If there is something to be said about digital photography, it is this new format has made it possible for anyone to take pictures.
For budding and aspiring photographers, the digital age provides instant gratification – thanks to the large LCD at the back of most cameras – making it possible for an instant do-over in case the first shot was short of spectacular.
While most folks shied away from the clunky (and heavy) SLRs, the cameras of choice quickly became DSLRs and compacts as soon as things went digital. Yet despite the en masse discovery and fascination with zoom lenses and photo editing software – there are many who are yet all too dependent on the “auto” function of these powerful cameras.
Not there’s anything wrong with that. The only problem with “auto” though, is it does not always give you the desired effect you want in a photograph.
In order to have creative control over what comes out in your photos, you need to be equipped with the knowledge of using your camera’s manual function.
“Old-school” photographers who spent years perfecting their craft without instant previews are generally masters of “manual.”
For those who are clueless on how to use the manual function, there are three main things to remember:
ISO. In the days of film, this was also referred to as ASA – a term that referred to the film speed. Since we’ve moved on from film, this is now represented as a button or is included in a camera’s menu.
Generally, I prefer to set my ISO between 400 and 800, but not anything higher to avoid grain (pixilated look). There is generally very little use for an ISO higher than that.
F-stop. Also known as “aperture” – at least back in the day. It doesn’t really matter what you call it anyway. What’s important is what it does.
How to find it: See inscriptions on the lens itself on point-and-shoots. Somewhere on the lens, it will say something like 18-28mm, 3.5 -5.6. The F-stop is 3.5 to 5.6. On DSLRs, you will normally find this can range from anything as low as F/1.8 to F/22. Most lenses have a range of F3.5 to F22.
How it works: The F-stop functions like the pupil in our eye, and the concept is basic: the higher the number, the less light it lets in. (Ergo, the darker things get, the lower your F-stop should be.)
How it is used: A rule of thumb photographers give out is the “sunny-16” rule. This means that on a sunny day, your F/stop should be at 16 or even at 22 if the sun is really blazing above you. The sunny-16 rule applies on nice sunny days around noon to the early afternoons where the sun’s rays are usually brightest.
For night shots, you will need a low f-stop to get more light in – preferably F/1.8 or F/2.0. Unfortunately most lenses these days are fixed at F/3.5 to F/5.6 – which means you may need to lower your shutter speed and maybe even use a tripod and flash.
Note: With zoom lenses, the F-stop automatically increases to say – F/5.6 when you ”close in” on the subject, making night shots more difficult. If this frustrates you, try a fixed/primary lens with an F-stop of 1.8 or 2.
3. Shutter speed. If there’s one thing that hasn’t changed in the modern camera, it is this.
The concept is simple as well – the higher the shutter speed, the less light it lets in. Just like your eye, this controls the speed of what used to be the shutter curtain in those old SLR cameras. While the curtain has been eliminated from digital cameras, the shutter speed tells the camera how much a shot should be exposed to light.
The lower the shutter speed (such as when taking photos under low-light conditions), the more light it lets in. The trouble with using low shutter speed however is you need a steady hand or a tripod to prevent blur.
Finally as a last pointer – look at the light meter. This is usually found at the bottom or at the right side of the viewfinder when you peak through before taking a shot (Yes – there is a reason for that too). Adjust the shutter speed or F-stop until the arrow reaches the middle or is slightly above or below that.