5 things you need to know about your camera


Welcome to my first post!

Besides using this website as a portfolio, I also want to teach you stuff about photograhy as well, and that’s what I’m going to do right now. So grab your camera (and its manual) and press those buttons while you are reading this. The best way to learn is to do. Trust me, I’m a teacher. Practice makes perfect!

These 4 settings are the most important on your camera. Practice with their effects one by one and when you’ve done that enough, you can set your camera to manual because you know what you are doing!

I got my partner to try photography as well!

#1: ISO

The first thing you do before taking a picture is to look at the light. Since photography is all about light, there are more ways than one to influence the amount of light your camera will catch. One way to do this, and also the first setting you check, is ISO, which refers to the light sensitivity of your sensor.

Are you shooting outside in the sun or late at night? If it’s the latter, your camera needs to be more ‘sensitive’ to light. If your ISO is too sensitive in a bright area, your picture will be over-exposed.

It was very dark in the Greenwich Foot Tunnel, so I had to use a high ISO.

Before the digital age, ISO couldn’t be changed easily with a button. The film or light sensitive paper they used had a specific light sensitivity. The more sensitive it was, the more light it would absorb (?? I’m not a chemist so I have no idea how this works). The sensitive films were used for lighter pictures in a dark setting without increasing the shutter speed or aperture (other settings I’ll explain in this post as well). Your digital camera is able to change this sensitivity and shows what setting you’re using with a number. Setting 100 and 200 are not as sensitive as 1600 or 3200.

So, the higher the number, the more sensitive your camera is. Can’t you just use the highest number so every picture will be perfect? The answer is no. No, you can’t.  You don’t want to set it too high, because the grain increases with the ISO. You will see the grain when you’re editing your pictures on a bigger screen than the one on your camera. You can use Lightroom and Photoshop to reduce the grain, but you don’t want to rely on this possibility.

If you look closely, you can see the grain. Also, I’m not happy with the white balance now that I see this picture again. Please forget this one.

Forgetting the ISO is probably one of those mistakes every photographer will make at some point. It hasn’t happened to me yet (it sure will), but when I was on a holiday with my family in the Dolomites, my dad took pictures of our tent in the evening. That picture is absolutely fabulous, it had lightning in the background. As you now know, he needed a high ISO, but he forgot to change it back. The day after, we went on a tour in the mountains and we took wonderful pictures. When we got back, my dad discovered his mistake and the pictures had large grains. He was devastated.

If you don’t want this to happen to you, check if your settings are the way you intend them to be before taking pictures. Make sure the ISO is as low as it can get but choose a higher number when it is necessary.

You could also avoid the mistake of forgetting the ISO to let the camera do it automatically. It measures the light and chooses a corresponding ISO number for you. This works in most cases, but sometimes your camera doesn’t understand what you want it to do. For example, if you’re interested in long exposure photography, you may own a tripod and/or a grey filter and you want to use a longer shutter speed (which will be explained in the next part). You will have to manually change the ISO because your camera simply isn’t smart enough to understand what’s going on.

Your camera doesn’t understand star (of night) photography either. It was obviously dark, so your camera wants a high ISO, but I used a tripod and a relatively long exposure.

#2: Exposure

When you take a picture, you expose the sensor or the film of an analogue camera to the light that goes in through the lens. Exposure, or shutter speed, is the time your shutter is open and allows light to enter, like opening and closing the curtains very fast. The setting you need depends on your subject and the amount of light that is present. The longer it is open, the more light is able to come in. Your picture will be bright, but if your subject moves while the shutter is open, it will be vague in the picture.

If you want to capture running water or a racing car and you want it to be sharp, you need a short exposure time. If you are shooting stars (see what I did there?) or cars on a highway and you want the cars move on your picture, you need a long exposure.

If you want to try long exposure photography, owning or borrowing a tripod is essential. It is impossible to hold your camera still for a few seconds, depending on your shutter speed. You could also try to carefully place your camera on a flat surface, but this may not always be possible. Other useful ideas are using a remote or the self-timer, because it is possible that you move the camera ever so slightly while you press the button.

If you want to change this in your settings, you should use mode M (manual) or S (shutter- priority). When you are using manual, you have to set the aperture yourself as well (which will be explained in the next part). If you use the S mode, the camera chooses an aperture that goes with your chosen shutter speed.

#3: Aperture

I have mentioned Aperture before, but I will explain it now, You can change the settings in mode M or A (you guessed it, aperture- priority). Aperture is the number behind the f and it ranges from 1.4 (if your lens is super awesome but also expensive) to 22. This setting does two things: it controls how much light goes into the camera and how much of your picture is in focus.

The f-number corresponds with the size of the opening in your lens, which is basically the iris of your lens if you will. If your pupils are large, there is not much light wherever you are and your iris adjusted the size of your pupils in order for us to see more. To use the curtain = shutter metaphor again: the size of the window also controls how much light enters the room. A f22 window is very small, f2.8 (which is the farthest I can go with my lenses) is a large window. Or pupil.

Aperture also influences the area on which the lens can focus. This is called the Depth of Field. If you’re taking a picture of a flower and there’s a mountain in the background, you can play with the aperture so you can see what it does. Don’t you have a mountain with flowers in your area? Place two objects behind each other. You’ll see that (if you focus on the object in the front) the object in the back is out of focus with a large aperture (close to f2.8) but in focus with a smaller aperture (like f9 or smaller).

If you just want that flower to be in focus with a soft, hazy background, a large aperture would do the trick. If you also want the mountain to be in focus, use a smaller aperture.

I used a large aperture because I just wanted the bee to be (heh) in focus. You can see the yellow leaves are too far away to also be in focus.

So, in short, the aperture does two things: control how much light enters the camera and how much of your picture is in focus. The bigger the aperture (or a small number. Yes, I know, very confusing. high number, small aperture, small number, large aperture.) the brighter the picture will be but the shallower the depth of field.

I wanted my brother and the background to be in focus, so I used a smaller aperture.

#4: Manual or not to manual? 

Now that you know all the important settings, you should go out and practice them one by one until you understand what they do. This will take years of training. No, I’m kidding, it’s not that bad.

I have been shooting in one of the ‘modes’ (MASP) on a Nikon camera for a few years, so I only have to think about one of these settings. Now that I use a Fujifilm, I prefer choosing my settings manually because the buttons (wheels, actually) are more accessible.

I also found that my camera (both Nikon and Fujifilm) don’t always get what I want to do. If I want a dark, underexposed mood, I had to do that manually because the camera thought the photo needed more light. I love my camera, but it clearly doesn’t love me back or lacks creativity.

it was quite bright when I took this picture, but I wanted it to be under-exposed. My camera didn’t.

#5: RAW vs JPEG

While analogue photography is very hot right now, we are in the digital era and you’re probably using a digital camera. You can (or have to) choose what kind of file you create when photographing. If you’re not that into editing and you just want to be done quickly after shooting, a regular JPEG file is probably the best choice. It optimises the picture before it appears on your screen. Good enough to upload it to Instagram right away!

This never has been a RAW file. I wasn’t really in the mood for editing that day.

If you’re a bit more serious about photography and you do want to edit your pictures after shooting, then you should shoot in RAW. If your camera can do this, you can change the settings in your menu (this is where you need the manual).

With these RAW files, you saved more information in your file, which you can use during the post processing phase. For example, you can change the white balance of a RAW-file, while this is impossible in a JPEG.

The most common software are Photoshop and Lightroom. I use Lightroom because I like to edit no more than the lighting, while Photoshop is more of a pixel- editing software. If you want to remove annoying tourists in your pictures, Photoshop is for you!

When there are too many tourists in your way… If only I could use photoshop properly…

I hope this post helped you with understanding the basics! I do hope you’ll develop a passion for photography just like I did! I am very curious about your work and I’d love it if you’d share it with me! If you have any questions, feel free to contact me!

Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram: @liekeroodbolphotography

Happy Photographing!

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