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When you first buy a digital SLR, there are several forces in play. You want to learn how to use this beautiful piece of equipment you just purchased but you also want pictures to look at and share immediately. The latter is known as immediate gratification and in my experience it almost always trumps the learning force. We all rationalize that learning about all the camera's buttons will come and it eventually does but a little further down the road. For now we set our cameras to Automatic, letting the camera make all of our decisions for us - happy to simply see results. My camera manual refers to the "Auto" setting as the "Point-and-Shoot setting which certainly has a place in our lives but every day? Why did you buy a DSLR if you wanted to "point-and-shoot"?
The next logical step up the bravery ladder is to use some of the automatic "Scene Modes" on the Mode Dial and these are designated by several easily understood symbols. They are still fully automatic but you can select the mode that more specifically fits your shooting circumstances. See you're already thinking about light, motion, and most importantly the results that you want. On my Nikon D90 there are five Scene modes and this is fairly typical on a DSLR you might buy at the start. They are: Portrait (for portraits what else), Landscape (for just that), Close up (for shots of flowers, bees, and other little things), Sports (for moving objects), and Night portrait (for portraits under low light). There are similar settings for Canons like those on this 30D.
For each of these modes, the camera makes assumptions about your subject matter and thus decides upon the shutter speed, aperture, and even the focus point. When I started, I was shooting a lot of surfers and running children at the beach, and I rarely moved off the sports setting - wanting to see good images as I was learning how to capture and frame these "moving objects".
Nikon D60 at 200mm on Sports Mode: 1/1000 sec at f/5.6, Auto ISO resulted in ISO 140
In Sports Mode the camera allows only AWB (Auto-White Balance) & Matrix Metering
As a bi-product of using this automatic setting, I read the metadata on my pictures and learned what shutter speeds stopped the action, what aperture was selected by the camera in the process, and what I liked and disliked.
Moving beyond the camera's automatic settings, semi-automatic is the next rung on the ladder and these include P, S, A, and M - Programmed automatic, Shutter speed, Aperture, and Manual (why the User's Manual rolls the latter into the semi-automatic modes is a puzzle to me).
I should also note here, that in these semi-automatic modes, you - the photographer - also determine the focus point, the white balance, the ISO, etc. It's a lot of responsibility but a heck of a lot of fun.
The first time I used Manual mode, I felt like it was graduation day. Don't get me wrong, it was a challenge because I had to "think like the camera" and ask myself why the camera needed the setting I was providing and what effect I thought it would produce, but what a feeling of accomplishment, when I saw my images and they turned out pretty good.
Nikon D60 on Manual Exposure Mode: 30.0 seconds at f/10; ISO 200
Night photography often requires shooting in manual mode and lots of trial and error!
Now all of the Exposure Mode settings on the dial are in my arsenal and I can choose when to use which one - but that only came from practicing and seeing the results using fully-automatic, semi-automatic, and finally the manual exposure modes. When you start, the camera is technically in charge, and by practicing and learning you take creative control. Enjoy the journey!
Nikon D60 with lens at 200mm: 1/400 second @ f/5.4 and ISO 400
Differential focus is when only a small area of an image is in focus and the remainder is blurred, allowing the subject to be isolated. This is one of my favorite techniques and I intentionally blur portions of many of my images in order to emphasize my subject or to add to the story without shifting focus away from my primary subject. By using a wide aperture like f/4.5 or 5.6 (or f/2.8 if you're lucky enough to have such a fast lens) and focusing carefully i.e. manually, you can separate your subject, like this crocus's stigmata, from the background of it's blurred petals. This also works to blur an otherwise messy background into a sea of color that surrounds the subject. (Wasn't I lucky that purple and yellow are complementary colors thus providing a very pleasing contrast in the photo below.)
Nikon D60 with lens at 200mm: 1/125 second @ f/5.6 and ISO 200
In "C is for Composition", I said that "Photographers have a multitude of decisions to make about light, lines (leading or otherwise), balance, motion, space, focus, perspective, and framing." Focus, differential or otherwise, and its partner depth of field can play a large role in the composition of an image.
Nikon D7000 with lens at 112mm: 1/13 second @ f/5.6 and ISO 100
In this image of the cocktail nuts, I wanted to ensure the focus was on the nuts but within the context of entertaining and what better way than to show some hors d'oeuvres but allow them to be blurred while ensuring the nuts are in sharp focus. A shallow depth of field created with the f/5.6 allowed the blur I wanted while I focused on the nuts.
Nikon D90 with lens at 90mm: 1/250 @ f/5.6 and ISO 400
Lastly, I used differential focus in this image of the sunflowers to tell the story ... to focus on the bloom with the colorful images of what it will become blurred in the background.
Play with differential focus and share your images on the Light, Lines & Color Community in Google+. If you're not a member, join - it's free. Then just ask to become a member of our little community - we love to share and learn.
Composition ... the first definition of the word composition in Merriam-Webster's Dictionary is "the act or process of composing; specifically: arrangement into specific proportion or relation and especially into artistic form".
Once you learn how to technically operate your DSLR, you must then apply those techniques to composing an image that conveys what you feel or want to say - make an image that tells the story you wanted to tell, the one that drove you to pick up that camera in the first place.
Composition is not simple although it looks that way when you see an image that speaks to you. Photographers have a multitude of decisions to make about light, lines (leading or otherwise), balance, motion, space, focus, perspective, and framing. What stays in an image and what stays out? To make the images that are in your mind's eye, you will need to learn about composition and the rules that we all have had to learn, in order to know when they could be broken. Every painter must learn these basics as well in order to know when to use or when to lose one of these rules.
You could probably earn a degree in Composition, so it can't and won't be covered in just this one post but rather over several. For now, I'll leave you with the most important "rule" I've learned about composition, and that is "You are responsible for everything in your photograph." That means everything. So think before you press that shutter release button. Make your eye rove around the image in your view finder - look left, look right, look up and look down, persuse the perimeter. Is there anything that detracts from your subject? Can it be eliminated? Sometimes it's as simple as moving just a step or two to exclude something detracting or to add emphasis to your subject.
We all click so quickly in this digital age - it certainly costs us nothing, monetarily that is, but I would argue it costs us greatly in time - time that will be required to cull through mediocre images that probably shouldn't even have been taken, if only we had thought before clicking. Next time you go out to shoot, try to come back with half as many images as you usually do because you truly worked on composing the images you wanted.
* Nikon D7000: Tripod at 30.0 sec @ f/22, ISO 100, Aperture Priority
Whether your a morning person or and evening person, you are in luck because there are two "blue hours" every day, but I should note that this period of time is rarely an hour. Blue hour is a period of twilight that occurs each morning and each evening when there is neither full daylight nor complete darkness. For a photographer who wants to capture the deep, dark cobalt/navy blue of blue hour, you will have to be up in the dark early morning hours, way before sunrise, or you must stay out into the darkness of post-sunset evenings, when your instincts tell you it's way too dark to get anything worthwhile. Those are the moments when your camera sees that which your naked eye cannot - the first or last remnants of light creating a deep blue background to every photograph.
Nikon D90: No tripod at 0.6 sec @ f/4.5, ISO 500, Aperture Priority
The challenge in these hours is focusing, so it's recommended that you focus from your shooting vantage point when there is sufficient light, and make a note of those settings. Exposures in this kind of light will be long, so you must have a tripod, and to avoid shaking the camera while taking the picture use either a remote control or the timer setting. Whatever you do, pack your patience because I promise you will be rewarded. Images with landscapes or cityscapes with man-made lights and skylines yield spectacular results. Being a lover of the color blue, I must say these are blues unlike any others I've seen and are well worth the small efforts to obtain them.
* I was surprised by the evening in Zurich, the stillness of the waters, the reflection of the city and that blue hour. Having no tripod, I steadied myself against a cement wall and raised the ISO only to a point where I knew the D90 wouldn't give me irreparable noise. Given that I didn't have a tripod, I had to take what I could get. At an aperture of f/4.5, the camera gave me a shutter speed of 0.6 second and the least depth of field. If I asked for more depth, the shutter would have to stay open longer and I knew I'd be more susceptible to camera shake, so I took what I could get and tried my very best to focus on the bridge. I think it worked, what do you think?
Learning the focus functionality of a DSLR camera can very quickly become overwhelming, especially when reading the manual for the first time. The manufacturer's manual-writers freely use terminology like AF-S and AF-C, and they differentiate between things like Autofocus Mode and AF-Area Mode. Why couldn't there be just one mode? It's a whole new language you have to learn before you can truly maximize the functionality of your DSLR camera, and, as many of us have learned, language and terminology is different for the same things depending on what manufacturer made your camera. I happen to "speak" Nikon and have steared clear of also learning a lot of the lingo of my husband's Canon because, well ... quite frankly, I confuse easily, and I really want to learn to use my camera first and foremost.
So let's drill down on the subject of focus, and auto-focus to be more specific. I may be over simplifying this but forgive me, I'd like to make your lives a little bit easier so you can get out from behind that manual and into the field shooting. Quite simply, at the start, there are THREE DECISIONS TO MAKE ABOUT FOCUS and they will determine the settings you'll select on your camera.
WILL YOU BE SHOOTING USING AUTOFOCUS (AF) OR MANUAL FOCUS (M), i.e. will you let the camera do the focusing or you will you be doing it
When I started, I shot everything with Autofocus (AF) on and I still start out almost every shoot that way, as it helps me focus (no pun intended) my attention, up front, on composition. However, much of what I shoot these days is stationary, like food, or close-up like flowers, and I want a specific part of the image to be perfectly in focus, so I will change the selector to M for manual - REMEMBERING TO CHANGE THE SETTING ON THE LENS TO MANUAL TOO (if necessary).
WILL YOUR SUBJECT BE STATIONARY OR MOVING? The answer will determine what "Autofocus mode" you will select.
In the world of DSLRs, there are generally three choices here and again your choice is based on the movement of your subject:
AF-S (Single focus): Choose if your subject is stationary. (S for stationary.) [This would be One Shot Mode in Canon speak.]
AF-C (Continuous focus): Choose if your subject is in continuous motion (C for Continuous.) [This would be Al Servo in Canon speak.]
AF-A (Automatic focus): Choose if you don't know if your subject may be stationary or continually moving, so your camera will automatically choose AF-S or AF-C depending on what it detects your subject is doing. (A is for Automatic selection.) [This would be Al Focus in Canon speak.]
WILL YOUR SUBJECT BE TAKING UP ALL OR SOME OF THE FRAME AS IT STAYS STATIONARY OR MOVES, i.e. what area of the frame do you want/need to be in focus? The answer will determine which "AF-Area Mode" you will choose.
Recently I acquired a Nikon D7000 which has up to 39 points of focus so I now have more choices than I did say with my first DSLR the D60, but conceptually nothing has changed. Allow me to keep it simple for now by describing the D60s three choices:
Closest Subject which, in reality, is an automatic mode defaulting to focusing on the closest subject detected by the camera in the frame.
Single Point which allows you to specifically select a single focus point within your frame.
Dynamic Area which allows you to select a point of focus but if the subject moves/leaves that point of focus the camera will focus based on information from the surrounding points of focus. In the case of the D60 there are only three, organized horizontally across the frame, whereas other models have many more distributed throughout the frame.
So, to recap, remember to think like your camera (you remember C is for Camera - Think Like One), "To give this photographer what he/she wants, how should I be set up?"
Questions to ask?
Luxembourg Palace Paris © 2013 Claudia Danforth Ward
Nikon D7000: 1/100 sec @ f/20, ISO 250, 18-200mm lens at 24mm
The world of lenses can be a magical one ... it can also be an expensive one so, as I was learning digital photography I found zoom lenses to be my favorites for providing me the flexibility to learn how to use light, lines, and color in my compositions without spending a fortune on numerous fixed lenses.
A zoom lens is one that can vary its focal length. I happen to have several in my arsenal, but started with just two: a wide-angle Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens and a telephoto Nikkor 55-200mm f/4-5.6 zoom lens, and these lenses brought the world of digital photography alive for me.
What I love about zoom lenses is you don't necessarily have to change your own position to get the image you want.
The Palace at Versailles © 2013 Claudia Danforth Ward
Nikon D7000: 1/200 sec @ f/13, ISO 250, 18-200mm lens at 18mm
Standing in one location you can push your image out with a wide-angle zoom lens to include more of a land- or city-scape, giving the viewer the sense of a broader vista than the naked eye would.
Champs Elysées Paris © 2013 Claudia Danforth Ward
Nikon D7000: 1/200 sec @ f/10, ISO 200, 18-200mm lens at 130mm
Or standing in one location you can pull in a scene, isolating details and giving the viewer a sense of objects being far closer to one another than they really are.
Compressed Stop Signs © 2011 Claudia Danforth Ward
Nikon D60: 1/8 sec @ f/25, ISO 200, 120-400mm at 270mm
Uncompressed Stop Signs © 2011 Claudia Danforth Ward
Nikon D60: 1/15 sec @ f/22, ISO 400, 55-200mm lens at 102mm
Make sure you have at least one wide-angle and one telephoto zoom lens in your camera bag, they will open up a world of options and opportunities in the realm of didgital photography.
"A Delusional Old Grinder" © 2012 Claudia Danforth Ward
Nikon D90: 0.8 sec @ f/13, ISO 400, Aperture Priority
I ran across this quotation from Mark Twain the other day and it rang so true to me I wanted to share it with you here and under what better letter than "Y" for You.
"You can't depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus."
"Blue Lace Hydranea" © 2011 Claudia Danforth Ward
Nikon D60: 1/200 sec @ f/4.5, ISO 100, Shutter Priority
As photographers, so much of what we do is centered on focus - Tack sharp focus, differential focus, automatic focus, manual focus, focus modes, and points of focus. All of these relate to decisions we make to create the image ruminating in our imaginations.
"The Huddle" © 2011 Claudia Danforth Ward
Nikon D60: 30.0 sec @ f/40, ISO 400, Aperture Priority
According to our friends at Merriam-Webster an imagination is "the thinking or active mind". We all have one - it's where dreams are made, we simply have to let our imaginations flourish and become focused on our dreams and the images of those dreams. You'll never know what you can create until you follow your imagination.
"A Chorus of Orchids" © 2012 Claudia Danforth Ward
Nikon D90: 5.0 sec @ f/29, ISO 200, Aperture Priority
X has had me stumped for weeks now, and for that I apologize but I promised you a posting to Light, Lines & Color (LLC) for each week this year and I will. I'm only four weeks behind! Here begins my "catch-up". We learned early this year that exposure is determined by our favorite triumvirate - Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO - these are the basic tools we use to create the exposed image that we want. But there are lots of buttons and dials on our DSLRs and many will help us fine tune our exposures, such as the Exposure Compensation button discussed in the post on Brightness. Now here's another helpful button for getting you to the exposure you want, it's called the Metering Button. What's that you ask?
Well let's back up a little. When you've set the camera up to take a shot, it's reading the light in the scene you've composed. You can fine-tune that reading by having it read the light in a wide area of the frame (Matrix Metering), having it read the whole frame but assigning the greatest weight to the light in the center area (Center-weighted Metering), or having it meter the light on small a circle that is centered on the current focus point (Spot Metering). On most DSLRs there's a button, easily accessible while you're looking through the viewfinder, not far from the shutter-release button that will allow you to switch between these metering settings.
Here's an assignment: Find the Metering Button on your camera. Set your camera to Aperture setting f/11, with an ISO of 100, and go out to take a landscape shot on a high contrast day, meaning a sunny day when there's a lot of shadow in the frame. Now play with the different settings on the Metering Button: Matrix, Center-weighted, and Spot, and share your reults on our Google+ LLC sight . Get to know your camera and what it will do for you.
Looking to make a silhouette shot? I like this early morning shot of my husband on a dock on the Vineyard. He was back lit in early morning light and I didn't want the camera to try to "average" out the extremes in light, so I spot metered on him, which resulted in this semi-silhouette that I love. Play with this ... it's fun.
Did you know that light comes in different colors - well different color temperatures to be more accurate? Sunlight, a lightbulb and the light on a cloudy day all have different colors that are detectable by our cameras even when we don't perceive them with our naked eye (because our brain corrects things for us). We've all returned from a shoot and found our images all had a yellow, green or blue tinge to them. In order for us to get the colors in our photographs as accurate as possible, we have to adjust the white balance in our cameras for the kind of light that's around when we're shooting.
There are several ways you can avoid problems in the white balance arena:
First, you could shoot on Auto White Balance which will mean the camera will do its best to read the lighting situation it finds itself in and make appropriate adjustments. This really does work fairly well, especially outdoors.
Or, you could select the Preset White Balance Setting on your camera that best matches your surrounding light, like: Incandescent (indoor light bulb light), Fluorescent, Direct Sunlight, Flash, Cloudy, or Shade.
You could also create a custom white balance, which may sound complicated but it really isn't, you simply make your camera read the lighting where you are by reading the light off of a grey or white card and creating your own "preset". Trust me it's easy, I've been doing it all morning with great results, after reading the salient three paragraphs in my manual.
Lastly, you could simply shoot in RAW rather than JPEG. This doesn't avoid white balance issues but it does allow you to select the correct white balance in post-processing in software like Lightroom. Having said that, remember what the pros do ... they do their very best to get it right in the camera, up front. It certainly saves lots of processing time later - time that could be better spent shooting.