Updated: May 3, 2020
I will eventually cover it all with different angles. Talking about different types of camera, different type of situation, different purpose for your photography, etc. To start thought, let's talk about the the basic of photography and your camera settings to get you started.
While I recommend we all shoot in manual, and I will help you become comfortable in that setting. We are now going to cover all the settings that comes with most cameras.
P,S (Tv) and A (Av), the only modes you need to take great pictures.
Scenes modes are junk. (mountain Icon or flower icon). These are factory settings and I really recommend you stay away from this setting if you want to take good pictures.
Auto Mode is okay for a quick snapshot but won’t ever look like what you wanted. It is okay to use AUTO, but by understand the P, S and A, you will be able to take so much better images.
P for Program, is similar with “Auto” but let you control the ISO and the flash won’t automatically fire. The P will take care of the technical stuff while still allow you to change them. For that, you will need to understand the main players. Shutter Speed, Aperture and ISO.
Now that we describe your camera settings, let's talk actual photography. Those 3 are the main elements to remember and how they interact together is explain in details below.
SHUTTER SPEED controls the length of time that light enters your camera.
APERTURE controls how much light enters your camera.
ISO controls how sensitive your camera is with light.
Camera will show you your shutter speed either as a fraction (1/500) or a number (500). Either way this means either a fraction of a second. For example, 1/500 means the shutter will open for 1 five hundredth of a second. If you see a double quote it means it is now a full second. For example, 2” means your shutter will open for 2 seconds. That is suuuuuuper long in photography.
General rule to remember: When it is darker you need a slower shutter speed & when it is brighter you need a faster shutter speed.
How to manipulate Shutter Speed to your advantage:
Blur movement - Slow Shutter Speed will blur movement. Because the shutter stays open for longer, the objects and subjects will move while the picture is being exposed.
To blur your moving subject, select “Shutter Priority” (S or Tv) and a slow shutter speed. Remember, you will see blur at shutter speed slower than 1/60.
When shooting with slow shutter speeds, use a tripod. Otherwise, your camera will move and everything in your image will be blurry (camera shake). Some camera come with
Image Stabilization (IS) or Vibration Reduction (VR). Use those so you can hold your camera and still use a slower shutter speed. But a Tripod is always the best thing to use if shooting below 1/60.
Freeze Movement - Fast shutter speed will freeze your subject. If you want to freeze movement, use “Shutter Priority” (S or Tv) and a faster shutter speed. The reason why the subject appears frozen with fast shutter speed is because the shutter close too fast that nothing has the time to move. Generally Shutter Speed at 1/125 will start to freeze all movements. Perfect for subject jumping and running.
Remember, faster shutter speeds allow less light into the camera, which can cause to underexposed your image. This is why you must adjust Aperture and ISO to make the best of the Exposure Triangle.
Aperture is a hole in your lens. You can control the light that gets in by making it smaller and bigger. Just like the Shutter Speed with the Shutter Priority mode, the Aperture has the Aperture Priority mode (A or Av). That allow you to change the aperture while the camera figure out the shutter speed to match your choice. The size of that said hole is what we call f-stops (or f-numbers). F-stops are backward, as the higher the number, the smaller the hole. And vice versa.
Aperture is part of your lens, not your camera. So depending on your lens you will have different range of f-stops.
Shutter Speed and Aperture are related, so when you change one the other change too. For example, wide aperture of f/5.6, the shutter speed will be faster. Or smaller aperture of f/22 the shutter speed will be slower. This happens so you can always have enough light coming in.
How to manipulate Aperture to your advantage:
Depth of Field - Depth of field is what happen when you take a section of your subject and do not focus on it. You will then loose details and make the main subject stand out a lot more. To achieve a shallow DoF, select “Aperture Priority” and a wide open Aperture (a low f-number).
Keep in mind that with a DSLR you won’t see Depth of Field in the viewfinder. You will only see it when you taken the picture. But if you have a camera with an electronic viewfinder you will see the effect in the viewfinder.
Use a wide Aperture (low f-stop) and shoot very close to your subject for a great DoF effect. Focus is all about distance from the camera. If you want to see all the glory of what DoF can do, make sure there is a good amount of distance behind or in front of the subject. Otherwise there is nothing to lose focus of.
A good rule for ISO is to know that an overcast day, you use 400. So you must decide if each situation is brighter or darker than an overcast day. Always set you ISO first. Play around with ISO and you will understand quickly. Go outside, where it is brighter and turn it down (100-200). Go inside, where it is darker and turn it up (400-800).
Just remember; more than 400 and your image will get noisy (grainy).
A good mode to add to your ISO is “Exposure Compensation”. Some cameras only allow you to use Exposure Compensation with Manual Mode - don't worry we will be covering this next. Scrolling the exposure dial to + will set your camera to overexpose your photographs, meaning they will be brighter. Scrolling your exposure dial to – will set your camera to underexpose and will make your photographs darker. For example, If you want more details in the shadows, turn the Exposure dial towards the +. Or if you want a silhouette to be backlit, turn the Exposure dial towards the -.
Play around with your settings and look at your results to compare and learn. You will understand the foundation of photography and your camera settings in no time.
Basic Cheat Sheet:
I created a cheat sheet to help. I still have one in my camera bag and even after 20 years + I still take a look once in a while. Each days and sessions are different and when the day is more stressful one, a good cheat sheet is worth having with your gear.