I’ve always enjoyed photography, but I’ve never considered myself a photographer. I can’t pull off toting around a massive DSLR and snapping pictures of people without feeling creepy.
We recently picked up a camera to document the forthcoming life of our in-utero baby, and it was time for me to learn the basics so I could actually use this thing. Here’s to moving beyond the automatic modes into the deep end of higher-quality photography.
As I begin, I should note that I feel as qualified to write about these things as Leonard DiCaprio was to assume the role of a doctor in Catch Me If You Can–I’m not sure I can do much other than say, “I concur,” with what I’ve read in other places. I’m going to distill what I’ve picked up and try to make it clearer without being wrong.
This won’t be a perfect or fancy description, and it may not even be technically how it works, but I wanted to create a way to explain to normal humans what the different settings do on a camera. Let’s get to work.
The Three Settings You Need to Learn – ISO, Aperture (f/stop), Shutter Speed
Aperture / f-stop
Aperture is a fancy word for how much light the lens lets in. This is measured in something fancy called an f-stop, which normally looks like this: f/2.2. The smaller the number, the more light that is let in. You can think of it like the lens starting out as open as possible, then as you move on to higher numbers the lens allows less and less light in, until it shrinks down to the size of a pin hole.
Notice that the lower f-stop has a more open aperture, while the higher f-stop (f/16) has a much more closed aperture. Photo courtesy of Mohylek
Practically, this means that if you have low light, you should use an f-stop with a lower number. A lower f-stop also means things close to you (the foreground) will be in focus while things in the background will be out of focus, giving you that sweet blurred effect that makes things up front pop.
Here’s a photo with a low aperture (f/2.8) and a focused foreground (up-close) very blurry background. This photo has a shallow depth of field.
In slightly fancier terms, f-stop/ aperture also determines depth of field. Depth of field is another way of saying, “How far away are things in focus?” A shallow depth of field means only things close up are in focus, a greater depth of field means things further away are also in focus. Continue reading