A Beginner Photography Lesson…
Welcome to our blog! There really is no better way to start than a beginner lesson in photography, so here we go. I jumped into photography like most of you; buying a decent camera, falling in love with taking photos, and then realizing that what I saw in my mind’s eye wasn’t showing up in final print. It’s humbling, but often necessary, to ‘start over,’ like going back to school. For me, it was also a great motivation! Once I figured out what makes a photo and how to consistently capture the images I wanted, I loved photography all the more! My hope is that this lesson, and eventually this blog, will work the same way for you; motivating and inspiring you to learn the art and skill of capturing light to make a photograph. That’s what photography is, Light. To understand how to take good photos, you have to understand how to control the light you want to capture. That is my goal, to start you off on the road to capturing light for beautiful images!
In today’s world cameras are everywhere, we can’t get away from them! On top of that, we are inundated with photos and graphics; using images to convey our beliefs, moods, passions, and expressing our unique personalities. But, there is a difference between a photograph and the happy snaps/selfies littering the walls of social media. If you’re like me, you actually desire to capture a photograph, portrait, landscape, or a scene in a particular fashion, and there is a difference. I believe a photograph is purposeful both in creation and presentation. A photographer gives thought to the light quality, exposure, and how it interacts with the subject, or scene so they can tell a story. Ok I’ll just say it, a selfie is not a portrait and a person with a DSLR camera is not necessarily a photographer – but they could be… If the person behind the lens understands, and applies, the basics of capturing light for photographs (we’ll talk about composition later). So that is why I created this beginner photography lesson, to help build the foundations of photography and inspire you to learn the art, and craft, of capturing light.
What happened in these photos?
What would you do to fix them?
Before we begin we need to be speaking the same language.
- Exposure: Determines how light or dark the image will be over all
- ISO: How sensitive to light is the camera sensor
- Aperture: The opening that controls how much light reaches the sensor
- Shutter Speed: How long is the light exposed to the sensor
- Depth of Field: The distance between the nearest and farthest point in focus
- Bokeh: The out of focus area of the photograph (when you do it on purpose)
- Grain/Noise: Texture of the film due to silver particles – or noise due to sensor light sensitivity
- f-stop: the ratio between the diameter of the lens and the diameter of the opening allowing light
ISO = HOW SENSITIVE IS YOUR CAMERA TO LIGHT?
Lower ISO is LESS sensitive and higher ISO is MORE sensitive. That means if you are in a dark room, shade, or low light then increasing ISO will make the subject brighter. BUT there is a trade off! Higher ISO introduces “noise” which can lower the image clarity and quality. The photos to the right were taken in the same light with the same settings – only the ISO changed.
APERTURE – HOW MUCH LIGHT HITS THE SENSOR?
Aperture and “F-stop” can be used interchangeably. The aperture controls the amount of light that hits the camera sensor. Think of it like squinting your eyes. When its dark, you open your eyes wide to let in as much light as possible, when it is bright you narrow your eyes to block some out. So a low F-stop like 2.8 is a WIDE aperture and a large F-stop like 22 is NARROW aperture.
Aperture also controls the “Depth of Field.” of a photograph. In the images above, notice when the aperture is wide (f2.8) the DOF is shallow – meaning the guitar is focused but the back ground is out of focus – thats blurry area is called Bokeh. As the aperture gets smaller, the f-number larger, more of the background comes into focus, its a broader DOF. This is where you can get really creative and I will talk more about it in another post.
SHUTTER SPEED = HOW LONG IS THE SENSOR EXPOSED TO LIGHT?
This one is a little easier to understand, the longer the shutter is open the longer the sensor is exposed to light. So slower shutter speed is brighter/more exposure, and faster shutter speed is darker/less exposure. The images to the left were taken with same ISO, and Aperture in a dark room (low light) I slowed the shutter speed down to 30 seconds before the exposure was correct – of course use a tripod!
The other effect of shutter speed is motion. If your shutter speed is slow (1/60th second), a moving object will be blurred. If you want to stop motion, like a two year old playing, you have to have a fast shutter speed (1/1000th second). The images to the rightare all the same exposure/light level but I slowed the shutter speed down to capture the motion of my hand strumming the guitar.
Since this is just a foundational overview of the mechanical elements of capturing light to make an image, we need to look at this from the point of view of what you are trying to photograph. That will determine how you apply and adjust each of these elements to get the shot you want. So here are some situational examples to demonstrate the Exposure Triangle above.
Low Light – Night
In this image, it was night and dark and I didn’t have a flash so I had to gather a lot of light… Wide Aperture: f2.8 – I needed as much light as possible so I opened up the Aperture which also softened the background, so i had to be careful with the focus and keep bride’s eyes in focus and let the Christmas lights blur away. Slow Shutter: 1/60th sec: It was still too dark to shoot a fast shutter speed so I slowed it down just enough to freeze the bride and groom. This is about the slowest I can hand hold a shot with the couple standing very still. High ISO: 6400 – To make up for the lack of light outside, I had to make the camera more sensitive to light, and gather as much ambient light as possible without introducing too much noise.
Indoor – Low Light
In sports I like to freeze the action, capture the moment, and Jujitsu has some great moments. Narrow Aperture – f8: I needed a broad depth of field so both of the subjects would be in focus – so i closed the aperture, darkening the photo. Stop Motion 1/500th sec: I wanted to make sure a captured the throw and froze the motion in air, so the shutter speed had to be fast – but this reduced the light. High ISO 3200: To make up for the loss of light with a high f-stop and fast shutter speed, i compensated with ISO. Doing this I run the risk of adding noise, but I was more interested in the action of the shot. Depending on the camera, noise shows up around ISO 800.
Outdoor – Daylight
Shooting in bright sunlight poses some unique challenges, now we need to limit the amount of light, but I still want to freeze the water. There are many ways to do this, but this is how I chose to do it. Low ISO 200: I usually start by setting the ISO first, and because it was bright I wanted to make the camera less sensitive right from the start. Small Aperture – f14: It was so bright out at this time of day that I had to restrict the light further by “stopping down” closing the aperture. This changed my depth of field, making the buildings in the background somewhat clear, but that was OK since my focus was on the fountain. Freezing Motion 1/400th sec: Because it was so bright, I could shoot with a very fast shutter speed to both limit the light reaching the sensor and freeze the fast moving water. You can see that there are many adjustments that could be made to keep the same exposure/brightness level – a higher ISO would allow me to use a faster shutter speed still. And a smaller aperture like f16 or f22 even would allow me to use a higher ISO.
FINDING A BALANCE
Correct exposure is finding a balance between the three mechanical elements of the camera you can control. I will say that even though a photo may technically be exposed correctly, that doesn’t mean that it is aesthetically or artistically a good photograph, it just means that the photographer has a grasp of the elements of light that make an image. From there, understanding how to control and capture the light on a subject, you the photographer can be as creative as you like! I’ve included a couple links below that I think you will find useful as you learn photography. Also, let me know what other classes or topics you would like to see covered. My passion is sharing art and photography with you. Please leave me some feedback and follow us on our social media!