How to take full control?
For the next few blog posts I want to explain a bit about the different camera modes, and when to use them. Some people that own a camera have told me that they usually shoot on AUTO and they do not really know when to use which mode. Taking manual control allows you to get your desired result, instead of letting the camera “guess” what you want.
Before going into the camera modes, the concepts of Shutter Speed, Aperture, and ISO need to be explained. These are what the camera modes build upon. Each camera contains a sensor, and this sensor captures light which it translates into your picture’s exposure. Your camera uses the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO to influence the exposure. If you change one of the values of the exposure triangle, the others typically have to compensate to maintain a good exposure.
The aperture is the (often) circle or hexagon shaped opening of your lens, and this opening is always given a f-value. A lower f-value (e.g. f3.5) means that the aperture is wider open, meaning more light will get in. A higher f-value (e.g. F22) means that the aperture is more narrow, and this will let less light in. The highest and lowest possible f-values depends on your lens. Now you might think that a wide aperture is always better, since it will let in more light. However, a wider aperture is not always desired and there are tradeoffs to be made. One of them is the depth of field.
The depth of field is the distance between the nearest and farthest objects in a scene that appear acceptably sharp in an image. A lower f-value also means a shallower depth of field, leading to more blurry back- or foregrounds in pictures (“bokeh“) which is especially nice for portrait pictures. Pictures with a shallow depth of field can be less sharp as well.
A higher f-value means a less shallow depth of field, leading to objects far and nearby being more sharp. But remember, a narrower aperture means less light and higher need for the ISO or shutter speed to compensate.
2. Shutter Speed
When you press the shutter button of your camera, you tell the camera to record light for a certain amount of time. The shutter can be programmed at different speeds, from e.g. 1/500th of a second to 30 seconds or longer. A lot of cameras do not have a mechanical shutter anymore (like your phone), but bigger cameras often still have this and that is usually one of the sounds you hear when you take a picture.
The longer the shutter speed is, the longer light will hit the sensor resulting in a picture that is more bright. With moving objects, a longer shutter speed is not always desired because the picture could become blurry.
In other situations you might want a long shutter speed to capture more light. Remember to use a tripod, since for most people it is very difficult to hold the camera completely still for more than a second.
In some situations you want to have blur, in order to show motion. In the picture below you can see that the same moving object is shown differently because of the different shutter speeds used. I prefer the middle one!
As with the other settings, tradeoffs have to be made. If you choose a longer shutter speed, more light will hit the sensor. To compensate for that, you need to have a narrow opening of the aperture so the picture will not come out too bright. In the example below you can see the increase in f-values and the shutter speeds that become longer from left to right. Different settings, for different effects
The ISO setting of your camera decides the light sensitivity of the sensor. This is mainly a digital process and involved very little mechanics as the aperture and shutter do. The ISO basically tells the sensor to either be more sensitive to light, or vice versa.
The lowest ISO value is for most cameras 100, some cameras can go up to 256000 or more. A lower ISO value gives less image noise but less light, while higher ISO values give more image noise but also more light. Again, another tradeoff to be made. I typically try to take every picture with ISO 100 and I will try not to go above ISO 1600 unless I really need to. I use the ISO in situations where I have a narrow aperture (because I want the picture to be sharp), while at the same time I have a short shutter speed (because I do not want any motion blur).
When the picture becomes noisy depends on your camera and its sensor size. Since I now have a camera with a larger sensor, I notice I can go almost all the way up with my ISO without seeing a terrible amount of noise in my pictures. So go and find the sweet-spot for your camera!
Now use these “cheat sheets” to understand the settings of your camera. The best way to learn is to go and experiment! Set your camera to M (manual) and change the ISO, aperture (f), and shutter speed.
Here is another overview of the exposure triangle. Notice it has all the elements we discussed above with an indication of their effects. Each change in one element should typically be compensated by the other.
Knowing this will help you understand how to get the desired result and what settings to change to get there. I know this could be very complex, it took me a while to fully understand it. But if you need any help just let me know! My advice: start experimenting!
Next time I will go into the different camera modes, and when to use which mode. Was this useful to you or if something was unclear, please let me know!