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Dad’s Photography Corner: The Journey Begins

I’ve been pretty lacking this past week in terms of game reviews, but I’ve had a good reason.  I put down the controller (temporarily) and replaced it with my very first digital SLR camera.  I’ve always loved taking pictures, even as a kid.  Well, it was finally time to splurge and bring one of the hobbies I’ve been neglecting all these years to the front burner.  When I first opened the package and began playing with its features, I admit that I was overwhelmed.  In fact, you can read about all of that in my first impressions article (click on the hyperlink to the left).

As I explained in that article, I figured out a few things the hard way.  For one, the Nikon d3100 SLR camera didn’t have an internal zoom.  Apparently, you have to buy separate lenses which come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes (figuratively).  I also discovered that the USB cable on my point and shoot didn’t match the camera, forcing me to place a quick online order if I ever wanted to unload pictures or video from the darn thing.  It requires a memory card in order to function, though I lucked out in that my point and shoot’s eight gig memory card worked perfectly.

Now, we jump ahead a few weeks to the present day.  I’ve taken a few pictures and done some basic research into the wonderful (but complicated) world of photography.  Below is a quick list of things I’ve learned, though it’s worth noting that I’m still an amateur.  If any of you professionals out there have any suggestions or corrections, feel free to leave them in the comments below.

Exposure

In layman’s terms, this is the “brightness” of the photo.  The exposure is affected by three main things: ISO, Shutter Speed, and Aperture.

ISO

This is the setting that determines the camera’s sensitivity to light.  Low ISOs (100-200) are best used in sunny conditions where there is a lot of natural light.  Medium ISOs (400-800) are best during overcast/evening hours.  High ISOs (1600) are better when there isn’t a lot of light to work with, like at night.  The downside to using high ISOs is that they tend to make the picture grainy and degrade the picture’s quality.  I’ve learned to try the lower ISOs whenever possible for bumping this number up.

Shutter Speed

This setting determines how quickly the camera takes the picture.  Faster shutter speeds (1/4000 is the extreme end) freezes the image as if it were frozen in time and reduces the chance of a blurry image.  Slower shutter speeds (30 seconds being the other extreme) slows motion and is for when you want a blurry image, like running water.  Slower shutter speeds allow more light to hit the sensor however, making them an ideal for night shooting.  Longer shutter speeds are best used with a tripod or remote release, as any movement of the camera make blur the picture altogether.

Aperture

This setting determines how open the lens is.  A higher “f” value (f/11 as an example) means more of the photo will be in focus, making it good for landscapes.  Lower “f” values (f/4 as an example) is better for focusing on a particular object.  Increasing the aperture also brings in more light.

VR: (Vibration Reduction)

Vibration Reduction is used when you want sharper photographs when hand holding the camera (if a tripod isn’t available or an option). You won’t need VR with a tripod and remote release. VR uses more battery power.

RAW vs JPG

Some camera allow you to save the photo in either JPG format or a RAW file.  RAW files are larger in size (in terms of disk space), but retain the picture’s quality much better.  The downside to using RAW, besides the file size, is the need to convert the file to something usable via a photo editing software.  As an ametuer, I’ve had little need to use RAW, but have switched my settings to JPG Fine for good measure.

My camera came with a lot of modes on its dial.  “Guide” and “Auto” were nice, but I wanted to know just what my camera was doing.  It’s the four below modes that introduced me to the above concepts in the first place and is thus worth noting here.

Programmed Auto (P)

The camera will set the shutter speed and aperture for optimal exposure. This setting is primarily used for quick snapshots when there isn’t a lot of time to mess with settings.

Shutter Priority (S)

The user selects a shutter speed and the camera picks the best aperture setting. This setting is used for freeze or blur motion shots.

Aperture Priority (A)

The user chooses the aperture setting and the camera selects the shutter speed. This setting is used to blur backgrounds or bring both backgrounds and foregrounds into focus.

Manual (M)

The user can set shutter speed, aperture, and ISO manually.

Knowing all of the above has been a big help to me, but I’m still miles away from being an expert. On average, ten out of the hundred I take are worth keeping.  At the moment, I’m having a lot of trouble nailing down indoor photography without the need for a flash.  As an example, I’d start with a shutter speed of 1/60, an ISO of 200, and an aperture of f/4.5.  This made the photo almost completely dark.  Increasing the shutter speed to values closer to one second (1/25) helped a little, but my photos tended to blur due to camera shake.  The ISO seemed to be my best option and 800 seems to be ideal for me indoors, but it still takes a shot or two before I get the lighting right.

Once I have the lighting down, focus seems to be my next hurdle.  There are times where my photos blur anyway, despite my best efforts.  This brings me to my recent crash course in lenses, which was a real eye opener.  My camera came with an 18-55 mm lens that couldn’t zoom far away if its life depended on it, which is why I splurged on a 55-300 mm lens.  It does pretty well, but doesn’t zoom as far as I’d like for those objects in the distance.  I tried taking a close-up of a flower today with the latter lens, but became very frustrated when it refused to focus.  I got some decent close-ups of the animals, but couldn’t get a darn flower for some odd reason.  After some research, I discovered the following:

Lenses

18-55 mm lens (Wide Angle) – This lens came with the camera and is ideal for landscapes and wide-angle shots.

55-300 mm lens (Telescopic) – This lens is known as a telescopic lens.  In my experience it’s a good all-around lens, but apparently isn’t great with action shots or up-close shots.

10 mm – ? (Micro/Macro Lens) – I have yet to purchase one, but I’ve discovered that most photographers have them.  They are designed to take close-up pictures, but I’m still trying to figure out which one I want.  40 mm’s are cheaper, but I’m afraid I will have to get too close to the subject.  The 100 mm caught my attention, but so did the $800+ price tag.

Obviously, there are more ranges here that I didn’t mention, but wide-angle, telescopic, and micro/macro seem to be the biggies.

In conclusion, I’ve discovered that Excedrin Migraine works best when dealing with the headaches of professional photography.  You may want to invest in some, assuming you have any money left over from buying all those different lenses.  Joking aside, I’m really enjoying my experience thus far, even though it can be frustrating at times.  I guess I’ll just need more experience and for that, I’ll need to (*shudder*) get out more.

 

 

 

  1. Iacobus
    May 6th, 2013 at 00:19 | #1

    Veddy, veddy good images. 😀

    Your experience actually mirrors a lot of pros: They’ll use maybe a couple of images they feel are worthy out of hundreds. (Julieanne Kost, an “Adobe evangelist,” went through her creative thought process on one of her videos, which was really interesting.) The important thing is to shoot first and sort it all out later.

    In the future, invest in a good monopod, as this will allow you to take pictures without worrying about camera shake (at least vertically). They’re a little easier to use than a tripod (which you can obviously invest in too to completely eliminate camera shake).

    Sooner or later, you will invest in photo editing software of some sort as RAW is practically the de facto file standard when working with images in post. It’s also lossless (as compared to JPEG, which is a lossy format).

    A common technique photographer’s use is to shoot two (or more) different exposures of the same shot and then blend those in an image editor. An example I can give is an outside shot where the foreground is perfect but the sky is “blown out” (or the sky is perfect but the foreground is too dark). Photographers take the two shots and then “mask out” the offending parts. It’s a very easy technique but extremely effective.

    Relatedly, when you do get an image editor of some sort, consider also getting a graphics tablet at some point as it will make image editing that much more enjoyable. With a graphics tablet, you’re allowed to apply things such as size and opacity dynamically; pressing lightly will produce a lighter effect, pressing harder will produce a darker effect. I could explain in more detail but this is turning into a TL;DR situation already.

    You don’t have to go for something like a Wacom Intuos; you can go for something like Wacom’s Bamboo line.

    In conclusion, don’t sweat it. You’ve got the basics down. You’re already on your way. 😀

    • Vincent
      May 6th, 2013 at 05:16 | #2

      Thanks Iac! You certainly know a lot about photography. I think the biggest eye opener was how expensive it would be…it’s still hard to believe that a single lens is the same amount as my mortgage payment. 🙂 I’ve also learned that I’m not a fan of flash, it does some things to the picture I don’t like. When taking a picture of an amimal, the light reflects off their eyes no matter what setting I use and sometimes, the flash throws the lighting off a bit. It’s a challenge, but I’m having fun. I can’t wait to try out a macrolens for those close-ups.

      • unclebebo
        May 6th, 2013 at 09:48 | #3

        Haha! It is expensive. Just use the trick Heather used on me. She showed me the prices for the large format cameras first. So when she showed me the prices for the medium format camera she wanted I thought it was a deal!

        • Vincent
          May 6th, 2013 at 10:49 | #4

          LOL! Sneaky! “Hey hun…I want this camera for $3,000…but look! This one is on sale for $1,000! That’s cheap, right?” 🙂

      • Iacobus
        May 6th, 2013 at 12:23 | #5

        Image editing software will definitely help with “red eye” and “green/white eye” (in the case of animals), either with dedicated tools or other methods.

        • Vincent
          May 6th, 2013 at 12:37 | #6

          That’s great to hear, I’ll have to look into the Adobe software you mentioned. The flash gives my animals white eyes, but I’m glad to see that can be fixed with editing software.