Friday, February 8, 2008

Lesson 5 - Camera Basics and Shutter Speed

In this lesson we are going to learn what makes up the basics of a camera and then shutter speed. If you ever took a high school photography course, they probably had you make a “pinhole camera”. If not, then basically this is a cardboard box with a tiny hole in the front and a flap over the front of the hole. The entire inside remains totally black and has a piece of film inside that the image will be recorded on. As the flap is lifted, the light is let in. The longer the flap is open, the more light. The larger the hole, the more light. That, in all its simplicity, is a camera. Of course thereafter is processing… (for another day). The size of the hole is the aperture and the flap is the shutter.

The shutter by definition is the movable curtain in the camera that opens and closes when you press the shutter release button. While the shutter is open, the scene you’re taking gets passed to the film or sensor where it is recorded. The amount of time that the shutter stays open is the shutter speed.

Like aperture, shutter speeds are made up of fractions: 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, etc… each time you change from one to the other, you are either doubling or cutting the light in half. So, 1/30 lets in twice as much light as 1/60 and 1/125 only lets in half of 1/60.

Like aperture affects a photo (depth of field and what is in focus and what is not), the shutter speed also affects the way a photo can look by either showing or freezing motion. We will cover more in a “low light lesson” later. For now though, it’s enough to think of it as showing or freezing (sharp or softly blurred). So, if everything in the scene is in focus and a car driving by is blurry, then the shutter speed was left open long enough to show the motion of the car. Or, you can use a fast shutter speed to stop dripping water in mid air.

The following is a list of basic ways to think of shutter speeds. This is an excerpt from ‘The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Portrait Photography’ and is an excellent reference manual:

- B (“Bulb”) – At this setting, the shutter stays open for as long as the shutter release is held in, allowing you to take long time exposures and to show motion in images that contain changing light patterns, such as pictures of fireworks.
- 1/4 sec and 1/8 sec – These slow shutter speeds require a tripod or some other support. It’s possible to shoot close portraits of people who are adept at sitting perfectly still at 1/4 sec, but not likely. These shutter speeds are intended mainly for stationary subjects.
- 1/15 sec and 1/30 – Some super-steady photographers using normal and wide angel lenses can hand-hold their camera at 1/15 and 1/30 and get sharp pictures, but it’s better to use a tripod because odds are blurring will still be a problem.
- 1/60 sec – Most people can take steady shots at 1/60, a speed which still allows great depth of field in most situations. Additionally, this is the most commonly recommended shutter speed to use with electronic flash.
- 1/125 sec – Probably the safest all-round shutter speed for handheld shots. Although not intended to capture motion, it’s great for taking more candid-type portraits when outside in normal daylight.
- 1/250 sec – The shutter speed for mid-level action photography.
- 1/500 sec – The action shutter speed that can clearly capture most rapid motion.
- 1/1000 sec and up – Better have awfully good light and fast film for these settings.

What is not mentioned in this list is that in the B or bulb mode you usually need a tripod and helpful to use a remote since you control how long the shutter stays open.

Also, taking the same photo from different angles gives you a different feel. ie. a moving subject from head on, 45 degree angle and from the side will all give your photo a different sense of motion. Just an idea to show us how taking a photo with the same settings at a different stand point gives us a different sense of motion.

So, for now, we are going to play with the automatic setting of “sports mode”. Play with the flash on and off and see what the difference is. Make mental notes of the shutter speeds your camera is using and the results you are getting from different shooting situations.


Use sports mode and show motion either frozen or in motion… make sure that the photo tells us that there was motion happening when the picture was taken. Don’t worry if your subject is blurry if it’s an action shot… if everything else is clear, then it is a successful action shot. Or, you can do the opposite and freeze someone jumping in mid air. Don’t forget to upload your specs with your photos. We’ll be looking at the shutter speeds this time.Have fun girls! Can’t wait to see your “action” shots!

Assignment 4 - Landscape

These photos were taken yesterday at a park near my home.

ISO 100
Lens 70-300mm
Flash off
ISO 100
Lens 70-300mm
Flash off

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Lesson 4: Macro and Landscape Modes

ISO 320
Flash Off
In this section, we are going to cover Macro and Landscape. I was originally only going to work on Macro, but I’ve also realized that some cameras (or lenses) are not completely capable no matter how much you try to force it… trust me, I was trying… so, we’ll include landscape too. Incidentally, I am also touching on lenses and focal length a little, but we will do more on this later too.

Since both modes are based on aperture, here is a quick review: In lesson 2, we discovered that the aperture (the opening in the lens) affects the “depth of field”, the area which is in focus vs. the blurry area just before and after the subject. Remember that a small numbered f/stop (ie, f/4) is a larger opening in the lens which makes the background/foreground more blurry. The opposite is true for a large numbered f/stop (ie, f/22) which is a small opening in the lens which makes everything in focus. Remember, the common f/stops are – f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, and f/22.

When we covered the Portrait mode, the auto settings pretty much chose an aperture around the f/5.6 or f/8 range… sort of in the middle. This makes the background a little blurry and is nice for portraits of people, etc. It helps to keep the attention on the subject. So, since that was the middle of the scale, lets visit the extremes on each end of the aperture scale.

Macro Mode: Macro mode is represented by the “flower” icon on the dial (or if you have a point and shoot camera and it is macro capable, then it will be either on a dial or on the back somewhere or perhaps a menu feature. So, macro mode uses the larger openings in the lens which are the smaller f/stop numbers (ie, f/2 – f/4, and some smaller than that). A macro shot looks like those extreme close up shots that you see in magazines of flowers or insects, etc where only part is in focus and the rest of the picture is blurry. This gives you a concentrated area of attention.

My Experience: I have a Samsung s750 digital P&S and a Nikon D50 (SLR) with the following lenses: Tamron 70-300mm with macro – this lens has a switch on the side to change from regular close up to extreme close up (normal and macro 180-300mm). So, I extend the length of the lens to its max, flip the switch, and then I have even more zoom. All of my macro shots to date have been done with that lens.Nikon 70-300mm – this lens doesn’t have the macro switch. No matter how far I extend the lens, it just can’t seem to achieve a larger aperture than f/5.6 in macro automatic mode. Tamron 28-80mm – this lens won’t achieve anything larger than an f/5.6 in macro mode either. Also no matter which mode I was working in (manual or auto), I couldn’t seem to make the background blurry. I believe this is due to the focal length (which we will cover more later). Samsung s750 point & shoot digital – got this for Christmas and this camera surprised me right out of the gate on it’s macro shots. I think they will potentially seriously rival those of my Tamron macro lens! I’ll put up some examples of both as a comparison later for fun. On this one, you find the macro option not on the dial, but as an option on the directional button on the back.

Landscape Mode:At the opposite end of the aperture scale, we have a small opening with an f/stop of f/16 – f/22. These openings are very small but all at the same time keep everything in focus. When you see a picture in a magazine of a mountain range and everything is in focus, then it was done with a small aperture (larger number, ie, f/22). You can find the landscape mode on your dial represented by a “mountain” type icon.

My Experience: 70-300mm lenses - I use these often when I’m far away from what I’m trying to take a picture of and trying to zoom in. I find that the 28-80mm is not really good for long distance shots even though there is a little zoom to it.28-80mm lens – this one is good for those shots where you want to get everything in, say a wide mountain range. Even though the other lenses are great for zooming (which a lot of people are after), this lens has a ton of benefits too. There is such a thing as being too close to your subject. When you are standing somewhere and you are looking at a subject, our normal vision sees the world around 50mm (so they say). More than 50mm and you are zooming. Less than that and you are creating a wider angle which is like standing where you are but stepping back by a couple of feet. This lens is great for group shots or when you are in a small or confined space such as a living room. However so far, 90% of my experience has been that everything taken with this lens comes out clear (no blur). If I’m looking to blur the background, I switch to my 70-300mm. And, all at the same time if I’m taking a group shot with a 70-300mm lens, then I find that I have to move much further away from the subject (sometimes running a few yards). All 3 lenses have their benefits and can be better suited to specific situations. Here’s the sort of neat part… each of these lenses can obtain a focal length of 70-80mm.Samsung s750 P&S – I’m still looking for the landscape option on this camera. The manual that came with it pretty much only points out where stuff is on the camera but not how to change other settings. I’m still lurching around for that right now.

Challenge by Chel (1tufchick):Macro - (since it is so wet here and perhaps trying to capture some water droplets and or dew on leaves/flowers and suchLandscape - focus on reflections

Lesson 3: Camera Settings

So far, we have touched on the type of cameras we own (was in the survey), lighting, different modes (portrait), aperture, and a touch of focal length. I’ve seen some of you have already started to post these with your pictures and they do it in all the big magazines. So, this would be a great time to get used to putting the information with the shots. This is also a great learning tool. Boringly enough, the numbers are important. When I first started, I pretty much ignored all the figures until I HAD to pay attention (hence us going through the auto settings first). Eventually, you will want to push your camera beyond the auto settings and will need to know how aperture, shutter speed, focal length, ISO, and light (flash or otherwise), etc all affect the outcome and how to push in the right direction… “need more blur – oh, right! aperture!” or “want to freeze movement – oh right! shutter speed!” (of course having to compensate in other areas, but knowing the key of what we need to adjust first). Point being that if we see the numbers regularly, we will start understanding what it was that made that picture the way it was. Also, we can learn from each other by noticing what numbers were used in each instance.So the first part of this assignment:Find out where you can find your camera settings. I can find what my camera was set at when I took a shot the following ways:In camera – only when the shots are still in there though.Photoshop CS2 <>