Last month we gave a bunch of tips to beginner photographers. This time we’re stepping even further back and addressing the very basics, our very own Photography 101 class! There’s a lot that goes into the subject matter so we’re going to do our best to dive into the basics, give a little bit of history, and cover some foundational pieces: shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.
Think of it as our holiday gift to you!
A Brief History of the Camera
No college course would be complete without a little bit of a historical context. It might not be the most fun part of learning photography but it’s of note regardless! Don’t worry, we’ll get to the good stuff soon enough!
Photography, and more specifically cameras, have a long, long history. There were ancient precursor tech like the camera obscura dating back to ancient China or the pinhole camera made by Arab physicist Ibn al-Haytham around 1000 C.E.
These technologies were the beginning in a long line of advancement through the centuries. French inventor and photography pioneer Nicéphore Niépce, took what we’d consider the first photograph from nature in the early 1800s, elsewhere inventors were developing techniques based on light and film. The past 200 years have been a whirlwind of photographic advancement.
The long and short of it is this: photography is all about light! Keep reading, you’ll see what we mean…
Photography 101 – Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO
The three most basic, fundamental components of photography are aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Understanding what they are, how to use them, will give you the foundational knowledge you need to start taking pictures seriously. Remember anyone can point and shoot, but a photographer knows their tools and how to accomplish greatness with them!
But first, exposure.
Exposure is the amount of light that reaches the film or camera sensor. It determines how bright or dark the photos turn out. As you might imagine, that’s crucial to good photography. Two of the topics mentioned previously actually effect the exposure, aperture and shutter speed. The third, ISO, does affect brightness of the images, but doesn’t affect light reaching the film or sensor. That might sound a little confusing but as we go over the three elements it’ll become clearer.
Shutter speed is pretty easy to understand – it’s the amount of time your camera uses to take a photo. It could be 1/100 of a second, 1/10, up to 30 seconds and beyond – some folks have custom cameras that take decades to take a single photo – that’s not what we’re after here but it’s wild to see! The point is there is quite the range in shutter speeds out there.
Now, why do shutter speeds matter?
Shutter Speed Affects Exposure
The first is that shutter speed affects the amount of light let in. A longer shutter speed lets in more light, while a faster shutter speed lets in a fraction. As an example, if you took a photo outside during the day with a 30 second shutter speed you are going to get a photo that is just completely white. Meanwhile, a photo taken at night with a lightning fast shutter speed will be completely dark. Balancing shutter speed with the available light is crucial
Shutter Speed and Motion Blur
Shutter speed also plays with motion blur in the photos. The longer the shutter speed, the more potential there is for movement in the photo. A person walking by, a bush blowing in the breeze. This movement is then captured in the photo as a blur as the shutter wasn’t fast enough to catch it in a single place.
Aperture is the hole or lens that light passes through, like the pupil in your eye. On cameras it is measured (and expressed) in f-numbers, like this: f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8 and so on, showing the size of the lens opening. On a camera it’s made up of several blades that all can move and shift to create a smaller or larger aperture. Again, it helps to draw a comparison to the pupil here because like your eyes, the aperture functions the same. The pupils of your eyes dilate to let in more light, helping you to see more things in the dark. When it’s light out you don’t need so much light to be let in so your pupils get smaller. The aperture on your camera serves the same function, to help control the light.
Remember – Aperture is written as a fraction so f/2 (for f 1/2) is bigger than f/16 (or f 1/16)
The basics of aperture is this: the larger the aperture, the more light you let in, the brighter your photo.
By manipulating your shutter speed and aperture you can control the exact amount of light you want to let into your photos, controlling the exposure.
Aperture can also influence depth of fields and more, but for now we’ll stop there.
ISO brightens your photos but it isn’t about controlling or manipulating the light reaching the camera sensor. Instead, it brightens the photo after the sensor has been exposed to the light.
Raising the ISO can help when you have no other way of brightening the picture. If your aperture is as wide as you want it and the shutter speed can’t go any longer without filling it full of motion blur, raising your ISO might do the trick. However this should always be done carefully because the more you pump up the ISO the more grain (or noise) will show up in the photo.
The ISO scale is pretty straight forward, the higher the number the brighter it goes. The main tiers are ISO 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, and 6400. For most cameras the ‘base’ ISO is 100, though there are outliers.
Here is a whole great piece on just ISO if you’re interested (they have plenty more useful photography content as well!)
Putting it All Together
And of course, just reading about aperture, ISO, shuter speeds, and exposure isn’t enough to master it. Like all skills, you have to get out there and put the hours in. Practice, practice, practice. Experiment with your camera, understand the elements and settings and take great photos! Now it’s time to determine what settings you’re going to use and take some photos!
Mind the Motion
Are you going to be shooting a subject in motion or still? Identifying this will help you decide on what your shutter speed should be set at. If you’re going to be taking photos of wildlife or of a sports exhibition, you’ll want the shutter speed fast lest you end up with a blur. If you’ve got a still tree you have your eye on, feel free to slow the shutter speed down.
Find Your Exposure
Balance your aperture and shutter speeds to find the exact amount of exposure you’re looking for. Pay attention to the ambient light present in your shooting environment. If there’s lamps, the sun, candles, or any other sources of bright light you’ll want to adjust your settings to reflect that.
Now, take a few shots! How do they look? Begin to experiment with the aperture and shutter speed, engage the ISO. Through trial and error you’ll start to better understand what it means to take photos with intention. See what we mean when we say it’s all about light? These first few steps into the world of photography will all be about controlling the light and exposure in your shots.
After that you can start learning the more advanced processes, experimenting with lenses, understanding composition and more. But for now, for photography 101, simply start to understand the light.
That’ll do it for us this month on the Frank Frost photography blog. Happy Holidays to everyone and we’ll see you in 2021!