Getting started in the world of digital photography today can seem overwhelming. Digital SLRs have more buttons, dials, and menu options than any person can reasonably be expected to keep track of. Don’t be fooled. If we brush aside the terminology, photography today is just as simple as it was 50 years ago; maybe even simpler. There are really only three things that you need to learn to understand digital photography basics. These things are: Shutter Speed, Aperture, and ISO. Once you understand how these affect your images and how they relate to each other, everything else just falls into place.
Photography Lighting Basics
Aperture controls the amount of light entering the lens. The aperture is controlled by a diaphragm in the lens that adjusts its width based on the f-stop being used. The higher the f-number, the smaller the aperture opening, and the less light coming into the lens.
Shutter speed controls the duration of light that reaches the lens. It’s controlled by a curtain in front of the camera’s sensor. A fast shutter speed means that the curtain opens and closes quickly minimizing how long the sensor is exposed to light. ISO is responsible for the sensitivity of the camera’s sensor to light. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive the sensor becomes. Of course, these three settings aren’t that simple, nor do they operate in a vacuum. That is, each setting has other responsibilities and they all work together to help you get the proper exposure. In addition to their responsibilities regarding exposure, aperture, shutter speed, and ISO impact your photos in a creative manner as well.
Let’s start with aperture
The size of the aperture impacts the depth of field in the photos you take. The depth of field refers to the area of the image that’s in focus. If you want a shallow depth of field with a blurry background, you want to use a large aperture. Even though these are basic photography tips, the confusing part for many people is that a large aperture is indicated by a small f-number. So, f/2 is a very large aperture while f/16 is a very small aperture.
On to shutter speed
Another basic photography tip is about shutter speed. This controls how movement is captured in a photo. It’s measured in fractions of a second, like 1/30 seconds, 1/100 seconds, 1/500 seconds, and so on. The faster the shutter speed, the more likely you can freeze the movement of a moving target. If you slow the shutter down, you’ll begin to see motion blur appear in the photo.
The last element, ISO
ISO is the third digital photography basic. It controls how much digital noise is in the shot. Digital noise looks like film grain, and it can add a grittiness to your images. ISO is measured on a scale that extends from about 100-6400 on most entry-level cameras, like the new Nikon COOLPIX W150 available for pre-sale from Beachcamera.com. The higher the ISO, the more grain will be evident in the photos that you take.
Exposure: Working together
One of the most important basic photography tips you should know is that you don’t have to shoot in manual mode in order to take more control over your camera. In fact, a good way to transition from shooting in full auto to shooting in full manual is to utilize your camera’s semi-automatic modes: aperture priority, shutter priority, and program. As you might’ve guessed, aperture priority mode prioritizes aperture, giving you control over that setting. However, the camera controls shutter speed. When you make an adjustment to the aperture, the camera makes an adjustment to the shutter speed so that you get a good exposure. This is helpful when the depth of field is the most important thing, like in a portrait.
In shutter priority mode you control the shutter and ISO while your Panasonic camera from Beachcamera.com controls the aperture. Again, when you make a change to the shutter speed, the camera will automatically change the aperture to get a well-exposed image. This mode is ideal for controlling movement, like freezing the movement of your kids running around or blurring the motion of a waterfall.
Lastly, program mode gives you even more control over your camera settings. In this mode, the ISO is prioritized. So when you set the ISO, the camera will adjust the aperture and shutter speed accordingly. This is an ideal mode for low-light shooting when you need to be able to push the ISO, like when shooting at dusk. However, you can override the aperture and shutter speed selections that your camera makes, whereas you can’t do that in aperture priority or shutter priority. That makes program mode a step closer to manual mode without actually being in manual mode.
Having a better understanding of DSLR basics, an understanding of these three basic elements, and how they relate to each other, you’ll only be limited by your own creativity.