A Beginner’s Guide To Digital Photography

February 16, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

I have assembled information from many different sources and other good content from around the net in order to bring this series to you. Sometimes just having the information available does not mean it is easily accessible or can be found in one place, especially if you don’t know what you’re looking for. This post will be the beginning of many posts that will take you on the journey though everything that a beginner in digital photography should learn. So lets start learning on how to use this thing!


Exposure

The most basic and important part of photography is exposure. Learning how exposure works will help you to take control of your camera, and take better photos. As you start to learn what shutter speed, aperture and ISO does, you’ll learn about the other effects that each have on your photos, which can produce creative results. If you only have time to learn one aspect of photography, then this is it, as you’ll start to move away from full auto or program modes, and learn how to use your camera properly.

Achieving the correct exposure is a lot like collecting rain in a bucket. While the rate of rainfall is uncontrollable, three factors remain under your control: the bucket's width, the duration you leave it in the rain, and the quantity of rain you want to collect. You just need to ensure you don't collect too little ("underexposed"), but that you also don't collect too much ("overexposed"). The key is that there are many different combinations of width, time and quantity that will achieve this. For example, for the same quantity of water, you can get away with less time in the rain if you pick a bucket that's really wide. Alternatively, for the same duration left in the rain, a really narrow bucket can be used as long as you plan on getting by with less water. In photography, the exposure settings of aperture, shutter speed and ISO speed are analogous to the width, time and quantity discussed above. Furthermore, just as the rate of rainfall was beyond your control above, so too is natural light for a photographer. See the Exposure Triangle for a more visual description of how Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO relate in getting the correct exposure.

Each setting controls exposure differently:

Aperture: controls the area over which light can enter your camera

Shutter speed: controls the duration of the exposure

ISO speed: controls the sensitivity of your camera's sensor to a given amount of light

 

One can therefore use many combinations of the above three settings to achieve the same exposure. The key, however, is knowing which trade-offs to make, since each setting also influences other image properties. For example, aperture affects depth of field, shutter speed affects motion blur and ISO speed affects image noise.

 

Aperture

A camera's aperture setting controls the area over which light can pass through your camera lens. It is specified in terms an f-stop value, which can at times be counter-intuitive, because the area of the opening increases as the f-stop decreases. In photographer slang, when someone says they are "stopping down" or "opening up" their lens, they are referring to increasing and decreasing the f-stop value, respectively.

 

By the Numbers. Every time the f-stop value halves, the light-collecting area quadruples. There's a formula for this, but most photographers just memorize the f-stop numbers that correspond to each doubling/halving of light:

The above aperture and shutter speed combinations all result in the same exposure. Note: Shutter speed values are not always possible in increments of exactly double or half another shutter speed, but they're always close enough that the difference is negligible.

The above f-stop numbers are all standard options in any camera, although most also allow finer adjustments, such as f/3.2 and f/6.3. The range of values may also vary from camera to camera (or lens to lens). For example, a compact camera might have an available range of f/2.8 to f/8.0, whereas a digital SLR camera might have a range of f/1.4 to f/32 with a portrait lens. A narrow aperture range usually isn't a big problem, but a greater range does provide for more creative flexibility.

Technical Note: With many lenses, their light-gathering ability is also affected by their transmission efficiency, although this is almost always much less of a factor than aperture. It's also beyond the photographer's control. Differences in transmission efficiency are typically more pronounced with extreme zoom ranges. For example, Canon's 24-105 mm f/4L IS lens gathers perhaps ~10-40% less light at f/4 than Canon's similar 24-70 mm f/2.8L lens at f/4 (depending on the focal length).

How it Appears. A camera's aperture setting is what determines a photo's depth of field (the range of distance over which objects appear in sharp focus). Lower f-stop values correlate with a shallower depth of field:

 


Shutter Speed

A camera's shutter determines when the camera sensor will be open or closed to incoming light from the camera lens. The shutter speed specifically refers to how long this light is permitted to enter the camera. "Shutter speed" and "exposure time" refer to the same concept, where a faster shutter speed means a shorter exposure time.

By the Numbers. Shutter speed's influence on exposure is perhaps the simplest of the three camera settings: it correlates exactly 1:1 with the amount of light entering the camera. For example, when the exposure time doubles the amount of light entering the camera doubles. It's also the setting that has the widest range of possibilities:

With waterfalls and other creative shots, motion blur is sometimes desirable, but for most other shots this is avoided. Therefore all one usually cares about with shutter speed is whether it results in a sharp photo — either by freezing movement or because the shot can be taken hand-held without camera shake.

 

How do you know which shutter speed will provide a sharp hand-held shot? With digital cameras, the best way to find out is to just experiment and look at the results on your camera's rear LCD screen (at full zoom). If a properly focused photo comes out blurred, then you'll usually need to either increase the shutter speed, keep your hands steadier or use a camera tripod.

 


ISO

The ISO speed determines how sensitive the camera is to incoming light. Similar to shutter speed, it also correlates 1:1 with how much the exposure increases or decreases. However, unlike aperture and shutter speed, a lower ISO speed is almost always desirable, since higher ISO speeds dramatically increase image noise. As a result, ISO speed is usually only increased from its minimum value if the desired aperture and shutter speed aren't otherwise obtainable.

 

Common ISO speeds include 100, 200, 400 and 800, although many cameras also permit lower or higher values. With compact cameras, an ISO speed in the range of 50-200 generally produces acceptably low image noise, whereas with digital SLR cameras, a range of 50-800 (or higher) is often acceptable.

 

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