Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 Your Camera – Taking vs. Making
Chapter 2 Exposure – The Three Equal Partners
Chapter 3 Program Mode – “Automatic For Experts”
Chapter 4 Shutter Priority – “Managing Motion”
Chapter 5 Aperture Priority – Seeing “The Field”
Chapter 6 Manual Mode – “The Deep End of The Pool”
Chapter 7 ISO – The Mode Without a Dial
Chapter 8 Lenses – Focus on THIS!
Chapter 9 Flash – Learning to Love it
Chapter 10 Closing – The Road to Mastery

Chapter 1 – Your Camera – Taking Vs Making

In the earliest days of photography, before George Eastman introduced his first
“KODAK” camera, taking a single picture was a messy, expensive process that
was out of reach to most would-be photographers. Eastman didn’t invent
photography, but he did put it into the hands of the public by creating a camera
that was affordable, small enough to carry, and most importantly, that didn’t
require special training to use. All you had to do was POINT, SHOOT, and then
send the whole un-opened camera back to Rochester, NY for developing.
Ironically, today’s modern digital cameras – in addition to providing extraordinary
images automatically — have brought us full-circle by also making it easy to
return to the days when photographers were in control of HOW their pictures
were created for themselves.

Point and shoot cameras are still very popular today of course, and if you own a point and shoot that has the letters P, S, A and M on a round dial, then many of our comments in this program will apply to your camera, but owners of digital
SLRs will probably benefit the most.

SLR stands for “single lens reflex”, and it describes a camera design that won
popularity in the film days and has been carried over into the digital world.
“Single Lens Reflex” cameras have a mirror inside the camera body that reflects
the image up to the viewfinder, allowing the user to view the scene through the
same lens that will carry the image to the sensor. One nice thing about that is
that we never need to worry that our lens cap is still on when we’re shooting an
SLR! When we press the shutter release button to take our shot, the mirror flips
up out of the way to let the image strike the sensor, and then back down again
after the shutter has closed. SLRs also have easily interchangeable lenses, and
they’re usually larger and more expensive than their more common point-andshoot
cousins. As you may already know, they’re also equipped with automatic
settings, but shooting an SLR in automatic makes them little more than pointand-
shoots with much better “glass”, or lenses. This book isn’t about the
automatic settings, but it’s important to know that they’re there, and when and
how to use them, just in case.

Your camera’s MODE DIAL is located near the top of most SLR’s, and is divided
into the two different ways to use your camera. Find the letters P,S,A, and M.
Your camera may have those letters in a different order, or with slightly different
names like P, Tv, Av, and M. This instruction is about using those four settings,
and you’ll get to know them a lot better before we’re through! Now though, look
for a series of tiny icons, or little pictures that are arranged alongside each other
on the mode dial. One of those icons may be a brightly colored rectangle, or
labeled with the word AUTO. That setting is full automatic, where your camera is
making all of your exposure decisions without your help at all. The other icons
are also automatic settings, but their purpose is to let you tell the camera a little
about the scene to enable it to choose special programming for each one, in
order to do a slightly better job, but again, automatically. Check your manual to
see what each of those icons stand for.

As we’ve said, we’re here to teach you how to use your camera without having to
depend on the automatic settings. Still, even when you succeed by becoming
fully functional in all of the creative manual modes, don’t turn your back on
automatic altogether. View auto as a kind of “safety net” whenever you need to
get a shot right, but for whatever reason are distracted, or confused, or if you just
don’t have enough time to dial in your own setting adjustments.

Also we’ll make the point here that while your skills are building, you should
divide all of your shooting into two kinds: Number one; shots that you need to
get right, and two; those that are just for practice. If you’re at your sister’s
wedding for example, and she’s depending on you to get good pictures, do
yourself and your sister a big favor: GO TO YOUR STRENGTHS. That is, if you
only know the automatic settings, shoot the event in automatic! Later when
you’re confident in Program mode or Aperture Priority or some other setting, then
shoot there, but don’t practice new skills that you don’t know yet at your sister’s
wedding! That’s very important! The other side of that though, is that when
you’re photographing your dog in your own back yard, why waste the learning
opportunity by using skills that you already have? Discipline yourself to go to
your weaknesses then by choosing settings that you don’t know, and build new
skills when it’s alright if you ruin several pictures in the process. The goal is to
eventually become confident in each of the PSAM modes, including full manual,
and under all lighting and shooting circumstances! Until then, know where your
confidence level is, and when to stay there.

Did you know that the word “photography is taken from two Greek words that
together mean drawing or painting with light? Good artists know the
characteristics of their paints, and good photographers need to know how their
cameras work. It’s important to never lose sight of the fact that all cameras are
primarily light management tools. Over half of our time will be spent learning just
how to manage light with certain key camera controls, so here we go… and by
the way, we’ll be careful to use correct terms as much as possible throughout our
discussion, and will use upper case fonts to draw attention to them, and to
emphasize other important points.

Chapter 2 – EXPOSURE – The Three Equal Partners

The word “exposure” means light entering your camera through the lens and
striking the sensor. If too little light enters, the picture is said to be UNDERexposed,
and dark areas — called SHADOWS will lack detail, or even be
CLIPPED to pure black. If too much light enters, it’s OVER-exposed, and the
brighter areas called HIGHLIGHTS will lack detail, or even be clipped to pure
white. Clipped highlights are often said to be BLOWN highlights, or just
BLOWN-OUT. Clipping can be likened to a circuit breaker in your home’s
electrical system that pops off because of a dangerous excess of current flow.
When more light hits regions of your sensor than they can record correctly, they
essentially give up and clip to pure white – or to black in the case of dark
shadows that receive no light at all. Clipping is almost always seen as a flaw in a
picture, and because no detail information at all was recorded in those pixels,
clipped areas usually can’t be repaired during post-processing with a photoediting

Everyone can pretty much tell when a picture is too bright or too dark, but what
objective measure can we use to when we’ve got a good exposure? Most
photographers agree that a photograph is well exposed when it reveals good in
each of the three LUMINANCE REGIONS: The highlights, the midtones, and the
shadows. Consider a typical landscape scene that includes a bright sky, green
shrubs, and dark shadowed areas underneath the shrubs. It’s easy to see each
green leaf in the midtones, but what about the highlights and the shadows? If
there are clouds in the bright sky, can you make each one out clearly? If there’s
an animal sitting in the dark shade underneath one of those shrubs, can you see
the animal? Go back and review shots that you’ve already taken. Practice
spotting areas where you’ve lost detail in the shadows and highlights because of
under or over-exposure. This is a great exercise! Don’t even worry about what
you might have done wrong now: Just learn to identify these three luminance
regions, and especially the extremes of highlight and shadow. You’ll find that just
being sensitive to them while you’re aiming to take a shot will help you to get
better exposures in the first place. For example, when framing to photograph a
person indoors, you might spot a bright window in the background, and simply
take a few steps left or right, until the offending window is no longer in the frame.

great exposuresExposures can also be measured by a device that’s built into most modern SLRs
today called a HISTOGRAM. Histograms are a simple chart that shows us at a
glance where each pixel in our image falls on a scale ranging from pure black on
the far left, to pure white on the far right, with 254 shades of gray in between.
The number of pixels that fall at each luminance level are represented by a
vertical line at that level, and the resulting graph that includes every pixel in your
image often resembles a mountain range. If most of the pixels are dark, the
mountain will fall on the left side of the histogram. If the image is instead very
bright, they’ll favor the right side. Of course there are scenes that are supposed
to be dark or light, but a photograph of a typical scene should have a histogram
with pixels that are distributed about equally from left to right (as in the example
above). Use your manual to learn how to find and use the histogram on your
camera, and then practice USING this essential device until you can tell at a
glance whether or not you’ve achieved a good exposure.

exposure compensation

All of our cameras are equipped with wonderful internal light meters and built-in
programming designed to get exposures right the first time automatically, but
sometimes the results are darker or lighter than we’d like. The quick way to
correct that in our next shot is to use a feature called EXPOSURE
COMPENSATION, or just EC. Check your user manual to find out where it can
be found on your camera, and how to adjust it. Watch for a scale in your
viewfinder that reads zero when the camera thinks the exposure is going to be
good, but that can be dialed up to increase brightness, or down to darken the
image. One thing to keep in mind about Exposure Compensation is that it makes
its adjustments with the exact same exposure controls ; shutter, aperture and
ISO–that you’ll be learning to adjust yourself soon. Also keep in mind that EC
will make those exposure adjustments using only the underlying exposure
control(s) that you have NOT locked in with your manual adjustments. We are a
little ahead of ourselves to mention that here, but because the use of Exposure
Compensation is a basic photography skill that you’ll use nearly every time you
go out, I wanted to draw your attention to it before we get to the more difficult
material ahead. By the way, remember that Exposure Compensation is a
shortcut device that’s helpful for making quick adjustments to your exposure
settings on the fly, but NOT a replacement for knowing how to make those
adjustments directly.

All right, here it is: The most important information that every new photographer
should know, and also some of the most difficult concepts to learn. There are
THREE LIGHT MANAGEMENT CONTROLS that work together in your camera
to determine the exposure of every picture you make. One is SHUTTER
SPEED, one is the APERTURE of your lens, and the third is ISO (formerly called
“film speed”). Each of these values are expressed in different terms, and each
one also has its own peculiar SIDE EFFECT that changes how our pictures look.

Sadly, many photographers think so much about these side-effects that they lose
sight of the MAIN purpose of each adjustment, which is to manage the light
entering our camera in order to get good EXPOSURES. Let’s list each control’s
side effect here, and then return to discuss each one shortly: The side-effect of
shutter speed is that it controls MOTION-BLURRING. The side effect of the
aperture setting is that it changes the DEPTH OF FIELD. And finally, the side
effect of ISO is that it affects how much NOISE is in our pictures.

Back to exposures now: A simple analogy is often used to illustrate how Shutter
Speed, Aperture and ISO relate to each other: In a five-hour course that I teach
covering basic photography skills, my slide show includes over 150 slides. I tell
classes that one of those slides is by far more important than all the rest. It
shows a picture of a woman standing at a kitchen sink filling a glass with water.
Water flows into the glass just as light flows into the sensors of our cameras.
The faucet represents the shutter that turns the flow on and off. The longer the
shutter stays open, the greater the amount of light that’s allowed to flow. The
SIZE of the pipe represents the size of the opening, or APERTURE inside your
lens that determines how quickly light can flow into your camera when the shutter
is open. Both of those–the shutter and the aperture–control how much light
flows into the camera. The third variable is different: The SIZE of the glass that
we’re trying to fill with water illustrates ISO, which isn’t about controlling how
much light FLOWS, but how much light is NEEDED. Low ISO numbers indicate
that your sensor has lower sensitivity and requires more light to expose
completely: High ISO numbers indicate more sensitivity — faster exposures —
that require less light. As we said, that makes ISO different than the other two
light controls, but it’s a mistake to separate them in our thinking. They are the
three EQUAL PARTNERS for getting good exposures in our cameras, and every
picture that we take involves getting the balance between these three correct.

The key to relating to Shutter speed, Aperture and ISO is to think in terms of
whether your picture needs more or less light. From there it’s just a matter of
knowing HOW each of the three provide or remove that light, what their terms of
measurement are, and how to make the adjustments for each on YOUR camera.
I can’t overemphasize how important this part of our program is! Until you master
it, moving in the PSAM modes will remain a frustrating mystery to you. Even
AFTER you’ve thoroughly memorized all of the exposure terms and concepts,
don’t expect it to become intuitive to you overnight.
With that quick overview behind us, let’s take a look now at how the three
exposure settings relate to each other in real life. Our cameras can do a great
job of getting all three of those right without our help in the automatic settings, but
the PSA & M modes give us the opportunity to take control and make some or all
of the exposure decisions on our own. Let’s start out with the first one on the
PSAM list, which may at first sound like we’re still back in automatic settings!

Chapter 3 – Program Mode – “Automatic for Experts”

The “P” of PSA & M stands for the PROGRAM MODE, or on some cameras the
“Program AE mode”. They’re both the same: AE just stands for Automatic
Exposure, which is a good reminder of what the “P” stands for: In program mode
you’re telling the camera that you’d like IT to decide two of the three exposure
controls–shutter speed and the aperture–for you. You may say, “Isn’t that what
AUTOMATIC does? Yes, in fact Program mode is often called “Automatic for
Experts”. There is a difference though: In Automatic your camera is deciding
EVERYTHING for you, including your white balance, and whether or not your
flash will fire. In Program mode, it’s deciding only your EXPOSURE settings, but
even that requires some further explanation: In Program mode, the TWO
controls that are found on the MODE dial–Shutter and Aperture–ARE made
automatically. But what about ISO? If you’ll go to your ISO control–and you may
have to refer to your user manual to find it–bring up the menu of ISO choices.
There you’ll find that the list typically includes fixed values such as 100, 200, 400,
800, etc…. but there’s also a choice for “Auto”. If we choose Auto as our ISO
setting while in program mode, then all three of our exposure settings ARE being
made for us, just as they are when shooting in full Auto. So what’s the
advantage of using Program mode? Eventually you’ll come to appreciate the
fact that Program LETS us lock in our ISO settings! And as I mentioned,
Program also lets us control our white balance if we’d like, and also whether or
not our flash will pop up and be used in low-light conditions. AND there’s
something else! Watch this:

If you have your camera with you, place your mode dial on the “P” setting. Aim
at some object and meter the shot by pushing the shutter release button down
halfway. Keep watching the numbers that appear in the viewfinder as you lift
your finger from the button and spin the dial that you should find right next to the
button. Do you see two sets of numbers that are changing as you spin it back
and forth? Can you guess what they are and what they’re telling you? Right!
One’s the shutter speed, and the other is the aperture. This is called “Program
Shift” by some manufacturers, or “Flexible Program” by others. The reason
they’re moving is that you’re being given a chance to select the shutter speed
and aperture COMBINATION that suits your needs, with the assurance that each
combination of the two should result in the same exposure exactly. As one
moves to let in more light, the other one moves to let in LESS light by exactly the
same amount. Spend some time studying how these two numbers move
together. The ISO value doesn’t appear to be involved, but in fact what you’re
seeing is a great illustration of how all THREE of the exposure controls relate to
each other! It’s absolutely essential to understand this partnership between the
three exposure controls. It’s also important learn the LANGUAGE that all three
of them speak! Consider this:

Have you ever wondered how international airline pilots who speak different
languages are able to understand instructions from the airport control towers
around the world? You’re right! There has to be a common language that they
ALL speak. Ever since World War II, English has been the universal language of
the international commercial airline industry, and every pilot has to be proficient
in English in order to fly into international airports.

Photographers working with the three exposure controls have a similar
challenge: Shutter speeds are expressed in seconds and fractions of seconds.
Apertures are expressed as the ratio of the focal length to the diameter of the
aperture. And ISO is a simple number scale that quantifies relative film speed in
film cameras, and the sensor’s sensitivity to light in digital cameras. How were
photographers supposed to go back and forth between the three, making
offsetting adjustments quickly in the field? What was needed was a single
language that could be applied to each of the three. That language is expressed
in “STOPS”.

A STOP is simply a doubling or cutting in half of light, depending on whether
you’re increasing light or decreasing it. The three lists of settings above each
express exposure adjustments in one stop intevals. Let’s say that you just took a
picture of a child playing. You like the level of exposure, but you notice that the
child’s arm is motion-blurred because your 1/60th of a second shutter speed was
too slow. You decide to INCREASE your shutter to 1/120th – or one stop, which
should be enough to eliminate the blurring, but you now fear that the image will
darken and become underexposed. In order to make up for the one-stop
reduction in light from the faster shutter, you’ll have to either increase your lens’s
aperture by one stop, or increase your ISO by one stop. Either one would work,
but let’s use ISO. If it was set at 200 before changing the shutter, raising the ISO
to 400 would double the sensor’s sensitivity to light, or increase it by ONE STOP.
One stop LESS light coming in from the faster shutter, and one stop LESS light
NEEDED… because of the more sensitive sensor, results in exactly the same
exposure for both images.
I mentioned that Program mode is often referred to as “Automatic for Experts”,
and it can be a good general purpose “walk-around” setting, for times when
you’re not sure what shooting situation you may encounter. Program doesn’t
guarantee good exposure results, but it should at least provide a good initial
settings combination that you can fine-tune after seeing your results, either by
using Exposure Compensation, or by transferring the shutter and aperture values
to the Manual mode and adjusting them directly yourself. We’ll discuss that
technique in our chapter on Manual mode soon.

Chapter 4 – Shutter Priority – “Managing Motion”

We all tend to fall in love with something that we’ve created ourselves, but be
sure to get past that and to always look at your photos critically. It’s important to
not settle when it comes to the quality of your photographs, and that’s especially
true for SHARPNESS.

Remember that an image will never be sharper than it is the moment it’s
recorded on your camera’s sensor. Photo-editing programs can impart blurring
to a sharp image in seconds, but don’t make the mistake of believing that the
opposite is also true! The so-called sharpening functions on photo-editors
depend on optical illusions that involve darkening dark pixels and lightening
nearby light ones, but TRUE sharpening of blurred images requires knowing
what pixels SHOULD have been recorded in the original scene, and that’s not
likely to be possible any time soon. No, there’s no substitute for getting sharp
captures in the first place.

The tiny viewscreens on the backs of our cameras are wonderful improvements
over the days when we had to wait to get our pictures back from the developer to
know how they turned out, but don’t trust that you can always see well enough
there! Make it a point to never pass final judgment on how sharp an image is
until you’ve seen it on the big screen of your computer, and then zoomed all the
way up until you can see the individual pixels, and then back the zoom off just a
little. If your nearby subject is a person for example, and you can see their hair,
you should be able to see each INDIVIDUAL hair, and each one should be
sharp–sharp enough to see the point of a tack in fact, or as photographers like to
say: TACK Sharp!

There are a few things that can rob your pictures of that kind of sharpness, and
it’s important to know how to identify and to avoid or manage each one. Here’s
the list: Number one is FOCUS BLURRING… that can be caused either by a
failure to focus properly, or by a depth of field that’s too shallow. Number two is
HIGH ISO NOISE, which isn’t really blurring, but it can certainly rob an image of
sharpness, and it’s often mistaken for blurring. And number three is MOTIONBLURRING,
that can be caused by movement of either the subject, the camera,
or both. We’ll return to discuss focus blurring and high-ISO noise a little later, but
let’s cover motion-blurring now:

Here’s the most important advice for getting sharp images of all: If you don’t own
a tripod, buy one today and begin to use it. True, the use of tripods isn’t always
practical or even possible, but this much is certain: The more disciplined you are
about using a tripod, the sharper your images will tend to be. It’s better to buy a
good tripod than a cheap one, but any tripod is better than not using one at all. If
you can’t use a tripod, try to find a substitute – like resting your camera on your
camera bag or steadying your hand against a doorframe. But when you can’t do
that and HAVE to shoot “HAND-HELD”, remember that increasing your shutter
speed is the key to keeping motion-blurring from ruining your pictures!
SHUTTER SPEED is your camera’s MOTION BLURRING tool. Sometimes
motion-blurring is a good thing–for example when you want to convey the speed
of a fast-moving bicycle. But more often it’s a flaw in our pictures that’s caused
by carelessness, and that should be avoided at all costs. Motion-blurring is
especially prevalent when shooting in low-light conditions when the camera is
doing everything it can to let in MORE light to accomplish a good exposure.
Shutter speed is just one of the three ways it can accomplish that, but it’s the one
that carries the greatest danger of ruining your picture altogether. Some
photographers are lax about shutter speeds, reasoning that a slight case of
motion-blurring isn’t really all that bad, and that it’s a trait that we should accept in
our pictures. DON’T BE ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE! It takes just a little more
effort to avoid motion-blurring in our shots altogether, and it’s worth it. Look at it
this way: If you shoot for excellence every single time, you MAY fail sometimes
and end up with a few mediocre pictures. But if you NEVER shoot for
excellence, then ALL of your pictures will likely be mediocre, and several of them
will be ruined altogether.

We just mentioned that low-light conditions invite slow shutter speeds, but there
are two other motion-blurring factors that we also need to watch: One is the
SPEED of the movement itself. Consider birds’ wings for example: Sea gulls fly
with much slower wing motions than hummingbirds do. To freeze a sea gull’s
wings in flight, we might need a minimum shutter speed of about 1/200th of a
second; but for the wings of a hummingbird we’d need something closer to
1/4000th of a second!

The other thing we need to be aware of is how much magnification our lens is
providing: As we magnify the subject, we also magnify movements, and faster
shutter speeds are needed to freeze that movement. We’ll cover lenses in more
detail later, but it’s important to say this much about them now. If you’ve ever
tried to look through a telescope at a distant star by holding the telescope in your
hands without the help of a tripod, you know that it’s almost impossible to even
keep the star in the field of view! Because camera lenses provide a wide range
of magnifications, there’s a formula that you’ll need to memorize and apply as
part of your ongoing motion-blurring management strategy. Magnification in
cameras is expressed as LENS LENGTH, or FOCAL LENGTH, and is measured
in MILLIMETERS. The longer the lens, the greater the magnification. Keep in
mind that if you have a zoom lens, the actual length of your lens BODY isn’t what
we’re talking about. As you twist the lens to zoom, notice which number your
indicator on the outside of the lens body is pointing to. THAT tells you the focal
length that your camera is set to, and it’s the one that should govern your shutter
speed decisions:

Here’s the formula. You may want to jot it down and repeat it to yourself until
you’ve memorized it completely: For HAND-HELD SHOTS, your MINIMUM
shutter speed is the reciprocal of your lens length, but never slower than 1/60th
of a second. Now if math isn’t your subject, a RECIPROCAL of any number is
simply the fraction made by putting a “1” over that number. In our case that
means that if the length of our lens 100mm, the minimum shutter speed that
would safely prevent motion blurring when hand-holding the camera 1/100th of a
second. For a 250mm lens it’s 1/250th of a second, and so forth. Keep in mind
that these are MINIMUM shutter speeds, so if your camera meters the scene and
comes up with FASTER shutter speed, that’s perfectly fine! Remember also that
if the speed of the motion is unusually fast, as in the case of the humming bird’s
wings, your shutter speed may have to be even faster!

The second part of that rule – the part that says that “in no case should it be
slower than 1/60th of a second – is because many lenses are well under 60mm in
length, and experience has taught us that people can’t hold still enough to
prevent blurring with shutter speeds slower than 1/60th. You may hear
disagreement from some photographers who feel that they can hold cameras
more still than most, but camera manufacturers build 1/60th into cameras as a
minimum shutter speed when shooting in the automatic settings, and so should
you when taking creative control for yourself in the PSAM modes. Keep in mind
that this whole discussion about shutter speeds and motion blurring applies only
to hand-held shots, and to tripod shots where the SUBJECT is moving, such as
children playing or trees being blown by the wind. If your tripod is locked down
tightly and your subject isn’t moving at all, then shutter speeds become irrelevant
where blurring is concerned.

Back to the mode dial now. It’s time to bring all this together as we introduce the
PRIORITY settings: Shutter and Aperture. Recall that in Program mode, the
camera is deciding these two settings for you. In full manual mode you’re making
both of those settings decisions yourself. Can you guess what happens in the
shutter priority and aperture priority modes?

Let’s say you’re standing in front of a waterfalls and have the idea that you’d like
to intentionally blur the water to create a “wedding veil” effect that you’ve seen
others do. You know that you want a slow shutter speed to do that, and let’s say
that you don’t care about the aperture or ISO settings this time — except that you
do want a good exposure that’s not too dark or too bright. The SHUTTER
SPEED is your PRIORITY in this case. By selecting S from the mode dial (or Tv
on some cameras – Time Value: It’s the same thing), your camera responds by
asking what shutter speed you want, and you dial that to let’s say, 1/4 of a
second, which is a fairly slow shutter speed – so you’ll need to be on a tripod.
Now when you meter the shot and the camera reads the light in the scene, it
starts with the shutter speed you’ve chosen, and calculates the correct aperture
for that shutter speed automatically! If you also left ISO in auto, it will decide that
value for you, as well.

Many photographers do all or most of their shooting in the priority modes,
because it allows them to control what they need for the shot they have in mind,
while at the same time depending on the camera’s powerful metering and internal
programming to fill in the blanks for them automatically.

Capturing sharp pictures should be every photographer’s constant goal.
Deliberate blurring is all right, provided that it’s truly deliberate, and not an
excuse for poor camera skills. Ignore the voices telling you that you can “always
fix blurring it in post processing”. Even if you could fix un-sharp pictures in a
photo-editing program, do you really want to spend your editing time fixing badly
shot pictures? Or would you rather spend time ENHANCING pictures that were
shot well in the first place?

An image’s SHARPNESS is one characteristic that will never be better than it is
the moment it hits your camera’s sensor. So my advice is to always TRY to get it
right in the first place, by using a tripod whenever possible, and by faithfully
watching your shutter speeds for all the rest.

Chapter 5 – Aperture Priority – Seeing “The Field”

Have ever seen a picture where a single flower was in sharp focus and every
other flower in the picture was blurred and wondered how they did that? The
answer is that you’ve seen an example of compressing the DEPTH OF FIELD, or
“DOF” by increasing the size of the aperture inside the lens. Blurring certain
regions of your image while others remain in sharp focus is an elegant way to
direct the viewer’s attention toward the part of the picture that YOU want to

Depth of Field is defined as that portion of your scene that’s in focus, measured
from FRONT to BACK. If your depth of field is very deep, objects in the
foreground will be as sharp as those that are far off. If your DOF is shallow as in
the picture above, objects in the background AND in front of your subject will be
blurred, while the subject itself will remain in sharp focus.

When you meter for a shot by pushing your shutter release button down halfway,
your auto-focus goes to work finding a POINT on which to focus. When it’s
finished, it’s really given you a DISTANCE from the camera that’s in focus, and
everything that’s that distance from the camera is also in focus. That’s why
diagrams often show the focus point as a flat plane standing like a wall in front of
the camera. The Depth Of Field describes how much of the space both in front
of and behind that plane that’s also in focus. The actual point of focus is really
about a third of the way into the DOF, from the camera’s point of view. That
means for instance that if you’re photographing people standing three deep and
would like everyone to be in focus, you should focus on someone who’s roughly
in the middle of the group, rather than on those in the front or back rows.
Your camera’s APERTURE, in addition to being one of the three exposure
controls, is also known for the effect it has on your DOF. The word “aperture”
simply means the round, or nearly round opening inside the lens THROUGH
which light flows on its way to our camera’s sensor. You’ll need to remember
that the SMALLER the aperture, the DEEPER the depth of field. Large apertures
result in shallower DOFs. Now if that’s all we needed to know, we’d be finished:
But it’s not. Our cameras don’t have markings that say “deep field” and “shallow
field”. They also don’t say “large aperture” or “small aperture”. What you WILL
find on your camera are mysterious numbers called “f-stops”. If you have your
camera with you, turn your Mode dial to the A, or Aperture priority setting (If you
have a camera that has the letters Av for aperture VALUE, choose that: It’s the
same thing). Your camera should now be prompting you to choose from a series
of Aperture “F-STOP” values.

Unless you’re a mathematician, don’t expect those numbers to mean much at
first. F-stops are a RATIO–specifically between the lens’s focal length to the
diameter of the aperture. We introduced the concept of a STOP earlier as
meaning a doubling or cutting-in-half of light (depending on whether the light is
increasing or decreasing), and that’s exactly what the word means here.
Consider the following list of aperture values. Notice that though the numbers
seem to be increasing, each number is really a one-stop DECREASE in light
from the value before it: f/1, f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8 f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16 and so forth.
Don’t worry, you don’t need to memorize the numbers. What you do need to
memorize though, is the idea that the smaller the f-stop NUMBER, the larger the
APERTURE – the larger the OPENING to let light through. For example: Lenses
are often described by the largest opening they’re capable of achieving. An
“F/1.4 LENS” has a larger maximum opening than an “F/2.8 LENS”. The f/1.4 is
said to be the FASTER of the two lenses, because light travels through it faster
because it has a larger opening.

Creating a shallow, or SMALL depth of field calls for a LARGE aperture, which
would be a SMALL f-stop number. Some photographers shortcut that by just
remembering that the smaller the f-stop NUMBER, the smaller the depth of field.
However you handle that is up to you, but you do need to know how to connect
the numbers to what’s happening in your image somehow.
Learning the aperture rules is important for blurring backgrounds, but they’re not
the whole story. Actually there are THREE variables that contribute to your
ability to compress your DOF, and your camera’s aperture setting is only one of
them. We point that out because often those using the so-called “kit” lenses that
come with entry-level SLRs are disappointed to find that they can’t seem to blur
their backgrounds much if at all, no matter how hard they try. The reason for that
is that kit lenses are typically very short for WIDE ANGLE shots that will include
as much of the scene as possible, measuring from left to right. Depth of Field
compression is more effective when using a LONGER LENS. That’s the second
factor. The third is focus distance, or how far you’re standing from your subject.
The closer you are, the shallower, or more compressed your DOF will tend to be.
I know: That’s a lot. Let’s summarize all three of those in one sentence: “To
get the SHALLOWEST DOF, use the LARGEST aperture — with the LONGEST
lens — at the SHORTEST distance from your subject possible”. I should warn
you here that if you use all three of those at the same time, you’ll probably not be
happy with the results. It’s possible to get a depth of field that’s so shallow that if
your subject is a person’s face for instance, and if his eyes are in sharp focus,
both his nose AND his ears will be blurred, and that’s probably not what you had
in mind!

You’ve heard this before here, but let’s say it again: Remember that aperture is
primarily an EXPOSURE TOOL: Compressing depths of field is a secondary
function. Some photographers forget that, and shoot as if blurring backgrounds
is the only important skill to know. In fact, blurring from accidental DOF
compression can easily creep into images as a flaw, especially when shooting
with longer lenses. Watch your shots of groups of people especially. We
mentioned the need to find a person in the middle as your focus point. Don’t
forget though, to zoom all the way in afterward on your review screen, checking
carefully to be sure that those in the front and back rows aren’t focus-blurred by a
shallow DOF, just to be safe.

Aperture Priority mode is probably the most popular of all the PSA and M
settings. Blurring backgrounds is a GOOD skill to have in your tool kit, but don’t
forget that NOT blurring backgrounds is an essential skill too! It pays to also
keep in mind that all this attention to Aperture carries a DANGER, and it’s that
you can lose sight of your camera’s choice of shutter speed if you’re not careful.
Changes in lighting can easily result in slower shutters, resulting in un-fixable
motion blurring. With experience you’ll begin to notice slow shutters by their
sound, but always remember to check ALL of your settings in the viewfinder
before taking each shot, and to double-check your results by zooming on your
images in the review screen afterward. Shooting in Aperture Priority mode is
fine, but if you find that you keep ruining shots with motion-blurring, it might be a
good idea to switch to Shutter Priority where you’re sure to keep those shutter
speeds up – and to save Aperture for special applications instead.

Chapter 6 – Manual Mode – The Deep End of The Pool

The “M” on your camera’s mode dial stands for full MANUAL mode, where you’re
expected to make both the shutter speed and aperture adjustments for yourself,
without any help from your camera’s automatic functions. That’s pretty scary,
isn’t it! Actually, Manual mode isn’t anything to be afraid of, and it can even be a
great place for beginners to start out! Why is that true? Because unlike the
Program, Shutter Priority and Aperture Priority settings, where the camera is
always trying to accomplish good exposures for us using the exposure settings
that we don’t lock in ourselves, that doesn’t happen in Manual. If you’re careful to
also lock in your ISO to a single setting, then when you make an adjustment in
manual, you get to see the effect it has on your image without any interference
by the camera at all.

Getting started in Manual mode is easy. Let the camera help you to choose your
initial settings! With your camera set at Program, or at Shutter or Aperture
priority, simply meter the shot by pushing your shutter release button down halfway,
note the shutter and aperture settings your camera chooses, turn the mode
dial to M for Manual, and enter those settings there. Once you’ve gotten started,
you’ll thrill to find yourself making adjustments to your shutter or aperture
settings as light conditions change from shot to shot, and it won’t be long before
you’ll find yourself starting out in Manual with some favorite settings from your
own experience!

Earlier we talked about Exposure Compensation by describing it as a shortcut for
quickly bumping your exposure up or down from the camera’s metered version.
Be aware that Exposure Compensation works differently in Manual mode than it
does in Program or either of the two priority settings. Since manual means that
the camera no longer makes exposure decisions for you, then the EC dial in your
viewfinder when shooting in Manual no longer has any control function at all.
Said another way, you can try to change your exposure with EC if you want, but
your camera’s hands are tied because you’ve locked in all three of the exposure
controls yourself. Exposure compensation instead becomes an INDICATOR in
manual mode, of how well you’ve done to correctly expose the scene with your
setting choices. If the camera’s metering judges that your choices will result in
an underexposed picture, the scale will show a MINUS reading, or a PLUS
reading if overexposed.

There’s no doubt about it: Shooting in full manual mode is definitely like
swimming in the deep end of the pool. But once you’re comfortable shooting
there, none of the other mode settings will ever scare you again. So don’t be
afraid. All of your failed attempts are free, and who knows: You might just learn
to like shooting in Manual best of all!

Chapter 7 – ISO – The Mode Without a Dial

In order to understand ISO, we need to go back to the time before digital, when
they had to put film in their cameras. They still make film cameras of course, but
let’s refer to them here in the past tense just for clarity: Back then, when the
camera’s shutter opened, light struck the FILM, and a chemical reaction recorded
the scene until the shutter closed again. Film manufacturers were able to make
films that exposed the scene at different rates – some slowly for outdoor shooting
in bright light, and some more quickly for shooting indoors in low-light conditions.
But how would they measure and express those different film speeds? Shutter
speeds are measured in seconds and fractions of seconds. Apertures are
expressed as a ratio, but what term describes how fast film exposes? In the end
they simply assigned a number system that – like degrees on a thermometer –
didn’t mean anything at all, except to express how each value related to each of
the others. ISO 100 is a very slow speed film. ISO 200 exposes twice as fast as
ISO 100, 400 twice as fast as 200, and so forth. The term ISO stands for the
International Standards Organization.

Here’s something that’s interesting: When camera manufacturers began to make
digital cameras, they were able to create electronic sensors that felt to
photographers just like film when using the camera. Film speed as we
mentioned measures a CHEMICAL reaction, and ISO in digital cameras has
nothing to do with chemicals – but pictures taken at say, ISO 400 on digital
cameras were designed to be exposed just the same as those recorded on ISO
400 film. Do you think that had anything to do with wanting to sell digital
cameras to film photographers then? By the way, it’s interesting that the device
used to vary ISOs in digital cameras is simply an electronic amplifier–not unlike
the amplifiers in radios and TVs. The amplifier “turns up the volume” so to
speak, on whatever image our sensor originally captured.

A roll of film can only be one speed. Imagine having to decide what one speed of
film you’ll load into your camera for a day of shooting when you don’t know what
lighting circumstances you’ll run into – but, photographers routinely did just that
back then! One of the many advantages of digital over film is that we’re now able
to change the ISO setting any time we want–even between pictures if we want
to. AND we can even to set it on AUTO where the camera will decide what
setting to use for us! ISO numbers on our cameras today begin with a low of 50
or 100, and can rise to as high as 3200, 6400, or even 12800 or higher. By now
you should recognize those intervals as being just one STOP apart.

ISO is one of the three exposure controls, and you’ll soon learn that it can be
your best friend when shooting in low-light conditions where your camera is
starved for light. Remember that low shutter speeds invite motion blurring, and
large apertures tend to compress depths of field. Like shutter speed and
aperture, ISO has it’s own side effect: It’s NOISE. Noise is a speckling that can
be especially pronounced in shadow areas and in areas of solid tones and
colors. The rule is that the higher the ISO, the more NOISE your picture is likely
to have. It’s sometimes possible to fix high-ISO noise in a photo-editing program
afterward, but there’s usually a price to pay in terms of lost sharpness in the
entire image. Every photographer should always strive to achieve the best
captures possible, so make it a point to always shoot in the lowest ISO setting
that you can, while at the same time maintaining good overall exposures.

Two practical techniques should always come to mind when trying to achieve low
ISO settings: One is to increase lighting in the scene whenever possible. That
can include introducing flash, or even just turning on indoor lights to increase the
ambient lighting. The other technique is even better: USE A TRIPOD, and allow
your shutter speeds to slow in order to let more light into the camera. The one
reminder here of course, is that a tripod eliminates CAMERA movement, but if
your SUBJECT is still moving, slowing your shutter speed invites MOTION
BLURRING, which if anything is an even worse problem than High ISO NOISE!

The good news about high ISO noise is that manufacturers are doing a great job
of designing it away! If they’re successful, high ISO noise may become a thing of
the past before many years go by. Because of that, it’s making more and more
sense in modern cameras to shoot in shutter priority or even in MANUAL mode,
leaving your ISO set on AUTO to accomplish good exposures. Cameras vary,
and sometimes individual shots within a single camera can have varied results
where noise response is concerned, so test your own equipment, and remember
to continually monitor your own results to be sure you’re okay.

Chapter 8 Lenses – Focus on THIS!

We’ve looked at our cameras’ lens APERTURE function already, and have
learned that lens LENGTH is how degrees of magnification are expressed in the
camera world. Let’s look at that in more detail, along with the key skills needed
to FOCUS properly.

50 millimeters is an important number in lenses. A so-called 50mm STANDARD
camera lens provides an image in the viewfinder that most closely approximates
what the unaided human eye sees with no magnification at all. Lenses that are
longer than 50mm that magnify the image are called telephotos. Lenses that are
shorter than 50mm result in negative magnification – like stepping back away
from the subject, and are referred to as WIDE ANGLE lenses.

We’ve all seen the cardboard tubes that are inside rolls of paper towels: Imagine
cutting a one-inch length from the end of one of those tubes with a pair of
scissors. Now imagine looking through the long tube as if it was a telescope.
Now do the same through the short piece that you just cut off. You’ll find that the
field of view is much wider with the short tube than it is with the long one – hence
the term “wide angle”.

Our two tubes also illustrate something else: More light is able to come through
the short tube than the long one because quite a lot of light enters on an angle
from the top, bottom and both sides, whereas the light that passes through the
long tube has to come from pretty much straight on. That’s why you should
expect that shorter lenses will be inherently FASTER than long ones – faster
meaning that light travels through them faster. Wedding photographers for
example, are fond of using a very fast 50mm PRIME, or fixed lens, especially
when shooting inside dimly-lit churches where the use of FLASHES isn’t allowed.

FOCUS in camera lenses is accomplished either automatically or manually, and
it’s absolutely critical to know how to focus both ways, AND how to know when
you’ve achieved good focus! Don’t be discouraged if you wear glasses and are
concerned that you can’t see well enough to focus well in the viewfinder. SLR’s
are usually equipped with a tiny DIOPTER ADUSTMENT DIAL right next to the
viewfinder that lets you customize your eyepiece for your own prescription.
Check your user manual for instructions on how to adjust it.

Getting good focus is a basic photography skill, and it’s especially important to
master this section. Learn how your camera’s auto-focus mechanism CHOOSES
a point, and begin to note WHAT point in the scene it chooses every time you
frame to take a shot. One of the choices will be to simply focus on the CENTER
of the frame. That’s often your best choice, as it’s intuitive and doesn’t require
any extra thought. If you choose the center point method, you’ll want to couple
that with another skill for times when your main subject isn’t in the exact center of
the frame. Let’s assume for example that a child is standing next to and a bit
ahead of his new toy. You plan to frame the shot with the child on the left and his
toy on the right, and you want to be sure that the child’s eyes are in sharp focus,
no matter what. Here’s the procedure:

Point your camera so that the child’s eye is centered, and meter the shot on that
point as usual by holding your shutter release button down half way. When your
camera’s focus is confirmed on the eye, in some cameras by the blink of a small
red dot, continue to hold the button half-way down as you move your camera to
reframe the shot with the child on the left and the toy on the right. Your camera
will maintain, or “LOCK” focus on the eye for as long as you keep the button held
halfway down. Be sure to not let up on the button, but to hold it down until it’s
time to press it down the rest of the way to take the shot as soon as the framing
is correct. Practice this procedure until it becomes second nature, as you’ll use
it routinely throughout your photographic career!

A variation of the same technique can come in handy by remembering that our
AF mechanism focuses on a point, but it gives us a PLANE of focus at that
distance. For example, if you try to focus on a deer that’s partially concealed by
small twigs in the foreground, but find that your camera is focusing on the twigs
instead? Find a nearby object that’s the same DISTANCE from camera as the
deer. Auto-focus on that object, then lock that focus just as you did with the
child, and reframe on the deer to take the shot.

Here’s another technique that works the same way when shooting several shots
of subjects that are at a fixed distance from the camera: Performers on a distant
stage, for instance. First auto-focus on your subject. Then while locking focus
as above, carefully slide the auto-focus switch to the OFF, or MANUAL position.
Your focus will now be preserved for the entire series of shots. Just be sure to
not accidentally move the manual focus ring at the front of your lens, AND don’t
forget to switch AF back on again when you’re finished with those pictures, or all
of your shots taken afterward will likely be out of focus!

The auto-focus mechanisms in today’s cameras are marvels of modern
technology. Auto-focus is accomplished by edge-recognition. That is, your
camera is searching for edges, or areas of contrast between light and dark.
When it finds what it considers to be an edge, the focus mechanism is activated
until that edge is made as sharp as possible. If it can’t find an edge for any
reason – such as when shooting in fog, aiming at a blank wall or when your
subject is too close, the lens may fail to focus altogether, and in many cameras
you’ll be prevented from taking a shot at all. Low-light can also present focusing
problems. What if it’s too dark for your auto-focus to find a point? Can the
subject can be lit by turning on some lights temporarily? How about a flashlight
pointed at your focus point? The third solution is probably the most practical:
Check your manual for your camera’s “auto-focus assist” function that uses your
camera’s FLASH to temporarily illuminate the scene long enough to achieve
focus. In the end if all else fails, you can always turn your AF off and try to focus
manually. Even if manual focus can’t be achieved, switching to manual focus at
least makes it possible to push the shutter release button to complete the shot.

If you’ll look carefully at the very front of your lens, you’ll find that there are fine
threads to accommodate the installation of FILTERS. Filters are simply disks of
glass that can be screwed into your lens to darken, add color, or to otherwise
modify the light that enters your camera. UV, or Ultra Violet filters are popular
because they have little effect on your images, but are great ways to protect
actual lenses from becoming dirty or scratched. Many photographers prefer
using UV filters in place of lens caps, reasoning that lens CAPS add a needless
delay when trying to get off a fast shot. Another reason to install a UV filter and
leave it there is that many lens bodies are made of a very high-quality PLASTIC.
Lens filter-rings are METAL… AND they can be stacked one on top of another.
There’s always a risk when you’re in a hurry of cross-threading a filter into your
lens and damaging the plastic threads. Keeping a UV filter permanently on your
lens eliminates that possibility.

Protecting lenses from becoming dirty or scratched is fine, but the place to be
concerned is at the other end of the lens body where the electrical contacts are.
A screw-on cover for that end came with your lens, and it’s very important that
you keep that cover on whenever your lens isn’t actually ON the camera! There
are two reasons: One is to protect those electrical contacts, and the other is to
keep dust from getting into the lens body. If it gets there, it’ll eventually find it’s
way to your camera’s sensor where it’s likely to show up as spots on every single
picture you take.

Finally in our overview of lenses, let’s consider the various image stabilizing
devices that are built into many lenses today. They can be VERY useful for
reducing motion blurring from hand-held camera shake, but try to not let them
become a substitute for good camera skills. If you’re unclear on what that
means, be sure to review our discussion about how to use tripods and faster
shutter speeds to achieve sharp images in the first place.

Chapter 9 – Flash – Learning to Love it!

Take a minute to add up all the money you’ve spent on photography equipment
so far. Are you up to a thousand dollars yet? Two thousand? What if I told you
that I know a secret that could DOUBLE your satisfaction with over half of your
shots? How much would that be worth to you? Well, here it is at no charge: If
you don’t already own one, make it a point to buy a detachable flash unit that’s
either made by your camera’s manufacturer, or at least that’s compatible with
your camera. It has to have a swivel-head that can be turned to point left and
right–and importantly–UP toward a ceiling. Once you have one, put the same
effort into learning how to use it as you are learning how to use your camera

Sadly, there’s very real bias against the use of flash throughout much of the
photographic community, but that’s changing quickly! It’s easy to understand
why so many prefer to shoot without a flash: The flashes that have been built
into point-and shoot cameras for the past fifty years have trained us to expect
some pretty terrible pictures, with their red-eye, blown out faces and pitch black
backgrounds. But before we throw out flashes altogether, let’s have a look at
the reasons that built-in popup flashes give such poor results: One is the tiny
size of the lights… and the other is their location on the top of our cameras. It’s
important to understand why both of those are a problem:

The size of a light source matters a great deal in photo lighting. Take the sun,
for example. The sun is a powerful light of course, but on a clear day when
there are no clouds in the sky at all, the sun itself is a very small light because it’s
so very far away. All of the rays of light that come from a small source come
from the same direction. They travel more or less parallel with each other, and
any shadows they cast as they pass a solid object have sharp edges, as anyone
who’s ever seen a child tracing her shadow on a sidewalk knows. In portrait
work, hard shadows accentuate wrinkles and blemishes – and are almost always

Now consider the sun again, but this time on an overcast day when clouds cover
the entire sky. The same sun now illuminates the entire cloud canopy, which in
turn lights the child standing on the sidewalk from many directions at once! What
happened to the child’s shadow? It softened to the point where the shadow
might not be discernable at all! Professional portrait photographers use studio
lighting setups that include umbrellas, soft-box modifiers and reflectors to
accomplish the same softening effect. Small electric lamps that by themselves
would cast hard, unflattering shadows are instead converted into LARGER light
sources that in turn produce softer and more flattering shadows on their human

The other limitation of your camera’s built-in flash unit is the fact that it’s
permanently located “on-axis”, or directly in line with the camera’s view of the
scene that it’s illuminating. That means that it will light every part of your subject
that your camera can see. Why is that a problem? Despite what we’ve already
seen about how unflattering HARD shadows can be, SOME shadowing is
important in our pictures in order to convey DEPTH first of all, but also in the
case of people to provide hints of mood, personality and character. If our
subject is lit primarily from the top of our cameras, those shadows will be lost,
and the resulting images are said to be “flat”. If your light source can instead be
removed from the top of your camera and positioned even a short distance “offcamera”,
you’ll see the difference immediately — especially when shooting

Professional studio lighting is the ultimate off-camera lighting setup, but
detachable hot-shoe flashes can produce results that rival studio lighting – either
by bouncing their light off white ceilings or walls, or by removing them from the
camera altogether! Depending on the features built into the cameras and flashes
by the manufacturer, they can be activated off-camera by a cable, by a radio
trigger that includes a transmitter and receiver, or optically using the light from a
special flash unit on your camera–or in some camera models even from the popup
flash itself!

Flashes are decidedly a short-range light source. In some ways that’s a
limitation, but in other ways it’s actually an advantage! What if the background
light could be adjusted by one control, and the foreground light on our nearby
subject by an entirely separate and independent light source? Imagine
photographing your friend who’s standing in front of a beautiful mountain range in
the distance. Let’s say that the mountains are brightly lit by the sun, but the face
of your nearby friend is lost in shadow. Your flash is the perfect tool to illuminate
your friend’s face without having any effect at all on the mountain scene beyond.
In this example, you’d meter your camera to correctly expose the background as
usual, and then depend on your camera’s flash to illuminate your nearby friend.
Earlier we said that popup flashes produce some pretty terrible results, but there
is one exception to that: The next time you’re photographing a nearby person
outdoors in bright sunlight, reach around and push the button to lift your camera’s
popup flash. Sure, it sounds like a contradiction, but the one thing that your
popup can do pretty well, is to provide FILL FLASH to some of those dark
shadows. No, you shouldn’t have anything to do at all. Your camera should
recognize the fact that there’s enough light without the flash when you meter, and
it will automatically turn the flash’s intensity down to provide just a gentle “pop” to
fill those dark shadowed areas.

We’ve tried to stay with just the most important skills that you need to know to
build a core competence in this program. Knowing flash’s role is one of those
skills, but when it comes to using detachable hot-shoe flashes you need to hear
that we’ve only scratched the surface. Concentrate on your camera skills first,
but be sure to make this one of your top priorities in the weeks and months
ahead. If you don’t own one already, purchase – and then learn how to USE – a
detachable hot-shoe flash as soon as you can.