Photography skills and techniques – getting the most from your camera

Learn more about your camera with these tips!

If you’ve just got hold of your first camera, or you’ve had a digital camera for a while, it’s possible you’ve been sticking to the automatic modes. And why not? It’s convenient and handy and you still get perfectly okay results.

But what if you want something… more? What if you strive to get that breath-taking shot that just seems a little way out of your reach? It could well be time to move on from auto settings and take on more advanced camera features.

Sure, learning these new functions can be a little intimidating, but brave heart! By being armed with some knowledge of how these operations work you’ll be well on the way to getting your money’s worth out of your camera.

Understanding shutter speed, aperture and ISO

Shutter speed

When your camera takes a photo, the shutter opens and lets in light. This light hits the camera’s sensor exposing it to the image. When the right amount of light is let through for the picture the shutter closes. The length of time the shutter stays open can make a huge difference to the photos you take.

This is most obvious when taking photos of moving subjects. Leaving the shutter open a little longer creates a blur, giving a sense of speed in your picture, or for taking photos in low light. For these sorts of photos a tripod is often used to ensure stability of the image.

Aperture settings

The aperture is essentially the hole in the lens, which opens up to let light in. If the aperture is set to quite a small size, there is less light that comes through, the larger the hole, the more light. The size of the hole is measure in fixed settings called f-stops. The rule to remember is the bigger the number, the smaller the aperture size – a little confusing but you’ll get used to it!

The purpose of adjusting the aperture is to give a depth of field (DOF) to your photos, so if you have a wide aperture setting (with a low f-stop number), you can get great depth of field where the background is blurred and the subject in the foreground is in focus.

How does ISO work in photography?

The term ‘ISO’ isn’t actually the name of the function, per se, but the name of the International Standards Organization, which put in place standardised functionality across different countries. But enough of the history, how does ISO help you take better photos?

While shutter speed lets in light and the aperture controls the amount of light, ISO has the ability to brighten an image. This sounds great for low light situations and, in theory, it is. It gives you a bit more flexibility when playing around with your shutter speeds and aperture settings. However, there is a risk that forcing the image to be brighter can lead to showing more grain and imperfections in the image.

For that reason, understanding how each of these three functions work individually first, then working out how they work in relation to each other, will be your best tools when developing your skills as a photographer.

What is white balance?

At its simplest, white balance is the colour correction for your camera. This might not seem all that essential at first, but you’ll notice that different light has a different ‘temperature’ to it, certainly in photos. Light indoors has a yellower tone, while light outside is more blue. Our eyes naturally adjust so this isn’t always obvious, but it can have a big effect on your pictures.

Your camera will have its own way of allowing you to set the white balance, but one of the oldest methods is making an adjustment with the lens pointing at a white piece of paper. This way you can manually change the setting for indoor or outdoor shooting, ensuring the tone is cooler or warmer to suit the conditions.

What does AEB stand for?

In photography, AEB means Automatic Exposure Bracketing. Unless you’re in an area with controlled lighting, such as indoors with little daylight coming through, chances are you’re going to have to take photos in changing light. This raises the problem of what to focus on and what kind of exposure you need. You can adjust this manually, but in situations where the light is frequently changing – such as sunsets or cloudy days – you can miss that perfect shot if you’re trying to find the right setting.

That’s why AEB is so useful. It’s a clever feature that allows that camera to take a few shots of the same subject at different exposures. AEB will then choose the best, or whichever one the internal light metering believes to be correct, of these shots, along with either the most over or under exposed images.

What’s ‘histogram’?

If you’ve seen a histogram graph it can look a bit technical and overwhelming, And if you search for it online, the information on it is very techie and complicated, describing a graph representing frequency distribution. But how is histogram useful in photography?

It’s a quick visual guide of the tones present in the image you’re framing. The left side of the graph indicates dark tones, black and shadow. The middle section shows mid-tones and greys, while the right side is lighter, highlighted areas. By looking at this graph you can get an instant idea of whether or not your photo is going to be under or over exposed.

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