There are some “rules” in photography – like in every art. But the good thing about photography is that those rules are meant to be broken. Nevertheless you should know them so you can break them on purpose (because that’s important for the image you want to shoot) and control what you’re doing. That’s the only way to achieve consistency and control the camera instead of having to fight and scream at the equipment (which by the way is always right and will not answer you back). I always say: there’s not only a right way to shoot. It depends on how you want your picture to look, what’s your creative concept. So let’s start with some basics, which unfortunately not every “photographer” masters.
I will just discuss things that I do, use or try. So, for instance, I won’t go into discussions about film vs digital, since for more than a decade I only shoot digital. It’s an option…
In order to capture the correct amount of light for the picture you want to make, you must find a balance between 3 different things that you control in your camera (the “Exposure Triangle”): sensibility (ISO), shutter speed andaperture. Confused already? Don’t be, this won’t be a techie post, I promise.
Most cameras allow you to shoot on Auto mode (ie, the equipment decides which combination of this 3 factors to use for each particular shoot) or some Program modes. But where’s the fun of letting the equipment decide for you? You’ll hardly get one of those “wow” images, if you just keep using the Auto or Program functions. So give the “M” a chance (M stands for Manual) and you may amaze yourself with the results.
ISO – is a measure for the level of sensitivity of your camera to available light. It is typically measured in numbers, alower number representing lower sensitivity to available light, while higher numbers mean more sensitivity. Of course, more sensitivity is not a “miracle”, it comes at a cost: as the ISO increases, so does the grain/noise in the images. So if you’re shooting outside on a sunny day, the lowest ISO is probably the best option; and if you’re shooting a show indoors, with some crappy light, you probably need to go for higher ISO levels. Examples of ISO: 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200…
Shutter Speed – defines the length of time a camera shutter is open to expose light into the camera sensor. Shutter speeds are measured in fractions of a second, when they are under a second – most cameras only show the denominator on the info, because that’s all you need. Fast shutter speeds help to freeze motion (like rain drops or even a dancer in motion) while slow shutter speeds allow more light into the camera sensor and are used for low-light and night photography. In this last case, of course, the subject should be still – and you also, or using a tripod so the camera don’t shake. Examples of shutter speeds: 1/15 (1/15th of a second), 1/30, 1/60, 1/125. If you don’t like to think in fractions, just remember the higher the number below, the less light will enter your camera sensor.
Aperture – if you look into your lenses and “shoot”, you will see a hole opening and closing, fast. Well, that’s exactly what aperture is all about: how wide that hole is opened. The larger the hole, the more light passes to the camera sensor. So, like with speed, it’s a way to control how much light affects your sensor. Lower values of aperture allow for a wider hole while higher values make the hole smaller. Examples of f-numbers are: f/1.4, f/2.0, f/2.8, f/4.0, f/5.6, f/8.0. If you want to know what the “f” means, is the ratio of the diameter of the lens aperture to the length of the lens.
If you’re using a DSLR with detachable lenses, soon you will notice that some lenses which look like being similar (eg a 50mm fixed lenses) can have so much differences in price. That’s because of how wide (lower numbers) the aperture can go. So now it makes sense that a 50mm with a minimum of f/1.8 is 10x or 15x cheaper than the same 50mm with a minimum of f/1.2… because the last one can capture a lot more light and requires a lot more investment on the lenses construction.
Most cameras shows you on the viewfinder or the display some kind of levers where you can check if the image has the “right” amount of light… but it’s always up to you to decide if you want it evenly lighted, underexposed (darker) or overexposed (bright or even “blasted”).
One important aspect: the camera can’t process the amount of information your eyes and your brain can, so it always measures the light at one specific point – which means that you can get different readings accordingly to where you point the metering censor (that’s especially relevant when you are shooting an image with great contrasts of light and shadow).
But how am I supposed to know which combination to use? Chill, we’ll get there in a minute.
Especially at the beginning, it’s already hard to hold a camera, have the subject framed, focused… and on top of that one must think about balancing not only that but also aperture, speed and sensibility?? C’mon, give me a break.
Ok, let’s break it into “digestible” pieces. This is TheBlackSheep quick and dirty way:
1. I start by looking at the environment and make a quick decision on which ISO I’m going to choose. For a daylight or a set with strobes/flashes, I usually go for the lowest ISO: 100 (or even 50 if your camera allows it). For a shot with low light (like a set where I’m using 1000Kw continuous light) I usually go for ISO 400. I try to keep my shots under 500 because of all the noise (btw, it’s called “moiré”) on the images, especially noticeable on the black parts of the image.
2. Then I decide which speed I’m going to use. If I’m shooting a model, posing and still, I usually go for 1/100 or even 1/60. Below that, and since I prefer to shoot without a tripod, I’ve found that I get too many “shaky” images – not from the model being nervous but because I can’t hold the camera without those minor shakings that are enough to ruin a great picture. But if I’m shooting a ballerina jumping up in the air, I use at least 1/200 or even 1/250.
3. And last (but not the least), I select the Aperture that makes the other 2 already defined options balanced, by checking the level on my viewfinder.
4. And then I shoot and check the result. If it’s not what I want I usually change the speed and give it another try. Or if it’s really needed, I may start over from the beginning and adjust the ISO and then the speed and then the aperture. And when I’m happy with the result, I’m good to go and just concentrate on framing, choosing the right angle, focusing and interacting with the model.
See? At the end, I just have to make minor changes on one option while I’m shooting: the Aperture.
So remember (as a rule of thumb):
Low light: High ISO (400), Low speed (1/60), Wide Aperture (f1.4)
Strong light: Low ISO (100), Fast speed (1/200), Small Aperture (f22)