There are four things that make or break a photo:
- Exposure (triangle of light) and White balance
- Composition (crop, and angle)
- Focus (depth of field, bokeh, and focal point)
- Subject (framing, body language, expression, eye contact)
For this post, let’s take a very quick and generic look at Exposure. We will break these down further later.
Too bright, too dark, too cold, too warm. Sometimes you need to push one direction for the look you are going for, other times it can kill your shot. Let me preface everything with this. IF YOU CAN SHOOT RAW… DO IT! This is the easiest way to correct a slightly or even moderately off exposure / temperature afterward. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on.
The exposure is determined by 3 settings.
- Shutter Speed
Each has benefits and penalties.
- ISO is signal amplification. It’s basically like volume for sound (technically, it’s just like gain for sound, but volume will work for this article.) Everything gets brighter (louder) including the background noise. Newer cameras can go to ridiculously high ISO’s – 25600 is becoming common. A good rule of thumb is to go no higher than 2 less than your camera’s max… otherwise you will have a lot of noise and grain.
- Shutter speed is how long the shutter stays open. This ranges from bulb (open as long as you hold the button) to ~1/8000 of a second. Your shutter speed also affects your ambient light. If you want a daytime shot to look like nighttime, raise the shutter speed. This will allow a flash to show in broad daylight, and the daylight to turn to night time.
- Aperture is the little blades in the lens that make the opening bigger or smaller. This one is tricky. Bigger opening, smaller number. Most cheaper ‘glass’ will have apertures (the “F” rating) of 3.5-5.6. What this means is that at the lowest zoom (the “mm” rating) the aperture can open as wide as 3.5, and at the highest zoom, it can only open as wide as 5.6. High end glass will have ratings as low as 1.2, and the aperture might be a single, low number even on a zoom lens. Aperture controls depth of field. The lower the number, the wider the aperture, the less depth of field you get. This is what gives you the out of focus background while the subject is still in focus.