View Full Version : Digital Photography Basics 101-AD/HD Friendly Version

01-03-10, 11:56 PM
I needed a simple rundown of the basics when I got started and could not find it, so I thought I might jot down some of the confusing basics to get out of Auto mode, in an easy-to-understand format and ADHD friendly, and help you to take the kind of photos that wow even you, in the mid-range of skills that are easy to learn and use, and without all the science and numbers that are so confusing.

It's great for snapshot when you don't have time to fiddle with the settings. Just Auto it and click. Or use one of the other pre-programmed settings such as macro, landscape, portrait, night, sports, etc, and let the camera (with some limitations) chose for you.

APERTURE MODE: (AV on the dial)
This is my favorite mode, so I'll describe the basics from using this perspective.

Aperture is actually the size of the opening to the inside of the camera and is referenced in "f-numbers" or, for example f2.8. The numbers control how much light passes through at each setting. However, the USE of aperture in taking a photograph is to control the amount of blur (called bokeh), and depth-of-field, in front and behind your subject. Think of outdoors portraits where the background is very soft and blurry to make the subject pop in the photo, and is very useful when taking floral photos as well. In AV mode, the shutter speed is automatically chosen by the camera considering all the information it evaluates to obtain a correct exposure.

To get the effect of more blur in the background, use a lower f-stop number. For landscapes or photos of more than 1 person, use a higher f-stop (f8-11 are good areas for these), and this will bring nearly everything in your photo into focus. Still use your focal points though, if you have them, for precise focus on that flower stamen or person's eye.

This is like, when in the film days, you could choose speed 120 for bright sunny days, or 200-400 or so for indoor shots.

When looking on your LCD screen, you can see only a little how the changes effect the overall picture, but I find that, once I get my aperture (depth of field) for the effect I want and I still have motion blur, I will bump up my ISO speed, which lets in less light and takes a "faster photo," and eliminates the motion blurs.

Too high an ISO though, will result in grainy (noisy) photos, with each camera line doing better in this area than others, so go easy on the adjustments until you get to know your camera and it's limits. Sometimes, a noisy black-white photo is desired and gives a photojournalistic effect.

You can't adjust this in AV mode, but if you shift over to TV mode, you can, but then the aperture will be auto-chosen by the camera. TV mode is another way you can control the light that enters your camera and onto the sensor by the amount of time the shutter is left open. If you want to stop action and catch droplets of water in mid-air, use a very fast shutter speed. To catch more light in your photos, use a longer shutter speed. Using longer shutter speeds can give you some fun creative results. If you have a camera steadied with a tripod, you can set the camera's shutter to be open for up to a number of seconds which allows you to make pretty photos of flowing water from creeks and streams, take stunning night-city photos, make traffic at night turn into colorful stripes of light on the freeway, make shapes with a flashlight by drawing in the air in a dark room, make moving people disappear, Christmas decorations, etc. But, then you have to knock down the ISO and play a little with the aperture to get the overall lighting effect you want. First practice shots will likely be very well lit.

*Aperture, shutter speed, and ISO are the three fundamental ways of obtaining brightness in your photos, and they all work together (or against each other). Sometimes, you can adjust one rather than another and still get the same effect. For example, for photos that are too dark or underexposed, you can either bump up the ISO setting or go to a higher aperture number, but not necessarily both; especially if you want to keep the depth-of-field as it is, just bump up the ISO. Or switch over to TV mode and see what happens when you change shutter speeds only.

Another way to adjust the amount of light that you have control over in some modes is with the exposure compensation setting. This lives in different places in different cameras, not on the main dial. The setting is shown by a line with a -0- in the center, with a +1 to +2 on the right, and a -1 to a -2 on the left. Moving it to the right will lighten your dark photos, to the left will darken too-light photos.

I hate the on-board flashes (and I don't have a separate flash unit yet). They wash stuff out and are very harsh. So, I try to use as much of the natural (ambient) lighting that I have available, which is trickier, but am happier with the result. And, no evil eyes with people. Sometimes tho, you can use it to advantage when used as fill-flash in out-door photos of people to lighten the shadows of the face and under the eyes and to provide catch-lights in the eyes (otherwise humans look rather lifeless). I use a piece of paper taped to the flash to diffuse the harsh effect with acceptable results. On my camera, I can also lessen the flash output using the same adjustment as the exposure compensation (When the flash is engaged, it switches over) and I move it to the left (-) side.

Really important for the color tone of your photos to be true.

Auto white balance setting doesn't always get it right. There are usually settings with a cloud for cloudy days, sun for sunny days, and tungsten (regular light bulbs) light, fluorescent bulbs, shade, etc. Check these every time you change your environment. Not checking will result in photos with either a bluish/purplish tint to them or very warm orange-ish tints.

This is not part of the camera lol, but if you are suffering with blurry photos that are not as crisp and tack-sharp as you like, use the tripod with at least a 2-second delay to steady the camera from button-release movement. I use mine with portraits, landscapes, and in low-light settings with stationary subjects.

*Examples of possible setting ranges to get desired effects in the following situations might be:
1)Low-lighted area with moving subjects:
Aperture setting towards 1.4-2.8, a higher ISO setting above 400, in AV mode where the shutter speed is chosen.

2)Daylight outdoor portraits of one person or other subjects:
Mid-range aperture setting 2.8 to f8 or f11, and a lower ISO setting 100-200 in AV mode.

Aperture setting of f11 or so, ISO on the lower end for sunlight and perhaps 200-300 for cloudy days, and a very steady hand or tripod.

01-04-10, 12:52 AM
I am interested in learning photography, right now I only have a cell phone camera. Is this considered digital?

01-05-10, 01:37 AM
Very helpful information,
I read it once yesterday,
and once today.
I was making pancakes, and somehow I could focus on the olive oil and pancakes bubbling very clearly, and the fryingpan around and in backround was blury. (or was it opposite)
It will be great when I get a camera, so many thing to try from your examples, When I buy a camera the salesperson will think I'm a proffessional. I am also wondering how the human eye works now.
I wonder if some of the lights you mentioned can mess up our brains like a camera out of focus, also how do different lights effect the brain.
Thanks a million,

mADD mike
01-05-10, 10:48 PM
Wow, what great explanations. A lot of those terms I am familiar with, but I never really knew what was behind them. I would love to learn more and more, but my focus goes in so many directions that to really get into it deeply is unlikely. However, you wrote clearly and concisely, and in regular terms that I can understand. Thanks for the tips. I'll play with my settings next time I go out and take some photos.

Oh, and that is a rep worthy post, but alas, I have to spread the love.


mADD mike
01-05-10, 11:05 PM
I am interested in learning photography, right now I only have a cell phone camera. Is this considered digital?

Well, that is a digital camera, but a very low end one. It won't have the options mentioned above, though some phones have adjustments for brightness, or maybe a zoom, etc. It usually won't produce the best results, but if you want to take a photo of something neat to share with others, that can work. I've used my phone many times when I didn't have my regular camera with me, to take a picture of something that I wanted to share later. I have a bluetooth "thing" that I can plug into the usb port on my computer, and send the pictures from my phone to my computer, and then I can manipulate them with some free programs, or email them, or whatever.

You can have plenty of fun, even with a camera on a cell phone.

There are lots of digital cameras out there for cheap. I learned that it is better to spend a little bit more (or just get a great deal on a bit better camera like I did on ebay) and get a bit better camera. Some of the cheaper ones just don't produce the best photos. Every time I spend a bit more on a camera, I'm happier with the results, and amazed that I ever liked the photos from the old camera, lol. I'd love to buy an entry level DSLR, but those are out of my price range for now. Things like the tips above will help me to have more fun with the camera that I already have. It is a Panasonic Lumix, and I only paid $160 on ebay for it with all kinds of extras, from an extra battery to a memory card and more. I've had a lot of fun with it.

01-06-10, 12:18 AM
Madd Mike
Thanks for the advice,
Like you said FrazzleDazzle sure knows plenty.
I am going to buy a camera,
With this tutorial,
I have new thoughts about the topic of FOCUS.
I really never thought about it before.
In any aspect.
Camera or AD(H)D.

01-07-10, 09:02 PM
Really good post! I really like your pictures too. You ever think about teaching a photography workshop? Like something informal at a local nature center for instance.

Another way to adjust the amount of light that you have control over in some modes is with the exposure compensation setting. This lives in different places in different cameras, not on the main dial. The setting is shown by a line with a -0- in the center, with a +1 to +2 on the right, and a -1 to a -2 on the left. Moving it to the right will lighten your dark photos, to the left will darken too-light photos.

This is really useful for winter photos with lots of snow. The automatic exposure control on your camera works by trying to make everything "80% gray". Think of most scenes in black and white. If you average the whole picture you will get a fairly dark gray. This is true for almost everything but snow and scenes with a lot of sky. To correct for this, set your exposure compensation to + 1.5 or 2 and your snow will come out white not gray.

Just my two cents applicable to the season.:)

01-07-10, 10:33 PM
Thanks Pete, I've never had the chance to take snow pics, but I'm sure it's a challenge. Bumping up the exposure compensation to the right, as you said, should give more truer colors too. AND....check the white balance for sure. I also recall reading you can use flash in snow pics too - doesn't make sense, but it might work to help balance out such a harsh environment for the camera's sensors to make sense of. Must try sometime! Glad the writeup helps's just skimming the surface tho, which is enuf to get started trying some different things to get better photos and get out of auto mode.

No, I've never thought about teaching photography, maybe I'll put that on my list of things I'd like to volunteer someday, thanks for the inspiration! ;-)

If anyone has questions I might be able to answer here, please ask away, and add your own ADHD-friendly techniques and tutorials!

01-07-10, 11:38 PM
This is an excellent primer, Frazzle! Well done!

I would only add that the terms Tv and Av are Canon-specific (I think).

Tv (Time Value) in Nikon-land would be an S for shutter priority.

Av (Aperture value) in Nikon-speak would be A for Aperture priority.

01-12-10, 10:25 PM
Foob asked me on my other thread about shooting in RAW, so thought that would be an interesting topic to cover here too.

And yes, I shoot in RAW when doing anything else but snapshots.

What is RAW: uncompressed, unprocessed data file captured by the camera's image sensor, before any in-camera processing has been applied. (jpegs use in-camera processing)

Why? RAW format gives you a LOT more room to adjust the data. I mean GOBS of room. The files look pretty pathetic and lifeless out of the camera just downloaded, so you have to have an eye for what makes a pleasing shot to you, cuz they look totally different once fully processed to their potential, and can salvage a slew of sins and errors, really play with your colors, lighting balances, white balance and other color corrections, etc.

You have to have software that can convert RAW to jpeg once you are through processing it. I don't know how it works with other software, but I use Mac Aperture, and when I move it out of there to iPhoto or to another file storage location, it auto-converts it to jpeg, making it really easy to deal with.

Here's an example of a RAW file that had given me room to make a photo with some interesting effects from what would have been an unsalvageable jpeg.

From this washed-out piece of crap

To this (which is still technically crappy, but they liked it enough to call it sick, so that's a good thing):

01-12-10, 10:34 PM
You gotta LOVE RAW!

wait did that sound funny?

anyway, great example of that amazing latitude that RAW affords Frazzle . . .

01-12-10, 10:43 PM
Yeah, once I stopped being afraid of RAW, realized the limitations jpegs, AND stopped wondering how on earth some photos look so deep and rich, I decided to get over myself and go for it. With my software, it actually is no extra step to work with RAW files....well other than learning more about adjustments and taking more time to play....oh and deciding which versions I like better lol!

RAW word of warning....these files do also take up a lot more room on your memory card and hard drive, as the files are large in order to hold all the data.

01-25-10, 11:58 AM
I have trouble with RAW. Coming from a film perspective learning to do digital photography is driving me mad. I pretty much entirely replaced my 35mm with a digital camera because I never really liked 35mm and digital is considerably more convenient. I am glad that I have a 6x9 medium format and hope to one day pick up a 6x7 and my pride and joy is my 4x5.

Photography is one of my hyperfocus things. I memorized the EV chart or at least the daylight part of it and for my medium and large format cameras I tend to meter incident with a lux meter and convert from lux to EV. It helps me keep in mind the relationship between light and camera settings. Really it is pretty easy as every stop doubles on its way up or halves on its way down. roughly 82,000 lux is Sunny 16 so to speak so conversions are fairly simple from there.

This doesn't work for digital for some reason. My Raw files are always dark and tend to be even when using the in camera meter though usually they are much easier to adjust if you use it. Raw development and editing aren't so bad or intimidating if you follow the KISS method. Keep it simple stupid. LOL. The more overboard and fancy you try to get the more you can mess up.

01-27-10, 12:16 AM
So, I looked up exposure value and the sunny 16 rule on Wikipedia. They have a pretty good explanation. I'm not going to run out and buy a lux meter, but I can surely understand why you would want one when using that expensive medium format film.

I will have to try the sunny 16 rule but sunny days have been few and far between here lately. When I do I will let you know how it went.

Can you let us know what kind of digital camera you have? I know with our old Nikon at work it is easy to accidentally adjust exposure compensation.

01-27-10, 02:02 AM
I have a Pentax K100d super. Not top of the line but not bad. I do ok with it but wish sometimes my exposures are off the wall. I keep using film techniques to adjust and it's just a different medium I am still learning to adjust to.

I have fun with lux conversions. It slows me down and makes me think about what I really want from an image. Sunny 16 works great when you get a feel for it. I have used it for everything from sports to sunsets all successfully on slide film no less. But I have trouble with clouds and haze and overcast. So I got a lux meter. Still tend to sunny 16 my medium format but at $3 a shot to develop and roughly $25 a shot to scan I don't like to take chances with large format. I try to keep it cheep since I am still very much a learner but large format slides and medium format black and white are like my occasional splurge. Digital is my learning toy.