Un-Auto Your Photos

by John4KC, Photographer
john4kc@faithinmarketing.com • (816) 682-4325

First I’m going to show you this page… http://lightenupandshoot.net/photography-101. Be sure to click on the “read more” on each section so you see the whole lesson.


The 3 main controls you have for getting light to your sensor are Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO. All three work together to get the exposure you’re looking for. Generally a “proper” exposure is one that has no black areas and no white areas. Your camera has a “histogram” to help you determine if your exposure is too bright or too dark. This video explains the histogram pretty well http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5d6oWndayEE&feature=related It’s pretty important to at least know about even if you’re in an automatic mode.

Forget about ISO for now…

Aperture refers to the iris in the lens. In aperture priority mode on your camera, you’re choosing an aperture and the camera chooses a complimentary shutter speed to make a “proper exposure”. The smaller f numbers represent larger apertures letting in more light, allowing for a faster shutter speed. Smaller apertures also create shallow depth of field. Larger f numbers are smaller apertures, need slower shutter speeds and create more depth in the image.

Experiment… Put your camera in Aperture mode and set it to a low f # like f/4 (or smaller if your lens allows for it) and focus on a something on your desk about a foot or so away and take a shot. You’ll notice that the subject is in focus, but stuff behind it quickly goes way out of focus. Take another shot at a larger f # like f/16. Right away you’ll notice that first of all, the camera chose a MUCH slower shutter speed, and second, much more of the background and foreground are in focus. If it’s dark where you are, you might have had a hard time keeping the camera steady for that whole 2nd shot. Keep that in mind! If there is plenty of light, like on a bright sunny day, the camera will choose a faster shutter speed and that won’t be an issue (we can also use a higher ISO to compensate for the low light. More on that…).

This is how I shoot 98% or more of my shots! In Aperture Priority.

Once you start using Aperture Priority or other settings, you’ll start to see the value of having a lens that “opens” way up to like f/1.8 or something. You can get 50mm 1.8 lenses for Nikon or Canon pretty cheap (around $100 on ebay). They make great photos with very shallow depth of field and are a MUST in low light.

While in Aperture Priority mode the +/- button (“exposure compensation” button) is VERY useful on your camera. Lets say you shoot a photo and your subject is in the shadows. Your camera will expose for the overall scene, but you need a little boost to brighten up where your subject is. Hold down the +/- button and use your scroll wheel (or however your camera works) and adjust to to the plus side to brighten up the image. It will probably adjust in 1/3 “stops” at a time. It’s good to know that it makes the adjustment by forcing the camera to choose a slightly slower shutter speed than it otherwise would have, so in some cases you might add some ISO also. A perfect example of when you would use the +/- button would be when someone’s back is to the sun or light source. Hold that button and go to +1 or something. Try it!

Shutter Priority is used to control motion in your photos. A fast shutter speed like 1/2000 of a second can make a race car look like it’s sitting still. A desirable way to shoot race cars is to shoot at slower speeds like 1/100 of a second and follow the car to blur the background as in this shot http://www.flickr.com/photos/8492055@N08/4475970718/ Of course you’re giving the camera control of the aperture and letting go of the control of depth. You know in the back of your mind though, that at 1/2000sec that the camera will use a low f# and at 1/100 will will close down the lens and use a larger f#.

ISO is used to control how sensitive the sensor is. Lower #s are less sensitive so more light is required, but give a cleaner image. higher #s are more sensitive, but can make the image grainy or “noisy”. If you’re in low light and your lens is all the way open (low f#) and your shutter is too slow for your liking, then you can raise the ISO. I’ll shoot at ISO 3200 when shooting photos of my friend’s band in poor light for example while using a lens that opens up to f/1.8. At 1.8 you get a very shallow depth of field!.. as in this shot http://www.flickr.com/photos/8492055@N08/5096294374/

Going full Manual and “Stops of light”. Every time you speed up your shutter speed (from 1/100sec to 1/200sec for example) you are letting in half as much light, or one “stop” less. To compensate for that you need to get that stop back by either raising the ISO OR the Aperture a stop to maintain the same exposure. With ISO that’s going from 200 to 400 for example (as with shutter speed, each doubling is one stop). With aperture, that’s going from f/5.6 to f/4 for example (standard full stops are 1.4, 2, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, 22 etc. Most cameras adjust by 1/3 of a stop at a time, or per click of the wheel). Knowing the concept of stops is important because lets say you want more of your subject in focus… You know you need to raise your f# to get more depth, so you know you need to drop or slow your shutter speed by the same number of stops OR raise your ISO by that number of stops (or each by some amount). Have a look at this video for an idea http://froknowsphoto.com/how-to-get-out-of-auto-and-into-manual/

There is more to learn when it comes to metering modes, choosing focusing methods, etc, but I’ve put a lot on here that I hope will get you started. Adding flash to a photo is a whole other subject.

Regarding Printing…

I rarely have prints made at all. I wish I did more, but just don’t. The last batch I had done was when I had a trial account with Smugmug, which is a photo sharing site. They use two labs and I’m pretty sure the prints were done at ezprints. I had some metallic prints done and they were amazing. Bay Photo also gets high praise and has many products to choose from. If you’re looking for a photo book, Adoramapix is pricey, but the very best using actual photo paper for the pages. The pages also fold out flat. Extra important when you have one photo spreading across two pages. Those are all best of the best in my mind. Of course there’s nothing wrong with CVS or Costco for everyday prints.