The last day my brother was in town, we ran around for a day of exploring and photography. I got the chance to practice shooting in a variety of settings with a variety of lighting. My biggest question for him was when you take that first picture in manual mode, how do you know where to go from there to adjust your settings for an ideal shot?
I am currently shooting with a Nikon D3000 with the kit lens (18-55 mm) and he is shooting with a fancy pants Canon with too many lens’ to count. I am by no means an expert. Just learning over here and lucky enough to have a brother to help out. I figured after some requests that I’d shared what I’ve learned so far. It’s pretty basic stuff but has made me so much more comfortable with my camera.
When Geoff and I got settled in at the fly with a few beers and a great view, we pulled out our cameras and he re-familiarized me with the main players – ISO, shutter speed and f-stop. I have played around with all these settings before but it’s felt like trial and (way too much) error.
Since we were outside we pulled the ISO down. ISO refers to the sensitivity of the image sensor (yeah, whatever that is). To me it means that in brighter light I can turn it down (ISO 100) and in darker settings I can turn it up (up to ISO 800). My ISO doesn’t go nearly as high as the ISO settings on my brother’s camera, but to me that’s okay. Because you must be careful.. if you set the ISO too high the image gets grainy. To adjust the ISO on a Nikon, just click the menu button (on the left side of the display screen) and scroll down until you see ISO settings. Click OK and this will allow you to select the ISO settings you want.
After I’m in manual mode I just roll this dial to adjust. The number represents seconds so 30″ refers to a shutter speed of 30 seconds (that’s a really long time) and 1/40″ refers to one-fortieth of a second. The smaller the number, the faster the shutter speed and the less light that gets in. If you leave your shutter open for longer, more light will get in and your resulting image should be brighter. I noticed that outdoors, especially in direct sunlight I was making my shutter speed faster. There’s so much light you don’t need to leave the shutter open for long.
F-stop was the last setting I played with. It adjusts the aperature, or how big or small the focal point is. If you increase the f-stop your camera will have a smaller light gathering area. This one is kind of tricky for me to understand or explain, but I know that as I increase the f-stop, my resulting image darkens.
F-stop can also be used to make an object the focus of your image so that the background blurs, but I’ll talk about this more later. To adjust my f-stop I have to hold down the +/- button near my shutter button as I roll the same dial used to adjust shutter speed.
After a bit, we ran out of interesting subjects and the breeze was picking up so we packed up and headed to the Quarter. I left my ISO at 100 but increased my f-stop to 9.0 and shutter speed to 1/160″. Increasing the shutter speed was necessary for the image above because of all the moving subjects in front of Jackson Square. When I used a slower shutter speed I ended up with blurred edges around the moving subjects.
Next we picked up a quick snack at Cafe du Monde (non-negotiable). Once we were behind the building (you’ve got to go behind so you can see the beignets being made) I had to adjust my camera for shadows. I pulled my f-stop down to 6.3 and shutter speed to 1/60″.
Your camera can only do so much though. I turned around and changed the angle of myself to my subject (thanks Geoff) a couple of times until I got a good shot that wasn’t too steeped in shadows or overexposed.
Beignets can only hold you over for so long, so after walking the market we headed to Charcoal for a real dinner. You can check out all of my delicious pictures here.
For indoor pictures of the food my settings were: ISO 800, shutter speed 1/40” and I ranged from an f-stop of 3.8 to 4.5. I increased the ISO because Charcoal has dim lighting. Lowering my f-stop reduced the aperature of my pictures and I switched to manual focus so I had more control over the focal point of my pictures (in this pictured I manually focused on Geoff).
These settings allowed me to focus on the burger (or chips if I wanted) and blur the kitchen behind. In my opinion this really improved the look of the image and literally made the delicious food the center of attention.
Rather than zoom, I kept my lens at 20mm and leaned in (zoomed with my feet so to speak) for most of the pictures. My brother showed me that when I zoomed, I could only reduce the f-stop to 4.5 but if I didn’t zoom I could reduce it all the way to 3.8 (which I preferred).
After dinner my brother decided we could wrap up the night with a little lesson on long exposures. He instructed me to set my ISO to 100, shutter speed to 30″ and f-stop to 22 (we ended up moving it down to 16 after some experimentation). We also turned on noise reduction (this setting is available in the menu). The shutter speed allowed a ton of light to make its way in and resulted in a bright image despite the darkness outside. If we didn’t have a tripod to steady the camera, this would have been a very blurred light show rather than this fairly crisp image of the restaurant.
When I traveled in Paris I liked to play with my point and shoot camera to try and get long exposures of the Eiffel Tower. Without a tripod, I would simply find a ledge to rest the camera on (Place du Trocadero offered a great view and ledges).
With photography practice is key, but I honestly feel like learning to make these three adjustments has made a world of difference for me… Now when I practice I understand what I’m doing! In the future, I am interested in getting to grips with more technical camera equipment. A friend has recently introduced me to their uv camera; very interesting stuff.
Update: I found this quick and simple explanation of the more technical side of these three adjustments also known as (not to me) the exposure triangle. You can read about it here.
Let me know if you have any other questions or advice! I’m already planning a few photo play dates and can’t wait to improve even more.