Monday, July 5, 2010

Tech Talk Tuesday

(I think it is!)

Before you tackle this post, please read the previous post as a 'forward' to this one.

As I began thinking about where to begin, it became obvious that there is no way to tackle this subject in one brief post.  There are tons of books, websites,  classes that explain 'why' it is to your advantage to shoot in manual and, 'how' to do it.  As many of you who are already shooting in manual read through this post, you will be thinking, "Well, duh, that's obvious!"  I'm remembering, though, how confused I was when I picked up my first SLR, tried to learn it all, and then, tried to remember it all while I was shooting.   So I know that for many, it is NOT that obvious, and that's who this post is for.  So for those of you who have this all down pat, please contribute your comments and help us all learn.  Here we go.....

First of all, let's take a minute and define our terms.  (A good suggestion from Scott.)  For purposes of this discussion, shooting on ''M' for manual means that you set the aperture and shutter speed individually.  'AV' (stands for aperture priority on Canon cameras), and means you choose the aperture and the camera chooses the correct shutter speed for a properly exposed image.  'TV' (stands for shutter speed on Canon cameras), and means you choose the shutter speed and the camera chooses the aperture to make a  properly exposed picture.  These three settings can all work well to give you the most out of your camera and the most creative options.   Now the auto settings.  The 'green box' setting works like a point and shoot and assumes you know nothing so it makes all the decisions. The 'P' program mode lets you make some decisions, like exposure, white balance, ISO, etc.  Then all the pre programed modes, such as a little picture of a mountain, or flower, or a person running are trying to guess at the best settings to use for specific kinds of subjects, i.e, landscape, macro, sports, etc.  I'm going to take a stand and say that most of the time you will get better images if you use the M, Av, or Tv settings and stay away from the auto settings.  This is because the camera is just guessing at what would generally work, and doesn't know what you have in mind! 

I think there are many photographers with great potential who improve to a certain point, then get frustrated because they don't seem to go beyond that certain point.  Often the stumbling block is the technical side of photography.  Many of us photographers became interested in photography as an artistic outlet.  We love to compose beautiful landscapes, love capturing the romance of a wedding, love telling a story, etc.  We really couldn't care less about how a camera works.  Then there are the techies who know every aspect of their camera, have all the latest gizmos and gadgets and can take a technically perfect picture, but maybe it lacks emotion or interest.  Finally, up there on pedestals,  are the lucky ones who have a good combination of both skills.  Well, I'm not one of those types.  I'm the artistic type and still struggle to learn the ins and outs of how my camera works and how the camera settings affect the look of my images.   As hard as this was (and is) for me,  I knew I had to learn if I wanted to make pretty pictures, so I persevered to a minimal degree of competence.  And this is my first, and most important point to you confused beginners.  You are not stupid!  Learning the basics is confusing at first, but not difficult, so you can have confidence that the light will eventually come on.  I promise you are not trying to learn something akin to quantum physics.  Something else I found encouraging is that you don't have to know everything there is to know.  Just the basics will help improve your photography by leaps and bounds. 

The second point which is equally important is that you MUST be willing to put in the time.  Like anything else you want to be good at, you must read, take classes, learn from others, and practice, practice, practice, practice, etc. etc.  If you aren't willing to do the time, you won't learn, and if you don't practice, you won't remember.  So here is a good place to start.  I've found a website that does an excellent job of explaining the basics of aperture, shutter speed and ISO in a short, simple, and concise way.  Understanding these three concepts is the foundation, the basics.  Once you know how these three camera settings interact, you will begin to see how manipulating them can help give you the image you want.  Click HERE for Part 1, and HERE for Part 2.  It might be helpful to read and study these articles before continuing with this post.

So you've read these articles numerous times until you kind of understand the concepts, but it's still confusing.    Early on I was so confused about how it all worked.   When someone said, 'shoot wide open' or 'stop down' your lens I couldn't figure it out.  Sometimes I still have to stop and think about it.  The bigger the number, the smaller the opening.  Think, think, remember.  Whose idea was it anyway to make this so confusing.  Then it finally hit me.  When I began thinking about the f stops as fractions, it all made sense.  So instead of f/4 or f/8 or f/22, I began changing the 'f' to a '1', so then I have 1/4 or 1/8 or 1/22.  Of course 1/4 (of say a piece of pie) is bigger, (a larger opening) than 1/22 of a piece of pie, (smaller piece of pie and opening.)   I know, I know, this is where you experts are saying 'Duh!'  But really, this was a break through to me.

So after reading the above articles you now have a basic but fuzzy understanding of aperture, shutter speed and ISO, but how does the 'theory' turn into 'practice' when you pick up your camera.  How do you know where to turn the knobs????  When someone first told me I needed to be shooting in manual, I turned the knob to 'M' then started shooting.  I couldn't understand why everything was blown out.  I finally figured out which wheel changed the shutter speed and which one changed the aperture, but no matter how I turned them the exposure was way off, or the picture was blurry.  Finally, at a workshop, someone physically showed me how the manual mode basically works.  I had no idea I was supposed to be looking at that little light meter at the bottom of the view finder.  I was shown that I needed to change the aperture and the shutter wheels until the little pointer was in the middle, indicating those settings would give me a proper exposure.  (See, I told you I was really slow in the technical area!)

The next break through came when I realized that different combinations of aperture and shutter speeds would also produce a proper exposure.  Well, if they all give a proper exposure, why does it matter which combination you use???    I learned that different combinations will change how my image looks.  As a beginner, the most important types of shots I cared about were:  (1) I wanted to shoot landscapes where everything was sharp and in focus from the flowers a few yards in front of me, to the mountains many miles away;  (2) I wanted to shoot portraits where the people were in sharp focus but the background was soft and blurry;  (3)  I wanted to shoot my kids at their sports events so they were sharp and not blurry.   I was pretty basic in my goals back then.  

Just as a simple starting point here you go:  (1)  To shoot landscapes, the bigger the aperture number such as f/11, f/22, (which means a smaller opening), the greater will be your depth of field, meaning that both the foreground, middleground and background will be in focus.  So starting in AV mode, I would set the aperture to the largest number that my camera and lens would allow me to set.  Remember the camera will set the shutter speed to get a proper exposure.   (If the pointer on the light/exposure meter is way to the right or left and blinking, you will not have a  proper exposure, so you could readjust your aperture setting to fix the problem.)  (2)   To shoot portraits with a sharp foreground and a soft background, start in AV mode and choose a small number such as f/2.8, f/4, (which means a larger opening),  and you will have a shallow depth of field.  (Same as above applies with automatic shutter speed and the blinking light meter.)  (3)  To shoot kids in action you must have the shutter open and close very fast to freeze the action so your image is sharp and not blurred.  So the shutter speed is most important.  Switch to TV mode and set the shutter speed to, say 250, and let the camera select the aperture for a properly exposed shot.  These simple basics will help you to first determine what you want your image to look like, then know how to adjust your camera settings to achieve it.

There are many, many other things to take into consideration that I just can't cover here, but know that the type of lens you have, your ISO setting, whether you are shooting in bright light, will all have an effect on the aperture and shutter combination you can use to obtain a proper exposure.  Two more basic bits of information.  It is very difficult to hand hold a camera and obtain a sharp image at a shutter speed less than 30.  Any less than this, and you need a tripod.  And typically, your shutter speed shouldn't be less than the focal length of your lens.  A quick comment about ISO.  The lower your ISO, the less 'noise' you will have, and, conversely,  the higher the ISO, the more noise you will have, but, a high ISO will allow you to take photos with less light, meaning in a dark room or in the evening.

And finally we come back to the big 'M' mode.  Eventually you will look at a scene and take a good guess at where your settings should be.  Until then, here is what I do.  I put my camera on 'P' for program mode.  I compose my shot and look at what the camera has chosen as the settings for a proper exposure.  Then I switch to manual and choose those same settings and take a practice shot.  This gives me a starting place.  Then I decide what I want the image to look like.  If I'm shooting a landscape and want great depth of field, I turn the aperture wheel to a larger number (which in reality is a smaller opening), then adjust the shutter wheel until the pointer on the light meter is somewhere in the middle indicating a proper exposure.  I really still say to myself, "big number for aperture equals big depth of field".  If I want a nice blurry background I start with a small aperture number (which makes a large opening), and experiment until I get just the right amount of blur.  For me, it is still a learning experience.  And thank heavens for digital, where we can immediately review the histogram and immediately see the effect our settings have on our image.  Then comes, practice, practice, change settings, practice, practice, read and memorize your camera manual, practice, practice, take some classes, read some books, talk to other photographers, repeat, repeat.

Other ideas to get you motivated
1.  Join your local camera club
2.  If you own a popular camera, go to your local big box book store and purchase books specifically designed to elaborate on the information found in the manual that came with your camera.  A well know publisher of these books is Magic Lantern Guides.  The first thing I do when I get a new camera is to buy several supplemental manuals.  They go into great detail about how to use your camera.
3.  Find a 'photo buddy' in your area to go shooting with and to share information with.
4.  Find someone in your area who knows more than you do and ask if he/she will mentor you.  He/she might need a willing assistant to pack gear or hold reflectors in exchange for seeing first hand how he/she works.  
5.  Check out your local camera club, photo finishing labs, camera stores, professionals and get on their mailing lists for upcoming classes and seminars.  I have learned so much for a very little monetary investment this way.

Well, it is after 2:00am in my neck of the woods, and I'm starting to see double.  I was going to end this post with several images that show the difference between shooting in auto, and how different they look adding a little creativity and shooting in manual.  I promise to do that in tomorrow's post.  I know this post only covered a few pointers, but I truly hope there was at least one idea, or thought, or bit of information to help you feel confident enough to try that manual mode,  (or AV or TV).  I'd love to hear your progress, and I'm more than happy to answer individual questions as best as I can.  Either leave a comment or send me an email.  And, we'd all like to hear any additional suggestions for beginners from all you experts out there.   And now, good night!!!          



tusen said...


Stacey Dawn said...

LOVE this info!! Thank you much. I've studied this stuff, read this stuff and practiced - but need to read more, study more and practice, practice, practice MORE! Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Thank you Karen so much for the info. The greatest thing you gave me was hope in your very first point. I didn't realize it but I was in need of the confidence boost as much as I was the pointers. To hear you struggled at one time with the very things I am wrestling with now lets me know I can do this too. I can't wait to get out and give it a try. I will let you know how it goes. Again, thank you for sharing and caring. --Deanna

Ginny said...

Gosh, you are a good teacher! I don't know how to do any of this stuff, am still an auto freak. But I'm going to print this all out, and read and learn slowly. You are amazing for taking all this time to type this all out and help all the auto only ones!!

Scott said...

Very nicely done Karen. I don't think you can over emphasize how important it is for people to really get to know their camera's manual. I have been serious about photography for over 40 years. I owned a couple studios many years ago in the film era and have a bachelors degree in Art/photography, and still my camera manual is ALWAYS in my bag for quick reference. Believe it or not I fall in the category of the artistic expression and though I have studied and learned the technical stuff I need to know, I do not consider myself a techie by any stretch of the imagination. I shoot probably 80 to 90 % of my work in "P" mode. If I look at the LCD screen and see that it is over or under exposed I either adjust my EV compensation or very often point my camera at a different spot to get a light reading then with the shutter release held partially down to hold that setting move and take the photo I want. But, as you said so well, all that comes with practice, practice, practice. I've made tens of thousands of exposures and attended dozens of classes, and read many books, and even with all that I still look at yours and many other photographers' work with admiration and envy, hoping my next picture will be just a little better than the last.

A Life In Focus Photography said...

thanks Karen...i am always looking for more good advice. i shoot on everything from program to manual depending on my time and confidence.

Rick said...

Great start Karen. If people reading your post follow your advice and then get out and practice, they can make immediate progress and gain confidence. Those basics will quickly become 2nd nature.

Sandra said...

Just printed this one, thanks again