I think of photography as painting with light. When I taught art I probably said "It takes light to bring out dark" a million times! In photography, light is the key to everything else.
So how do we control light when we're outside? Ah... So many answers, all of them right. But let's just look at some basic rules. (And I also said a million times in my classroom "It's okay to break an art (principle) rule as long as you understand the rule, but are choosing to break it for creativity's sake."
Exposure Triangle. When we take a photo, the camera opens its shutter, lets in light through the lens, the light hits the camera sensor, and the image is captured. We have three ways to control that image.
- Aperture — The hole that opens and closes. We control the size of the aperture (lens opening) by choosing a wide open setting such as f/2, or a very small opening like f/11 or higher. It is a bit confusing. Higher f-stops are smaller, letting less light in. Smaller f-stops open the aperture wider, letting more light in. Another cool thing about aperture size is how it affects depth of field. Love the look of blurry backgrounds (bokeh)? We get that look by choosing a wide open aperture. Good lenses let you go down to f/1.4 or so, but you can get good bokeh with f/4 or higher too.
- Shutter Speed — It's just what it sounds like: how long the shutter stays open. It is usually stated in the form of 1/200 sec, 1/60 sec, 1/500 sec, etc. Shutter speed makes sense: slower speeds let more light in: 1/60 is slower, stays open longer, so it lets in more light than 1/1000. NOTE - It's a good idea to find out how steady you are. My limit is 1/125. Anyhing longer than that and my handheld camera images are blurry. That's why I use a tripod. Another cool thing you control with shutter is action: you can freeze motion with a fast speed, or capture motion blur with a slow speed.
- ISO — When you set aperture and shutter for the shot you want to capture, ISO is the third piece of the puzzle. Simply stated, ISO determines how sensitive to light your camera sensor is: 100 ISO is standard. Remember 400 or 800 ISO film? Not old enough? It's okay. Higher ISOs in the digital age do the same thing: let you take photos in darker situations. But like in the days of film, as ISO goes up, we introduce noise or “grain”. It will appear as tiny spots in the final image. But that is manageable in post-production. To a point.
Before we move on to anything else, this lesson is foundational. Get your camera out and start playing with it. Be bold.
When you have a photo you're proud of, please post it to your Facebook or Instagram and tag me: @pbhensley on both. Use the hastag #learnphotography if you want to join a pretty cool community of artists.