With the availability and affordability of high quality digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras, more and more people are buying cameras. These cameras are amazing pieces of technology that can allow the photographer to capture some stunning photographs. Admittedly, not everyone shooting with a DSLR wants to be a serious photographer. For those people, the DSLR cameras have numerous automatic features built-in that will allow them to point and shoot.
For the people that have purchased a DSLR because they have a serious interest in photography and want to explore their creative side, these cameras offer an almost unlimited number of options for photographing whatever captures their interest.
One of the barriers to someone that is starting out with a camera that has so many options is trying to understand the fundamentals of photography. Like any other piece of technology, part of the difficulty with getting a grip on the basics is trying to learn the technical terms (this is a nice way of saying understanding the jargon). Technical people tend to use their terminology as if it was universally understood. Having had a long career in information technology (known to most people as “computer stuff”), I saw the knowledge gap every day. Rather than get into a discussion about computer nerds being snobby and condescending or about about end users that barely know how to turn on their computers, let’s take the high road. This post is about sharing the basic information, we all started somewhere. The more people that understand the basics of how to use their DSLRs, the more they can have fun and be creative with them…oh, and make incredible photographs too.
Sidebar: By nature this is a technical post, I am winging it to some degree (I know, big surprise). Because I am winging it I may go off on tangents to help explain a point (another big surprise, right?). What I hope to do is pass along some information in a format that is easily understood, helpful, and at least mildly entertaining. The mildly entertaining part is a little related to my wandering attention span. When I read technical information, it helps keep me interested if the person writing tries to entertain me a little. My assumption is that a lot of people feel the same way.
You are being very patient with me while I meander my way to something you can actually use.
The basics of photography have been pretty much the same since it was first invented (no I didn’t research it and am not going to cover the history of photography here). The two main ingredients to making a photograph are light and time. We will cover how they relate and impact how the image is captured.
Disclaimer: This will not be a substitute for the manual that comes with your camera. Hopefully this will help you use the manual and find the information you need a bit easier.
Let’s go ahead and throw out some of the basic terminology. It will help you become more familiar with the terms and help me remember what I am writing about.
- ISO – this refers to the light sensitivity for the sensor in your camera, it is a carry-over from film but still applies to the digital world – a low ISO number (e.g. 200) means that the sensor recording the image is less light sensitive, a higher number (e.g. ISO 3200) means that the sensor is very light sensitive – it’s also important to know that a lower ISO will produce a higher quality image (less “noise” or visible graininess) while a higher ISO willl produce a lower quality image (more “noise” or visible graininess)
If you are shooting in low light and/or want to shoot something with movement (like a sporting event) then you might have to use a higher ISO to freeze the action without blurring the motion. More on ISO later but that is a general place to start, on to the next term.
- Aperture (sometimes referred to as F-Stop) – this is the size of the hole letting light through when you press the shutter to take the photograph, for me the best way to think of the aperture numbers is to make them fractions (like in math class) – a lower aperture number is a larger opening (e.g. think of an aperture of 4 as 1/4) and a higher aperture number is a smaller opening (e.g. think of an aperture number of 22 as 1/22)
Aperture can impact the photograph in a number of ways but for now, just know it refers to the size of the opening that is going to let light hit the sensor in the camera when you press the shutter release. That takes us to the next term.
- Shutter speed – this is probably the most obvious and easiest understood one, it simply refers to how long the sensor is exposed to light by telling you how fast the shutter will open and close, a shutter speed of 60 means the shutter will be open for 1/60th of a second, a shutter speed of 800 means that the shutter will be open for 1/800th of a second
These three primary terms are fundamental to how each photograph is captured. Sure, there are other factors (e.g. white-balance) but if we can get a handle on these three and how they relate, it will go a long way to opening up the world of deciding how you want to shoot a particular image.
In Part 2, we will talk about the relationship of these factors and how you can use them. Is that all of the terms? No, but we will take our time and I promise to try and limit the number of terms but some of them are important to helping you understand how to use your camera.
Hopefully, nobody has gotten irritated and decided to just leave their camera on the “Automatic” setting forever. You are of course free to do that but you will miss a lot of opportunities to capture that image the way you want it to look in the photograph.
I will end with a song suggestion. With all of this technical talk, I’ll go with something soothing and easy. The song is “Can’t Go Back Now” from the album “Hideaway” by the Weepies (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JscAwVu2QI).