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!!!          


MANUAL vs. AUTO??????

FINALLY taking that big step......turning your camera dial to Manual...YIKES, WHAT HAVE I DONE!!

Today I got a great email from a new photographer friend.  Here is her note:  "I ran across your blog a couple of months ago.  I have since been following it and I really enjoy your pictures and the information you share.  I have a question.  I have taken pictures for fun for a long time.  But I have always just stayed in auto.  At Christmas I took the plunge and bought a Nikon D90.  I love it and have so much to learn!!  Do you have any advice for me as to how to start shooting in manual?  I have been reading about aperture and shutter speeds.  But when I am out and trying to take pictures I struggle with getting out of the programmed modes because I get overwhelmed with knowing where is a good stating point and what should I do from there.  Is there a standard place to start and then change things accordingly?  I know I can do this if I can just get past the overwhelming feeling of where in the world do I begin?  Thank you for caring enough to allow us to ask questions.  I look forward to your reply."

 As I was thinking about how to respond, I decided that probably 90% of 'photographers', (rather than snap shooters), could have written this same thing.  We all buy cameras, usually for the purpose of recording family memories and vacations.  We may even decide to snap some beautiful flowers or a friend's new baby.  We find the little green square that means 'auto',  and start snapping away.  Most people are content with this and are using their camera as anticipated.  But some of us look at our snaps and think, "humm, how come my photos don't look like the ones in the magazines", or "I wonder how so-and-so made her flower pics look so much better than mine??"   And that's how the addiction starts.  It's all so innocent in the beginning.....I'll just read my camera manual and see what it says....  Well, maybe I'll stop by the library on the way home from work and see if they have any photography books....  I'm only going to spend ONE hour on the internet reading about photography instruction, then I'll get dressed and clean the house!  And before you know it, you begin carousing the streets in front of your local dealer, and finally come home with a $2,000 habit, (in my case a Canon 5D Mark ll).  But, you rationalize, I can stop at any time!  Yeh, right says your family and friends.

I'm sorry, I just got carried away, and chuckling so hard to myself I couldn't stop.  (They say the first step to recovery is to admit one has a problem.  But if my husband is reading this, I'm NOT admitting to anything!)

Back to the purpose of this post.  At some point, most of us who call ourselves 'photographers' were probably casual point and shooters who became fascinated with taking pictures and wanted to learn how to do it better.  From then it doesn't take long before you learn that most great photographers learn to shoot in 'manual' modes, because often, this is the secret for getting your camera to record an image the way you actually see it or want to see it.  But shooting in manual is a BIG leap for many of us. 

I thought this would be a great topic for a Tech Talk Tuesday, so I asked my new friend if I could quote her email, and then we will have a discussion on how to make that leap from auto to manual tomorrow.  So tune in tomorrow for this discussion, and please join in by telling us how you made, or are in the learning process of making this transition!!