Want to get that fancy camera off AUTO?

I seriously obsess about photography; I still learn everyday. With photography, you can never stop learning or be closed minded to other’s ideas and inputs. I started taking photos on a Nikon SLR Film camera back when my kids were young (so about 20 years ago). To be completely honest, I don’t even know if I ever learned exposure back then. I just remember having a camera and setting up mini shoots for my own kiddos and snapping away. Well long story short, the camera’s shutter broke and I never got it fixed and then with a military move, the camera never showed back up. I had a few point and shoot digital cameras and loved capturing everything on those, but what did everyone hate about these? You push the button and then waited until the picture took and you might have missed the action of the moment. I hated that dreaded 2 seconds that seemed like it took forever until you were ready to take the next picture. So I had to take the plunge and get a DSLR in 2010. I started off with a Nikon D90 and with the kids playing sports, it didn’t take me long to realize it wasn’t going to do what I wanted it to. I would shoot on auto or a preset on the dial (i.e. running man, landscape, portrait, etc.) and started trying to learn exposure and feeling like I just wasn’t getting it. I took some local courses and a Program at New York Institute of Photography and it started to click a little. I started working with some off camera lighting and branching out with personal photo projects. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite the workhorse I was needing, so I quickly upgraded to a Nikon D800 in 2012. But here’s the kicker, the D800 doesn’t have the safety blanket of the green auto or running man. When my D800 came in the mail and I got it out of the box, I was forced to learn EXPOSURE. I mean, I could have stuck it on Aperture or Shutter Priority, but I said no more crutches…you’re in the fire, now learn. I wanted to get better and I still want to get better…but I’m here to tell you: if you work at it, it will click!

So are you wondering how to get the perfect exposure and get off that Green Auto selection on your camera? Have you ever heard of the exposure triangle? There are three elements: Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO. These three work together depending on what you are shooting to get the exposure just right. There are pros and cons of the extreme ends of them all and sometimes in bad lighting conditions you have to pick what you’re willing to sacrifice.

First let’s talk aperture. The aperture is the opening of the lens. The wider open (lower aperture number) the more light gets in your camera; the larger the aperture number the less light gets in. If you have a camera with a kit lens, it is more than likely a variable aperture lens. This means that at the shortest end of the zoom it has one aperture (the lowest possible aperture number for the lens) and then as you zoom in the aperture number gets higher. There are also lens prime and zoom lenses that have a fixed aperture. The aperture is measured in f-stops. If you have a lens with a variable aperture of 3.5-5.6, the lowest aperture it is capable of is f 3.5 at its shortest zoom distance and 5.6 at its most zoomed in point. As you zoom in, the lens is limiting the amount of light that gets into the sensor. There are also lenses with fixed apertures, some as low as f 1.2. These fixed aperture lenses are more expensive, but in my opinion are well worth the investment, especially if you are going to be shooting in low light. However, the lower the aperture, the smaller the depth of field…this is where you have to look at what your goal is. Depth of field is the amount of the photo that is in focus. For example, if you shoot at f 1.8 and are focused on a person’s eye, his/her nose might be out of focus. You have to evaluate what is more important; the depth of field or the amount of light getting in your camera. This is just one decision to make when determining your exposure. Now let’s look at shutter speed.

What is shutter speed? It is how long your shutter is open to capture the image on the sensor. The shutter speed can range from bulb, where you can leave the shutter open as long as you’d like, to very fast speeds, such as 1/4000th of a second. A general rule of thumb if you’re hand-holding the camera is, if you are shooting with a 50 mm lens, you need to shoot at a shutter speed of at least 1/50th of a second. If you are shooting with a 300mm, then you need 1/300th of a second. If your camera is mounted on a tripod, then you don’t really have to think about this. The key to shutter speed is what you are shooting. If you are shooting something that is still, you can shoot at low shutter speeds to allow more light in, but if you are shooting action, you need a fast shutter speed. I shoot mostly sports and I have heard that 1/500th should freeze the action, but if I shoot there, I still see blur. I try to shoot sports at 1/1000th or faster. If you are outside, then this is not an issue, but if you are shooting indoors, this can be a limiting factor. For example, if you are shooting outside during high sun hours, you might have to shoot at an even higher rate so you don’t over expose your photo.

The last thing I look at is the ISO. The lower the ISO, the less sensitive the sensor is to light. At ISO of 100, the sensor is less sensitive to light or, on the higher side, an ISO of 6400 will make your sensor very sensitive to light and will “allow” more light to be captured on your image. If your lighting is just right and you can shoot at ISO of 100 or 200, do it because this is where the least amount of digital noise (white looking specks on your image) will be introduced. The higher your ISO, the more digital noise that will be introduced into your image. For reference, I shoot with a Nikon D800 and a 70-200mm 2.8 lens. For my indoor volleyball shoots, the lighting is really low, so I have to shoot at high ISOs in order to be able to shoot at shutter speeds fast enough to catch the action. For example, for most volleyball matches, I shoot at 1/1000th, f 2.8 and ISO 6400. If I am shooting an outdoor portrait, I might shoot at 1/400, f 3.2, and ISO 200 if I am in prime light conditions.

Now to put all this together: Your camera has a built in light meter. It should read something like this


The camera’s proper exposure is when it measures in the middle at zero. I would start there and then adjust one of the 3 elements at a time until you reach your desired exposure.

Don’t be afraid to take the camera off of auto and play around. Just walk around and look for something that catches your eye. Photograph low, photograph high. Don’t feel limited to always shoot from eye level. I challenge you to get creative. Make something out of nothing!

If you feel like you need some assistance or get stuck, feel free to message me and I will assist in any way possible. I offer one on one training sessions!

I would love to see the images you capture!




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