Photography

Sony SLT A55 Overview

Nikon D3200 Overview

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oct7u50dsvwStills Camera Manuals

Sony SLT A55 & Nikon D3200 Camera Manuals

Sony still camera SLTA55 Op Manual.pdf

Nikon D3200 Manual.pdf

How A Camera Works

ultimate-guide-first-dslr

If you consider yourself a beginner who is unsure of how to make the most of your camera, this post is designed for you. It’s intended to be a brief, a one-stop shop to help you take your camera off auto, and take control of your DSLR. It isn’t intended to be a replacement for your camera manual, so will not explain every last setting in great depth, but will cover enough of the basics to get you in control of your camera, and give you the key topics to go back to your manual to read.

The topics covered in this post are:

1. Shooting modes

  • aperture priority
  • shutter priority
  • program
  • manual

2. ISO

3. Completion of the ‘exposure triangle’

4. Metering

  • exposure compensation (+/-)

5. Focussing

  • focussing modes (AF-S/AF-C)
  • focus points

6. File size/types

  • raw vs jpeg

7. White balance

Which should be more than enough to get you on your way. So let’s begin…

1. Shooting modes

The best place to start is with shooting modes. The shooting modes will most likely be found on a dial labelled with ‘auto, Av, Tv, P, M’ and maybe more. Selecting a shooting mode will determine how your camera behaves when you press the shutter, for example, when ‘auto’ is selected, the camera will determine everything to do with the exposure, including the aperture and shutter speed. The other modes, ‘Av, Tv, P, M’, are there to give you control:

Don’t worry if your mode dial looks a little different; different manufacturers use different abbreviations for the shooting modes. Your mode dial may have the letters ‘A, S, P, M’ (instead of Av, Tv, P, M), yet they all function in the same way. Below, I have given each abbreviation for the given mode.

Aperture Priority (Av or A)
Aperture priority can be thought of as a ‘semi-automatic’ shooting mode. When this is selected, you as the photographer set the aperture and the camera will automatically select the shutter speed. So what is aperture and when would you want to control it?

The aperture is the size of the opening in the lens through which light is allowed to pass whenever the shutter is opened – the larger the aperture, the more light passes through.

The aperture is measured in ‘f-stops’ and is usually displayed using an ‘f-number’, e.g. f/2.0, f/2.8, f/4.0, f/5.6, f/8.0 etc, which is a ratio of focal length over diameter of the opening. Therefore, a larger aperture (a wider opening) has a smaller f-number (e.g. f/2.0) and smaller aperture (a narrower opening) has a larger f-number (e.g. f/22). Reducing the aperture by one whole f-stop, e.g. f/2.0 to f2/8 or f/5.6 to f/8.0, halves the amount of light entering the camera.

Aperture is one of the most important aspects of photography as it directly influences the depth of field – that is, the amount of an image that is in focus. A large depth of field (achieved by using a small aperture (large f-number)) would mean that a large distance within the scene is in focus, such as the foreground to the background of the landscape below.

An aperture of f/13 was used here to give a large depth of field, ensuring that the whole image, from the foreground grasses to the background mountains. was sharp

Whereas a shallow depth of field (achieved by using a large aperture (small f-number)) would produce an image where only the subject is in sharp focus, but the background is soft and out of focus. This is often used when shooting portraiture or wildlife, such as the image below, to isolate the subject from the background:

A large aperture of f/4.5 was used to capture this water vole, against a soft, out of focus background

So when using aperture priority, you can get complete control over your depth of field, whilst the camera takes care of the rest.

Shutter Priority (Tv or S)
Similarly to aperture priority, this is another ‘semi-automatic’ shooting mode, though in this instance, you as the photographer set the shutter speed and the camera will take care of the aperture. The shutter speed, measured in seconds (or more often fractions of a second), is the amount of time the shutter stays open when taking a photograph. The longer the shutter stays open, the more light passes through to the sensor to be captured.

You would select a short shutter speed if you wanted to freeze a fast moving subject, such as shooting sports, action or wildlife, for example:

A very fast shutter speed of 1/4000th sec was used to freeze the motion of this grouse in flight

You would use a long shutter speed if you wanted to blur a moving subject, for example water rushing over a waterfall (slower shutter speeds will require you to put the camera on a tripod to ensure the camera is held steady whilst the shutter is open):

To capture the motion of the waves, and render the water with a soft, milky texture, a shutter speed of 6 seconds was used here

So whilst you worry about what shutter speed you need for a given photograph, the camera will determine the appropriate aperture required to give the correct exposure.

Aperture and shutter priority shooting modes may be semi-automatic, meaning that some may deride their use because they’re not fully manual, however they are incredibly useful modes to shoot in that can give you enough creative control to capture scenes as you envisage them.

Program (P)
Program mode is almost a halfway house between the semi automatic modes of aperture/shutter priority and full manual control. In program mode, you are able to set either the aperture or shutter speed, and the camera will maintain the correct exposure by adjusting the other one accordingly, i.e. as you change the aperture, the shutter speed will automatically change, and vice versa. This gives you additional freedom that using either aperture priority or shutter priority cannot give without switching between shooting modes.

Manual (M)
Manual mode is exactly what it sounds like, you are given full control over the exposure determination, setting both the aperture and shutter speed yourself. There will be an exposure indicator either within the viewfinder or on the screen that will tell you how under/over exposed the image will be, however, you are left to change the shutter speed and aperture yourself to ensure you achieve the correct exposure.

Practically Speaking: as a first step to taking your camera off ‘auto’, aperture priority and shutter priority modes offer two very simple ways to start to understand how the different setting impact your images and are a perfect starting place for learning how to use your camera more creatively.

2. ISO

ISO is a measure of how sensitive the sensor of your camera is to light. The term originated in film photography, where film of different sensitivities could be used depending on the shooting conditions, and it is no different in digital photography. The ISO sensitivity is represented numerically from ISO 100 (low sensitivity) up to ISO 6400 (high sensitivity) and beyond, and controls the amount of light required by the sensor to achieve a given exposure

At ‘low’ sensitivities, more light is required to achieve a given exposure compared to high sensitivities where less light is required to achieve the same exposure. To understand this, let’s look at two different situations:

Low ISO numbers
If shooting outside, on a bright sunny day there is a lot of available light that will hit the sensor during an exposure, meaning that the sensor does not need to be very sensitive in order to achieve a correct exposure. Therefore, you could use a low ISO number, such as ISO 100 or 200. This will give you images of the highest quality, with very little grain (or noise).

Taken at ISO 100, the image does not show signs of noise (even when looking at the 100% crop (right)

High ISO numbers
If shooting in low light conditions, such as inside a dark cathedral or museum for example, there is not much light available for your camera sensor. A high ISO number, such as ISO 3200, will increase the sensitivity of the sensor, effectively multiplying the small amount of available light to give you a correctly exposed image. This multiplication effect comes with a side effect of increased noise on the image, which looks like a fine grain, reducing the overall image quality. The noise will be most pronounced in the darker/shadow regions.

This image was taken as the sun was going down, meaning there was not much ambient light. Therefore, this was shot with ISO4000, however you can see very obvious noise in the 100% crop (right)

Practically Speaking: you want to keep the ISO as low as possible, as the lower the ISO, the less noise and the higher the quality of the resulting image. Outside on a sunny day, select ISO200 and see how it goes. If it clouds over, maybe select an ISO between 400-800. If you move indoors, consider an ISO of around 1600 or above (these are approximate starting points).

Most digital SLRs now have an ‘auto-ISO’ function, where the camera sets the ISO depending upon the amount of light in which you are shooting, keeping it as low as possible. Auto-ISO is a very useful tool when starting out with your camera, as it is allows you to define an upper limit i.e. where the images become too noisy such as ISO1600 or 3200, and then forget about it until situations where you specifically want to override the automatic setting, for example if taking landscape images using a tripod, you can afford to use the lowest ISO possible.

3. Completion of the Exposure Triangle

It’s important to note that aperture, shutter speed and ISO are all part of the ‘exposure triangle’. They all control either the amount of light entering the camera (aperture, shutter speed) or the amount of light required by the camera (ISO) for a given exposure.

Therefore, they are all linked, and understanding the relationship between them is crucial to being able to take control of your camera. A change in one of the settings will impact the other two. For example, considering a theoretical exposure of ISO400, f/8.0, 1/10th second. If you wanted to reduce the depth of field, and decided to use an aperture of f/4.0, you would be increasing the size of the aperture by two whole f/stops, therefore increasing the amount of light entering the camera by a factor of 4 (i.e. increasing by a factor of 2, twice). Therefore, to balance the exposure, you could do the following:

    • Situation 1: Reduce the shutter speed by a factor of 4, i.e. to 1/40th second.
    • Situation 2: Reduce the ISO by a factor of 4, i.e. to ISO100
    • Situation 3: A combination of the above, shutter speed by a factor of 2 (to 1/20th second) AND reduce the ISO bv a factor of 2 (to ISO200).

Aperture, shutter speed and ISO are all facotrs that influence your exposure, and are all linked. It’s just a case of balancing the books!

They all have the net effect of reducing the amount of light by a factor of 4, countering the change in aperture. It’s just a case of understanding that they are all linked, and so changing one setting, will cause a change in another.

Using a combination of the semi-automatic shooting modes and auto-ISO would mean you won’t necessarily need to think about adjusting your exposure in such a way initially, however understanding the relationship that ISO or aperture has with shutter speed, and knowing the practical implications is a big step in mastering your DSLR .

4. Metering

Through out all of the above discussion, I have said that the camera calculates the exposure depending on the amount of available light, but what is it actually doing?

When taking a photograph, using any form of automatic exposure calculation (e.g. aperture priority mode, shutter priority mode, auto-ISO etc) the camera always tries to calculate an ‘average’ exposure. It will asses the entire scene, both light and dark areas, and determine the exposure so that all of the tones within the entire image average to 18% grey – called the ‘middle’ grey.

This is known as metering, and it is the reason that if you point your camera at a bright white scene, such as after it has snowed, and take a photograph the resulting image will always appear darker than you or I see it. Similarly, if you point your camera at a really dark scene, such as a low-lit room, and take a photograph the resulting image will always be brighter than you or I see it.

The scene is always being averaged by the camera and most of the time that results in the image appearing to be correctly exposed. However, you can control what areas of the scene are being assessed by the camera in order to influence the way in which the exposure is metered.

Generally, there are three metering modes that you can choose from:

Average – The camera will assess the tones across the entire image form corner to corner, and expose the scene to 18% grey from that assessment.

Centre-weighted – The camera weights the exposure reading for the area in the centre of the viewfinder that can total up to approximately 80% of the scene, ignoring the extreme corners of the image.

Spot metering – The camera will use a very small area of the scene, typically a small circle in the centre of the viewfinder that totals approximately 5% of the viewfinder area. It will make the assessment of dark/light tones in this area and expose the entire scene to 18% grey, from that assessment.

Practically speaking: when starting out with your camera, either average or centre weighted metering are a good starting point. They will both provide a fairly consistent measure of the exposure required and, if you select one mode and stick with it, you will soon begin to understand when a scene will be under exposed (i.e. too dark) or over exposed (i.e. to light) compared to how you see it with your own eyes.

But what can you do if a scene is under/over exposed? That is where exposure compensation comes in.

Exposure compensation

Generally found on a small +/- button near the shutter, this is one of the most useful functions to learn how to use. It allows you to either increase or decrease the cameras default meter reading to account for the actual brightness of a scene.

evbutton.jpg

If a scene contains primarily bright tones and is being rendered too dark, for example, a bright white snow scene (that will typically be reduced to 18% grey by the default metering system), you can apply positive exposure compensation to let the camera know that the scene should be lighter than middle grey.

A spring lamb leaping in front of a snowy hillside. Left: Straight out of camera, with the snow caught as grey. Right: With +2 stops exposure compensation (added in post processing). The bright snowy background caused my camera to underexpose this scene by nearly two stops, which could have been corrected by exposure compensation in camera.

Conversely, if a scene contains primarily dark tones and is being rendered too light, for example, a dark night scene (that will typically be increased to 18% grey by the default metering system), you can apply negative exposure compensation to let the camera know that the scene should be darker than middle grey.

5. Focussing

Regardless of what shooting mode you are using, or what ISO you define, the chances are there will be a subject of your image that you want to have in focus. If that focus is not achieved, the image will not be what you wanted.

Autofocus modes
DSLRs come with a range of autofocus modes, however, for simplicity, the two that are most important to understand are AF-S and AF-C

AF-S – autofocus-single. This is best used when taking photos of stationary subjects such as portraits of people, landscapes, buildings etc. When you half-press the shutter, the focus will be acquired and locked on that point for as long as you hold the button down. If you want to change to focus, you need to release the button, recompose and then re-half-press.

AF-C – autofocus-continuous. This is best used when taking photos of action or moving subjects such as sports and wildlife. When you half-press the shutter, focus will be acquired and locked on to a given subject. When that subject moves, the focus will adjust with it, refocusing all of the time until the photograph is taken.

(These modes are not to be confused with the AF/MF switches on the lens, where AF stands for autofocus and MF stands for manual focus. That switch is an override for if you want to manually focus your lens. If you want to make use of the autofocus modes discussed above, ensure the lens is set to AF).

Focus Points
Both of those focus modes rely on what are known as focus points. When you look through the viewfinder, you should see a number of squares/dots overlaid across the screen. When you half-press the shutter, you should see one of these squares be highlighted in red. That is the active focus point, and it is that position within the frame that the camera is focussing on. A viewfinder with 9 focus points is shown below:

New DSLRs can come with over 50 focus points and the temptation is to leave it on fully automatic focus point selection, with the thinking that the camera will be able to select the correct focus point. However, only you know what you want to focus on, and there is no better way than ensuring the correct subject is in focus than by using one focus point, and placing that focus point over the subject.

If you select a single focus point, you should be able to change which point is active fairly easily either by using directional buttons one of the dials. If you select a focus point that is on your desired subject, you will ensure that the camera focuses where you want it to. After a small amount of practice, you will soon get into the habit of being able to change the focus point without taking the camera away form your eye.

Practically speaking: Initially, set your camera to use a single focus point (your camera manual should tell you how to do this). This way, you will be able to choose what you are focussing on, ensuring that the subject you want to capture is in focus. Once you are familiar with the basic focussing modes and focus point selection, you can then explore the more advanced modes that your camera may offer.

6. File Size/Types

You will have the option to be able to change the size of the images that your camera records, and in which file type. You want to set the file size to the largest possible (whether it is ‘large’ or ‘fine’ or ‘super fine’) to ensure that you are making the most of the mega pixels that you have just invested in.

You will also have the option of choosing whether to record the images as ‘raw’ or ‘jpeg’ file type. A raw file is uncompressed, and so contains a lot of image data that allows for a lot of flexibility during post-processing (i.e. on your computer) but also comes with additional complications such as the need to ‘process’ every file using dedicated editing software and a larger file size. A jpeg is a compressed file type, that is automatically processed by the camera. They will be ‘print ready’ straight out of the camera, and are much smaller files, meaning you can fit more images per memory card.

Practically speaking: When starting out with your camera, using jpeg is the most straight forward. It will enable you to get the best results whilst you learn the basics or your camera before complicating matters with post-processing of raw files.

7. White Balance

If shooting in jpeg, as recommended above, you will need to make sure you set your white balance before taking a picture. The white balance can significantly impact colour tone of your photographs. You may have noticed that sometimes your images have a blueish tone to them or, in others, everything looks very orange. This is to do with the white balance and, whilst you can make some adjustments to the image on your computer, it is much simpler if you get it right up-front.

Different light sources (such as the sun, light bulbs, fluorescent strips etc) emit light of different wavelengths, and therefore colours, which can be described by what is known as colour temperature. Light from a candle, or from the sun during sunrise/sunset, is very warm, and contains a lot of red/orange wavelengths; whereas light from a fluorescent strip is much cooler, containing a lot of blue wavelengths. This coloured light is reflected off of surfaces, but our brain in clever enough to recognise this and automatically counter the effect, meaning that we still see a white surface as a white surface. However, your camera is not that intelligent, and unless told otherwise, will record the orange or blue tones giving the colour cast to your images.

white balance

Left: The image captured using auto white balance has a heavy yellow tone from the artificial street lighting. Right: the same image, corrected for a ‘Tungsten’ white balance, giving the cooler tones on the stone work, and the bluer sky

As the colour temperature of different light sources is well known, there are a number of presets built into your camera that help to overcome the different colours of light in different situations – cooling the warm light, and warming the cool light – all in the cause of trying to capture the colours of the scene accurately. The ‘auto’ feature (auto WB or AWB) will attempt to predict the colour of the light by detecting the predominant colour of the scene and then countering it, however it may not necessarily make a correct decision, leaving you with inaccurate colours. Therefore it is best to set the colour balance before you take your image and just to make sure (note: the above image was a raw file giving me a lot of latitude for white balance correction. Jpeg files are not as susceptible to white balance adjustments, meaning the white balance correction needs to be made before the image is taken):

Daylight – To be used on clear sunny days. Bright sunlight, on a clear day is as near to neutral light that we generally get

Cloudy – To be used when shooting on a cloudy day. Adds warm tones to daylight images.

Shade – To be used if shooting in the shade, as shaded areas generally produce cooler, bluer images, so need warming up.

Tungsten – Used for shooting indoors, under incandescent light bulbs, or under street lights, to cool down the yellow tones.

Fluorescent – Compensates for the green/blue tones of fluorescent light strips when shooting indoors.

Flash – the flash will add a cool blue cast to the image, so used to add some warmth.

Practically speaking: avoid auto white balance and set the white balance manually. Generally, you will be able to look up at the sky and see what kind of day it is, and determine the colour balance required pretty easily. If you move indoors, just check the lighting that you are shooting under, and again select the appropriate white balance. It will soon become second nature to set it as you take your camera out of the bag.

Conclusion

So that is an overview of the settings you will encounter when you want to take the leap and take your camera off ‘Auto’. You don’t necessarily need to consider them all straight away, but exploring and understanding the effect of each setting will soon have you in complete control of your camera. The biggest step, that will give you the most noticeable difference in the feeling of control and direct influence on creative results, will be to start using the ‘aperture priority’ or ‘shutter priority’ shooting modes and once you are familiar with those, you can start thinking about exploring further. Soon enough, you will no longer think of your camera as a mysterious black box, but understand how to achieve the photographic results that you bought it for in the first place.

Understanding Exposure: The Exposure Triangle

Understanding Exposure

Understanding Exposure Part 2

Understanding Exposure Part 3

Exposure Triangle Part 4 – Shutter Speed

Exposure Triangle Part 5 – Aperture Values

Exposure Triangle Part 6 – Auto ISO

Understanding ISO

Best lesson in photography for beginners

The Circle of Confusion

Camera Lenses Explained FULLY

How Focal Length Affects Your Background

Focal Length

Link To: 8 Focal Lengths Illustrated

Depth of Field

Aperture Priority Mode

img_0225

Aperture Priority Mode’s affect on Depth of Field (area of focus)

Shutter Priority Mode – Controlling Motion Blur

Demystifying Shutter Speed

One of the most crucial factors of making any photograph is the selection of the shutter speed. It is not always an easy task to decide what shutter speed you should select, to correspond to the aperture or ISO setting you have chosen. It can be a little overwhelming, and sometimes discouraging, to learn how to select the proper shutter speed to produce whatever your desired photo may be. You might still be shooting in full auto just because you can’t seem to have any luck with manually selecting your exposures. Luckily, once you understand the basic concept of shutter speed in relation to photography, this aspect will become much easier and almost intuitive.

Shutter Speed

Let’s take a look at what shutter speed really is, and how to better understand it, so you can begin to have more control over your photography.

What is shutter speed?

First things first, what exactly do photographers mean when they say “shutter speed”? This refers to the amount of time that the shutter of the camera is open. Shutter speed can be easily compared to blinking. Close your eyes, then open them for about one second. Now close them again. You have just performed a one second exposure with your eyes. Though very simplified, the exact same thing happens inside your camera when you press the shutter release button. The shutter opens, and remains open, for whatever duration you have set your camera to expose. This lets in light through the lens which interacts with whatever receptor you’re using (film or digital sensor), in order to produce a photograph. In reality, it might help you to refer to shutter speed as shutter time.

How does shutter speed affect a photograph?

As I have said, shutter speed is one of the biggest assets you can control in order to produce the type of photograph you want. Now, the shutter is not to be confused with aperture. Aperture has nothing to do with the amount of time that light is allowed to enter your camera. Aperture simply refers to the size of the opening through which the light passes when the shutter opens. The larger the opening is, the more light that enters your camera. The shutter speed, on the other hand, controls how long light is allowed to linger in order to make the photograph. Got it? Good.

So since shutter speed is related to time, it naturally means that it will directly affect how motion is recorded by your camera. This is where an infinite amount of creativity can be applied to your photographs. You may have heard a photographer say, “I used a really fast shutter speed to freeze the motion.” What they means here is that he or she used a shutter speed that was much faster than whatever motion was happening in the scene. The faster the motion, the faster the shutter speed will need to be, in order to arrest the movement. This is the very reason beginner photographers can become frustrated when photographing sports, children, or pets. They simply don’t understand that the shutter speed must be set in relation to the subjects motion to produce a desired outcome.

Take a look at this quarter that I froze mid-roll by using a fast shutter speed of 1/1250th of a second.

Fast Shutter

The flipside of the shutter speed coin comes into play when you want to impart a sense of motion, or to intentionally use blur within your composition. There is no better illustration of this than when working with moving water and waterfalls. Photographers will often use a long shutter time in relation to the speed of the water in order to produce that smooth, almost fog-like appearance that many of us love (or hate) to see. This again, comes down to relativity. A longer shutter time will be needed to blur a slow moving subject. A faster moving subject will not require as long of a shutter time in order to produce the same effect.

Here’s that same quarter shot at 1/50th of a second.

Slow Shutter

Things to keep in mind about shutter speed.

As with virtually everything else that has to do with photographic technique, there are not absolutes when it comes to how you choose to manipulate your shutter speed. It always comes down to whatever it is you are trying to express through your photograph. However, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t other things that you should know which are related to shutter speed. Two of the most important things you need to know is how aperture and ISO interact with shutter speed.

Aperture

Aperture is the best friend, and worst enemy of your shutter. As you have already learned, aperture controls the size of the opening in your lens and is measured in “stops”. Stops are indicated by the usage of f-numbers. Understanding how aperture is measured is the most difficult aspect of the subject. It is actually somewhat counter intuitive and that is why it becomes so confusing. Basically, the larger the f-number, the SMALLER the physical opening becomes. It might help to think of aperture as a window in your home. The larger the window the more light can come through. When shooting at larger apertures (smaller f-numbers like f/2.8, etc.) you have a lot of light coming into your camera so your shutter time doesn’t have to be as long in order to reach the desired exposure. The opposite is also true. When you are shooting at smaller apertures (bigger f-number like f/22) a longer shutter time will be required to produce the same exposure that was achieved at the larger aperture.

Here you can clearly see why less light can come through a smaller aperture.

Apertures

Let’s say a certain shutter time at a certain aperture gives you a properly exposed image. You then switch to a higher f-number. If you don’t increase your shutter time, this image will be underexposed compared to the previous one because you have essentially made the window into your camera smaller. The take-away point here is that a change in aperture must also be accompanied by a change in shutter speed if you wish for the overall exposure to remain the same.

It should also be noted that aperture plays a key role in the perceived depth of field of a photograph…but that’s another article.

 

ISO

ISO is a measurement of light sensitivity. It is fairly straight forward to understand. The higher the ISO number, the more sensitive the camera sensor, or film, is to the light coming in through the lens. Although most modern cameras are capable of selecting ISO in smaller increments, when first learning about how ISO relates to shutter time it might be easier to use increments in powers of two; meaning ISO 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, etc. Each time the ISO number doubles, the sensitivity to light also doubles. So ISO 200 is twice as sensitive as ISO 100.

We can then easily relate ISO to shutter speed using a one second exposure to simplify the math. Let’s say we find that a proper exposure of a scene requires ISO 100 and a one second exposure time. If we increase the ISO to 200 then we have doubled the sensitivity so we can now get the same exposure using half a second instead of one second. If we further increase the ISO to 400 then we can get the same results from a ¼ second exposure. As you have probably already deduced, increasing your ISO is an easy way to allow for an increase in shutter speed to compensate for subject movement, or for low light.

Take a look at these three images. I was able to get virtually identical results each time even though I decreased the exposure from 1 second to ¼ of a second just by increasing my ISO.

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

Be aware though, increasing your ISO will add grain (noise) to your final image to some extent depending on your camera and equipment. Still, it is almost always more acceptable to live with a little increased grain in an image, than to underexpose or miss the shot completely.

Understanding what shutter speed means to your images doesn’t have to be a complicated issue at all. Shutter speed, or more accurately shutter time, is simply a measure of how long you choose for light to enter your camera to make an image. Learning how shutter time relates to other aspects of photography is slightly more complex. That doesn’t mean that it should discourage you from experimenting and seeing first hand how ISO, aperture, and shutter time come together to produce different types of images.

Depth of Field (area of focus) Explained

Aperture Priority Mode

Aperture Priority Mode’s affect on Depth of Field (area of focus)

Shutter Priority Mode – Controlling Motion Blur

Demystifying Shutter Speed

One of the most crucial factors of making any photograph is the selection of the shutter speed. It is not always an easy task to decide what shutter speed you should select, to correspond to the aperture or ISO setting you have chosen. It can be a little overwhelming, and sometimes discouraging, to learn how to select the proper shutter speed to produce whatever your desired photo may be. You might still be shooting in full auto just because you can’t seem to have any luck with manually selecting your exposures. Luckily, once you understand the basic concept of shutter speed in relation to photography, this aspect will become much easier and almost intuitive.

Shutter Speed

Let’s take a look at what shutter speed really is, and how to better understand it, so you can begin to have more control over your photography.

What is shutter speed?

First things first, what exactly do photographers mean when they say “shutter speed”? This refers to the amount of time that the shutter of the camera is open. Shutter speed can be easily compared to blinking. Close your eyes, then open them for about one second. Now close them again. You have just performed a one second exposure with your eyes. Though very simplified, the exact same thing happens inside your camera when you press the shutter release button. The shutter opens, and remains open, for whatever duration you have set your camera to expose. This lets in light through the lens which interacts with whatever receptor you’re using (film or digital sensor), in order to produce a photograph. In reality, it might help you to refer to shutter speed as shutter time.

How does shutter speed affect a photograph?

As I have said, shutter speed is one of the biggest assets you can control in order to produce the type of photograph you want. Now, the shutter is not to be confused with aperture. Aperture has nothing to do with the amount of time that light is allowed to enter your camera. Aperture simply refers to the size of the opening through which the light passes when the shutter opens. The larger the opening is, the more light that enters your camera. The shutter speed, on the other hand, controls how long light is allowed to linger in order to make the photograph. Got it? Good.

So since shutter speed is related to time, it naturally means that it will directly affect how motion is recorded by your camera. This is where an infinite amount of creativity can be applied to your photographs. You may have heard a photographer say, “I used a really fast shutter speed to freeze the motion.” What they means here is that he or she used a shutter speed that was much faster than whatever motion was happening in the scene. The faster the motion, the faster the shutter speed will need to be, in order to arrest the movement. This is the very reason beginner photographers can become frustrated when photographing sports, children, or pets. They simply don’t understand that the shutter speed must be set in relation to the subjects motion to produce a desired outcome.

Take a look at this quarter that I froze mid-roll by using a fast shutter speed of 1/1250th of a second.

Fast Shutter

The flipside of the shutter speed coin comes into play when you want to impart a sense of motion, or to intentionally use blur within your composition. There is no better illustration of this than when working with moving water and waterfalls. Photographers will often use a long shutter time in relation to the speed of the water in order to produce that smooth, almost fog-like appearance that many of us love (or hate) to see. This again, comes down to relativity. A longer shutter time will be needed to blur a slow moving subject. A faster moving subject will not require as long of a shutter time in order to produce the same effect.

Here’s that same quarter shot at 1/50th of a second.

Slow Shutter

Things to keep in mind about shutter speed.

As with virtually everything else that has to do with photographic technique, there are not absolutes when it comes to how you choose to manipulate your shutter speed. It always comes down to whatever it is you are trying to express through your photograph. However, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t other things that you should know which are related to shutter speed. Two of the most important things you need to know is how aperture and ISO interact with shutter speed.

Aperture

Aperture is the best friend, and worst enemy of your shutter. As you have already learned, aperture controls the size of the opening in your lens and is measured in “stops”. Stops are indicated by the usage of f-numbers. Understanding how aperture is measured is the most difficult aspect of the subject. It is actually somewhat counter intuitive and that is why it becomes so confusing. Basically, the larger the f-number, the SMALLER the physical opening becomes. It might help to think of aperture as a window in your home. The larger the window the more light can come through. When shooting at larger apertures (smaller f-numbers like f/2.8, etc.) you have a lot of light coming into your camera so your shutter time doesn’t have to be as long in order to reach the desired exposure. The opposite is also true. When you are shooting at smaller apertures (bigger f-number like f/22) a longer shutter time will be required to produce the same exposure that was achieved at the larger aperture.

Here you can clearly see why less light can come through a smaller aperture.

Apertures

Let’s say a certain shutter time at a certain aperture gives you a properly exposed image. You then switch to a higher f-number. If you don’t increase your shutter time, this image will be underexposed compared to the previous one because you have essentially made the window into your camera smaller. The take-away point here is that a change in aperture must also be accompanied by a change in shutter speed if you wish for the overall exposure to remain the same.

It should also be noted that aperture plays a key role in the perceived depth of field of a photograph…but that’s another article.

ISO

ISO is a measurement of light sensitivity. It is fairly straight forward to understand. The higher the ISO number, the more sensitive the camera sensor, or film, is to the light coming in through the lens. Although most modern cameras are capable of selecting ISO in smaller increments, when first learning about how ISO relates to shutter time it might be easier to use increments in powers of two; meaning ISO 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, etc. Each time the ISO number doubles, the sensitivity to light also doubles. So ISO 200 is twice as sensitive as ISO 100.

We can then easily relate ISO to shutter speed using a one second exposure to simplify the math. Let’s say we find that a proper exposure of a scene requires ISO 100 and a one second exposure time. If we increase the ISO to 200 then we have doubled the sensitivity so we can now get the same exposure using half a second instead of one second. If we further increase the ISO to 400 then we can get the same results from a ¼ second exposure. As you have probably already deduced, increasing your ISO is an easy way to allow for an increase in shutter speed to compensate for subject movement, or for low light.

Take a look at these three images. I was able to get virtually identical results each time even though I decreased the exposure from 1 second to ¼ of a second just by increasing my ISO.

ISO 100

ISO 200

ISO 400

Be aware though, increasing your ISO will add grain (noise) to your final image to some extent depending on your camera and equipment. Still, it is almost always more acceptable to live with a little increased grain in an image, than to underexpose or miss the shot completely.

Understanding what shutter speed means to your images doesn’t have to be a complicated issue at all. Shutter speed, or more accurately shutter time, is simply a measure of how long you choose for light to enter your camera to make an image. Learning how shutter time relates to other aspects of photography is slightly more complex. That doesn’t mean that it should discourage you from experimenting and seeing first hand how ISO, aperture, and shutter time come together to produce different types of images.

Understanding The 3 Primary Metering Modes

Depth of Field (area of focus) Explained

Shallow Depth of Field - foreground and background out of focus
Shallow Depth of Field – foreground and background out of focus

Shallow Depth of Field Studio Portraits

Shutter Speed

Camera Modes – Controlling Depth of Field and Motion Blur

Camera Settings Modes Explained

Learn camera fundamentals! Photo & Video Cheat Sheet

CLICK HERE to get the Tom Antos’ Camera Cheat Sheet

Camera Shots

Click here to Download Shot Types & Angles

Click here to Download Shot Rule of Thirds

Click here to Download Shot Diagonal Lines

Exposure Triangle Cheat Sheet

Photo Composition

Basic Camera Shots

Camera Shots 2

Rule of Thirds

Composition and Framing Tutorial

VIDEO – Using Diagonal Lines to Make Interesting Photo Compositions

How To Read Your Histogram in Photography

Exploring Photography with Mark Wallace

Take and Make Great Photography with Gavin Hoey

21 Tips for Camera

Introductions to Useful Modes and Settings on Your Digital Camera

Photography Settings, Techniques and Rules

1. Digital Camera Modes Explained – I spoke with a family friend recently who had just bought a new point and shoot camera. She came up to me with her camera when no one was watching and embarrassedly asked me if I could tell her what all the little icons on the dial on top of her camera meant. This article explains what each of these most common digital camera modes means and does. Knowing them can take your shots to the next level.

2. Aperture and Shutter Priority Mode – this introduction talks you through these two very useful settings that can be found on many digital cameras. Aperture and Shutter Priority modes take you out of Automatic mode giving you more control over your images – but don’t thrust you fully into manual mode – they are great settings to explore and master.

3. Introduction to White Balance – one of the most common problems that I see in beginner photographer images are shots with incorrect color. We’ve all seen them – portraits where your subjects teeth and eyeballs (and everything else) has a yellowish tinge. Learn what causes this and how to combat it with this tutorial on White Balance.

histogram.jpg4. Understanding Histograms – ‘histograms are scary’ – this is what one reader said to me recently when they discovered that they could view these little graphs or charts on their camera. While they might seem a little technical it is amazing how simple a histogram is to interpret. Know what you’re looking for and with just a glance you’ll know if your image is under or over exposed. It’s a useful tool to master.

5. Automatic Exposure Bracketing (AEB) – this feature is another of those often unexplored settings that many cameras have built into them that will allow you to get well exposed shots in even the trickiest of lighting situations.

Other Basic Camera Techniques

How to Hold a Camera

6. How to Hold a Digital Camera – this beginner tutorial covers a topic that most camera owners skip over without realizing that it is a foundational lesson in photography. Get this wrong and it can impact the quality of your shots.

7. Shutter Release Technique – another ‘basic’ or ‘beginner’ type tip that many do intuitively – but which can drastically improve your photography if you don’t do it.

8. How to Use Focal Lock – yet another beginner technique that many of us take for granted yet which is at the core of how all digital cameras focus automatically. Get this wrong and you’ll take a lot of shots of out of focus subjects and in focus backgrounds!

9. How to Take Sharp Digital Images – ‘my shots are fuzzy’ – it’s a common problem that we’re asked about at DPS so we wrote this tutorial to refer people to to help them get the sharpest images that their camera can take.

10. Shooting with an In Camera Flash – flash photography with an in built flash can lead to some terribly blown out images – here are a few tips on how to avoid them. On a similar topic – here’s 7 Strategies for Avoiding Flash Blow Out.

11. How to Get Shallow Depth of Field in Your Digital Photos – a great technique to learn if you’re into many types of photography (portraits, macro etc) is how to control the depth of field in your shots and make your main subject ‘pop’ out by making your background nicely blurred – this tutorial talks you through how to do it.

12. Understanding Exposure – this post talks new camera owners through the three main elements of Exposure. Once you’ve read it also check out our introductions to ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed.

Camera Care and Maintenance

camera care

13. How to Avoid a Dirty DSLR Sensor – one of the fastest ways to ruin every single shot you take with your new DSLR is to end up with a dirty image sensor. This tutorial gives some basic tips on how to ensure it stays as clean as possible.

14. How to Clean a DSLR Lens – as much as you try to protect them – lenses tend to get a little grimy over time. This tutorial shares some basic tips on how to clean them up so that your shots will be as clear as possible.

15. 7 Digital Camera Predators and How to Keep them at Bay – this tutorial talks you through 7 of the most common ways that digital cameras get damaged – what to look out for and what preventative action to take to avoid them.

Composition Tips

rule of thirds

16. The Rule of Thirds – whether you know it to follow it or break it – it’s something you should at least know about.

17. Points of Interest – an image without some visual point of interest in it is unlikely to hold the eye of anyone viewing it.

18. Getting Horizons Horizontal – the perfect way to ruin that lovely sunset or landscape shot is to make it lean to one side. Get your Horizon Horizontal!

19. Fill Your Frame – this is not applicable to every shot you take but many photographers could drastically improve their photography by getting in close to their subject and filling their frame.

20. Getting Backgrounds Right – the background of your shot can make or break your image. This tutorial talks you through a number of things to look out for and techniques to use to get them just right.

21. Adding Randomness to Your Photos – learn how to set your images apart from everyone else’s by injecting creativity, variety and a little randomness into your shots.

Of course the above 21 Settings, Techniques and Rules for beginner camera owners just scratch the surface of all there is to learn about the art of photography. Subscribe to our blog here (via email or RSS) to get more free daily tips to help you keep improving and learning.

Our Guide to Getting Creative Control Of Your Camera

If you’re looking for a complete guide to getting control of your camera then you might like to check out our course – Photo Nuts and Bolts which walks you through everything you need to know to start taking beautiful photos. Here’s the intro.

Join this great new dPS course here.

60 Amazing Photo Tips

Following on from our popular 77 photography techniques, tips and tricks for taking pictures of anything post, we’re bringing you this list of 60 incredibly useful bits of photography advice.

Better photo tips: 60 of the most amazing, surprising, incredible bits of photography advice you’ll ever read

If you’re new to photography, this resource of surprising camera tips and time savers provides an invaluable shortcut to better photos and a smarter workflow. If you’re a more experienced photographer, there’s still plenty of technical and technique refreshers here.

We’ve separated the advice into three key sections, covering camera settings, composition and exposure, and general photography tips. If you find the advice useful or you want to share your own little-known photography trick, please leave a comment below…

Camera set-up advice and tips for essential settings

Better photo tips: 60 amazing, suprising, incredible bits of photography advice - zoom before focus

Tip 01: Zoom first, focus last
Zoom lenses typically exhibit focus shift when they’re zoomed. This means the classic technique of zooming in to lock the focus on an important detail, then zooming out to recompose doesn’t always work – that detail may now not be razor-sharp. Our tip? Set the zoom first, then focus – then use Live View’s magnification feature to check the important details are sharp.

SEE MORE: 44 essential digital camera tips and tricks

Tip 02: Set the Neutral Picture Style for RAW
A camera’s histogram is generated from the JPEG version of an image – a RAW file holds more picture information. This means that a histogram that shows clipped highlights or shadows may in fact not be clipped for the RAW file. To get a closer approximation of the RAW file’s ‘true’ histogram, set your camera’s Picture Style/Picture Control to Neutral.

SEE MORE: Shooting raw format photos: 8 questions every beginner wants answered

Better photo tips: 60 amazing, suprising, incredible bits of photography advice - RGB histogram

Tip 03: Switch to the RGB histogram
The brightness histogram is an great guide to the exposure of a picture, but it doesn’t tell you anything about the colour of the image. Switch to the RGB – red, green and blue – histogram and you’ll be able to see if any of the colour channels are oversaturated.

You’ll also see that the brightness histogram closely resembles the shape and position of the green histogram, so it’s important to check the RGB histogram when red and blue colours are more important to the success of the image.

SEE MORE: Histogram: photography cheat sheets for achieving perfect exposure

Tip 04: It’s the shutter speed that you need to get right first
If the shutter speed is too slow, key parts of the picture will be blurred, either because the camera moved or the subject did while the photo was being exposed. Of course, intentionally blurred photos can be effective, but even then it’s the shutter speed that you’ll need to get right first…

SEE MORE: Camera Shake: the ultimate cheat sheet for tripods, monopods and shooting handheld

Tip 05: Watch your viewfinder display
When you use Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority mode, make sure that the camera is able to set a suitable shutter speed or aperture. If the display is flashing or showing Hi/Lo, you will need to change your settings.

Better photo tips: 60 amazing, suprising, incredible bits of photography advice - ETTR technique
Tip 06: Expose to the Right (ETTR) technique works
To get the best-quality results with the least noise, shoot in RAW and use an exposure that gives a histogram which just reaches the right-hand edge of the graph. But make sure that you don’t go too far: you don’t want to overexpose the highlights.

If the subject should be dark in tone, then reduce the exposure setting when you process the image in RAW conversion software such as Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw.

SEE MORE: Expose to the right: the camera technique every landscape photographer must know

Tip 07: How to choose the right colour space
If you’re shooting JPEGs, you will achieve considerably better results if you set the colour space to sRGB for photos that are going to be viewed on-screen or on the web. Adobe RGB is the better option for prints and image manipulation.

Tip 08: You can pretty much do it all in Aperture Priority
Aperture Priority is one of the most useful exposure modes: it enables you to control the depth of field in your images, as well as the exposure.

Try setting a wide aperture such as f/4 to blur the background and foreground of your shots, or using a small aperture such as f/16 to keep more of the subject sharp from front to back. Avoid the smallest apertures though, as this can lead to details appear soft because of an optical effect known as diffraction.

If you need a faster or shutter speed, then you don’t really need to switch to Shutter Priority mode: simply open and close the aperture accordingly. If you do require a specific shutter speed, then you will need to use Shutter Priority or Manual.

SEE MORE: How to use a camera: exposure modes made simple

Better photo tips: 60 amazing, suprising, incredible bits of photography advice - manual mode action
Tip 09: Use Manual exposure for movement
If you have the time to set the shutter speed and aperture, use the Manual exposure mode. Most cameras have a display to help you set the exposure, but it’s best to check it by taking a test shot.

If the light on the subject is constant, but the background changes, using Manual mode will give much more consistent results than an automatic exposure mode. Simply set the exposure so that the main subject is correctly exposed.

SEE MORE: Shooting in Manual mode: when (and how) to take control of your camera

Tip 10: Don’t ignore your camera’s Program mode
It’s very easy to dismiss Program mode as a point-and-shoot option, but if you don’t need a specific shutter speed or aperture, it can free you up and enable you to concentrate on aspects such as composition and timing.

When you’re in Program mode, you can use the input dial to shift the combination of aperture and shutter speed. Doing this will give you basic creative control over the depth of field and motion blur, without having to change exposure modes.

SEE MORE: Program Mode Explained: how to creatively shift aperture and shutter speed

Practise this so that you know which direction produces a smaller aperture/slower shutter speed combo and which direction gives you a larger aperture/faster shutter speed. This will enable you to react quickly when the situation demands it.

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