I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from readers who are remarkably gifted photographers but they still rarely venture away from the automatic settings on the camera. I spent the first part of my “professional” career using automatic and sport modes. Modern cameras are very smart so these modes can help you get acquainted and comfortable while you’re learning how to compose a good picture, but, smart as your camera may be, chances are it isn’t very creative.
I found that when I went to events, or took pictures of my friends, I got great pictures. They looked clean most of the time, if they didn’t I just deleted them. Unfortunately, when I got passionate, I learned that it was hard to take a really creative picture. I controlled the composition, but the rest was really out of my hands. Sometimes I wanted a dark picture that felt really deep and heavy and wound up with something so bright it hurt my eyes.
Sometimes I wanted a bright happy picture only to see something that looked like an illustration of an Emily Dickinson poem.
I resolved to learn how to be the master of my own fate, or at least my own exposure. After sifting through countless difficult articles and technically intense websites I learned that exposure, is basically governed by three things on a modern digital camera: f/stop, shutter speed, and ISO.
Adjusting each of these can help you make your photos brighter, or darker. Making an image darker is usually “free.” That is to say you don’t get a lot of negative quality impact if you want a darker image. Brighter images are going to cost you though. Here’s a simple description of the “3 Kings.”
- Shutter speed, which can also be called exposure time, is how long the shutter stays open. The longer your shutter is open, the more light it lets in, the brighter your image. The “price” is that if your shutter is open and anything moves, you can see the motion in your image in the form of a blur. If it’s a kid running across a field, the kid gets blurry. If your shooting something freehand (not on a tripod,) your hands will move a little, so the camera moves a little, so everything gets a little blurry. We’ll talk a bit more about shutter speed in the next part.
- F/stop is a source of confusion and distress for many learning photographers. There are complicated formulas, charts, and diagrams. But for now, here’s the simplest explanation I can offer: A lower f/stop means your aperture (the hole your light comes through) stays larger, and a higher f/stop means it closes more. So, the advantage of a low f/stop is a bigger hole which, you guessed it, lets more light in. The “price” here is a narrow depth of field, I’ll explain more about this and a few of the limitations of f/stop in part 2.
- ISO is a rating for “film speed.” It was a system that rated how sensitive film was to light. It basically means the same thing to us in the digital photography age. Increase your ISO and your sensor gets more sensitive to light. This means, your images get brighter. The trade-off here is you now have a hyper sensitive filter that records noise. We’ll talk more about ISO and noise in part 3.
I talk about Shutter Speed next, to view that post, click here!! This post has been a bit out of my norm and definitely geared toward more serious photographers. I’m just testing the waters here and I really want to hear from my readers about how you felt so don’t pull any punches. I would love to hear your feedback in the comments or on Twitter! If you enjoyed this post, consider clicking a share button below to let your friends know.