Want to improve your photography? Then you're in the right place! This post will help you navigate your way around your camera and take better photos. It doesn’t matter if you have a compact point & shoot camera or a fancy DSLR – these basics work for everyone. You don’t need to go out and spend money on a big expensive camera to take great photos, you just need to know how to use it! However, as every camera is different, I suggest grabbing your camera manual in case you need help finding some of the setting that we are going to play with.
Exposure determines how light or dark your photo will be and is determined by three key elements on your camera:
1. Aperture - the amount of light you let in);
2. Shutter Speed - the length of time your shutter is open; and
3. ISO - the camera’s sensitivity to the light.
As the triangle shows, to gain correct / perfect exposure in an image, it’s important that these three elements balance. I've given you a brief breakdown of all three below.
Most cameras will have a dial on the top with plenty of options like the image below. This can seem very confusing if you're new to photography, so most people leave the setting on Auto. This is perfectly fine and will allow you to take quick and easy photos. However, the first thing I recommend newbies change on their camera is switching it from Auto (A+ in the green rectangle) and put it on “Av”.
This means Aperture Value (or Aperture Priority), which allows you to select the aperture for the type of image you want to take and the camera will automatically pick the relevant shutter speed for you. I personally keep my camera on the Av setting most of the time as I love to have beautiful blurred backgrounds, ensuring my subject is the key focus. If you also like taking portraits of people or dogs etc, then the number you put your aperture on should be quote low (around f/2.8-4.0). The lower you can get it, the more time will stand still (so if you have fast-moving babies, go low!). If you are taking photos of landscapes, then your aperture should be a larger number (say from f/7.1 and upwards), so that you get in as much detail of your scene as you can. If you find that your camera shakes from your hand movements or there isn't much light, then reduce the number down to f/6.3 or further until you can take a sharp photo.
You can choose to change your camera setting from Auto to “Tv” (Shutter Priority), which allows you to manually control the amount of motion in your shot. If you want to blur an image, use a slow shutter speed (the shutter is open for a long time); and if you want to freeze motion, use a fast shutter speed (only opening the shutter for a short amount of time). It’s a good idea to have a tripod handy for long exposures, as any shake form your hands will ruin the image. Otherwise, 1/40th of a second is usually safe to take free-hand. You can also use a longer shutter speed at night to ensure more light enters your camera to capture more details in the scene. Tip: if you are taking night photos, try bumping up your ISO (more on that next!).
ISO is the sensitivity of light hitting your sensor. The lower the number of ISO (i.e. 100), the less sensitive your camera is to the light. ISO numbers 1000 or less are great for daylight and well-lit areas. Higher numbers (i.e. 2000+) are used for darker rooms or for night photos, however may produce a more grainy image (a little pixelated). Tip: you can choose the Auto ISO mode on your camera initially as it usually is pretty good at selecting an appropriate level.
Time to play
As mentioned above, the first step I recommend when testing out your camera’s features is to change the mode to Av (Aperture Priority). The first thing you need to decide is what sort of photo do you want to take? An image with a blurred background and subject in focus, or an image showing movement? I love shallow depth of field, to blur the background I chose an aperture of around f2.8 (the type of lens you have will determine how low you can go). The image below demonstrates the aperture numbers available and how these relate to the type of photograph. For portraits of people/ animals, I suggest you change your aperture to 5.6 or lower.
So grab your camera, change the dial to Av; switch your number to the lowest possible setting and choose a subject you would like to photograph, like my flower here. I suggest getting close to a window so you have lots of beautiful light to work with.
Practice Makes Perfect
The only way to learn is practice! Don't be afraid to try lots of different aperture settings to see the difference. So how did you go? I'd love to see your shots! Please don’t hesitate to ask any questions or show me your work for assistance or advice - if you can't find a setting on yours or your pictures are looking strange, I'd be happy to help. Or if it was all just a little too technical and confusing, that's OK! Let's take it one step at a time - there's a lot to digest and tonnes more to learn, so I’ll provide more updates in a later blog. Good luck and enjoy learning - photography is so fun! :)