— Bringing Photo Know-How to the Masses —

Lessons in Photography

Lesson Nine: Camera RAW vs JPG

Why Shoot RAW?

After a short shuffle across Canada from my new second home on the far Wast edge of Vancouver island, I’m back to Muskoka and awaiting a long photo-filled Spring and Summer ahead.  ~ Also excited to have finished a redesigned site (www.davidpaulcrombie.com) for my Photography.

This lesson will focus on the RAW image file format and why you should use it to your advantage.
If you’re still shooting JPG’s, you haven’t considered image quality and post control, it’s time to take a lesson in “RAW”.

Before I explain why you should “Never” shoot in JPG mode on your Digital-SLR, let’s look at why you “Should” shoot in JPG mode.
In a few rare cases and under careful control, some do shoot in JPG mode.

1: In publication situations where editing the image is not considered ethical, some newspaper photographers will shoot in JPG to get the final image right out of the camera and onto the “Wire”.

2: Maybe you aren’t computer savvy or don’t think you need the extra control over the image. Or you are too busy to have the time for post editing.

3: Maybe you don’t own a computer or the necessary software to edit RAW files, or are just looking to shoot for fun.

All of these are fine reasons for shooting JPG and if you are not concerned with having the control to shoot the very best possible photos you can, then plop you camera on JPG and fire away. But in my eyes, photography is about being the ultimate perfectionist. Because if your photo isn’t exposed right, it’s exposed wrong.

In truth, all camera’s shoot RAW: When an image is exposed onto a camera’s sensor, it is exposing the raw data.
If you shoot in RAW, that data is saved and you get to look at it all later and decide what to use to make the best photo.
If you shoot JPG, the camera looks at your RAW file and makes a JPG from the data it thinks it needs and throws away the RAW data. (forever!)

If I’m out shooting an event or wedding, with fluctuations in sunlight, always changing directions of shooting and dozens of different artistic possibilities to choose from; I am bound to make a mistake in getting exposure perfect every time. Raw control makes sure that human or camera error or miscalculation doesn’t ruin a crucial image. ~ It’s my professional responsibility to shoot RAW and to utilize post editing to assure the very best image for my clients, and for myself.  ~ Not to mention it’s super fun and very rewarding.
Let’s look at the significant differences in the formats.       JPG ~vs~ RAW

JPG ~ When you shoot in jpg, the image you take is :

• a widely used format readable by any photo program or OS.
• compressed and tonally balanced by a computer algorythm. (inside your camera)
• smaller in file size, significantly smaller than the same photo in RAW
• lower in dynamic range & higher in contrast.
• Automatically sharpened
• Suitable for printing directly out of the camera.

Sometimes these can be deciding factors to use JPG, although in my opinion they are the prime reasons to avoid it!

RAW ~ Let’s have a look at the RAW file format :

• not actually a viewable photo, it requires you have a program such as Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop or similar editing software.
• a huge uncompressed file ~  (a 12 megapixel camera produces a 12 MB Raw file).
• higher in dynamic range & lower in contrast
• not ready to printing directly from the camera without post processing.
• a protected “read only” file (changes are saved as XMP “sidecar files” meaning the negative remains original).

With a RAW file, you have much more control to make a perfect image, and it becomes an added part of the creative process.
For as long as photographers have been shooting with film, either original or digital, they have been using darkroom techniques to deliver perfected photographs. Even your own local photo lab may have had to adjust your film photos if you messed up an ISO setting or underexposed the whole roll. Techniques like “Dodging” and “Burning” and bumping exposure values in post go back hundreds of years. We are just changing the way in which we apply these changes.

Ok, finally lets have a look at the control of RAW processing and how it affects colours and tones.

Play with the setting of the Flash movie below and notice the subtle changes and the not so subtle changes that dragging the sliders has on the image. I am using the Adobe Lightroom interface to show you these changes, and I have allowed two and sometimes three different locations for the sliders. This shows a wide range of the changes made, but in reality the chages are way more subtle when dragging the sliders and the controls go much farther than I have illustrated here. This will give you an idea of the control if you don’t know RAW; and if you do know raw, you may learn something about how the sliders affect certain tones and hues. Have fun with the example and go shoot some RAW images!

Get Adobe Flash player


Lesson Eight: Using the flash

In this lesson we will look at the different levels of flash power and discuss why it’s important to know how to dial you flash power down or up depending on the needs of the photo.

I’ll also explain how the flash and the camera’s shutter work together to synchronize the firing of the flash with the opening of the shutter.

Called the “Sync”

Let’s begin with Camera Sync:
The Sync is the action of the flash firing at the exact time that the camera’s shutter is fully open. this happens at a fraction of a second and is key to making sure the flash illuminates the subject at the moment it should..

When using wireless technology to fire flashes, you are limited to a certain speed in the high range; usually 250th second.

The delay as the data is transferred via wireless, is the inherent con of using a wireless off camera flash. Although 250th of a second is usually fine for most photo applications;  by using a Sync cord, which links the flash to the camera, Sync speeds can be avoided and the flash can fire at any speed that falls in both the camera’s and the flash’s capability.

Have a look at the image below, it shows a range of pictures taken at different Sync speeds, while using an off-camera flash setup.

The first frame is taken from the cameras fastest working Sync speed (250th sec)
At this speed the cameras shutter is told to stay open long enough for the transmitter to tell the flash that it’s time to fire.
As the Shutter timing is increased in speed, you can see how the Syncing of the two falls out of line, and the light from the flash becomes unable to affect the photo and thus useless. As the speed increases the camera eventually fires the shutter too fast for the wireless technology to keep up.

Most photographers will dial their camera to their fastest sync speed right away to see how much of the ambient they can “Kill”.

This means to bring the exposure of the scene way down so that ambient light has little or no affect on the photo.  Because ambient light is rarely constant, it is not reliable for photography where consistent light is required from the beginning to the end of a shoot.  Most professional shoots these days utilize made light, to ensure attention to detail and the ability to recreate exact conditions, time after time.

Let’s play around with flash power:  In the movie below, you can adjust the power on the Nikon SB-800 flash by clicking the + & – buttons.
The best exposure would be 1/16th power. Have a look at how much control is available in the varying power settings.

Most pro flashes will allow you to adjust the flash in increments ranging from 1/128th to 1/1. (full power)
Basic  on camera (built in) flashes will usually use a rating above or below zero. (-1.0,  -0.7, -0.5, -0.3, 0, +0.3, +0.5, +0.7, +1.0)

As you power up to 1/1 you can see how all of the detail in the center of the photo is lost.
As you power down you can see how dim light can create a mood and become next to unnoticeable.
Two or three flashes used together can create dynamic light that can help highlight the best aspects of your scene or subject.

Sometimes just a little extra light is needed to help freeze motion in a scene or to brighten your subjects faces.
Have a look on your camera for a button that has a tiny lightning icon.
Use this to enable your flash and sometimes to dial your flash power up and down.

On other cameras you may need to go into a menu to change the flash intensity.  It’s a good idea when shooting indoors to keep your flash set a couple stops down from 0,  keep it at -0.5 or -0.7 because rarely is a full flash needed indoors where light bounces off walls and ceilings.

When going outdoors and shooting at a distance, you can power up the flash a bit to throw light out to your subjects. Play around with the settings in between the action or at your leisure. Keep it fun, but don’t be surprised when tweaking little things here and there become half the fun of a great picture.

Please feel free to request topics for your photo learning needs.
I’ll be covering Lightpainting and astro-photography in the next lessons, as well as HDR (high dynamic range) photography.


Lesson Seven: Working in Low Ambient Light situations.

After a short pause for life and a trip south to Las Vegas for CES ’11, I am back to the blog and ready
to talk about low ambient light photography. Conditions with next to no ambient or without consistent light such
as highway scenes at night, fireworks or people dancing in clubs or at weddings, for the average photographer can
prove an almost impossible task.

How do I make the camera show what I see in the dark?

An easy way to understand photography is to compare it to the human eye; as the operation is very similar.

Our eyes use the iris muscles to open the pupil and allow us to see things in very low light, in our cameras
the aperture is the pupil, the mechanics that open and close the aperture are the iris muscles.
To allow more light into the eye, we simply leave our eyes open.
To allow more light into the camera, we have to leave the camera open via the shutter speed.

Human Eye == Camera
Pupils == Aperture
Eyelids == Shutter Speed
Sensitivity == ISO

A longer shutter speed and a wide open aperture are the starting points to getting a good low light photo.
Using high ISO values,we can squeeze the most out of the available ambient light.

Low light conditions are more sensitive to ISO noise, so if you know you can get a good image in great light
at iso 2000, make sure it looks as good when using long shutters and dark black tones that are inherent to
low light conditions. You make need to drop to iso 1600

In low light settings you can’t rely on your AUTO setting to get the exposure correct.

Lets look at the AUTO approach to low light party photography: You put your camera on auto and fire
it into the dancing crowd of your friends, the strobe lights look awesome, people are all having a great time,
but your camera will look at this chaos of light and darkness and choose to make one of four different exposures.

1). In one exposure all you see are a few dim lights but complete darkness where the people are; you can’t really
make out anything. Chances are you had a strobe light shining right into your camera as you took the photo
and the camera made a very short exposure due to the intense light at the time of the photo.
This is the least likely exposure to happen. But it will in strobe lit situations.
Consider it a dumb luck misfire.

2). The second exposure that might happen is the camera will see a very low amount of light and it will pop a flash
in order to make up for the lack of sufficient lighting. Filling the room with light by bouncing light off every
close surface and creating devil zombies out of anyone looking your direction. These photos rarely tell the true
story of the feeling of the event or party, they are also nowhere close to flattering to the dancers caught like
deer in your headlights.

3). If you get lucky and have just enough light on your dance subjects to get a decent representation of the action
you are surely going to have dragging of the arms and blurring of their finer details and faces, also the ambient light
sources will appear to squiggle lines all over the photo. This is the most common of low light photos; the camera
stays open with a longer shutter speed to gather light for the photo and the subject doesn’t stop long enough to
make a clear image. The ambient lights show you how your hand movement contributes to this effect as you sway to
the music while trying to take the photo. The less drag you have in these lines; the steadier your hands were while
snapping your photo.

4). The last photo you are bound to capture if you let the camera do the work is the “hit by lightning” photo: the lightning
photo looks like somebody stood beside a lightning bolt and posed for a portrait. They will be completely blown-out
with a giant shadow spilling off behind them, if you are lucky and they are blinking, you won’t see their retinas
burning up.

What happened? You were too close to your friend in pure darkness, or someone stepped in front of your camera as you
took the photo.
Either way, the camera saw zero light, popped it’s flash to create light for the photo, but the close subject took
all of the light in it’s first few feet and lit up like a Christmas tree. Usually casting dark shadows and blocking
the light from the rest if the scene. These shots can be funny to look at, but also, not flattering.

As it turns out it is very hard to get a good low light party photo without taking the camera off of the Auto mode.

What the situation calls for is careful consideration of the scene and a set goal for the desired photo; you should aim to
catch a particular subject in motion and have the low-light scene come through clear and as moody as it was.

Do this through careful camera settings in preparation for the low light and by using flash at a minimum or use bounced flash.

If you choose not to use your flash, you have to start out with carefully selected settings and tweak your way towards
your best possible settings for optimum quality. The best possible settings stem from a need for clear and clean
ISO: affects photo cleanliness
DOF: affects clarity over distance
Shutter speed: affects clarity of motion.

High ISO: 1600-2000 to start!
On my D700 I would start off in the high thousands and creep down as I needed more clarity.
Sometimes getting the right photo comes at a cost of quality of the image. If you are serious about it, you can clean
up the image in Post-processing. But get a good high ISO setting you can live with and open up that camera.

Open Aperture: get that camera near wide open, we need all the light we can get. Shooting at 2.8 might not be wise because you will blur out the scene and the scene tells the story. But open up to between 5.6 to 8 and always remember to keep your hand steady.

Now with your ISO set high and your camera set to near wide open with a usable DOF, slow down your shutter speed.

Longer Shutter Speed: start shooting and adjusting your shutter speed to see how you like the results. Start out with 1/16
or 1/4 second if that works and looks good, make adjustments to suit the needs of your photo. To get more flowing action,
slow down the shutter. This will produce streaks of colour behind the subjects. To freeze the motion, increase the shutter speed.

Remember that if you find you are working with more light than you need, you can stop down your Aperture and close out some ambient light. Remember this comes at an artistic cost, as your DOF is increased, but sometimes that’s not an issue. Also remember to use your ISO settings to your advantage. If you find your shutter is firing really fast and capturing the action with ease, lower your ISO to gain some image quality and adjust your Shutter accordingly.

If you Can’t get a good shot, you may need to pop up or attach a flash; make sure you dial your flash down to it’s minimum power.
You should start to familiarize yourself with the flash setting before going into a low light situation, know your gear if you want to make the most of it. At least know your buttons and what they do, you can find many articles on any camera sold: detailing the stuff you “Must Know” about your camera.

once the flash is dialed down to 1/64th power or lower,
you should consider softening the flash. We do this in two ways:
the expensive way or the MacGuyver way.

The expesive way is to get a mini StoFen or similar softbox or diffuser. They sit in front of your flash and soften or diffuse the harsh flash so it looks better on the subjects.

The MacGuyver way is simpler and free. Just take some tissue paper and tape it over your flash, this will cut the light down and soften the flash so it doesn’t blind the dancers or onlookers. You can also bounce the flash to the ceiling using both the Expensive and Macguyver ways.

Light will bounce off white surfaces pretty efficiently, so you can use a piece of white cardboard to make a GOBO (go between) and bounce the light up to the ceiling and this will create a huge amount of light surface compared to your little flash, which softenes the light and makes the dancers look less harsh.

Try not to overpower the ambient too much, or you will loose the feeling of the setting, you should aim to illuminate but not light the room. With your high ISO settings, your near wide open Aperture, and your slower than normal Shutter Speeds, you are not going to need as much flash power, so make sure to watch your images and adjust the flash or block it out with even more tissue paper.
*Use caution when covering any flash with diffusers, expensive or Macguyvered, in high use situations. Allow enough time for the flash to cool down when using colour filters or flash diffusers. The flash bulb can overheat and damage the bulb electronics.

Anyone who is serious about flash photography will move away from their tiny on camera flash and into an external flash or speed-light. These units allow you to move the light away from the center line of the camera and into more pleasing and functional locations. You can do this by turning or pointing the head of the flash into another area of the room/scene.

Or you can get the flash off of the camera via sync cords or wireless triggers and have them positioned around the room to give you more coverage for your light.

In the next lesson we will look at flashes, both on camera and off camera speed-lights, their power setting and accessories.
Understanding “made” light is key to understanding ambient light too: As you start to learn how light acts in controlled situations you start to understand how to work with chaotic ambient light in all it’s inconsistent glory.


Lesson Six: Ambient light -vs- Made light.

Happy Holidays to everyone!

Let’s talk about Ambient light,
because made light should explain itself, it’s light we make with big or little studio lights. Lights we turn on and off quickly as we take a photo.

But Ambient light is always on, it’s your desk-lamp in the corner, the sun coming through the window, or the moon. It’s the screen on your phone or tv, it’s car lights and lightning.  Streetlights and buildings, stars and fire are all examples of ambient light.  Ambient light is unforgiving, usually out of your control, and mostly ever changing without notice. That’s sometimes all the fun of photography and other times it’s the most frustrating part. But we learn to compensate with our made light and we find a common ground when we need to.

Natural ambient light is comfortable to look at because it’s the light we see things in everyday, while being dramatic at sunrise and sunset.
Whereas made light can be dramatic at any time with the right knowledge, and soft and subtle with the right control.

In this lesson I’ll show an example shoot that calls for particular attention to detail to get the right presentation.
We will use every trick in our photography arsenal to nail the correct exposure using:  Two Nikon speed-lights as well as ambient light.

Let’s discuss the needs of the shot:
I want to show off my phone  (not really but let’s pretend) and it’s great screen, sleek design, shiny appearance.
I want it to look clean and professional, without distraction, and perfectly lit.

The obvious distraction in any subject oriented photo is the background. In this project we will use high contrast to create a solid white background.
Overexposing the background to extreme white,  eliminates any data in these  “blown out” areas.  Giving a professional look that has zero distraction and is easy to mask out in photoshop for product placement.

There are two ways to achieve a blown out white background in studio.  One way is to use a piece of seamless paper background and overexpose from top to bottom, the entire area behind the subject.  As in the example photos below I shot for a company I work with. These are watermarked, but are unedited and came out of the camera looking this clean with pure white backgrounds.

But for this shot I want to include some texture (the hacky sack that is holding the phone)  to allow for an idea of lighting on porous surfaces as well as reflective surfaces.
So I am going to use a softbox as my background and point it directly into the camera from behind my object.
(I will cover surface textures and their light properties in the near future)

As for other distractions, you can see my phone has a lot of shiny edges and the entire screen itself is a big mirror.  A dull mirror, but given the right angle I could easily see: myself, the camera or anything behind the camera. When the phone is rotated to the left or right, the camera goes out of view in the phones reflection.  In product photography involving reflective objects such as watches, glassware, silverware… precise management of light angles and camera placement in mandatory. Below is a standard diagram showing the setup we will use to create this shot.

Things to consider when looking at the setup are:
~  The light inside the umbrella at camera left will cause a glare on the camera lens an needs a GOBO to shade the lens.  A GOBO is anything that will block light from entering your camera lens.  If you don’t have a stand for a GOBO, use can just use your camera’s lens hood.
~  The camera is in the vertical position, or Portrait position. since the subject is tall and fits that framing naturally.
~  I’m using a waist high guitar stool with a round top.  Consider working at a height that is comfortable as you might spend long periods at one setup.   Also, since you can’t work in the dark, you should setup in an area where the ambient room lights won’t cause you any harm.
~  Lights inside of softboxes point backwards to disperse light best. They loose a few stops of power as a result of this. Also a stop or two is lost as the light passes through the translucent sheeting of the softbox. This happens with shoot-through umbrellas too. You also loose some power as light falling outside the umbrella drifts of into nowhere. A softbox holds light inside, using the power more efficiently.

To find the correct exposure for a setup like this, we have to consider the needs of the photo and adjust the camera and light settings at our disposal to suit those needs. At the same time we have to find our Balance between the two speedlights, the ambient room lights, the ambient screen of the phone.

Looking at the needs of the photo: ~ It has to be very detailed and in pure focus.  ~ SO = We use a depth of field (DOF) theat has a good amount of depth (f 8 – f 11+)
~ It should have good clear resolution and we want to start out with our best file quality.  ~ SO = we set our iso low ~ (iso 200)
~  We want to see the phones screen in the photo. ~ SO = We need a longer shutter speed, this always depend on the amount of ambient. (Just start somewhere below 1/250th sec (because your camera or trigger’s sync speed is probably 1/250th sec, but check your manual)
~  We want to present the phone “as is”.  ~ SO = We make sure to use a focal length above 35mm, otherwise the distortion of the wider lenses  will balloon the straight lines and dimensions of the phone.

Once these considerations are met, we start to play with the finer details.

Lets look at a test shot to see how it looks with these settings:  iso: 400 ~  f /5.6  ~  1/250th  ~  62mm ~   (no umbrella light)  ~  Softbox at 1/64 power.

We need to start somewhere and this shot tells us we have almost killed the ambient light from the ceiling lamps (working light) a faint glow of light on the stool and a small highlight on the top right corner of the phone still exist with these settings.
Bumping down to iso: 200 will get rid of that remaining ambient on the phone and stool. The DOF is a bit shallow, going up to f /8 was the obvious choice.
After settling on iso: 200 and f/8 , I turned on the phone’s screen and ran an app so the phone would stay on while I worked with it.
A shutter speed of  1/2 of a second was needed to correctly expose the  screen from the distance the camera was setup from the phone, as light falls off over distance; and the phone throws off a very small amount of light as far as power goes.

Lighting our scene is the next step and takes playing with light levels and positions until a perfect mix is found.

Lets have a look at how these lights affect the photo:
Play around with the light buttons on the Flash movie and see how light changes the look of the phone as you turn them on and off.

In the end we have with both lights on;  an effective photo that shows the contours and features of the phone while keeping distraction to a minimum.
The ambient light has been tamed and used in the photo to provide a realistic look.
The backlight is balanced and provides the clean professional look desired, and the detail light (umbrella) accents the finer points of the phone, without creating distracting glows, reflections or shines.  “specularity” and “refraction” is in control.

So through proper planning and careful tweaking, using our knowledge of light and our camera:  A perfect success.

Stay tuned for lesson 7 and feel free to suggest lesson topics, pose questions or comment below, and share these lessons with your friends and family.


Lesson Five: Balance – ISO

ISO  ~ known in the past as ASA is the camera’s film-speed and is the third variable in the balance of a proper exposure.

Film speed was used in the past to allow for better camera performance in different and difficult light, and has adapted itself to the digital age to give us one more level of control in the hunt for the perfect exposure.

You will most always use a low ISO (200-400) in order to reap the quality rewards, and only bump up to your camera’s minimum good quality ISO (800-1000 usually) to gain some extra play with the available ambient light. ISO is directly linked to light and unlike Aperture and Shutter Speed it has only one function in exposure. ~  It will give you a boost to light sensitivity in your exposure for each interval it is raised.

Although it does nothing to your composition besides light sensitivity; it does have a secondary effect on the photo. Quality does degrade as you boost the ISO. First you see some acceptable grain, then tolerable grain, then unacceptable grain and in the end, colour banding.

ISO performance varies from camera to camera, and is always a topic of new feature sheets as breakthroughs are made in the science of digital ISO  all the time.  In the near future sensors will be able to provide usable photos in very low light situations without a flash.

Have a look at how ISO affects quality as it is boosted. It is more apparent in darker conditions like low light and night-scapes.

Using ISO to your advantage can open up some creative options that might elude you as well.  Sometimes you need an extra couple of stops to get the detail you need in a photo. You can usually live with a little grain in your photo if it means you nail the shot. My camera (Nikon D-700) preforms acceptably well into the iso 1600 range and if I have to go to iso 2000 I will.

ISO boosting is great when you have your Aperture and Shutter Speed set and don’t want to touch it because the composition would change undesirably. If you start out with your camera on iso 400, you have a bit of room up and down to play with if you run into the need for more or less light.

Together with Aperture and Shutter Speed, proper ISO setting is crucial to to the perfect exposure.
If you are to tame light, you must know where the ISO control is on your camera and keep it at the top of your mind as you compose your photo.

The next lesson will deal with Light. and how we can tame light with light.
Using ambient against itself and making light with flashes and strobes. This is where things get interesting.


Lesson Four: Balance – Shutter Speed

Photography freezes a moment in time, but it doesn’t always freeze the same length of moment in time.

Sometimes it freezes a thousandth of a second (1/1000)
a hundredth of a second (1/100)
a tenth of a second (1/10)
even one second or up to 30 seconds.
In extreme instances exposures ranging upwards of many hours can be used to draw out detail that isn’t visible to the human eye.

The Shutter Speed controls the length of time that an exposure takes place. The common range of DSLR’s is 1/4000 th – 30 seconds.

High shutter speeds like (1/4000 th – 1/800 th ) of a second means you can freeze fast moving objects such as a a humming bird’s wings or a water drop hitting the surface of a still pond.

The mid-range speeds ( 1/400 th – 1/8 th )are great for a variety of storytelling effects and can be used to balance the ambient light in a photo to suit the light needs.
At a certain point outside of the midrange of shutter speeds you will find extreme clipping. “Clipping” is what happens when the colour information for the lightest and darkest tones get lost as a result of under or over exposure. Once this Clipping occurs, you will loose the ability to print proper detail in clipped areas. Using darkroom (Lightroom) techniques, this detail can be salvaged to a point. But we do want to get it perfect in camera before we start to rely on post-processing.

The long shutter speeds (1/4 – 30 sec.) are great for shooting in dark city scenes with dragging car light effects, or when shooting astronomy or moon shots. Other times long shutter speeds can be used to create amazingly complex photos that defy the laws of the world we live in.

F- 5 ~ 1/100th sec

F- 13 ~ 1/160th sec

F- 3.8 ~ 1/4 sec

Have a look above at how Shutter Speed can be used to tell a story or freeze action.

Have a look below how shutter speed can stop a falling object (an apple) or allow it to “drag” through the photo bv varying the time the shutter remains open. At slower speed the object will leave behind a streak of  and then become a giant blur of colour. Good photographers learn to use this shutter drag to their photos best interest, to help tell a story or convey movement that will compliment the photo.

Shutter speed also changes the amount of ambient light, as it stays open longer, more light is allowed into the camera. In the following example ISO and some post processing has been used to best show the effect of Shutter Drag.

Move your mouse over the Shutter Speeds to see the different drag effects.

When you learn to combine  Shutter Speeds and Aperture, along with ISO tweaking and Metering the light. You are well on your way to understanding and then ultimately mastering photography.

In the next lesson we will look at the camera’s Meter and the different Metering systems that can be offered by different cameras.

Today’s lesson has shown us that besides being a controller of light, the Shutter Speed can help us show movement or stop movement.
It is another one of the tools at our disposal for storytelling; we now have Depth of Field using the Aperture and Time/Movement using the Shutter Speed.

Now you can be proud that you have almost all of the knowledge needed to start making great photos in your camera’s manual mode.


Lesson Three: Balance – Aperture

The purpose of general photography is to capture a moment in time, so we can enjoy it and share with others, the feeling we had when we took the photo. We are more likely to enjoy it, if we capture it just the way we saw it. There are some situations that call for a photo that doesn’t look like the scene from which it was taken. Artistic freedom permits you to control the light in any way you wish; but when you are trying to recreate an exact representation of a moment. it’s important to preserve all of the detail so others see exactly what you did at the time the photo was created.

Learning how to focus attention on an area of the photo to enhance it’s message or dramatic effect is done through proper Framing and by using Depth of Field to blur out distraction.  ~ Choosing to ignore either of these won’t result in a completely terrible photo, it just means the message may get lost in translation..

Have a look at how Depth of Field is used to blur the background into an unrecognizable state. this is accomplished by changing the Aperture, which also affects the amount of light entering the camera. In these photos I made up for the difference in light by adding more flash power to my scene. In natural (Ambient) light you could use your Shutter Speed to add light as you change your aperture size.

Aperture numbers are rated in increments called “F Stops”
A large Aperture hole = small number F 2.8
A smaller hole = Larger number F 22

Move your mouse over the F stops to see the different Depth of Field effects.

Of the four different sides to good balance:  Aperture  ~  Shutter Speed  ~  ISO  ~  Light.
Each has one thing in common = Light.

Aperture – Controls the depth of field in a photograph & Controls light into the camera.

Shutter Speed – Controls the timing of exposure allowing action or movement in a scene & Controls light into the camera.

ISO – Adds Grain to the photo by allowing the sensitivity to light to climb.  Which controls light falling on the sensor.

And…   Light – which contributes to the whole process but is not as consistent in it’s affect to it.

Meaning, while you can always count on Depth of Field or Shutter timing to work as you plan and the sensitivity of you ISO stops to be the same. Only consistent strobes can alleviate the need to constantly tweak to suit the lighting conditions. As photographers that’s what we do; we play with light and we work around light. You can be outside shooting great photos in great light and within moments, your light could be all over the place or gone completely.   Without a firm understanding of the light control within Aperture, Shutter Speed and Iso, you will find it challenging to step up the most daily photo routines.

There is more to know about aperture when it comes to using off Camera flash, but at this point of learning camera basics, we will leave the unneeded info for more advanced lesson topics.

From this lesson  you should take the following:    Aperture is one of four components to proper exposure.
It controls Depth of Field in a photograph as well as light levels.

At this point we can break for Lesson 4:  Shutter Speed.


Lesson Two: Basic Terminology – Some words you should know and why.

In this lesson we’ll talk about the words that make up the craft.

* This will be a concise terminology, dealing with only those terms that are important to learning the art of photography.

I will not be explaining terms like: SD Card, Battery, Tripod, Lens Caps, Megapixel, MegaByte… You get the picture.
Also at this point I won’t be talking about advanced terms such as:  Sync Speed, Aperture Lock, Colour Temperature…
These term will come up in future lessons and before getting into more professional concepts I will post a list of advanced terms.

Everyone has their own way of explaining how a camera goes about making photos. But we all have to refer to the same common components that allow the process to take place.  ~ Here is a mild breakdown of the most important things to know about your camera.


Terminology: ~ (In order of importance)

– This refers to the hole that allows light to pass into the camera;  found inside the lens on your SLR.
~  In a pinhole camera, the aperture would be the size of the hole.

Shutter – The camera’s shutter opens to allow light to enter the camera.  and closes when the desired amount of time has elapsed.

Shutter Speed – The amount of time the camera’s shutter remains open for.

Meter – Metering takes place inside the camera, it is the camera’s judgment of the correct camera setting for a proper exposure.
The camera’s meter reads the amount of light on a subject and scene. (or at the center/custom point in spot metering)

ISO -  (aka: film speed or ASA) – Describes the cameras sensitivity to light while exposing a properly balanced picture.
A camera can take better pictures in low-light situations based on this camera setting.

Depth of Field – This is the distance from the center of the focus point at which thing start to fall out of focus.

Focal Point – The center of the Depth of Field. The point of the subject or subject area that is meant to be in sharp focus.

Frame – The entire area of the photo as seen through the viewfinder of the camera.

Exposure – The process of making a photo is called “Exposing” but “Exposure” refers to the level above or below a perfect balance of tones.
(Example: If someone asks you, “how is the exposure on this picture?”  ~  They want to know:  is it too dark, or too bright.)

Ambient (light) – Light that comes from constant sources, such as: The Sun, Lamps, Overhead Florescent, and even Candles and Television Screens are considered “Ambient Light”. Although these are constant in the sense that they stay on in most cases, they are far from consistent, as clouds and or power surges can vary they intensity of the ambient light at any given time. Making reproduction of tones and colour more difficult.

Flash / Strobe (light) – Light that fires in an instant from any flash device attached to the camera’s trigger (usually via wireless triggers) are called Flash Speedlights, or Strobes. They fire in a split second and deliver consistent light levels, shot after shot.

RAW – RAW  images are taken directly from a digital camera without any in-camera processing.
(The opposite of RAW data is ~ JPG data ~ which is compressed and sometimes auto-corrected in camera at the time of exposure)

Image resolution – The size of the photos being captured on your camera.

White balance – A setting that tells the camera if it needs to compensate for unnaturally coloured light.

Grain – Grain is/are visual specks or texture on the photo as a result of ISO sensitivity rising above certain levels.   Iso 800+ on my D700

Histogram – A visual calculation of a photo’s exposure data within the acceptable rage of reproduction.
(This is a tool for knowing if your picture has colours or bright/dark areas that fall outside the range of printing)

Shutter Release – (aka “the thingy”) – This is your cameras built in trigger, it tells the camera when to open the shutter.

Sensor – The sensor has replaced film inside the camera for capturing the image from the lens. They are engineered to mock the properties of film to some extents and to out perform it in others.


So now we are caught up in our terminology, let’s talk about what these things have to do with making photos…

Photography is about balance, we’re dealing with the balance of light. This balance has a margin of  error is some respects, but only when dealing with static subject matter. Once you introduce movement into the equation, things get messy quick.  That’s because a huge part of the control we have over the balance of light, is through time.

In most conditions the camera fails to produce the desired image we see in our mind’s eye, this is true if it’s on Manual or Auto. If you have no clue how to balance an exposure (take a nice photo) and you leave the camera on Auto, chances are you will get a picture that is comparable to the scene you are photographing. But if you have any artistic sense and have a creative idea for the scene you are looking at; the camera will rarely take the photo you want it to.

You have two options to get a proper exposure:

1. Learn how to trick your camera’s auto mode into metering a select area of your scene to achieve a more desirable auto exposure setting. This is called (spot metering).
2. Take your camera off Auto mode, and take control of the creative process in one of the three Manual modes on your SLR.
The three Manual modes you have to choose from are listed below with their intended uses.

Shutter Priority: You select your desired shutter speed based on the artistic needs of the photograph, and the camera chooses the correct Aperture and camera setting to make a proper exposure balance.

Aperture Priority: You select the Aperture size based on the desired Depth of Field for the photograph, and the camera chooses the correct Shutter Speed and camera setting to make a proper exposure balance.

Full Manual: You have full control over both Shutter Speed and Aperture, as well as ISO and White Balance settings.
If you don’t set both Aperture and Shutter Speed correctly, you will likely make an improper exposure.
But when being creative and learning through practice, there are no worries about making a few mistakes on the road to a great photo.

The Balancing Act:

When we want to make a perfect or at least interesting exposure, we have to balance four different variables.

Aperture size  ~  Shutter Speed  ~  ISO  ~  Light

Each has a different effect on the final result and each one affects the balance of the correct exposure.
Sound confusing? It comes down to a push and pull of one variable to the next.

In the next lesson we will look at the relationship between the four different variables and how they affect your photograph.


Lesson One: Light in the Box – In the beginning there was light.

Welcome to my First Blog Post Ever.
I will do my best to take you through my knowledge and perspective on the vast subject of Photography.

I am going to start off with the very basics of the medium, but don’t be fooled.
Read on and you may just learn something.


Lesson one:  Light in the Box

As with most subjects, to begin to understand the fundamentals of photography we must look back to it’s invention.

Before digital cameras, before film cameras, even before cameras existed,  people were using the principal rules of light to expose themselves to sights and spectacles that the human eye could not see in it’s over perfected design.  As far back as 470 BCE (source: wiki) philosophers and scholars were telling tales and staging demonstrations of the new “Tech” of the times : The Pinhole Camera.  In short a Pinhole Camera is a light-tight box with a small hole at one end and a piece of film or photosensitive paper at the opposite end (inside the box). When light enters the box through the pinhole, it is captured on the paper in the form of a Photograph.      How? … Well it’s mostly magic.

Pinhole Cameras were the first in the long lineage of the camera, but as time and technology has managed to shift every facet of photography, the simplicity of the Pinhole Camera and the principles of light remain unchanged.  Even the most expensive professional camera of today is just a glorified pinhole camera with every bell and whistle crammed onto that light-proof box.  ~  Obviously some of these bells are necessary to produce the photos we’ve come to expect, but most of the whistles just get in the way.
If we could strip the camera down to it’s most basic of parts, we would have a clearer view of what strange Disney magic is making the picture we see on the screen or film.

In an attempt to better understand how something might work, our instinct (as scholars) is to get inside and study up close.  We could wait for Nikon to make a house-sized Digital SLR so we could climb inside or maybe if we stick to that low-fat yogurt we could hope to fit into a D300 by Easter…
On the other hand, we could look to the past and make our own house-sized pinhole camera and climb right inside.
It’s not new, but it’s probably one of the least know phenomenons to most, including the amateur photographer, though most if not all serious photogs will have heard the term… Camera Obscura.

The Camera Obscura is usually a giant light-proof box, a room with a window on only one side works well.  The room must be completely light-proofed (by blocking out all light from the window) and through a small hole poked in the covering of the window an image will appear upside down on the back-facing surface. This is a camera box that you can stand inside of. Traditional painters of the past would use giant Camera Obscura setups to paint scenes with precise detail.
It was this simple design of  “the projection of light” that sprung the entire invention of photography.

~   The process of funneling light for the purpose of retention is build within us all. We are cameras, it’s what our eyes are designed to do. They do it with such precise accuracy that we often fail to realize that the world, as we see it as humans, is only part of the picture.  In fact a whole world exists to us in perfect detail, as we scan from one side to another our eyes focus and balance for changes in light intensity.  Our brains have a great built-in system to make this all happen without any real thought on our part.  As do cameras; the AUTO feature of your camera is a great asset when shooting fast moving subjects or at times where fumbling with settings is impossible. But if we are to really understand how images are made; we must put our brains and cameras in MANUAL mode.   ~  If your brain doesn’t have a Manual setting or you don’t know how to turn it on… Upgrade or consult your owner’s guide.

In order to make consistent photos in every condition, we must put aside the AUTO feature and get in the driver’s seat.
Taking control of your ~Aperture~ ~Shutter Speed~ ~ISO~ and setting or judging light intensity and direction should become second nature  to you if you are to become a master photographer. As we progress through the blog I will present you with the knowledge to take control of all of the different aspects of the camera and photography as a medium.

I don’t want to complicate this lesson beyond it’s intended moral:
If you leave this lesson with one bit of knowledge it should be this…

To make a Picture: ~  Light goes in one end of a light-proof box through a tiny pinhole – It makes an image on the surface opposite the pinhole.
It also flips the image as it condenses it through the pinhole (see photo)

Light… It’s magic really.

For fun = Check out Google’s image results for ~ Pinhole Camera