The Basic Building Blocks of Photography
I have completed the first unit of the New York Institute of Photography's Complete Course in Professional Photography, at least the reading and written exercise part. All that is left to do in this unit are the Photography assignments. I have been spending most of my time working on getting the website up and running, but I think I am, somewhat, satisfied with it, for now. It's time to finish the photo projects, so I can start on Unit 2. This first unit, teaches you the basics of camera operation, what all of the controls do and how to use them to take properly composed and properly exposed photographs.
Unit 1 - You and Your Equipment
This first unit begins with an introduction to the "Eye of the Photographer." It teaches you the basic principles of composing a successful photograph, which are as follows. Every photograph should have a clear and obvious subject. You should compose the shot, so that you draw attention to the subject of your photograph and eliminate, or minimize anything in the frame that takes attention away from the subject of your image.
Unit 1 teaches you the basic features of a typical DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera, and how to use them to achieve successful photographs, following the basic principles. You are taught about the exposure triangle -- Shutter Speed, Aperture and ISO Setting -- how they are related, how to use them to achieve proper exposure and how each setting affects the look of your photograph. You can use each of the three "points" of the exposure triangle, to draw attention to your subject, or to minimize parts of the frame that are distracting and draw attention away from your subject. This first unit gives you a good, solid foundation to build upon during the rest of this course and to use for the rest of you life.
The Exposure Triangle Explained
I will go off on a "rabbit trail" here and explain exposure the way that I understand it. This was explained to me years ago, in a simple way that I understood and it stuck with me. This explanation was based on a film camera, but it works the same way with modern digital cameras. In the next few paragraphs, I will explain what ISO, shutter speed and aperture is. I will follow up with the "so simple a cave man can do it" explanation that has stuck with me over the years.
The ISO setting on a digital camera is based upon standard film speeds, such as 100, 200, 400, 800, etc. The higher the ISO number, the more sensitive the film, or digital sensor, is to light. For instance, in bright sunlight, we would use ISO 100 film, and today, we set our digital cameras' ISO setting to 100. For cloudy days, we would typically use ISO 200 or 400 speed film, depending on how dark the cloudiness was and whether or not we were shooting a moving subject. This same idea is used to set the ISO on your modern digital camera. It is all based upon the ISO speeds of film. The lower the level of lighting that you have, the higher the ISO setting you will need to use. There are trade-offs, however, as there are no free rides in life or photography. The higher the ISO setting on your digital camera, or on your film, the more graininess you will have in your prints. So, high ISO = grainy pictures. Sometimes this is good and sometimes this is bad, depending upon the look you are going for.
The shutter speed setting on your camera adjusts how long the shutter will stay open, allowing light from the lens to strike the film, or digital sensor. The shutter speed will be displayed as 25, 60, 100, 500, etc., corresponding to 1/25, 1/60, 1/100 and 1/500 of a second. So a shutter speed setting of 100, will allow the shutter, a little "automatic window", to stay open for 1/100th of a second, sending a specific amount of light to the surface of the film or digital sensor. Slower shutter speeds (lower numbers) allow more light to reach the film/sensor, and faster shutter speeds allow less light in. Everything else being equal, the lower the ambient light, the longer you will need to have the shutter open to properly expose the picture. This all sounds simple enough, but just as in the ISO setting, there is a trade-off. If your subject is moving, or if you are hand-holding your camera, there will be consequences and repercussions. Low light levels will require relatively slow shutter speeds, such as 1/ 20 of a second or even slower. While 1/20th of a second sounds like a short amount of time, it allows plenty of time for your hands to move during the exposure, resulting in a blurry image. A rule of thumb is to not hand-hold your camera at any shutter speed slower than the focal length of your lens. For example, if you are using a 200 mm lens, you should use a tripod for any shutter speed slower than 200 (1/200th of a second). Another thing to think about when choosing a shutter speed in how fast your subject is moving. For instance, a running dog will become a blurred streak at a shutter speed of 1/20th of a second (setting of 20 in camera), but will be frozen in time at a shutter speed of 1/250th of a second (setting of 250 in camera). So you can use the shutter speed setting to freeze action, or allow your subjects to blur, depending upon what your intent is.
Every lens for an SLR or DSLR camera has a mechanical diaphragm inside of it, controlled by the aperture setting on the camera. Typical aperture settings are f/4, f/5.6, f/8, etc., denoted on camera as 4, 5.6 and 8. On old-school film cameras, this setting was on the lens, itself, but modern cameras control the aperture with in-camera settings. Without going into a lot of detail, the aperture setting will control the size of the diaphragm opening in the lens. The picture below, drawn by my daughter, Katharine Smith, shows what the aperture diaphragm in a typical camera lens looks like.
Notice that the smaller the f-number (4, 5.6, etc), the wider the diaphragm (aperture) opening will be. A wider opening will let more light in, and a narrower opening (larger number) will let less light in. Just like the ISO and Shutter Speed settings, the aperture setting has trade-offs. A wider opening, while letting in more light, will have a shallower depth of field. A smaller opening will let in less light, but will have a larger depth of field. Depth of field refers to the range of view that will be in acceptably sharp focus. For instance, if you are shooting a portrait of a person, and you are focused perfectly on your subject's eyes, with a wide open aperture setting, you could end up with the nose and ears being out of focus, due to a very narrow depth of field. If you "stop down" or use a narrower aperture opening, you could have a broader depth of field, so that their eyes, ears and nose are all in sharp focus. So the aperture setting determines, not only how much light hits your film or sensor, it also controls how much of your subject is in acceptably sharp focus.
Here is a little experiment that you can do, if you are near or far sighted. I have no idea where he learned this from, but my younger brother, when we were kids, used to do this before he was prescribed with glasses. I guess he is just an innovative kind of guy. When he was in school, he would have trouble seeing the chalk board and what the teacher was writing on it, so he discovered that, if he used both hands, and pinched both index fingers and thumbs together, creating a very narrow opening, and held this opening up to his eye, all of the "out of focus" things on the chalk board, would come into focus and he could see it. He was, basically, creating a smaller aperture setting for his eyes, effectively widening his depth of field, so that he could see what the teacher was writing on the board. It works....I've tried it with sports scores on my big screen TV -- yep, I'm getting older and my eyes ain't what they used to be. So, in a nutshell, the aperture setting controls the size of the diaphragm opening in the lens, allowing more or less light through, but is also affects the depth of field, or the range of distances, from the camera, that will be in acceptably sharp focus.
Putting it All Together in Cave Man Terms
The exposure triangle can be simplified into a water faucet, a garden hose and a bucket. A particular ISO rating of film or ISO setting for a digital sensor, can be thought of as a bucket. ISO 100 can be thought of a large bucket. It is less sensitive to light, so it takes more light to expose it properly, or "fill it up." ISO 800 can be thought of as a small bucket. It is more sensitive to light, so it takes less light to "fill it up." All other things being equal (shutter speed and aperture settings), the darker the scene is, the higher the ISO setting you will need to be to properly expose the image, or fill up the bucket.
The shutter speed can be thought of as a water valve, or faucet, and how long you leave it open. The shutter is, in essence, a light faucet. Opening it for a certain amount of time, allows a measured amount of water, or light, through. The longer the valve is left open, the more water or light gets through to fill up the bucket.
The aperture can be thought of as the diameter or size of the hose that is connected to the faucet. A smaller diameter hose allows a smaller quantity of water (light) through in a given time, and a larger diameter hose will allow a greater amount of water (light) through in the same amount of time. I will repeat this, because it's important. A larger diameter hose is like a larger aperture opening (smaller f-number aperture), allowing a larger quantity of light through in a given amount of time. A smaller diameter hose is like a smaller aperture opening (larger f-number aperture), allowing a smaller quantity of light through in a given amount of time.
Summarizing the Cave Man Exposure Triangle
For example, let's say we have ISO 100 film, or an ISO setting of 100 in a digital camera. We will assume an 8 gallon bucket has an ISO rating of 100. It will take 8 gallons of water (light) to fill up the bucket, and properly expose the film, or digital image. We can either use a fire hose (large aperture opening, f/4) and leave the valve (shutter) open for a short period of time, or a garden hose (small aperture opening, f/22) and leave the valve (shutter) open for a long period of time. Either one we choose, we need to end up with the 8 gallons of water that it takes to fill up the bucket, or properly expose the image. Using this example, an ISO rating of 800, could be thought of as a 1 gallon bucket. It is 8 times more sensitive to light, so the bucket is 8 times smaller than the ISO 100 (8 gallon) bucket. In this case, you could use a smaller hose (aperture opening), or just leave the valve (shutter) open for a shorter period of time, so long as we end up with the 1 gallon of water (light) that it takes to "fill up the bucket" and properly expose the image.
To get a properly exposed image, you need to fill up the bucket. Depending on the effect you are going for, you can vary the size of the hose (aperture) and control the depth of field, or you can vary the shutter speed (how long you leave the faucet open) and control the motion blur in your image.
Okay, this is the end of the rabbit trail. Hopefully, this explanation of the exposure triangle makes sense and will help you to better understand it.
NYIP Unit One Photo Projects
The photo project assignment for Unit 1 requires submitting 2 photos. The first image should show motion and the second one should have a very deep depth of field, where everything is in acceptably sharp focus. For the motion assignment, I will need to either, leave the camera stationary, shoot a moving subject at a relatively slow shutter speed and allow the subjects to blur, or use a slower shutter speed and pan the camera along with a moving subject, which will keep the subject reasonably sharp, and allow the background to blur. The second image will have to be a photo of something with depth, like a landscape. It will require the use of the Hyperfocal Distance setting, for maximum depth of field, where both the near-ground and the background are in focus.
Unit 1 Photo Assignment - Image One (Motion) - Possibilities
I will add more photos here, as I take them.
Unit 1 Photo Assignment - Image Two (Depth of Field) - Possibilities
I will add photos here as I take them.
Once I select the photos for submission, I will send them off to be graded and critiqued by my instructor. All of the instructors are working, professional photographers, with years of experience. The instructor will send me, either an audio file, or a video, explaining everything that is right and wrong with the images that I submit, and give me ideas on how to improve them. I will edit this post when I receive my critique and document how it goes.