Monday, June 27, 2016

Photography Basics: Moving from Auto Mode

All digital cameras, whether point and shoot, mirrorless, or DSLR have an auto function where the camera makes all the decisions for you. It meters the conditions and decides what aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to use. This does not insure however that you get the best image or even the one you want. Equally true is that most all digital cameras, including very inexpensive point and shoot cameras have mode dials that allow you to take more control. Most all cameras, at the very least have the following mode settings: (M) manual, (A) aperture, (S) shutter speed, and (P) programmable. You will find that these more manual modes will give you creative control that you do not otherwise have. Additionally, most digital cameras, especially entry level, whether point and shoot, mirrorless, or DSLR have various scene modes that are set for specific types of photography, such as landscape, portrait, low light, etc.
 Some of these work quite well and some not so much. Quite frankly, when you are out shooting you should try several of these things with a particular point of view so that you can understand what is best for you. To the right is a typical camera mode dial. This one is Nikon I believe, but all are similar, however Canon cameras have Av & Tv in place of A & S.

I shoot a lot of landscapes/cityscapes so I like to use the (A) aperture priority for many of my shots. It allows me to set the aperture opening and ISO and the camera selects the appropriate shutter speed. I also like to under-expose my images so I usually set it for either -.30 or -.70EV. However, I have a friend who shoots mostly street photography and he likes to use (S) shutter speed so that he can make sure he controls whether there is blurring with motion or not. If you are photographing anything moving such as bicycles or motor vehicles you will want to control the shutter speed value.

I also shoot a large number of night or low light images and that can often require (M) manual mode. In this case, you choose the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to get the exact results you want. A lot of night/low light photography requires the use of a tripod. The reason is that many times you want to slow the shutter speed down to having it open for several seconds and if you use a hand-held method you will blur your image beyond recognition. In this way, you can set the aperture to a higher f value that restricts the amount of light coming into the camera. Slow the shutter down to several seconds (4-30) depending on available light, and keep the ISO low (100-200). This gives very crisp images with the lights starred.

Here is an example:

You can see the starring on the lights in this one. If I remember, this is at f/14 with an ISO of 200 and a shutter speed of 8 seconds.

However, with the newer mirrorless, and DSLR cameras, that are capable of higher ISO you can take nice night shots hand held. You must use a prime lens that has a wider aperture and crank the ISO up to 1600 or 3200. This will make hand held shots that are acceptable with little noticeable noise. Your camera should be capable of at least 6400 native ISO and it is better if it is even higher like ISO 12800 and above. The key is having a lens with a fast aperture, at least f/2.8 - f/2 or f/1.8.

Below is an example of a hand-held night shot with a f/2.8 prime lens.

And here is another at even lower light conditions.

I will blog about the other dial settings in more detail in further posts.

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