Friday, April 27, 2012

Photography 101 | Think Like a Pro


Just joining in? Here's what you've missed:
Photography 101 | Coming Soon!
Photography 101 | Aperture
Photography 101 | Shutter Speed
Photography 101 | ISO
Photography 101 | Exposure Meter
Photography 101 | Depth of Field
Photography 101 | Motion

Welcome back to my Photography 101 series! I'm so glad that you have decided to join me.

You may remember from the discussion about your camera's exposure meter that there are several different combinations of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO that will create a properly exposed photograph, so how do you know which combination to select?

That's what I'm hoping to help you figure out with today's post!  It's time to put together everything we have discussed over the past 6 weeks, and learn how to think like a pro!

What I am going to share with you today is the process that got me started with learning how to select my camera settings.  I'm not claiming that this way is the only way, or even the best way, to take photos, nor is it the way that I use today, but I do think it is a good place to begin as you develop the method that works best for you.  Mainly, I'm hoping it will help you to recognize the questions you need to ask yourself as you prepare to create your own amazing photos.

When I first started shooting, I always did so with my camera in full manual mode.  The exception being that I almost always left my ISO set to auto.  This doesn't mean that I just let the camera select the ISO for me.  Instead, I would allow the camera to adjust the ISO as I adjusted the aperture and shutter speed, and then I'd evaluate the camera's selection.  I felt like it was less overwhelming during the learning process to control two settings instead of three.  Now that I have more experience, I no longer use auto ISO.  However, I still think using the auto ISO setting is a great tool as you get started, and have included it the process description below.

It took me a long time to figure out just how to write this post!  Usually I am doing many of these things simultaneously as I'm adjusting my settings, so it was rather difficult to detail a thought process in linear form in writing.  This was what I came up with, and I really hope that it is straight forward enough to make sense!

Below is the series of questions and considerations that I ask myself as I prepare to take each of the photos that I create:

1. The very first thing I do is ask myself, is the subject in motion?
  • Yes - Continue to Step 2
  • No - Skip to Step 6

2. What do I want to do with this motion?
  • Freeze it - Continue to Step 3
  • Intentionally blur it - Skip to Step 4

3.  Any time the subject is in motion, my first priority is going to be to select the shutter speed I want to use.  If my goal is to freeze the motion of my subject, I am going to select a fairly fast shutter speed.
  • Select my best estimated shutter speed - Skip to Step 5

4.  Any time the subject is in motion, my first priority is going to be to select the shutter speed I want to use.  If my goal is to intentionally blur my subject, I am going to select a fairly slow shutter speed (which may require a tripod).
  • Select my best estimated shutter speed - Continue to Step 5

5.  Once I have selected the shutter speed that I think will show the motion the way I want, I ask myself how large I want the depth of field to be (or how much of the scene do I want in focus)?
  • Small depth of field - Select a large aperture opening and continue to Step 8
  • Large depth of field - Select a small aperture opening and continue to Step 8

6. If my subject isn't in motion, my first priority is going to be to choose my aperture setting. To do that I ask myself, how large do I want the depth of field to be (or how much of the scene do I want in focus)?
  • Small depth of field - Select a large aperture opening and continue to Step 7
  • Large depth of field - Select a small aperture opening and continue to Step 7

7.  Once I have selected the aperture that I think will provide the depth of field that I want, I ask myself what shutter speed should I select?  To be honest, the shutter speed really isn't all that critical as long as it will allow for a proper exposure of the image and is fast enough to prevent me from moving the camera while taking the photo.   If I'm shooting with a tripod, then I can pick even slower shutter speeds if I want.
  • Select the shutter speed, and continue to Step 8

8.  After I have selected the shutter speed and aperture settings that I think I want to use, I do two things:
  • I look at my exposure meter to ensure that it is showing a proper exposure.  If the exposure meter is showing me that my exposure is going to be off, I start back at the beginning and re-ealuate my selections to compensate for what the exposure meter is telling me
  • If the meter is showing a negative reading (underexposed photo), I will open up my aperture, slow my shutter speed, or both. 
  • If the meter is showing a positive reading (overexposed photo), I will close down my aperture, increase my shutter speed, or both.
  • I consider my ISO setting.  Since I leave the ISO set to auto, the camera will have automatically selected an ISO setting to match the combination of the other two settings I selected to create a properly exposed photograph.  Personally, I opt to keep my ISO setting between 100 - 800 because my particular camera doesn't do well at high ISO levels.  If I shoot a photo using ISO 1600 or greater, I'm going to end up with noise in my photo.  This may or may not be an issue, depending on what I want to use the photo for, so I usually just try to avoid the higher ISO settings.
  • ISO between 100 - 800 - take the photo
  • ISO 1600 or greater  - Continue to Step 9
9. If my ISO setting with my first choice of shutter speed and aperture settings is 1600 or above, I have a choice to make: I can re-evalaute my settings and see if maybe I can slow my shutter speed slightly or open my aperture slightly to increase the light entering my camera, which will let me decrease the ISO. If I think this will still allow me to capture the image that I want to create, I will modify the settings.  If I think changing the settings will sacrifice the image or if lighting conditions won't allow me to change the settings, I opt to take the photo and live with the possible noise.

And there you have it!  I know that is probably a lot to take in!  I'm going to let you digest all of this information over the coming week and begin practicing with it if you would like, and I will return next week with an example or two.

Michele Whitacre is a portrait photographer serving Phoenix, Arizona and the surrounding area. Visit Michele's website at michelewhitacrephotography.com. Become a fan of Michele's work on Facebook. Follow Michele's updates on Twitter.

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