Week 1

Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO. Three controls. That's it. Learn those, how to change them and why, and you're a long way towards understanding the technicalities of your camera. Ok, so there is a lot more to photography, but it's a great start.

Each of the three controls change the brightness of your photograph, but each has another effect as well. In auto mode, your camera is choosing these for you. Now it's time to take back some control.

 
 
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Aperture

For a number of these topics I'm going to point you to material that I think are some of the best free online resource, from excellent teachers. Mike Browne is one of those. An excellent photographer, with thoughtful explanations and examples. Firstly, take a look at his short video about aperture:

Mike Browne on YouTube - Apertures and F stops

 


Depth of Field and Identifying Your Heroes

As you'll have seen on the video above, as well as one of the settings that affect your exposure (how bright your image is), your aperture setting also controls your depth of field. Depth of field is how much of your image is in focus, both in front of and behind the actual focus point. You'll have seen images such as portraits with a face clearly in focus but the background behind it blurred. That's a shallow depth of field, created using a wide aperture such as f/1.4, f/1.8 or f/2. A narrow aperture, such as f/18, puts much more of the image in focus.

A key technique in creating strong images is to 'identify the hero'. It may be obvious, such as in a portrait, what you want to be the subject of your photograph. But in a landscape or street image for example it may not be. Identifying the hero is deciding what the image is about, with the intention of drawing the eye of the viewer to that point in the image. And one method for directing the eye of a viewer is by using a shallow depth of field. Our vision is drawn to anything that is in sharp focus if most of an image is blurred.

Our eyes are also drawn by other features such as the brightest point in an image, high contrast areas, recognizable shapes and diagonal lines. We'll cover those later on.


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Backing up you images

It's not the most interesting part of digital photography, but essential if you're not going to lose images. Every storage device fails sooner or later, so you need to make sure you have at least one other copy of your images, preferably more. It doesn't take a lot of kit, just simple external hard drives and a little thought. As a rough guide, here's my workflow:

1. Copy images from sd card to first external hard drive* (I choose not to store any on my laptop itself).

2. Amazon Drive is set to automatically sync with the folder I use for my images, so another copy is created in the cloud.

3. Manually start a Time Machine backup (Apple's backup facility) to a second external hard drive*.

4. Once the processes are finished, my image files are in three places** so I'm comfortable deleting them from the sd card. I then keep additional copies after post-processing of any images for clients or portfolio work, both locally and online.

*There are storage solutions available, such as the Drobo range, with built in redundancy (a second copy is automatically created within the system whenever a new file is added) but I haven't found them necessary so far.

**An extra measure is to have a third hard drive stored in a different physical location, such as at work or left with a friend, and updated occasionally with new images.


Some Terminology

Aperture - The size of opening that lets light into the camera.

Depth of Field - The range of distance from the camera that is deemed to in-focus (or acceptably sharp). A shallow depth of field means that much of the image is out-of-focus.

Exposure - The level of brightness of an image.

F-stop - Measurement of aperture, shown as a fraction. f/2 is a relatively large aperture, f/16 is relatively small.

ISO - The sensitivity of a film or camera sensor to light. Lower ISO means less sensitivity but also less grain or noise in the image.

Metering - The action of a camera adjusting the exposure (brightness) level using ISO, aperture and/or shutter speed.

Shutter Speed - The duration that the camera sensor is exposed to light whilst taking an image.

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Equipment

A few thoughts on what gear to buy. It's always going to be tempting to think that a better camera or lens will improve your images. It might, a little. But it won't make you a better photographer and that is a much better priority. As a recently popular quote points out, the greatest images in history were all (probably) created with a worse camera than yours.

It's also very easy to spend money on gear that you don't need, and it's a distraction. Too much choice can be confusing. Too many lenses, for example, means it will take longer for you to get familiar with any of them.

In order of importance of what makes the most difference to your images, you as the photographer are by far the most important component. Your camera is somewhere down the list after the quality of light and quality of your lens.

My general recommendation is to buy what you need, when you need it. Don't try to kit yourself out with everything upfront. There are also many services that allow you to rent equipment if you want to try it out or need something very specific for a particular purpose. Having said that, I'll add a few thoughts next time on buying cameras.


Practice

That's it for week 1. Practice at home changing you aperture and shutter speed. See what effect they have on your images. The modes to use are Aperture Priority (Av on Canon, A on Nikon), Shutter Priority (Tv on Canon, S on Nikon), or Manual (M) if you want to have full control of both. Don't be scared to experiment.