Understanding Exposure and Camera Settings

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When you start out in photography the first thing you need to know is how to set the exposure and f-stops on your camera. If you don’t learn this, then all your shot will be the same. Exposure and f-stops on your camera is the key to great photographs. They can make or break a picture.

exposure camera settings

“Perfect Cone Active Volcano” captured by Jose Besa (Click Image to See More From Jose Besa)

If you don’t get the exposure right, then your shot will be essentially ruined. It can’t be fixed in Photoshop or any other graphics program, well, that’s not quite correct. They can, but it will look like they have been fixed in a graphics program. Sometimes you only get one chance for a shot. If you don’t get the exposure right, then the shot will be mediocre or downright ugly. All cameras have exposure settings that are easy to figure out.

Exposure is composed of three different settings of a camera. Have a digital camera makes is easier because you can preview the shoot before you take it. However, sometimes there’s just not enough time to preview, so you have to know how to set your exposure settings fast.

Making the perfect exposure consist of the f-stop or also called aperture setting, the length of exposure or also called the shutter speed, and ISO setting also called the film speed. You first set your ISO (film speed standards) setting to the type of film you have. Some will tell you to set it on a digital camera, but they don’t use film, however, they do have an ISO setting. The lower the setting (i.e. 100 ISO/ASA, 400 ISO/ASA, 1000 ISO/ASA) the less light you need. But again, digital cameras don’t use film, so the choice is up to you for this setting. If you’re using film, then this is something you need to set first. Not setting this to the right film speed can and will over and under expose your shots.

The f-stop gives you the depth of field. A good way to remember how the f-stops work is — the smaller the hole (larger f-stop numbers) the longer the depth of field. That means the background will be in focus as well as the foreground. Using a larger hole such as f2.8, f4 will give you a shorter depth of field. The foreground will be in focus but the background will not be in focus.

Now, the exposure setting depends on the f-stop. The smaller the hole, the more light you will need to set the right exposure. The larger the hole, less light will be needed, so you will need a faster shutter speed or exposure length. Sometimes is can be a complicated series of settings to find the right exposure. When you use a digital camera with a preview, it makes it pretty easy to find the right exposure. Of course, if you have the time to fool around with the settings, that’s great. However, if you’re at a baseball or football game, there won’t be enough time. You’ll have to set your camera up before the action begins and take lots of shots.

aperture and shutter speed

“Distraction from city lights” captured by Bogdan Vasilic (Click Image to See More From Bogdan Vasilic)

Learning how to combine all three settings is not hard if you know how to use your camera, and if you understand what the exposure or shutter speed does in combination with the f-stop. There are a few other things that are used to get the exposure right on any shot. You also have the lens to bring into consideration. Some of them may not go below f/4, in that case you’ll have to combine a slow shutter speed with the high ISO to get the correct exposure. Lenses have been called a fast lens or a slow lens and it pertains to the lowest aperture setting.

The best way to learn the exposure on your digital camera is to set up a still shot and start a series of shots with the settings on different combinations. That way you’ll be able to tell exactly what your camera can or can’t do for your photography.

Start with the lowest settings for the f-stops, the shutter speed, and the ISO. Change the f-stop increments by each aperture setting. Continue until you’ve gone through the whole range of f-stops, then step through the shutter speeds and the different ISO setting, if the camera has them.

Compare each photograph to see how the changes affected each one. Use different settings such as a still life, a running dog, kids playing, and other types of shot you think you might be taking. The more you practice and test different setting the easier it will be to set them when you’re out in the field. Don’t forget to keep detailed records, so you can see the differences in the combinations of settings.

This is very expensive if you’re testing a film camera. It’s best to use a digital camera for these tests, and then try them with your film camera. That’s one of the beauties of a digital camera. It costs nothing to run a ton of tests.

A little more detail about ISO on a digital camera –┬áISO stands for International Standards Organization. They set the standards for different type of equipment, not just photographic equipment. That means when they set a standard, every manufacture, brand, model, style, and type of camera will adhere to that standard. Every camera will have the same settings for ISO. ISO on a digital camera is the sensitivity of the digital chip that records the image. A low ISO such as ISO 25 means it’s not very sensitive to light. A high number such as ISO 1000 means it’s very sensitive to light. Here’s the thing about using higher ISO settings.

exposure in photography

“Red Bricks 146″ captured by Jim Worrall (Click Image to See More From Jim Worrall)

The higher the setting the faster shutter speed you can use because it will need less light. Right? Yes, but no. If you used high ISO settings, especially if you used them all the time, it tends to degrade your image. That means the detail will not be as sharp as it could be, so using a lower ISO setting is better if you want sharper, more detailed images. Changing the ISO setting on a digital camera can be helpful for some types of shot such as low light shooting, but for the most part you want to keep to the lower ISO settings for the sharpest images.

About the Author:
Zelda Martin (http://www.studioshotz.co.uk) is a female professional photographer based in Dorset.

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5 Comments

  1. christine says:

    poorly written.too many unnecessary repetition.no actual information.

  2. colo43 says:

    Thank you, i enjoy all of your articles.

  3. Tony says:

    Unlike Christine, as a relative novice, I found the article interesting and valuable. I find that repetition helps the point stick in my rather slow brain!

  4. Ron Hasty says:

    She doesn’t understand DOF. It is only partly a function of aperture size but just as important are the focal length of the lens and distance to the subject. Download a DOF calculator and examine the magnitude of changes in each of the factors. The rest of the article is what I teach 7-10 year old children in the first hour of Grandparents University.

  5. Phillip Jones says:

    Given the first line “When you start out in photography the first thing you need to know is” – this good basic introduction. Sure, this could have spoken about focal length etc. But the it would not have been an introduction. It so easy be critical on the web. DOF calculator!! Why to bore people.

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