I did not have that freedom to practice 10 years ago, because film was so expensive and you just took a photo and hoped it turned out.
I was shocked when my first roll of film was all blurry and out of focus. The lighting was all off and these were quite frankly the worst pictures I had ever taken. I had heard so much about how wonderful these cameras were! What was I doing wrong? I became so overwhelmed that I put the camera on the shelf and didn’t touch it again.
Ten years has passed and I decided to take another whirl with the DSLR cameras. So I dove into learning how to use these amazing cameras. You know once I started to learn a little here and a little there, they didn’t seem so hard to use after all.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I am going to share some tips to help you better understand and use your DSLR camera.
Understanding The Exposure Triangle
To help you understand your camera better we must first tackle what the exposure triangle is. The exposure triangle is the relationship between 3 elements: ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture. Once you understand these 3 elements, you will have a much clearer understanding of how your camera works!
Refer to this diagram as we discuss the three elements in The Exposure Triangle
image courtesy of my-photo-school.com
ISO is a measure of how sensitive the sensor is to light. Look at the table above. The lower the ISO number the more light you have. So if you were shooting outside on a sunny day then you would shoot with your camera on a low ISO setting, most likely 100. This will create a clear, crisp picture. If you are working indoors in lower light you would have to adjust your ISO to allow more light to the sensor. A lot of my food pictures that I shoot at night I shoot at an 800 ISO to compensate for the lack of light in the room.
Keep in mind that every camera is different and you must practice with your camera to see where your cameras sweet spot is in regards to ISO. An ISO of 800 is fine for my DSLR, but anything larger starts to become grainy.
When adjusting the ISO, always remember that a higher ISO comes at a cost. The higher the ISO, the grainer the picture will become. I try to shoot all of my pictures on the lowest ISO possible.
The picture on the left was shot with my iPhone. Take a look at how grainy the picture is. It was shot with an ISO of 640 (I know it isn’t on the diagram, but it is somewhere between the 400 and 800) and clearly this was to high of an ISO for the device I was using. Now the picture to the right of that was shot with an ISO 200. Look how crisp the picture is. Can you see the difference?
image on left has ISO of 640, image on right ISO 200
2. Shutter Speed
Shutter speed is the amount of time the shutter is open. Shutter speed is how fast or slow the camera records the picture. The slower the shutter speed the more light that gets to the sensor. The faster the shutter speed, the less light that gets to the sensor.
Shutter speed allows you to freeze any motion in a picture (action shot) or to blur any motion in a picture (waterfall). When I take pictures of my daughter at her soccer game, I want to freeze the action of the soccer ball mid air. This is done by using a fast shutter speed. If I am shooting a waterfall and I want it to have a blurred motion, I need more light to get to the sensor so I am going to slow my shutter speed down to create the blurred effect.
Keep in mind, you can hold your camera for anything that falls above 1/50. If you reduce your shutter speed below 1/50 then you will need to use a tripod for that picture so it won’t be blurry. This can vary greatly from camera to camera, so play around with your camera to see when you need to use a tripod.
How ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture Work Together
Lets look at this diagram to learn a little more about how all 3 of these elements work together to create a picture.
image courtesy of my-photo-school.com
As we look at this diagram you can see that 3 of these elements depend on one another. You can not isolate one, they all need to work together.
An example would be if you are creating a more shallow depth of field then you are allowing more light to come into your picture. You will have to either adjust the shutter speed or ISO to compensate for the change in light.
Don’t worry, this will be a later lesson. We will get to manual mode after we have done a little bit of homework and some exercises to help you better understand how it all comes together.
Here is a great video that explains it all so well!
Now It’s Your Turn to Practice!
Ok, so now you know a little bit about ISO, shutter speed and aperture. Now it is time to practice. If you are just starting out with your DSLR, I highly recommend that you start practicing by using your Aperture Priority mode (AV for Canon and A for Nikons) and Shutter Priority mode (TV for Canon and S for Nikon). You can change this through the mode dial at the top of your camera.
Shooting in Aperture Priority
If you are shooting on aperture priority mode you will be setting the aperture and the camera will automatically set the ISO and shutter speed.
Note if you want the ISO to set automatically make sure you have it on auto in your settings. Just press the ISO button, hold it down and use the black main dial on top of your camera to move it to auto (this button is usually closest to your shutter button that you push to take a picture, see picture below). Check your manual for further instructions if needed.
image courtesy of photo.net
To change the aperture, use the same black main dial on top of your camera to adjust the aperture. Look at the picture below to see where the aperture is located on your cameras LCD screen.
Shooting in Shutter Priority
If you are shooting in Shutter Priority mode, then you set the shutter speed and the camera will automatically set the ISO and aperture for you (again, be sure that you have the auto select for your ISO).
To change the shutter speed, use the same black main dial on top of your camera to adjust the shutter speed (see picture above). Look at the picture below to see where the shutter speed is located on your LCD screen.
Pay close attention to the three areas we discussed above and notice how they work together and how they change in different situations. This allows you to get some practice with selecting aperture and shutter speeds and will help you become more familiarized with your camera.
That’s It! That’s Not So Hard Right?
So that is it! Now this week start practicing shooting in these two modes and again play close attention to the aperture, ISO and the shutter speed and how they work together.
You’re one step closer to shooting in manual mode, just a few more steps and you are there! When you shoot in manual mode, you have the freedom to create the pictures that you are envisioning.
Next week we will dive into learning how to shoot on manual mode! Until then…
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Here is one of my favorite e-books that really dives into a lot of great stuff. Lindsey over at Pinch of Yum has the most gorgeous photos! In this e-book, she has tackles technical tips, composition tips, lighting tips, prop and set up tips, editing tips and general workflow tips. There are instructional videos to easily walk you through learning the whole process! Wether you are brand new to photography or have experience…this book is for everyone! Learn more here!