How to Get More from Your Camera | Photography Tips
So, you bought a DSLR camera to take epic pictures on your travels. You usually operate in automatic mode; you’ve got a good eye for composing pictures but sometimes your images are blurry, grainy and/or you can’t achieve that coveted blurred background. You’re comfortable in automatic mode but to get more creative and have more control over your camera you need to get out of your comfort zone; after all, that’s where the magic happens. Queue manual mode.
In order to have a better grasp of getting the results you want from your camera, there are three terms you should understand:
1. Shutter speed
Collectively, these terms are referred to as the exposure triangle.
Put simply, exposure refers to how bright or how dark your image is. ISO, shutter speed and aperture all work together to create exposure. Adjusting one is likely to affect another. This post will go on to explain the components of the exposure triangle in a very basic form and will tackle how you can manipulate them to get the results that you want.
The shutter speed value refers to the amount of time the camera shutter is open. A value of 1/125 means the shutter is only open for 125th of a second while a shutter speed of 1 means the shutter is open for 1 second, thus allowing more light to hit the camera’s sensor.
The slower the shutter speed, the more likely you are to get a blurry picture as a result of camera shake. I personally try not to go slower than 1/125 if I can help it. If you or your subject is moving, a very fast shutter speed is necessary for sharpness. The photo below was taken from a moving rickshaw with too slow a shutter speed, hence the blur.
If you are in very low light conditions, you might need a slow shutter speed to allow more light to hit the camera’s sensor. In this instance, you will need a tripod to hold the camera still. The below photo was taken with a tripod and shutter speed of 0.4 seconds, aperture — 9.0, ISO — 200
The aperture is the opening of the camera lens. It can be compared to the pupil of the eye. A wider aperture allows more light to reach the camera sensor. Aperture is measured in f-stops. A low f-stop value indicates a wide aperture and a high f-stop value indicates a narrow aperture.
Manipulating the aperture value will enable you to blur backgrounds.
In order to get a blurred background, you need a wide aperture i.e. a low f-stop value and distance between the subject and background you are trying to blur. The closer you are to your subject, the better. The settings of the photo below are aperture — 2.0, shutter speed — 1/250, ISO —100.
It is important to note that both very wide and very narrow apertures can result in lack of sharpness. Therefore, if you want a sharp photo, your best bet is to settle somewhere in the middle like f8.
ISO refers to the camera’s sensitivity to light. The higher the ISO value, the more sensitive to light the camera will be and the brighter your photo. Therefore, on a day with plenty of sunshine, an ISO value of 100 should be suitable but on a cloudy day or while indoors where less light is available, you might want to increase the value to 400.
High ISOs cause images to have grain. Different cameras have different capabilities; some cameras may introduce grain at ISO 800 while others might not. It’s worth playing around with your camera to see how high you can go without causing grain.
The photos below are taken in the same place and are of the same subject; they were taken with the same aperture and shutter speed values, 1.8 and 1/125 respectively but with varying ISOs. The first photo has an ISO value of 400 while the second one has a value of 3200. You can see that the second photo is brighter but has been affected by grain.
A rule of thumb is to keep your ISO as low as possible to avoid grain.
Applying the knowledge
Phew! That might have been a lot to take in. The best way to learn is to try, make mistakes and learn from these mistakes.
As mentioned before, the components of the exposure triangle all work together to create exposure. When setting the values of each component, you should do so based on your priorities.
If you are taking a landscape photo, you are likely to prioritise sharpness; that means a fast shutter speed and mid-range aperture. Below: aperture — 9.0, shutter speed: 1/125, ISO400.
If you want a blurred background, you will need a wide aperture. Below, aperture — 2.0, shutter speed — 1/125, ISO: 400
If you or your subject is moving, you’ll need a fast shutter speed. Below, aperture — 2.5, shutter speed — 1/500, ISO: 400
To increase exposure, you need:
Slower shutter speed
To decrease exposure, you need:
Faster shutter speed
I hope this helps and encourages you to venture out of automatic mode. Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions.