In this article, you will discover some basic concepts of photography. We will keep it simple evaluate just the most essential elements for controlling the camera foreseeing an expected result. In fact, following these instructions, you will see great improvements immediately, and you will understand more how to take pictures in a right way. At the end of the article, you will be more aware of the camera usage and able to improve your style and your portfolio.
Enjoy the lecture and let's get started!
What's a camera?
A camera is a dark box with a pinhole. The light from an external subject outside the camera pass through this hole and as a result, an image is projected inside where the subject is reproduced with high details and colors upside-down and reversed in a surface. The surface can be a paper, a wall, a film or a digital sensor.
Nowadays all cameras use lenses rather than pinholes. This allows to control the projected image better and provides a different set of apertures, values of brightness and maintain the focus.
How can I control my camera?
Three main elements ensure you to manipulate the light in a camera:
- Lens Aperture
- Shutter Speed
Lens Aperture is represented by f-numbers called “f-stops.” This value shows how open is the "pinhole". The lower the number, the more open the lens is.
Of course, the more open the lens is, the more light will enter. That's why this works hand in hand with the speed you keep open the camera hole, the shutter speed.
Increasing shutter speed, in fact, will allow you to decrease the amount of light for a fraction of the time that enters in the sensor. In other words, it will reduce the light and will make the sensor reach the perfect balance of light in the system.
But what is this "balance"?
The "balance" is represented by the so-called "Exposure". The Exposure is measured by a component in your camera, called "built-in exposure meter". Without making things complicated (we have plenty of time to do that later), what we need to understand is that we need to balance the light that is hitting our surface (our sensor in the case of digital cameras) with this two components, and the exposure meter is telling us (upon criteria defined by the "software" installed in the camera) if we are underexposing or overexposing.
The perfect exposure doesn't exist, and we shouldn't rely only on what established by the default option in our camera. You can always underexpose or overexpose to better reach the composition and effect you want, but of course, this instrument is an excellent help while you're shooting regardless you're a beginner, an advanced or pro.
Lst but not the least, there is there is a third component of the light control.
This is an elementary part to understand and can be helpful to solve our problems when we have a little light at our disposal for a photo. It is simply the sensitivity of our sensor to the light. A low number of ISO corresponds to a lower sensitivity. Tha means that if we increase this number we are going to gather more light in a fraction of the time.
But why do you need this?
Imagine you're at night and there is a shallow light. Ok, you can open the lens and decrease at the minimum "f-stops", but if the light is still not enough what you're going to do? Decrease the shutter speed. Great!. This will work if you don't move the camera while shooting and your subject is still, but imagine now you've to do photos in a party. Unfortunately, people are moving around, and if we need half of a second to do a picture, we will end up to see the faces of our guest with a strange moving effect. We may gather some beautiful artistic effects, but nothing else. Then what we can do to keep the shutter speed high and collect an amount of light that can be caught by our sensor? Increase the sensitivity! YES!... that is the ISO.
How is the effect of this three components in my photos?
Now that you learned what these elements are, and their role key with the light, let's see what the effect they produce that we may use to our advantage is.
Here what's happening when you're using a low f-number compared to a high number (use the slide on the image to see what happens):
As you can see, there is a great difference between the two photos. In the first one coming from the left side of the slider, the "sharp area" of the picture is very narrow, and you can almost see the person popping up from the screen. When you've such small "sharp area" it's hard to nail the focus on the eyes and the face, but at the same time, this is giving to your photos a 3D effect that you won't have using a high focal number. This "sharp area" is technically called "depth of field". We will come back with these concepts, but what is important to remember here, is that the size of the aperture has an immediate impact on the "sharp area" of the image (the depth of field). A high "f-number" as f/22 (small aperture) will bring all foreground and background image in focus, in this case, the "sharp area" of the picture is large, we have then a large "depth of field". Instead, a small f-number as f/2 will isolate the foreground from the background, this is making the foreground items sharp, and the background blurred giving this "3D effect" to our pictures.
What about shutter speed? Here you can get creative; the only limit is your phantasy. For example, you can set your shutter speed to 1/10-1/40 of a second and try to give a motion effect to a car moving, you may make a flowing cascade like "cream" in a river, you may freeze a drink in the air, or you can show the traffic jam at night:
A high ISO number is producing a grainy effect, the so-called noise in the image. This can be an adverse effect because the picture loses details and consistency, but you can also use to your advantage giving a "vintage" taste to your pictures:
Be Careful! Dimension Counts... don't get too close!
The very last concept I should mention before leaving you to the practice is the Focal Lenght. As you may realize on your lens, there is another measure usually represented in millimeters (mm). The focal length is telling how much of the scene will be captured and how much the magnification will be. The higher is the focal length, the greater the magnification and the narrower the angle of view are. The lower is the focal length number, the lower the magnification and the wider the angle of view are.
Of course, this may create some problems. The focal length choice will affect what you see if you get to close to the subject. Different focal lengths lenses will “see” the same scene differently when you try to frame the subject in the same way (use the slide on the image to see what happens):
As you can see in this example, we used two different lenses (50mm left side vs. 16mm right side). The apparent distortion in the lower focal length lens (16mm) is because the lens is too close to the subject, in fact, in the "experiment", for obtaining the whole face dimension similar to the higher focal length (50mm) I reduced my distance from the person. A basic rule for avoiding distortion says that you shouldn't be the too close from the subject photographed. That means that a 50mm lens is more appropriate for a portrait than a 16mm lens, but not because of the lens. In fact, for filling all the view at your disposal in the frame and get a good resolution of all the elements with the 50mm we will not need to approach too much the subject, and this will not affect the proportion of the face. A standard error with a wide lens, including smartphones, is getting too close to the subject for filling the frame. Bear in mind that this is valid with all lenses, also with the 50mm. When the subject is too close to the barrel, his features will appear distorted. Of course, we can use this rule also to our advantage being creative, but don't do it with your beloved ones!
That's all folks! That article, of course, does not cover all the concepts, there is still a lot to discuss and step by step we will get to the moon! Here we covered the basics to start having an Idea about how to take a picture and what are the ground rules and controls to start steering our pictures are. You can apply these standards to any kind of camera, old or modern including the smartphone you have in your pocket.
Once you get an idea of these elements, we talked about we will dig into other topics. For example, we will learn how to read a histogram and about the perfect white balance to catch the perfect colors. We will see what are the various kind of lenses you can use in your photos ("zoom" lenses vs "prime" lenses), what the basic composition rules are, how to use the various modes in a camera, how to use flash or ND filters, what the best setup to shooting pictures is and much more... Once we mastered all this basic knowledge, we will try to understand which "style" of the pictures is best for you. You will develop a preference for doing a particular kind of image. Some of you will prefer portraits pictures, some other landscape or macro. There are hundreds of possibilities, but I'm sure in the end you will find your best talent and enjoyment!
For now, I recommend you to take your smartphone or your camera and try to experiment these few things I explained. Go out, take inspiration, and if you've no idea where to start, take a look at my previous post. I will come back soon with other posts and videos. Till then enjoy and have a great time!
Fabio @Standbypics project