Digital Camera Help Guide - Craig Young

Photography for me started very early for me borrowing my parent's film camera but really took off when they stuck a camera on a mobile phone. The easy and availability was perfect for nights out or more importantly the morning afterwards for the embarrassing look back. It is the looking back at the moments that hooked me.


It would have stayed there if it was not for a work colleague who introduced me to a new gadget called a Digital Single Lens Reflex camera or DSLR. Namely a Nikon D3s, a camera I was to come to own nearly 5 years later. It's big and chunky and looks like it means business. I was instantly hooked from the first glimpse of this professional camera as it looked way more exciting than a mobile phone. These were the days before the iPhone had exploded onto the scene. It looked unobtainable and at over £3000 at the time it was.


Fast forward nearly half a decade and a Canadian photographer knew on the internet as Faye Daniels reignited my love for photography. She produces mainly self-portraits using a DSLR and I was blown away by her work. Her skill at capturing emotion in a shot had me in awe and I knew I needed to make a space in my life for photography. I needed to create.


I entered the world of “proper” cameras in a way most probably do. One Christmas my wife gifted me my first DSLR, a Nikon D3300. Why A Nikon? Simply because that colleague shot with a Nikon. Its a common debate seen on many a forum. Canon or Nikon? Sony or Olympus?


A camera is a tool first and foremost whether you shoot with a four-figure DSLR or a disposable its what you take that makes the difference. My favourite shot was taken on my iPhone even with the thousands of photos I have taken with my DSLR. It was taken on an afternoon of two mates and its full of memories and makes me smile. That’s what is important to me. Just like Faye does the ability to create an emotion or capture it in a single image with no special tricks like using music or dialogue. Its raw nature is what is special to me.


As phone cameras get better and better it can be forgiven to think a DSLR is not quite worth the price and the effort of lugging about. The 4-5 lenses, the tripod, the reflector etc not to mention the lights and studio equipment.


But you don’t have to spend much as a DSLR can be picked up for cheaper than said iPhone. It’s when you take a step out of your comfort zone and turn that dial to M and the creative possibilities are endless. Picking a camera up and shooting in auto will give you better quality images then your phone can, but not necessarily better pictures. That’s where your creative vision comes in. Shooting in manual gives you the chance to express the artist inside yourself. Focal lengths from 8mm to 800mm and all in-between to get close to the action or get a full scene within a shot, the ability to isolate a subject or to control the shutter speed to get that dreamy fluid flow of the water in a waterfall, the creative control a DSLR gives you is seductive.


The problem is it takes a little bit of effort to learn what is called the exposure triangle. Stepping into the world of manual allows you to control three main factors. Shutter speed, aperture and ISO.


Its the balancing of these that gets you the perfect exposure. Photography is all about light and in particular the light your camera sensor captures. Shutter speed is the time the sensor is exposed to the light. Aperture is the amount of light you let through your lens and ISO is the sensitivity your sensor has to light.


To allow faster shutter speeds and capture the correct exposure an adjustment to the aperture or ISO is required. A fast shutter speed with a wide aperture will let more light hit the sensor than a fast speed with a narrow aperture. and the opposite applies with a slow shutter speed. To make it more complicated there is also the ISO you can adjust. Higher ISO is a way of making your sensor capture more light. So a fast shutter speed with a wide aperture and high ISO will capture more light than a fast shutter speed with a wide aperture and low ISO.


An adjustment in shutter speed, aperture or ISO is called a stop.





Let us take a shutter speed of 1/500. A stop quicker is 1/1000 and a stop slower is 1/250. Spot the pattern. 1/1000 allows half the light that 1/500 does. Which stands to reason 1/250 allows double the light 1/500 does.


ISO is very much the same as shutter speed and usually starts at 100 or 200 depending on your camera.  The number doubles as you increase which is doubling the amount of light the sensor captures. But remember the higher the number the more noise can be seen in the photograph. It's best to keep the ISO as low as possible.


Now aperture is where the hard math’s comes into it. We won’t be going through that here though.  Aperture is all to do with the diameter of the opening inside the lens which is letting the light through to your sensor. It still follows the same pattern of doubling or halving the light but the numbers aren’t as nicely rounded as shutter speed and ISO are which can be confusing. Just remember that a lower number means a wider diameter allowing more light whereas a higher number allows less light through.


Now it's about balance so you can get the correct exposure. Correct being subjective and all down to your creative vision. So a longer shutter speed says anything slower than 1/60 second gives you more light but risks blur from camera shake and moving subjects. A fast shutter speed says 1/500 and faster allows less light but freezes motion.  Depending on the shot you want will determine the speed you choose. 1/1000 is going to freeze motion very well whereas 8 seconds is needed for the classic nighttime traffic light trails.


A narrow aperture, say F10 gives you greater depth of field which means more of your scene is in focus. Great for landscapes. A wide aperture says F2 gives a smaller depth of field so less of the scene is in focus. Used to create dramatic portraits.


ISO is slightly different in that it does not affect your shot in a creative way but allows faster shutter speeds in lower light. The catch is that higher ISO values give what photographers call noise in the photograph. Not very pleasing and best described as grain often seen in home photos shot with a film camera. It’s often better to have a sharp shot with noise rather than a blurred noise free shot. The higher the ISO you use but still get a useable shot depends on the camera you have. Some entry models will start suffering from noise at ISO’s over 800 whereas a professional model can reach 6400 before suffering. This was something important to me as I often shoot in low light with no assistance from flash or strobes and require a camera that can shoot at high ISO’s but still deliver a usable shot. I can get away with an ISO of 12,000 but there is a need to use a software program such as lightroom to reduce the appearance of noise in my shot.


The best advice I can offer is simply to pick up your camera switch to manual and shoot. Modern cameras come with great light meters which can help towards getting that correct exposure. Normally shown as a row of marks with a plus and minus sign at either end. If your chosen settings will give you an underexposed image the further the dashers are towards the minus side of the centre. Overexposed is the other way with the dashes been more to the plus side. The beauty of digital is, you can see the result pretty much instantly allowing you to adjust the shutter speed or aperture or ISO to get a better exposure. Practice makes perfect and your guesses can get more accurate the more you shoot.


Your settings will very much depend on your creative vision. Shooting a portrait and you may want a wider aperture, lower number, to create a pleasing fall off of focus making them stand out from their background. This lets more light through the lens which may mean you have to speed up the shutter speed to stop too much light hitting the sensor preventing an overexposed image. Shooting a waterfall and wanting to show the water flowing will require a slower shutter speed. To stop the sensor dealing with too much light you can close the aperture down, selecting a higher number, which will restrict the amount of light reaching the sensor keeping the exposure correct. Shooting in low light often means shooting at the widest aperture allowed by your lens and as slow shutter speed you can get away with. Perfect time to break out the tripod to prevent camera shake but not help with motion blur should your subject be moving. The requires raising the ISO allowing a faster shutter speed.


Changing any of these settings by a stop will require a stop adjustment in the opposite direction to another setting. If you have a good exposure as 1/500 at F4 ISO 100 increasing the shutter speed to 1/1000 and still getting the correct exposure will require the aperture to be opened to F2.8 or ISO to 200 to compensate for the less light due to a faster shutter speed.


Confused? Start shooting and I promise it soon makes sense. The fun then comes when you get to grips with the exposure triangle and throw in composition and shooting at different angles allowing you to take your images to a higher standard then your previous holiday snaps.


My camera is pretty much always with me and I make sure to try and take at least one shot a day. Most of my little daughter which means I end up with thousands of pictures of her as she grows. A huge bonus of the advancement of technology for me.


Make your camera your constant companion and go out there and shoot. The wonders of social media make sharing your shots so easy and there is so much help and learning available there is no limit to what you can create. Study other photographers work and try and work out why you like a particular image or why not.  I am always sharing work on Instagram and Facebook and now have my own website. What I want to do with this new skill I have no idea but I am enjoying every moment and hate going anywhere without my camera. The shots I am missing and the memories I am not capturing.



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