Camera Settings – Shutter Speed, Aperture, Manual, Auto, ISO, Flash, White Balance
We are getting to the “nitty gritty” of the workings of a DSLR now and these features are all what make up a photo…good or bad! How you set them will determine the effects and how the same image can look totally different by simply adjusting the values of each.
Shutter Speed (TV, S or Shutter Priority)
The shutter mechanism is what you hear when you take a photo with a DSLR (the sounds is often mimicked for effect in point and shoot cameras). In fact the sound you hear is a combination of the shutter and mirror in operation.
The shutter determines HOW LONG the light hits the sensor of your camera for…it is recording light all the time it is open. Therefore the faster the shutter speed, the more action will be “frozen” and the slower the shutter speed, the more action will be blurred.
E.g. 10 seconds, 1 second, 8th/sec, 15th/sec, 30th/sec are all SLOW shutter speeds and 250th/sec, 500th/sec and 1000th/sec are all FAST shutter speeds.
The latter are good for sports, wildlife and fast moving subjects and the slower speeds are good for night photography and low light photography as long as the subject isn’t moving.
Of course, these “rules” can be broken when getting creative but that will be covered later. We will also cover Tv, S or Shutter Priority (they all mean the same thing) and when you would most likely use this mode.
Aperture (Av, A or Aperture Priority)
The aperture is found inside the lens and NOT the camera. It is made up of up around 8 “leaves” which open and close in much the same way as the pupil in your eyes. They close to reduce light hitting the sensor when it is bright and they open to allow more light in when it is dark.
To see this in action, set your camera to Av or aperture priority, turn the camera around so you are looking in the lens and press the depth of field preview button ON the camera body, near the lens (it should be a small, simple black button.
As you push it, you should see the aperture opening and closing. This is a way of testing how much of the image will be in focus as you look through the camera.
We cover the effects and features of the aperture in the next module but for now, you need to know this:
- A wide open aperture of around F2.8 or F4 will give a SHALLOW depth of field meaning not much will be in focus other than your subject.
- A small aperture of around F8 or F16 will allow much of the image to be in focus from front to back…DEEP depth of field.
There are exceptions to these rules which we will cover later including Av, A or Aperture Priority (they all mean the same thing) but for now, that is one of the most important lessons you will receive about apertures.
This is the term for when you take complete control of the most important functions of your camera…focussing, metering, exposure, aperture, shutter speeds etc. You can leave certain things such as white balance (covered later) and ISO (covered later) fixed.
Why go manual?
Well, as scary as some people think it is, manual is not that difficult. Remember I said before that there is generally just one correct exposure but many ways of achieving it? This is how you do it yourself using a simple scale. Remember the viewfinder?
If when adjusting the aperture and shutter speed the indicator on the scale above is to the left, you are UNDEREXPOSING the shot meaning it will be too dark. If it is to the right, you are OVEREXPOSING the shot meaning it will be too bright. If it is in the middle, the chances are you will expose the shot PERFECTLY! Practice this by changing both the shutter speed and aperture but watch that your shutter speed does not go too slow, if it does, change the aperture instead!
Auto, or Full Auto
Going full auto means you are either using the green square on your mode dial or P (program mode).
Both mean that the camera will pretty much do everything for you except that (at least with Canon DSLR’s) the green square auto mode will only allow you to shoot JPEGS* but Program mode will allow you to shoot RAW as well as having slightly more control (more on that later).
*The Canon EOS 5D Mark II and 50D now allow you to shoot RAW in this mode. A feature that we expect to see in all new DSLRs.
I try to encourage any new photographer to come out of auto mode as soon as possible otherwise you may as well go back to using a point and shoot. Auto is good for situations where you simply do not have the time to make more manual adjustments and that is all.
You really want to learn to have control over certain aspects such as shutter speed, aperture and ISO for reasons we will come to. When using full auto you are leaving it up to the camera to make those decisions for you and the results may not always be what you want.
ISO (International Standards Organisation)
ISO used to be known as ASA in the days of film photography. You could buy different sensitivities of film ranging from 100 ASA up to 1600 ASA (including 200, 400 and 800 ASA). The same values and principles are used with digital sensors but we now use ISO instead of ASA…simple.
Each rise in value, i.e. from 200 to 400 represents a one stop increase in sensitivity, for example, if when taking a meter reading on a dimly lit day, let’s say you got;
Shutter speed: 30th/sec Aperture: F2.8 and ISO: 200
The shutter speed may be too slow to hand hold without getting camera shake and the aperture is already wide open so we cannot get more light in that way. By increasing the sensitivity from ISO 200 to ISO 400 (a one stop rise) we have gained an extra stop of light. So we could either close the aperture one stop to F4 (pointless as we need a faster shutter speed) or we can increase the shutter speed to 60th/sec which is acceptable, in most cases, to prevent camera shake…da-DAAA! Now we have;
Shutter speed: 60th/sec Aperture: F2.8 and ISO: 400
ISO with digital is great because you can change the ISO value “on the fly” in between each shot…with film you had to physically change the film (P.I.T.A.). Remember though that in many cases, as you increase the ISO (sensitivity), you run the risk of increasing grain or digital “noise”. Not so bad unless you want squeaky clean images for commercial or stock photography.
This is a huge subject and we cover it in a lot more detail in the next module but for now, we will cover the basics.
Many people have differing opinions on the use of flash, some like it and some swear blind that they never use it (natural light boffins) but we all know they all use some form of “man made” lighting or a little help at some point during their career.
It matters not what others do, you should do what you prefer and if that means needing or using flash then use it. I use flash sometimes with no hesitation although I also love and prefer the effect and mood of natural lighting.
Many prosumer DSLR’s have built in, pop up flash units. Do me a favour and switch it off from within the menu unless you are simply taking snapshots, it will generally do nothing for your photos.
External, separate flashguns or speedlights these days have nearly as many functions and features as a DSLR…just remember one thing, they all fire a lighting quick charge of light and that is all. If you want to be creative they have other features that you can play with but to simply add light to your photographs, they all do the same job.
Get yourself a compatible, dedicated unit (preferably from the same manufacturer as your camera or from someone like Sigma who make generic speedlights for all makes and models…only cheaper) as these will work in harmony with your DSLR.
This is where you simply plonk the flashgun on your camera, direct it straight at the subject and fire away. The speedlight will work out, using a sensor on its front, when the subject has received enough light and cut the power. It does the job and is sometimes unavoidable but is not the most pleasing and flattering of effects.
Direct flash is much more subtle when used as a mild fill in flash but more on that later.
I tend to bounce the flash (from the ceiling, a wall or diffuser) 95% of the time if I can. This allows the light to become diffused and more evenly spread giving a much nicer and definitely more flattering look. There are certain rules you need to apply when bouncing flash as the light has to travel further so you need to make some adjustments to counter this. Worth taking the time to learn because once you know it, you will always use it.
We will cover bounced flash in more detail in the next module.
Off Camera Flash
Most modern cameras and speedlights allow you to operate the flash unit remotely, i.e. away from the camera. This is done using a variety of methods including cables, infra red, Wi-Fi, slave units, Bluetooth and so on.
Removing the speedlight from the camera can once again add dramatic effects to your images as you hit the subject from different angles giving a whole new perspective to the shot.
Once you master the basics, flashguns and speedlights can be useful for many photography applications and I would never be without one.
Now as you may have noticed in that video, we weren’t going for “photo of the year” but simply wanted to illustrate the options available to you with flash.
If you took the last technique, off camera flash, and combined it with bounced, flash the results should be excellent so go ahead and practice.
Whatever flashgun or speedlight you have, there should be accessories and peripherals available to enable you to take the flash “off camera”.
Now this is a big subject which generally leaves people feeling bewildered but when you understand it a little better, your images will simply shine and you will get so many more keepers! There are a few ways of taking white balance readings and they all involve the neutral colour grey.
In order to establish the “colour temperature” of the light you are shooting in, a flat, even and neutral colour is needed to take a reading. However, most people, myself included, simply leave the camera set to auto white balance (AWB) which, on most DSLR’s is good enough for most situations.
Any fluctuations in colour temperature can be easily and quickly corrected in post processing, ESPECIALLY when shooting RAW, or you can make swift, in-camera adjustments at the time of shooting.
The colour “temperature” is measured in Kelvin and ranges from around 1500 (warm, red, candle light) to 10,000 (cold, blue, Arctic light).
We cover this in much more depth with sample pics and videos in the next module as white balance can sometimes make or break a shot. So for now, set your camera to AWB and concentrate on the learning the other, more pressing aspects of photography.