  Here is a sample inner dialogue I might have while taking photos.

“Hmm self… looks like the forground is a little dark.  Maybe I should dial in a little compensation”

-Click- takes another picture and checks LCD

“Hmm self… looks like you dialed it up too high.  Now the foreground is too bright and the highlights are blown out completely.  Better dial it back a 1/3 stop”

-click- takes another picture and checks LCD

“Hey self… this one looks good!  The foreground is just right.  Some of the brightest highlights are blown out slightly, but who cares.  Sometimes white needs to be all the way white.  I think this is the best exposure for this scene.  I’m gonna stick with these settings till the light changes”

That’s really all there is to it.  It’s a thought process and some trial and error.

Now that you know what you’re doing get out there and practice these concepts!  Take a bunch of bad pictures around the house and play with the exposure controls on your camera.  Learn this stuff so that you know what you’re doing when you have the opportunity to capture a really great photo.

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*David is a California Photographer . You can order prints of the photos featured on this blog by clicking on the image or visit our website at photos4u2c.com Support this site by using one of my links to Amazon.com. Thanks!

Setting Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO, and Exposure Modes

This is a big, important lesson in my “How it’s Done Series”.  In this lesson I am going to finally explain the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO relationship.  In the past several lessons we covered aperture to death (here and here).  We also talked about your image sensor and ISO.  In this installment you’ll learn how aperture, shutter speed, and ISO interact to properly expose your camera’s digital sensor.

First,  we need to review some things already covered in past lessons.  If you want, you can reread lesson three on understanding exposure.  If you are too busy to read that lesson over again, here is a quick and dirty review…  Think of your camera’s image sensor as 16 million tiny empty measuring cups (one cup for each pixel).  Now, imagine the light that enters your camera as water.  When you push the shutter button, light pours into the sensor and fills up these tiny measuring cups.  If a cup fills halfway it measures grey.  A full or overflowing cup measures white, and an empty cup measures black.  Your camera can measure 255 different levels of brightness for each of these 16 million cups (pixels).  From this information a photo is constructed.

Your camera’s light metering system is designed to let an exact amount of light into your sensor.  This exact measurement is called an exposure.  If you let in too much light you get a washed out over exposed picture.  Not enough light equates to underexposure.  Lucky for you, modern digital cameras have wonderful light meters and exposure software working in the background that helps your camera achieve the correct exposure in most situations.  However, all this engineering does nothing to help you maintain creative control over your photos.  Nor does it help you set up your camera for maximum performance in challenging conditions.  The world is simply too random for automatic mode.  In order to be a good photographer you have to understand how aperture and shutter speed work together to create an exposure.

Proper exposure is a three way relationship between aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.   Shutter speed and aperture are similar in that they both can be used to restrict light or increase light.  Leaving the shutter open longer or using a wider aperture are two methods of letting more light into the camera.  Using a shorter, faster shutter speed or a smaller aperture will both decrease the amount of light entering the camera.  ISO is the other half of the equation.  Your ISO setting determines how much light is required to make a correct exposure.  At a low ISO setting your image sensor requires more light during exposure than it does at a high ISO setting.

We are kind of getting ahead of ourselves.  I’ll break it own piece by piece and use a couple animations to show you exactly how this three way relationship works.

What you are looking below at is a camera.  The bluish sideways cup is the image sensor.  The aperture and shutter are represented by the opening and closing divider between the lens and the image sensor.  The yellow is supposed to be light.  If you can’t see that, I am a failure as an animator.  Of course everything is slowed way down in this animation.  For now, we are going to ignore ISO.

Discussing the above diagram — Notice I marked the aperture as f/4.0.  That’s a pretty wide aperture for most lenses.  It’s a “fast” aperture.  By fast I mean it lets a lot of light into the sensor.  A wide aperture requires the shutter to be open for a shorter period of time than a small aperture.

A wide aperture is useful when you want to freeze a moving object.  Here is a picture of my two wild dogs playing in the snow.  Without a wide aperture this photo would be a blurry mess.

A wide aperture is also helpful if you don’t have a tripod and you are shooting in low light.  This image was photographed handheld at f/2.0 and 1/200 sec.  The light in this photo was window light.  It was pretty dim.  I had to open the aperture wide and turn up the ISO a little in order to get a workable shutter speed.

A helpful rule of thumb states, “to get a sharp photo while hand holding your camera you must have a shutter speed equal to or greater than the focal length of the lens.”  For example, if you are shooting with  your zoom lens set to 30 mm, you will need at least 1/30th of a second shutter speed.  If you are hand holding your 200mm lens, you should use at least 1/200th of a second.  The longer the lens, the faster the required shutter speed.

Now, take a look at the above animation.  What do you see that’s different from the first animation?  The aperture is smaller.  Also, notice it takes the sensor a lot longer to fill than the first animation.  I am trying to show that with a narrow aperture you’ll get a slower shutter speed than with a wide aperture.  And, just in case you  didn’t pay attention to the last few lessons, let me remind you that f/16 is a smaller aperture than f/4.  Remember,  the bigger the aperture value, the smaller the aperture.  It’s backwards!

Here is one more animation.  What I am trying to illustrate here is the effect that available light has on shutter speed.  In this example I kept the aperture at f/16 just like in the previous example.  Except this time I made the light source brighter.

Notice the shutter doesn’t have to remain open as long because of the brighter light.  With a really bright light source you can get away with a smaller aperture and still retain a shutter speed that is fast enough to hand hold your camera.  For example, a lot of my aerial photos are shot at f/11.  That’s a pretty small aperture considering I am taking photos while flying at mach .77.  But working in my favor is the bright sun at high altitudes.  I can get shutter speeds of 1/300th even with the small aperture because the light source is so bright.

We must now return to the sometimes hard to understand subject of ISO.  As discussed in a previous lesson, ISO is the amount of amplification applied to the signal coming out of your image sensor.  That definition of ISO is kind of hard to grasp and is a difficult concept to work with when trying to make pictures out in the real world.  For that reason, I like to use a a slightly incorrect, but easier to understand, definition of ISO.  Think of ISO as how sensitive your image sensor is to light.  A higher ISO means more sensitivity.   Imagine you are shooting in low light and you don’t have a tripod.  If you want a fast enough shutter speed to hand hold the camera you are going to have to increase ISO.  There is a trade off.  Remember, as you increase ISO you are also increaing the amount of digital noise in your photos.  I always try to keep my ISO at the lowest possible setting for any given situation.  You don’t want to ruin your photo by having too slow of a shutter speed, but you also don’t want to add any unneeded digital noise.

Below is another exposure animation.  This is the way I like to think of ISO.  In terms of our cup filling with water analogy ISO is like using a smaller measuring cup.  Because the cup is smaller you don’t need as much light or aperture to fill the cup rapidly.

High ISO settings are useful in less than ideal lighting situations.  You can use a high ISO setting to help maintain a fast shutter speed.  This is useful if you are hand holding the camera (no tripod) or, if you’re trying to photograph action without any motion blur.

Exposure Modes

I think it is important now to pause and talk about camera shooting modes.  Throughout this series I realize I’ve been saying things like, “with a wider aperture you’ll get a faster shutter speed ”.  Up until now I haven’t really explained how to set aperture and through what magic of technology your shutter speed is changed.  I think we have finally reached the point where I need to break down the basic shooting modes.

Auto Mode:  In auto mode the camera decides both the shutter speed and aperture.  How this decision is made is completely up to the camera manufacturer.  Mostly the camera takes a look at how much light there is, how far away the photographer is focusing, and whether or not flash is being used.  From this information the camera’s computer makes a guess as to what is being photographed.  For example, if the light is dim, and the photographer focuses about five feet away, the camera’s software might guess that the photographer is taking a hand held indoor portrait.  The camera’s number one worry  for a hand held indoor portrait is camera shake.  In this case the camera would pick the widest possible aperture to ensure a decent shutter speed.  That’s great if your camera guessed right and you are indeed shooting a handheld indoor portrait.  However, it’s not so great if your camera guessed  wrong and you actually shooting a dimly lit landscape and your camera is securely mounted on a tripod.  Your camera has no idea what it is shooting.  Camera technology is great these days, but it’s not that great, yet.

Because I have absolutely no idea what decisions my camera will make in auto mode I never use it.  My three year old Canon 5D has only shot in auto mode twice, and that’s when I gave it to my mom to take a portrait of my family with me in it.

Shutter Priority Mode:  In this mode the photographer sets the desired shutter speed and the camera then decides the aperture.  This mode is useful if you are shooting action and you want to maintain a certain shutter speed to stop the action.  It’s also useful if you are using flash and you want your camera to always shoot at its maximum sync speed.

Here is an example of how shutter priority mode works in real life.  Image you set your camera to hold 1/200th of a second shutter speed.  Now imagine you point your camera at a brightly lit subject.  Your camera meter looks at the light, does a quick calculation, and then decides that f/9.0 is the right aperture to properly expose your sensor with a shutter speed of 1/200th.  Now, imagine you point your camera at a dimly lit subject with this same 1/200th second setting.  In this situation the meter calculates the camera needs a wider aperture to support the 1/200th of a second shutter speed.  Depending how dark the scene is your camera might open the aperture to its widest possible setting.  If your camera calculates that you need an aperture wider than your lenses’ maximum aperture, then your camera’s display will flash some sort of warning indicating that you have to select a slower shutter speed to maintain a correct exposure.

Do I ever shoot in shutter priority mode?  Rarely, almost never.  The only time I ever use this mode is when I am using fill flash and I am shooting in dappled, mixed light.  When I am trying to get a picture of my daughter running through a sunlit forest and I am using fill flash is about the only time you’ll ever see me in this mode.  I hate not being in control of the aperture.  Aperture has a huge affect on how the photo will look and I really hate to give up that control unless conditions absolutely demand it.

Aperture Priority Mode:  In aperture priority mode you, the photographer, set the aperture and the camera calculates the correct shutter speed for that aperture.  I might be biased, but I think aperture priority is the best mode to shoot in.  You have control over depth of field in aperture priority mode, and with a tiny bit of practice you can make very quick and intuitive decisions based on aperture mode.  Here is a quick example of my thought process while shooting in aperture mode.

Let’s say I am walking down the street with my camera doing some general street photography.  It’s sunny late afternoon.  The shadows are long but the sunlit areas are still bright.  I have my camera set in aperture priority mode and set to f/8.0.  I am ready for anything.  Out of nowhere a dump truck careens through an intersection and smashes into a Toyota Corolla.  The accident happens in a bright sunny intersection.  With my camera at f/8.0 I begin snapping away.  After a few frames I notice my shutter speed is a whopping 1/600th.  I don’t need that much shutter speed.  This scene isn’t moving anymore.  However, I could use more depth of field so I can keep the smashed Toyota and the dump truck in sharp focus.  I reset the aperture to f/11.  I still have a good shutter speed and now I have the depth of field I was looking for.  As I work my way around the wreckage I notice some blood draining out of the drivers side door of the Toyota.  The pool of blood is in a shaded area.  When I aim my camera at the blood soaked pavement I notice that my meter is giving me 1/20th second shutter speed with the aperture set at f/11.  I really want to get a sharp image of the blood because I think it will add a nice detail to this bit of photo reportage.  I’m going to need a faster shutter speed.  Since I am in aperture priority mode I know that I need a wider aperture to get a faster shutter speed.  I dial the aperture to f/5.6.  Now, I see that the camera has calculated a shutter speed of 1/100th.  Hey, that’s all I need as long as I hold the camera really steady.  Keeping in mind that f/5.6 gives a fairly limited depth of field I recompose the picture and make sure to focus on the most emotionally important part of the scene, the blood flowing out the drivers side door.

Manual Mode:  In manual mode the camera calculates nothing.  The photographer sets the shutter speed and the aperture value.  It’s all up to you in this mode.  It’s a common misconception that pro photographers always shoot in manual mode because they have the ability to out think their camera’s built in meter.  It is also a common misconception that manual mode is more difficult to navigate than third semester calculus.

I use manual mode once in awhile.  Manual is useful in scenes with tricky lighting — when you find your light meter isn’t doing the right thing.  Scenes with lots of contrast, bright highlights and dark shadows, sometimes call for manual mode.  If you are shooting a scene where there is too much dynamic range you have a choice to make.  Do I overexpose the highlights or underexpose the shadows?  Your camera’s metering technology is great at finding an exposure that puts everything in the center of the histogram.  If you purposely want to have your shadows turn to ink black, it’s time to switch to manual.  If you want your highlights to blow out to pure white, it’s time to switch to manual mode.

Unless you carry a light meter, the best way to get started with manual mode is to first use one of the automatic modes to find an in the ballpark exposure.  Set the settings auto mode selected into manual mode, and then tweak your settings as you see fit.  If you want your picture to look darker restrict the light by either increasing shutter speed or dialing in higher aperture setting.  To lighten do the opposite.

Ok, that’s enough for this lengthy lesson.  Stay tuned for more to come.  By now you should be getting a handle on how you can set your camera’s aperture and shutter speed.

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*David is a California Photographer . You can order prints of the photos featured on this blog by clicking on the image or visit our website at photos4u2c.com Support this site by using one of my links to Amazon.com. Thanks!

Unlocking Photo Composition

(This post is part of my “How It’s Done” Series)

As photographers we struggle to make photos that resonate with viewers.  We search the world for workable photographic compositions.  For new photographers much of the art of composition comes down to simplifying.  Many beginner photography texts instruct photographers to ask themselves, ‘What exactly am I trying to take a picture of?”   Once you have chosen a subject, the conventional wisdom further instructs the beginner to frame the subject utilizing the rule of thirds and try to limit the amount excess background distractions.    As a photographer gains experience and confidence he is able to add more and more to his compositions.  A good measure of a photographers skill level is how much he or she can put in a frame and still maintain control.

How do you get to that higher level?  How do you get an eye for photography?  I won’t rule out the possibility that talent is part of the equation.  However, I think developing an eye mostly comes through thoughtful practice.  The practice I am discussing isn’t limited to time spent with camera in hand.  Practice for a photographer is anytime he looks at another photographer’s work.  Or, practice can be accomplished while eating lunch and contemplating a still life of your peanut butter sandwich.  Reading about photography and art in general is another great form of practice.

Coming up with an eye catching composition is the result of all this photographic practice colliding with the right opportunity.  For example, take a look at the above photo of my daughter, Ella.  I took this photo of her while waiting in line for a ride at an amusement park.  Maybe to you it looks like a lucky snapshot, but there actually is a lot going on in this picture.  From early in the morning when I was helping get Ella dressed I already knew I wanted to try to get a photo of her that featured her eyes and the yellow dress.  My reason?  Yellow and Blue are opponent colors.  Check out the sliders in Adobe’s Camera RAW converter.  Your eyes create color vision by seeing the difference between yellow versus blue and green versus magenta.  That was the first piece of the puzzle for this picture. If I could get her eyes in front that yellow I was sure they make for a popping image.   The second piece of the puzzle came while waiting in line.  We were standing in the shade and that got me thinking about how great shady areas work for wide aperture portraits.  I knew this from taking thousands of outdoor kid pictures over the years.  There was nothing to do in line so I tried to see if Ella was up for some clowning around and picture taking.  I asked her to make her saddest face.  She started posing.  When I brought my camera to my eye I noticed all the feet in the background.  Immediately I was hit with a bolt of recognition.  If I shifted position slightly all the feet would point at Ella and create a bunch of  triangles that all pointed right at Ella’s eyes.  This was the last piece of the composition puzzle.  It was a stroke of luck, but also somewhat the result of thinking about compositional elements.   I’m always looking for triangles, even if I don’t have my camera with me.  When I saw this composition appear in the viewfinder my brain lit up.  It felt like I saw 200 sparkly triangles.  This scene lasted for all of 5 seconds.  Thankfully I was able to get a well focused shot before the moment evaporated.

Camera Settings:  38mm, ISO 500, f/3.2, 1/160 sec (the graininess of this picture is a result of saving in the GIF format.  It’s the only way I know to display an animation.  The original jpg is pretty smooth considering the high ISO)

*David is a California Photographer . You can order prints of the photos featured on this blog by clicking on the image or visit our website at photos4u2c.com Support this site by using one of my links to Amazon.com. Thanks!

An Afternoon at The Wisconsin State Fair

We went to the Wisconsin State Fair this week.  I brought my camera.  By the end of the afternoon I had completely filled my 4GB compact flash card (275 photos total).  I chose to post these four photos because they fit together in an odd sort of way.  Of all the thousands of photos I’ve taken of Ella, this one of her driving the General Lee is one of my favorites.  It would be nothing but an average kid photo if it wasn’t for that horrible confederate flag.  The flag gives this photo a big twist and 100 different meanings to consider.    Bonus points for anyone who can figure the connection between the rabbit image and the image of the lady with the Coke.

Last week I made a resolution that I would post all camera settings for every photo I post on this blog.  I’m going to one up that resolution today and give you the thought process and the settings for each of these photos.  This is part of my how it’s done series.  Consider it working from the back of the series forward –  as if you were reading a text book from the back towards the front.  Someday, the beginner lessons will meet in the middle with the more advanced concepts covered here.

Photo #1 The Black and White Taxidermy Display

Settings:  35mm, f/5, 1/60 sec, ISO 1250, Aperture Priority Mode

This picture was taken indoors — inside a giant, poorly lit pavilion.  Because of the poor light I had the ISO set high and the aperture fairly wide.  Why exactly these settings?  Well, it wasn’t a scientific choice.  The settings were the combination between a guess and a compromise.  I was using my 24-70 mm lens so I wanted a shutter speed of at least 1/60th to avoid camera shake from hand holding.  I could have opened the aperture wider and used a lower ISO, but that would have limited depth of field.  Or, to gain depth of field I could have raised ISO and increased aperture.  These settings seemed like a decent compromise between depth of field and high ISO (higher ISO means more noise).  These settings weren’t picked based on this specific photo.  I set them when I first entered the pavilion and I didn’t know what I would be photographing.  I was walking through a crowd with my family and had to chose settings that would work passably no matter what the subject.  I knew I wouldn’t have the luxury of time to fiddle around changing camera settings.

Photo #2 Lady in Red Drinking a Coke

Settings:  24mm, f/4, 1/400th sec, ISO 500, Aperture Priority

This photo was literally shot from the hip.  As we were walking out of the rabbit and chicken barn I spotted this lady sitting alone on some bleachers.  I didn’t want her to spot me and ruin the spontaneity, and I knew I only had a couple seconds before this shot disappeared.   I dialed the zoom on my lens out to 24mm and shot a continuous burst while holding the camera at my hip.  The whole time I shot I was talking to my mom who was walking by my side.  No one but me knew I was taking pictures.  I’ve shot from the hip before so I did have some previous practice.  This technique actually works surprisingly well, especially when shooting at wider angles.  With a little practice you can frame a picture without even looking through the view finder.

As for the camera settings –I knew I already had working camera settings dialed in for the lighting conditions.  When I took the photo my camera was still set up from shooting rabbits a few yards away.  The light in this barn came from the translucent roof.  The light settings from one spot worked the same in another because the roof created nice even lighting.

Photo #3 The Rabbit

Settings:  70mm, f/4, 1/400th, ISO 500, Aperture Priority

Not to much thought went into this picture.  I simply wanted a usable rabbit picture to show my 2 year old daughter when we talk about our trip to the fair.  I actually wish I would have gone with a higher aperture because there isn’t enough depth of field.  The rabbits eyes aren’t in focus.  I could have dialed in a higher aperture and still had enough shutter speed for hand holding.  This picture still works for a blog post.  However, I wouldn’t try to submit it to istock.  I suppose small depth of field gives it a dreamy look.   A lesser man would say he planned it that way ;)

Photo #4 Ella in the General Lee

Settings:  43mm, f/7.1, 1/1250 sec, ISO 400, Manual Mode

This photo was meticulously thought out.  First I picked the best lit spot on the perimeter of the ride to set up.  It was late afternoon so I ended up standing on the western edge.  It was the only place on the ride where the cars poked out of the shade into the sun.  After that I dialed my ISO up to 400.  I picked 400 because I wanted the fastest possible shutter speed for the fast moving cars.  I know my camera fairly well ,and I know that ISO 400 gives me almost no added digital noise while shooting at high shutter speeds in the sun.   Next, before the ride even started I bracketed a few shots of an empty car in direct sun.  I checked the histogram and programed the best settings into manual mode.  The reason I picked f/7.1 was because I felt it gave me a decent depth of field without sacrificing shutter speed.    I used manual mode because I planned to shoot in bursts as the cars passed.  My camera uses the same exposure settings from the first shot in a burst on all the pictures in the burst.  In this instance I was afraid my camera would expose for the car in the shade and then over expose as the car entered the sunny area.  By switching to manual i could avoid that problem.  Lastly, I switched to AI servo mode which enables the camera to continuously focus on a moving object.  Everything was set up perfectly by the time the ride started and I was able to get a bunch of well focused and correctly exposed photos of Ella riding the General Lee.

*David is a California Photographer . You can order prints of the photos featured on this blog by clicking on the image or visit our website at photos4u2c.com Support this site by using one of my links to Amazon.com. Thanks!

Always Bring Your Tripod!

This photo can be categorized under “It’s better to be lucky than good.”  Yesterday, I had a long layover in Washington Dulles.  For almost a year I had been planning to go to downtown Washington and take stock photos of government buildings.  This long overnight in DC was the perfect opportunity for me to go take some boring, yet money earning photos in DC.  My hotel was way out in the boondocks of Dulles, Virginia.  The only way for me to get into downtown without renting a car was to take the hotel shuttle to the airport and then catch the city bus downtown.  I set my alarm for 5:00 am because I knew the bus ride would take a long time.

I got up early in the morning and gathered stuff for my photo shoot.   On the way out the door I picked up my tripod, but then on second thought I set it back down.  I knew I was going to get downtown long after sunrise and it was supposed to be sunny all day.  It really didn’t seem like tripod conditions.  Also, I knew I was going to be walking at least five miles.  Who wants to hoof a tripod all around the Washington Mall on a muggy summer day?  But then on third thought I decided to take my tripod anyways.  Who knows, maybe I’d want to try and HDR or panorama.  You need a tripod for that.  I picked up my tripod again and headed for the elevator.

I got on the hotel shuttle at 5:30 am.  There isn’t much traffic on a Sunday morning and we got to the airport in a hurry.  I had 45 minutes to burn before the first bus left for the city.  The first colors of sunrise started to light up the sky.

Ah-ha!  Now I was ecstatic that I remembered my tripod.  Whoever designed Dulles airport must of had sunrise photos in mind.  I set up my tripod and camera on the far side of the road from the departure drop off zone.  I got a whole series of nice photos.  This picture was taken at ISO 50, f/13, and 8 seconds.  If I had left my tripod back in the room I would have never had a chance to get anything like this.

When I got on the bus a little later I knew I already had three great stock photos in the bag.  I went downtown relaxed.  Any more pictures would be gravy.

*David is a California Photographer . You can order prints of the photos featured on this blog by clicking on the image or visit our website at photos4u2c.com Support this site by using one of my links to Amazon.com. Thanks!

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