It’s very important to know how to get a correct exposure. The most common mistake new photographers make is to shoot everything using auto mode. This is great for a while but you’re not really getting the most out of your camera and you’re always gonna struggle to get a good shot in anything but the most perfect lighting conditions.
Exposure basically tells you how much light to let into the camera. Too much light and it can make your photos look washed out. Too little and it will result in photos that are too dark.
A combination of the correct shutter speed, aperture setting and ISO will ensure you get perfect photos every time.
Most cameras come with a few different types of shooting modes. These are usually Automatic, Program, Shutter priority, Aperture priority and Manual.
Some cameras also have Scene modes. These are semi automatic modes where the camera pre-selects the settings it thinks are required for a particular shot.
Automatic mode takes care of everything for you. The camera makes all the decisions. Sometimes it gets it right but all photographers usually end up attempting the other modes as Automatic mode lets them down quite often and doesn’t give them the photos they were expecting.
Program mode selects the shutter and aperture automatically and gives you control over ISO. It is very similar to Automatic and photographers often find it doesn’t quite work as expected.
Shutter priority allows you to set the shutter speed and ISO. The camera then automatically picks all the other settings for you. You can switch to shutter mode using the main dial on top of your camera. It is typically “Tv” on Canon cameras and “S” on Nikon/Sony.
This mode is useful in certain situations. It is mostly used when shooting fast moving objects, such as sports photography, dance or children playing.
In the photo at the top of this article, a shutter speed of 1/800th of a second has frozen the action. A slower speed would have shown movement and blur.
More on shutter priority here.
Aperture priority allows you to set the aperture and ISO. The camera automatically picks all the other settings for you. You can switch to aperture mode using the main dial on top of your camera. It is typically “Av” on Canon cameras and “A” on Nikon/Sony.
This mode is useful in certain situations. It can be used when shooting anything from landscapes to portraits.
High F numbers (small aperture opening) like F16, F18 and F22 are useful for landscape photos. This ensures everything from right in front of you to the distant horizon is in focus and will be sharp.
Low F numbers (large aperture opening) are useful for portraits and still life images. These keep your main subject in focus while blurring the background.
Aperture priority is a particularly useful mode as it also controls the depth of field.
Depth of Field
Depth of field allows you to decide what is and what isn’t in focus in a photo. It controls how blurred a background is when shooting people. This allows the emphasis to be on the main subject in a portrait.
Depth of field will also ensure that a landscape shot is in perfect focus from right in front of the photographer to the distant horizon. Don’t worry if you cannot fully understand depth of field yet as we will be talking about it a lot over the next few weeks.
This girl on the street in Galway was shot at F4. See how the shot is composed using the rule of thirds as well.
Manual mode gives you complete control over all the camera settings and we’ll be talking more about this over the next few weeks. You will encounter many situations where manual mode allows you to get the best possible exposure.
ISO (pronounced “eyeso”) is a measurement of how sensitive your camera sensor is to light. Depending on your camera, the ISO setting can go from 100 (Low ISO) to 6400 (High ISO) Along with aperture and shutter speed, ISO will help to achieve the perfect exposure for your photographs.
As discussed, a high ISO can lead to “noise” or “grain” in your photo. It is preferable to shoot with a low ISO but this is sometimes unavoidable, especially in low light situations.
The photo here was shot at ISO 5000 and you can see the grainy effect in it.
The Live View feature on your camera displays the image on the LCD screen before your camera actually captures it. Check your camera manual to see how to enable it. The main advantage of Live View is that the image you see on the LCD screen will be very close to what the final image will look like.
This makes it an excellent compositional aid, particularly in landscape photography or for shooting in low light where you cannot see what’s going on.
However, you need to know when it’s best to use Live View and when it’s best to use the optical viewfinder. You can read more about Live View here.
The colour of a white object is affected by the lighting conditions under which we view it. Our brain can easily compensate for different types of light and ensures our eyes always see white as white, but our cameras need help to distinguish between different types of lighting.
You can set your camera to Auto White Balance and it will choose a setting from its presets. This is usually good enough when a scene’s lighting is pretty much all of one type. However, sometimes there will be different light temperatures in the one scene and we may have to choose an option other than Auto, in order to ensure a white object shows as white. In the photo on the left, you can see the difference between Cloudy white balance and Fluorescent white balance.
Along the top of the chart below is a guide to aperture settings. The small opening of F32 shows how everything is kept in focus. Not all lenses go to F32. Moving to the right and the larger openings show how the depth of field is lessened. At F1.4, the person is in focus while the background is blurred.
A shutter speed of 1/1000th of a second freezes the running man while slower shutter speeds introduce movement in the figure.
At the bottom, a lower ISO displays a nice grain-free image. Pushing the ISO higher introduces grain or noise.
Click the image to see it bigger. There are more infographics here.
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