I’ve been reading a really awesome book by Brene Brown, which you may already know, called Daring Greatly. In it, she talks about the power of vulnerability and the nightmare that is shame. If you think I’ve gone hugely off topic, stay with me……
I’ve realised with all my recent blogging posts, I’ve constantly qualified the things I’m trying to teach with “I’m no expert” and “these people know far more than me” and while yes, that is true, it doesn’t make my knowledge any less valuable. I’m basically just scared of putting myself out there, because someone might say – “you’re talking crap, look at your writing/blog/photography….it’s crap.”
But in the spirit of embracing vulnerability, and daring greatly: sod it. Here are a few things I’ve learned about photography.
The post was SO big I’ve decided to split it into two parts, so here I’ll run through the pillars of photography with a few example shots so you can see how they work together. Mastering aperture, ISO and shutter speed will totally transform your photography so start with this.
Then in part two I’ll talk about composition, a few nifty tricks and post production editing too.
When I first started taking pictures, I was convinced I needed the best DSLR I could buy. Luckily I didn’t do that though, because it would have been such a waste of money. The best camera for you is the one you have. That’s a well known mantra and one you should remind yourself of when you see the glossy pics of bloggers and their Olympus Pens taking dreamy flatlays.
The best camera for you is the one you have. End of.
That being said, there are times when you can’t simply use what you’ve got. If you have a really old iPhone 3GS then perhaps consider an upgrade. And if you are still rocking a Nokia 3310 then…..well, you don’t need me to tell you that you are AWESOME and my hero, but dude – get a smartphone. Or a point and shoot or something.
I personally use a Canon DSLR alongside my Huawei P9 smartphone. The vast majority of my Instagram shots are from my phone, but almost all of my travel pictures are from my DSLR. I’m in need of an Camera upgrade now and I’m in the dilemma of new Canon or……switch to a mirrorless jobby. If all of this is mumbo jumbo, see the lingo buster below!
A digital single-lens reflex camera with a digital imaging sensor, as opposed to photographic film.
Photographers often choose to learn how to shoot on film, especially those who started more than a few years ago. The results can be really different & that beautiful grainy effect you sometimes see is a film effect (you can artificially reproduce it in post-production but it’s gross!)
A mirrorless interchangeable lens camera is a digital camera with an interchangeable lens.
Essentially, as above but without the inner mirror a DSLR has. This makes it super light and portable, and eye-wateringly expensive.
Point & Shoot
A compact digital camera.
These are so good nowadays, and great if you just want something simple. Oli had an awesome point & shoot with some fab settings to control various things but ultimately you’ll find it’s better for basic photography, and get frustrated with it as soon as you learn more than the basics.
So here you go, the basic triad of my photography knowledge. Honestly, if you can master these three things and how each one affects the other to create different pictures you’ll see a HUGE difference in your photography.
I’m not gonna get really technical here because, well, dull. So I’d encourage you to read a little further if you want to know more about the inner workings of your camera.
Understanding how the three pillars work on their own is key, but realistically you have to understand how they all work together. If you shoot in auto, the work is done for you but you can’t manipulate anything for interesting effects. If you shoot in Aperture or Shutter priority mode (on a Canon this is AV or TV mode) you can manipulate one but typically the other two will remain on auto. Which is a great way to learn, but again — doesn’t give you much wiggle room.
So try shooting in manual, and see how the three work together. Practice is totally key to getting the hang of things, and I’m positive most photographers started out with over or underexposed blurry shots.
And, because I love you I’ve created a nifty little cut out and keep reference guide to these settings so you can stick it to your wall or pop it in your bag until you learn them by heart. Just follow THIS link >> free photography reference guide
Aka depth of field.
When you see those gorgeous shots where something is super sharp in the foreground and everything behind it is blurry — that’s created manipulating the camera’s aperture.
Your lens dictates how small or large you can go but a standard DSLR kit lens will often start from 3.5 and go up to 22 ish. I have a 50mm prime (fixed) lens which is amazing for DOF and has a small aperture of 1.4.
What you need to know is that a small number = a small depth of field and vice versa. Which is to say, that having a sharp focus on a small subject requires a small number.
Increasing the number will increase the depth of field resulting in less blur, more subject matter in sharp focus.
Shutter Speed: 1/80
Aperture: 3.5 (to keep the toy in focus)
Shutter Speed: 1/320 (the picture was too light using the previous setting of 1/80)
This, is literally how fast your shutter shuts and, therefore, how long the lens is open for. I know, technical stuff right? So when you see that bird flying fast in the sky captured as a moment frozen in time, or a runner blurry in motion — that effect is down to using varying shutter speeds.
With this, you need to really commit the numbers to memory because it is pretty complex (I’m not great at it!). In nice light conditions shooting something stationery you’ll be using something between 1/60 through to 1/250.
To freeze motion, you’ll need your shutter speed to be crazy fast: 1/2000 (of a second) for example. And coversely, to attain some motion blue – you will be looking to slow your shutter speed down to 1/2 a second perhaps.
What you need to be aware of is your own hand shake limits. Because the longer the shutter is open for (e.g. below 1/60) the more likely it is you’ll need a tripod to maintain a steady camera. I can shoot without a tripod at 1just about
Play around with it. It’s particularly fun to use a super slow shutter speed as someone draws something with a torch in the dark….see below 😉
Shutter Speed: 1/1600 (fast, to freeze the motion when the balloon popped)
Shutter Speed: 5 (so slow!)
ISO: 3200 (see how noisy and grainy the shot is?)
This is the concept hardest for me to explain because honestly, it’s so techy and dull I don’t care. BUT it’s as important a piece of the perfect triad so here goes.
ISO refers to sensitivity to the light. So, the lower ISO numbers = less ‘noise’ by which I mean less graininess. You know earlier I mentioned that traditional film photography uses the art of graininess in a really cool way? On digital photography, or adding grain in post-production it’s pretty gross. See below for an example of what I mean…..
How They all Work Together
Okay, this is where it gets interesting. And by interesting I mean throw your camera on the floor because WHY ISN’T IT MAKING NICE PICTURES.
So you’ve mastered the art of making your lipstick look sharp giving a gorgeous blurry glow behind, but every time you switch to manual it looks s@@t. Well, that’s likely down to not working with light properly.
One of the most important things you can do to marry your settings is to watch your light meter. You’ll see that when you tweak one setting the light meter changes, going either up or down (basically, this will leave your photo under/over exposed)
An example of how your settings look together could be:
Cloudy day, landscape picture
Working with Light
If you’re outside on a crazy sunny day (amazing, but yuk for photography) then you might find your pictures are over-exposed and far too light unless you account for it and make sure you tweak your settings accordingly.
Likewise, if you’re shooting in artificial light or at nighttime then you’ll really need to think about your settings. Because you’ll almost certainly have to compromise on quality to get a light enough shot, or risk it being under-exposed. This is when you’ll need a tripod, as you’ll have to have the shutter speed slow enough to allow in a huge amount of light, and most of us can’t keep our hands perfectly steady for seconds at a time!
You can do some awesome things with light and shadows. I’m not amazing at this, but check out the hashtag #mystoryoflight or #lookforthelight on Instagram and you’ll see some amazing examples.
This is obviously when you can use your flash. I only use flash with my DSLR though, not smartphone…..not sure why. It’s just not as good quality on a smartphone however many pixels or jazzy words it says it has on the packaging!
A note on flash: DON’T use flash on your phone to make up for artificial light. Just don’t take the shot, or find a window next to some lovely, natural light…..or wait until the morning! You’ll end up with gross, yellow tones and your picture won’t look as nice.
See below…..ps this makes me cringe. What the holy crap in hell was I thinking when I posted it TO INSTAGRAM. It’s boring, grainy as fook and it makes me feel physically sick.
I’m sharing it purely to ensure nobody else commits such a crime……flash, and terrible editing 🙁
So, there you have it. Go practice and enjoy your camera! And if you want a nifty little guide to cut out and keep, head on over here >> free photography reference guide.
Also published on Medium.