Monday, July 11, 2011

Photography Lesson I: How Do I Work This Thing?

So as I mentioned in this post I have a new toy, a Nikon D3100 to be exact!  And….I have no clue how to use it.  None, nada, zip, zilch.  BUT I am not discouraged because I happen to know a few fabulous people who do and with the help of the internet I am sure I will be just fine….really. 

I enticed my sister in law to come over to show me some of the basic functions of my camera and she agreed.  Photography has been her hobby, and occasionally a professional endeavor, for several years now and although she tells me she is “still learning” I feel she has this picture taking thing down pretty solid.

Firstly I asked her about faux pas when handling the camera.  She suggested that what you uncap last and cap first is the camera body so you can get the least amount of dust in the camera body as possible.  Also, when the camera body is uncapped, hold the opening towards the ground because that also prevents dust from entering the camera body.  On a recent hike I took with my sister-in-law, hubby, and brother I was "that girl" who got dust in my camera body.  It showed up as a little speck on my viewfinder screen.  I wanted to freak out, but I stayed calm because my sister-in-law had a camera cleaning kit (which looked like little Q tips) that she used to get the dust out of the camera.  I was in good hands that day, but purchasing a lens cleaning kit might not be a bad idea.

My sister-in-law also suggested to disassemble the camera when I store it and not store it connected together.  Ohh…and always wear the camera strap around your neck because you never know when you could…you know…drop it.  Also, my sister-in-law always shoots by looking through the manual viewfinder (where you put your face up to the camera) rather than the viewfinder screen.  I also like to shoot this way because I feel like it gives me more stability and a better idea of what I am photographing.  Lastly, never use your flash…never.  It is fake light and we don’t like fake do we? No.  But then comes the question “so how do you take pictures when it’s dark”…well you alter your ISO, shutter speed, and aperture…read on for more about that….

So what does this ISO, aperture, and shutter speed business mean?  Here is a quick vocab lesson:

ISO:  The ISO has to do with how sensitive the image sensor is to the amount of light in your shooting environment.  My sister-in-law stated that the first thing you check is your ISO.   If you are in a bright environment (like outside in the sunshine) you would choose a smaller ISO (like 100 on mine) and if you are indoors or it starts to get dark outside you would choose a higher ISO.  Having the right ISO allows you to have a faster shutter speed in darker environments to ensure a sharper picture. 

Aperture - the circular opening in lens that affects the amount of light that enters the camera.  The aperture can be adjusted from wide open (to let a lot of light into the camera) to very narrow (to let less light into the camera).  The aperture affects the clarity of the shot or “depth of field” in photography language.  A higher (wider) aperture opening lets more light into the camera and allows one object to be in focus while the rest of the background is blurred (shallow depth of field).  A lower (smaller) aperture opening lets less light into the camera and allows everything in your photograph to be equally in focus (larger depth of field). In the camera the aperture is controlled by the F setting.  When I found this out I got a bit pissy and wondered why the aperture wouldn’t be controlled by the A setting and what the eff F had to do with aperture, but then I pulled it together enough to go on with the photography adventure.  A lower F setting (which is actually a higher aperture or bigger opening in the lens which lets more light in) allows one object to be in focus and the rest of the background to be blurred (shallow depth of filed).  A higher F setting (which is actually a lower aperture or smaller opening in the lens which lets less light in) puts everything in the photo equally into focus.  Why the lower F number is a high aperture and vice versa I don't know, it was another what the eff moment.

Shutter Speed: The shutter speed is the amount if time it takes your camera shutter to open and close.  Shutter speed determines what your picture will look like if you or the subject is moving.  A fast shutter speed (1/800 – or one eight-hundredth of a second for the shutter to open and close) lets in less light, but you get sharper and clearer pictures when there is movement.  A slow shutter speed (1 – or one second for the shutter to open and close) lets in more light, but you run the risk of getting blurry pictures if your hands tend to wobble like mine do or your subject is not sitting still. 

How ISO, shutter speed, and aperture work together: Finding the right balance of exposure, or the amount of light to let into your camera through the ISO, aperture, and shutter speed, is crucial to get a photograph that is not too washed out (overexposed) or too dark (underexposed).  Having the right ISO allows you to have a faster shutter speed in darker environments to ensure a sharper picture.  If you have a low ISO in a dark environment then your shutter speed will have to be very slow to let more light into the camera.  With a slow shutter speed your photographs are more prone to be blurry because you have to hold your camera still for longer while your shutter opens and closes and you are more likely to move during that time, which makes the picture unclear. Whatever setting you are in, the lower the F number like 3.5 (which equals a bigger aperture opening which lets in more light) needs a faster shutter speed (which lets in less light) to make a well balanced picture that is not too light or dark.  A higher F number like 22 (which equals a smaller aperture opening which lets in less light) will need a slower shutter speed (which lets in more light) to get a perfectly exposed photo.

Now that you know what aperture, shutter speed, and ISO do and how they work together, and once you have selected the correct ISO, you can then determine the appropriate setting to shoot your pictures in: Aperture Priority (A), Shutter Priority (S) or Manual (M) (which are the three I have been using).

I first ventured out into shooting in Aperture Priority (A), which felt very safe. In this setting you just worry about adjusting the aperture and the camera takes care of the shutter speed.  This is great because you only need to play around with one setting and you still get great pictures. Shooting in (A) mode is great for taking still life pictures, portraits, and anything that is not moving. 

Shooting in (S) is pretty much the same as shooting in (A), but really different.  In the (S) mode you control the shutter speed.  A fast shutter speed lets in less light, but you get sharper and clearer pictures.  A slow shutter speed lets in more light, but you run the risk of getting blurry pictures.  So to compensate for less light coming into the camera with a fast shutter speed you need a lower F number. When you are in (S) mode (like in (A) mode) you just adjust the shutter speed and the camera determines the right amount of aperture or F number.  The (S) mode is great for taking action shots.  Maybe you like to run, jump, hop, and skip?  Then (S) is the right setting for you.  You can make sure your subjects and background are crisp and clear when your subject is frolicking about in your pictures. 

I then started to play around with shooting in manual (M).  This is scary because you can adjust BOTH the shutter speed and aperture and YOU have to make the call of what the right shutter speed and aperture combination is.  Because I haven’t read my manual yet (yes I know that is very naughty – shame on me) I don’t know how to adjust my aperture when I am in (M), however if I click over to the (A) setting I can manually adjust the aperture and the F number stays the same when I click back over to (M).  Probably not the easiest way but it works for now.  Then you choose the correct shutter speed based on your F number.  I had a great time shooting in manual when we went to a St. Paul Saints game and it was just turning dusk and when shooting in (A) my pictures seemed to dark.  I adjusted the (A) setting I wanted (high so the whole field would be equally in focus) and then I clicked back over to (M) and could adjust the shutter speed to make my pictures have just the right exposure.  So, I personally have been using (M) when the pictures I am shooting in (A) or (S) don’t have the right amount of light. 

Wheww…that was a lot to take in during the adventure but I feel like I am starting to get the hang of it.  I definitely still have a limited knowledge of what goes into making great pictures, and this tutorial is completely from an amateur's perspective, but I am surely better off than when I started. AND I am getting the hang of when to use (A), (S), and (M) AND how ISO, aperture, and shutter speed affect my pictures. 

Now for the pictures of our adventure.  We took pictures around the yard and house, and also snuck into a military supply warehouse yard and took pictures of the many army jeeps, tanks, and military wonders they had out on display.  Here is what I came up with: 

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