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Tuesday
Feb162010

The Three Scoops of Photography

Just because one has an instinct for taking pictures, does not mean he/she intuitively understands the basics of photography. Like a teenager placing the cherry on his much coveted dessert, he knows it tasted great, but it’s not until he’s an adult when he will stop and ask what made that sundae so good…

The three scoops of photography are the Aperture, Shutterspeed, & the ISO. Understanding the dance how Aperture, Shutterspeed and ISO work together, is key to obtaining properly exposed images and achieving the aesthetic you see in your mind’s eye, no matter if you are an aspiring shutterbug or one rockin’ the town. You’d be surprised how many people make a living in this industry without grasping this essential concept of how these three scoops of photography work together.

One photographer of note started his business without even knowing what Aperture and Shutterspeed really were and took a course at her local community college in Photography 101. After that, she took out a loan for $20,000, bought a full-page ad in a national bridal magazine and started charging 10g a wedding. My goal is not to create monsters here, it’s simply stating that even though some photographers do have the confidence to break out like Godzilla at Legoland, sustaining a career which offers you true fulfillment or legitimacy will not be possible without truly understanding the basic elements of photography.

First of all, the goal here is get you out of Automatic Mode on your camera. The only way to do that is to actually understand Aperture, Shutterspeed and ISO. Oh goody! Isn’t this fun? Here’s some nitty gritty for your photo kitty….

Aperture
In regard to Aperture, think of your eye. The Aperture is essentially the pupil of the camera. When the pupil dilates, it opens up, letting in more light. The confusing part of the Aperture is the numbering system. In photo speak, the smaller the

Aperture, the larger the opening. This does make sense if you think about it though, as the Aperture is considered one “whole”. If an aperture could open all the way to be a wide as possible it would be at 1. Most lenses open up to 3.5, a really solid pro lens opens to 2.8 and my favorite is my 1.4. The benefits to having a lens with a “wide” Aperture capability is that when it is opened wide, it lets in more light, allowing you shoot in lower light situations without using flash. Now, the smaller the opening, the less light allowed in, and the number goes up, ie: 16, 22. Etc. These numbers are called f‐stops or the f/number. That’s why in photo books you will see them referred to as f/2.8, f/3.5, etc.


Shutterspeed
Shutterspeed is the amount of time that the shutter is open. In the days of film, it was the time the scene was exposed. In digital photography shutter speed is the length of time that your image sensor ’sees’ the scene. Think of yourself driving in a car watching the scenery fly by. The faster you go, you get quick sharp glimpses of what is outside the window. The slower you go, you capture more detail information in your mind. When you want to photograph someone or something that is moving or jumping, it’s ideal to “up” your Shutterspeed to capture your subject, usually to around 125-250.

Remember, the larger the Aperture, the smaller the f-stop number!

The Smaller the Aperture, the larger the f-stop number, isn’t this FUN?!

ISO
In fancy speak, stay with me here cuz this hurts my brain…. ISO is actually “the speed of photographic negative materials” (formerly known in the film world as ASA).

The ISO number tells you how sensitive your camera is at that moment in relation to the amount of light you are shooting in.

The higher the ISO number, the more sensitive your camera is to the available light, and the more likely you will be able to capture the image in lower light situations. In the old days, you used to have to switch the entire roll of film to a different film ASA, but nowadays, it’s simply switching the dial on your camera to alter the ISO (the ASA equivalent). The reason I explained the Aperture and Shutterspeed first, is that the ISO affects these settings in order to create a proper exposure. Now, of course it’s so easy to stop and say, but why don’t I just use flash? But what if you can’t use flash such as in a performance or at a wedding, or you simply wish to avoid that “flashy” look.

There is a trade-off however in being able to up your ISO to craziness that many camera bodies allow nowadays, like 3600….Unless you are operating with a high end body, your sensor is sensitive now not only to light, but to all elements involved…which means more information from the actual camera and sensor, which results in more digital noise in your image. For some this can be a creative choice, for others it’s an unexpected annoyance needing to be resolved with the use of noise reduction filters which can add an unrealistic element to the photograph taking out the authentic capture.

I hope this bit of rehash wasn’t too dry…sometimes it’s necessary to bite the bullet we’ve shot into our creative psyche and nosh it a bit so the metallic skin embeds in our teeth leaving the aftertaste we need to appreciate that hot fudge sundae of life that is photography…

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Reader Comments (1)

[...] of providing a free seminar session for troops at the Battalion. After a morning of jamming on the Three Scoops of Photography, our day swiftly morphed into the ULTIMATE workshop, covering the Battalion event of WWII Medal of [...]

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