Back to basics

The information in this column is intended to assist digital camera users, and attempts to look at those items that are common on all digital camera’s such as point-and-shoot, DSLR’s, mirror- less, and yes, even your cell phone.

Understanding the primary functions of your camera will enable you to improve your results.

Anybody can pick up a camera and take a snapshot of something, but consider the word “snapshot” and its implications. It suggests that there was almost no thought other than “snap” the picture and move on. I suggest that understanding what your camera is capable of doing takes you to the next level and will give your images that “wow” factor.

Your camera is actually nothing more than a box with a hole in it. Yes, all that money you’ve spent and that is basically what you’ve got. The basics of a camera have changed very little since day one. You have a box with a hole in it and you control how much light is allowed into it.

Cameras may come in a lot of different shapes and sizes but the basic function of all cameras is the same. Shutter speed, aperture, and depth of field are universal concepts of photography. Even one time use cameras work on these three ideas. The only difference in these three concepts between types of cameras is the degree to which you can control these functions.

Aperture, shutter speed, ISO are the elements that combine to create an exposure. This is called the “Exposure Triangle”. These elements have an effect on more than just the exposure, causing alterations in depth of field, motion blur, and digital noise. Changing the setting on any one of these impacts the settings on the other two.

Shutter speed is the amount of time which the shutter is open to allow the film/sensor to be exposed to light. The shutter is a small “curtain” in the camera that quickly rolls over the image sensor (the digital version of film) and allows light to shine onto the imaging sensor for a fraction of a second. The longer the shutter allows light to shine onto the image sensor, the brighter the picture since more light is gathered. This speed is generally measured in fractions of a second such as 1/250. The faster the shutter opens and closes, the less light strikes the film or digital sensor. The shutter speed is also principally responsible for controlling the amount of blur in a picture.

Aperture describes the size of an opening within the camera lens that allows light to pass through the lens. It is a small set of blades in the lens that controls how much light will enter the camera. The aperture works with the shutter speed to control the amount of light striking the film or digital sensor. Aperture is generally measured by F-Stop. Aperture also has a secondary effect of controlling the depth of field of an image.

Depth of field describes how much of an image is in focus from front to back. Depth of field is controlled by the aperture as well as the lens magnification. Some images, such as portraits, have traditionally used mostly small depth of field in order to blur the background. Other images, such as landscapes, traditionally use much larger depth of field in order for the entire vista to be in focus.

ISO is an acronym, but nobody really knows what it stands for. It is always just called ISO even though it really stands for International Organization for Standardization. The ISO controls the exposure by using software in the camera to make the sensor extra sensitive to light. A high ISO such as ISO 1,600 will produce a brighter picture than a lower ISO such as ISO 100. The drawback to increasing the ISO is that it makes the picture noisier. Digital noise is apparent when a photo looks grainy. Have you ever taken a picture at night with your cell phone or your pocket camera, and noticed that it looks really grainy? That is because the camera tried to compensate for the dark scene by choosing a high ISO, which causes more grain.

Some Tips to Remember

When hand holding a camera, your goal is to have a shutter speed of 1/60 of a second or faster. Otherwise, you risk getting a blurred image. You can change your aperture to a lower number to help achieve a faster shutter speed, or bump up your ISO to make your camera more sensitive to light. Both of these will help you attain a faster shutter speed. If you are zooming out remember to bump up your shutter speed.

If anybody has any questions they would to see discussed, please contact me through our FaceBook page @LakeCountryEcho or my page at @MrEPhotographer.

This article and all previous columns can be seen on my web site: mrefoto.com. I also have multiple galleries of Finger Lakes Region images available on the web site

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