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Photography class


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Ok, so I know Lava and Lii were interested so I wrote some stuff up for the first part.  Let me know if you are interested in more and I will write the next section up!  Also questions, suggestions, and complaints are always welcome because... I don't actually know what I am doing!  Have Fun!  Also the formatting is being annoying... so we will see what happens when I post. 



A bad photo of some of Nargbert’s cameras

Hello and welcome to Narg’s photography class!  This class will cover the basics of photography for those who want to learn how to use their camera and how to take the best photos they can with the equipment they have.  Photography is a very complex topic with an almost limitless number of topics that can be covered.  Narg…. Not limitless.  So, as we go along, if you have a question about something that Narg has not mentioned, ask!  I will do my best to answer said questions.  Let Narg point out that he primarily shoots nature and sports.  So if you want to ask about lighting a studio or what it takes to be a professional portrait taker, I may not be able to answer your question to your satisfaction.  I know some about a wide range of topics, but have not mastered many of them!

In this class I am going to roughly cover topics in the same order as is done in Ansel Adams photography series books.  If you have never seen these books and are REALLY interested in photography, they are an excellent read.  While Adams shot large format film, his first two books, “The Camera” and “The Negative”, still discuss many ideas and techniques that are relevant even in the world of cell phone photography.  His third book, “The Print”, is a little less relevant, but shows you that even back in the day they practiced photo editing.  What we like to call take a photo, make a photo.  He might not have had photoshop, but the photos of his you see aren’t just reproductions of what he shot right off the negative.  So you should not feel no shame that you must edit your photos to fully express the ideas you were trying to capture!

So, what is photography.  At its simplest, it is the art of capturing light.  With camera equipment we can capture this light in several different ways creating an infinite number of photographs out of what looks like one simple scene.  You are here because you want to learn how to capture this light and make the best photos you can.  

Today we are going to take a look at the equipment we use to capture this light.  I am actually going to assign your homework now!  

Do you have the camera you want to use with you?  This could be a fancy mirrorless or DSLR camera, point and shoot, or just your cell phone.  They all will have roughly the same basic controls.  However, these controls will be in different spots for different cameras.  So have what ever you want to use as a camera next to you, find a manual and prepare yourself.  As we discuss different parts and settings on a camera I want you to figure where this setting is on your camera and figure out how to make adjustments with it.  You don’t need to fully understand exactly what everything does when it comes to taking pictures, but you do need to know where it is so when we move onto our next class you are aware of how to make the adjustments for what we are trying to do! Ok…. Here we go!


The modern digital camera is an astounding piece of equipment.  The number of features that are packed into the simplest of cell phone cameras today can be mind boggling.  However, to make the best photos we can we have to understand some of what is going on with these high tech gadgets.  

Todays cameras have simplified the process of taking a photograph immensely.  In the days of fully manual view cameras the photographer had to setup the camera, grab the dark cloth so the shot could be composed, close the lens, take out the hand held light meter and take a measurement (or guess based on their past experiences), adjust the f-stop, wind the lens, test fire it, wind it again, load the film, pull the film cover, trigger the lens, and then replace the film cover.  Today, you point the camera, you click the shutter button, you move on!  Let’s take a look at what is going on here and break it down.  

In old cameras we had film.  In todays cameras we have sensors.  However, they are both just light capturing devices and so you will see many of the same concepts between the two.  Film will have an ISO rating, sensors will have ISO settings.  The size of the film matters depending on what you want to do with that shot, just as the size of the sensor on your camera will matter based on what you want to do.  

Camera sensors are arrays of pixels (sensor) that capture either Red, Green, or Blue light.  Look at your TV and you will see the same thing.  Just like TVs we categorize sensors by how many pixels they have and their size.  These two numbers will affect many things about your picture, though most people will never notice these differences.  

The number of pixels on a sensor is expressed in Mega Pixels.  This tells us how many millions of pixels are on the sensor.  If it is a 12 MP camera, there are 12 million pixels.  Granted, the photo you make may not have 12 million pixels in it due to software control and other fun things, but that is the number of pixels on your sensor.  

The size of your sensor is rarely listed in such an easy way.  On modern, high end DSLRs and mirrorless cameras you will hear people talk of “Full Frame” and “APS-C”.  Full frame means the sensor is the same size of a 35mm negative.  35mm is the size of most roll film back in the day and what was in most cameras before digital cameras.  This is a size of 36mm x 24mm.  APS-C is a smaller sensor, usually called a cropped sensor.  
Cell phone sensors take a different track in sizing names.  They use fractions of inches to try to hide how small these sensors truly are.  Take a look at this photo to see these different sensor sizes.  



 As mentioned, when using your camera there will be an option to change a setting called ISO.  What is this? What are you doing? Why does sensor size matter?  Lets do a little thought experiment!

Outside it is raining marbles.  Yes, I said marbles. They are falling at 1 marble a minute.   Someone asks you and I to go outside and measure how fast the marbles are falling from the sky.  You have a small bucket, and I have a bucket with an opening three times the size of yours.  We go outside, put our buckets on the ground and start catching marbles.  After 100 minutes, yes 100 minutes, we both come inside with our buckets and count how many marbles we have. 1 marble a minute for 100 minutes should give us 100 marbles.   You count 98 marbles in your small bucket.  I count 298 marbles in my bucket (3 times the size of yours so I catch 3 times more than yours).  Adjusting for how big my bucket size is I divide by 3 and get 99.3 marbles.  Even though we both ended up 2 marbles short, my number is closer to the 100 marbles/minute than yours was.

This first example is just a rough example of two sensors, both with the same mega pixels, but one is a bigger sensor.  The bigger sensor will collect more light and make a more accurate calculation of what the actual light falling on it is.  

We can use this same idea to discuss what ISO is.  When you are changing ISO in your camera, you are changing how “sensitive” your camera is to the light falling on it.  This can be a little strange so lets go back to our marbles idea.  

Ok, we still have our buckets.  It is still raining 1 marble a minute and we want to know how many marbles fall in 100 minutes.  But we don’t want to have to measure the fall of marbles for 100 minutes, we want to only take a measurement for 10 minutes.  Well, what we can do is go put our buckets outside for 10 minutes, then multiply by 10 to guess how many marbles fall in 100 minutes.  This time you catch 9 marbles in 10 minutes, and I catch 29 marbles in 10 minutes.  We then multiply by 10 and you come up with 90 marbles in 100 minutes, I come up with 96.6 marbles in 100 minutes.   

Changing the ISO in our camera does the same calculation.  We can have less light fall on our sensor and still get the same exposure.  However, as can be seen, small errors (such as being off by 1 marble) can become big errors as we multiply the number up.  We can go from measuring for only 5 minutes, or maybe just for 1 minute.  But each time we reduce the amount of time we are measure the light for, the more a small error can become a big error.  This gives us noise in our photos.  The larger the sensor, the better it does with keeping these errors to a minimum.  You can push higher ISO’s with less noise.  

Noise can come from other places too.  It is an electronic device and so picks up noise from other things, not just light.  Bigger sensors help with this.  Also, electrical engineers do better and better jobs at designing systems that eliminate some of this electrical noise from the sensor making newer sensors better at higher ISOs than older sensors.  

So why doesn’t everyone just use big sensors and move on?  Well, first, portability.  Your cell phone sensor may be small, but it easily fits in your pocket and acts as a phone, computer, and any number of other devices.  My large Nikon D750 hangs from a strap and can be cumbersome to haul around all the time so I only want it with me when I know I am taking pictures.  

Second, while bigger is better when it comes to sensors, it is also more expensive. A brand new Nikon D780 will cost you $2300, your flagship cell phone $1000, and it does more.  That $2300 also doesn’t include lenses, so even more cost.  

Old film cameras had a physical shutter that was used to protect the film from being exposed until a button was pressed.  The shutter would then open, light hits the film, then the shutter closes.  With digital cameras, we don’t need a physical shutter anymore.  Instead this will now stand for how long we measure the light hitting the sensor.  Works the same way, just no mechanical device moving.  Like with ISO, we can control how much light hits our film by adjusting our shutter speed.  

Shutter speed is measured, usually, in fractions of a second.  So you will see shutter speeds of 1/30 second, 1/60 second, or even 1/4000 second.  However, most cameras will just show the lower number.  On my cameras my shutter speed would be displayed as 30, 60, or 4000.  If you want to actually take a longer exposure, such as in seconds, it will be marked in another way.  On my Nikon cameras we get a “ mark after the time.  So if I see 5”, this means a five second exposure.  If I just see 5… it is 1/5 of a second.  

Simple math, if you double how long the exposure is, you are doubling the amount of light that hits the sensor.  We call this a Stop… yup, there it is again!  

Different cameras have different ways of letting the user compose a picture.  Cell phones will show you the image on your screen and you compose with that.  Newer mirrorless cameras will either show the image on your back display, or have a small image projected through a view finder so that you can use it like older cameras.  Smaller digital cameras might have a small viewfinder you look through on the top edge of the camera that lets you see what you are taking a photo of.  This will be an approximation because it is offset from the lens.

Then there are your higher end consumer and prosumer cameras.  These cameras are called DSLRs, or Digital Single Lens Reflex cameras.  These cameras have a mirror inside that is directly inline with the lens. This mirror projects the image upwards and then bounces the light around. This lets the user see exactly what they are taking a photo of.  When they press the shutter button this mirror flips up and then the light goes directly to the sensor.  



Mirrorless cameras don't use a mirror to let the photographer compose the picture.  Instead they use the sensor directly  and display the current image either on a screen on the back of the camera, screen on the front of your phone, or have a smaller screen inside a view finder.  Otherwise everything still behaves...... mostly the same.

While this mirror system does make for a more complex and larger body camera, there are some pluses to it.  For focusing and composing, devices that use an electronic display to show you what you are shooting can have a slight delay.  If you are trying to shoot something with fast action, like sports, this delay can be difficult to work with.  Battery life is also another concern.  With a DSLR you don’t HAVE to have the back display on and so the batter can last longer allowing you to take more photos on a single charge.  On a mirrorless or cell phone system, this display for composing can quickly drain your battery.  


All modern cameras have autofocus.  We won’t go into all the fun of phase detection and image splitting, yada yada yada, just know you press a button, or just point the camera.  On my phone it will try to autofocus but I can touch my screen to force it to autofocus on what I want.  On other cameras with shutter buttons, pressing that shutter button half way will cause the camera to start to focus.  On my DSLR I have it setup for back button focus, that way I can set a focus point and not have it move when pressing my shutter button.  

There are many different types of autofocus systems on cameras.  Some will just focus on one point, some will find a face and focus on that (cell phones), some will let you pick a point to focus on and that track that point as it moves around (sports).  READ YOUR MANUAL to understand what options are available to you and some ideas on how to use them.  If you have questions, let me know.


Auto Exposure
All modern digital cameras have a light meter built into them allowing for the “correct” exposure of your photos.  Put the camera into auto, it will measure the light from the scene and select what it thinks is the best shutter speed and aperture to get the best exposed picture it thinks it can.  Now, I know what you are saying, WE DON’T WANT AUTO!  You are correct!  However, we will use this light sensor and then make adjustments from there to get the best photos we can.  So how do we do this?

To begin with we must understand what the light meter in our camera is doing.  Many cameras can do a full scene reading, a multipoint reading, or a spot reading with varying sizes.  With any of these readings the light meter reads the light, and then adjusts the exposure to get the average reading to be a neutral grey.  If you have a really brightly lit scene, it is going to try to make it look darker, if the scene is really dark, lighter.  Here is an example of what is actually going on.
Say you are taking a spot reading.  This means we pick a particular spot in the scene, call that our “neutral grey point” and have the light meter adjust the exposure based on that one spot.  Below we have a grey card.  On one side it pure white, on the other, not quite black, but really dark grey.  There are 7 bars here.  If we point our light meter at the middle one we get the card like how we see before.  But what happens when expose with the light meter pointed at one of the other bars?  




Well, lets point our light meter at the white bar, let it adjust the exposure for that and take a picture.  What do we get?  Well, we get something like our second picture.  As you can see, the white color is now a neutral grey and all the other lines are much darker.  We call this under exposed. 



Well, what if we point our meter at the darkest color we have and take a picture.  Well, the exposure has now been adjusted to make that black bar look like a neutral grey color and everything else is much brighter.  We call this blown out or over exposed. 


This adjustment of our photos can cause us problems.  While many basic photos will work just fine with this, what happens if we are taking a picture in the snow?  Even if our light meter is reading most of the scene, its mostly white.  We want it to stay white, but our camera is going to make the snow look grey unless we do something.  With this we can either switch to manual mode to help over expose.  Or on many cameras there is an exposure adjustment setting that we can change.  We can tell it to use the light meter and then set the exposure of our camera to make the photo brighter or darker based on what we want.  What happens if we are using spot metering during a sports outing and the teams kit is black?  When then it is going to be over exposed, so we adjust the exposure setting down 1 stop or so.  (We call them stops… don’t worry about it too much.  Just know 1 stop up or down is doubling or halving the amount of light we capture.  Many cameras will allow you to make these changes in 1/3rd or ½ stops.)  

So for homework, look to see if your camera has what is called “Exposure compensation”.  My android cell phone has it and I have used it many times.  Some basic point and shoots may or may not have it.  If so, learn how to quickly access and adjust it for it will come in very handy as we start talking about composing a picture and how to expose for what you want.  


Dynamic Range
Dynamic range is the difference in the amount of light between the lightest and darkest colors in your photograph.  Cameras with higher dynamic ranges can capture a wider range of light before losing detail in the highlights or the shadows.  The more fancy the camera, the more likely it has a higher dynamic range.  It is mostly useful when you are blowing out your highlights to get the mid ranges right, or underexposing your shadows for the same reason.  You can go back into gimp or photoshop afterwards and pull some of those details back.

Don’t worry about it too much.  It’s a nice stat, doesn’t affect your photos too much unless you are trying to push the edges.  And if you are… layering, HDR…. Lots of ways to deal with it!  



Most cameras will have a dial or some other menu that lets you set it for what kind of picture you want to take.  There may be a person running for the sports setting, mountains for a nature setting, or a face for a portrait setting.  When you see these scene settings the first thing you must do is…. IGNORE THEM!  Selecting any of these settings gives creative control over what we are shooting to the camera itself.  We DO NOT WANT TO DO THIS!  Yes, it is nice to have when you don’t want to think about anything, you just want to change a dial and take a picture.  You must train yourself to not do this!

The only settings on this dial or menu we are interested in is “Aperture priority”, usually labeled A, sometimes “Shutter Priority”, usually labeled S, and “Manual”, you guessed it, Labeled M.  Cell phones are a little different.  I can selectively focus and change the exposure from the standard picture mode.  However, there is a pro mode as well that you can setup the different settings to behave as aperture priority, shutter priority, or manual.  I believe my android phone has only two different apertures so there isn’t a whole lot you can do there.  I only use it to take quick shots, but there are some interesting things you can do in the pro setting.  Explore it!

LEARN HOW TO SELECT THESE SETTINGS! Then set your camera to aperture priority and leave it.  If you need one of the other two, you will know and adjust.  Otherwise stay in aperture priority!  We will discuss next lesson on what this means, how to use it, and when to change.  



The Lens
The piece of equipment we need for a camera is the lens.  Some cameras, like cell phones and fixed lens cameras, come with the lens attached.  Other cameras let you swap out lenses.  When you look at a lens you will see a few numbers associated with it.  First is usually the focal length of the lens.  

Focal length tells us our angle of view, how much of the scene can be captured or how much we are magnifying our scene.  This is usually represented in millimeters.  The lower the number, the wider our angle of view is.  50mm is usually considered about what we see with our eyes.  Here is an example of how different lenses will see the same scene.




When looking at focal length lenses fall into 2 categories: Primes and Zooms.  Prime lenses have only one focal length associated with them.  They don’t zoom in or out, the view is always the same.  For zooms the lens will cover a range of focal lengths.  I have zoom lenses such as a 70mm-200mm and a 28mm-300mm.  There are pros and cons to both types of lenses.  With Primes, they are simpler to design.  The glass inside doesn’t have to move to adjust to new focal lengths.  This allows the designers to make extremely sharp wide aperture lenses that are fairly small and light weight.  They will usually cost less than a zoom lens too (unless you are going for the best quality with the widest aperture…. Those get darn expensive!)  However, if you want to change your view, you must swap lenses out.  While with a zoom lens you can quickly adjust your angle of view or magnification that best fits your scene.  They are can be the best choice for a ‘walking around’ lens as nothing has to be swapped out.  However, these lenses will usually be bulkier since they require moving elements and their sharpness will take a hit.  You will also run into barrel or pincushion distortion with these lenses.  Straight lines will rarely be straight. 






The second number on our lens is the minimum aperture, or how wide the lens can open to let light into the camera.  For some lenses this will be a fixed number, like F/2.8.  For some zoom lenses you might see a range like f/4.5-5.6.  What does this mean?  Well, your aperture is the opening in the lens that lets light in.  The lower the number after the f/ the more light the lens lets in.  What does this number mean?  Math time!

So… remember our focal length?  Well, we take our focal length, divide by the effective aperture diameter and we get our “f-stop” number.  Remember that term stop?  It is back!  Increasing or decreasing our f number by a ratio of 1.41 (square root of 2) either double or halves the light reaching the camera sensor.  So, if F/1.4 is our starting point, multiply it by 1.41 and we get roughly f/2.0.  Multiply 2.0 by 1.41 and you get roughly f/2.8.   This keeps going up and we can use ½ or 1/3rd stops  when we get to higher numbers.  f/2.8 is usually considered wide and called a “fast lens”.  Why?  Well, when more light is let into the camera, your shutter speed can get quicker as you don’t need to leave it open as long to capture the same amount of light.  So it is fast.

And if you noticed here you should start making some connections we have talked about before with ISO, shutter speed and aperture.  If going from f/2.0 to f/2.8 halves the amount of light coming into the lens…. What must we do with the shutter speed to capture the same amount of light?  Well, we must then double the amount of time our shutter is open!  Say change it from 1/30 second to 1/15 second. Or, if you don’t want to change the shutter speed, then you must double your ISO (halving how much light is required to get the same value as before).   Change any one of these three numbers, then you must change one of the other three to compensate for the light lost or gained!  This concept can take some getting used to and takes some practice time to get comfortable with all of it.  We will discuss this more next time when we discuss how to change these numbers to get the type of photo we want.  

Try practicing changing all these so that you are comfortable with how to change them.  This will make next class so much nicer!








So, if you weren’t paying attention… homework.  Get to know your camera, whatever it is.  Learn where the ISO settings are.  Learn how to change your F stops and your shutter speed.  Learn how to set aperture and shutter priority.  Figure out the different focus systems that may be available in your camera.  See how setting the exposure for different areas will change what your photos look like.  Get comfortable with the idea of adjusting ISO, Shutter speed, and aperture on the fly.  Know thy camera, and the next section will suddenly make soooooo much more sense.  
Ask questions, post test photos, ask questions about test photos!  And I will see you next time.





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  • 4 weeks later...

I am a slacker, but I guess I should really do a second part of this... so lets do it!


Ok, so we talked some about how a camera works.  But we are still a few ideas short of a decent picture!  So, for this post we will discuss Exposure and Focus.  In our final post we will discuss composition and how to deal with different scenes.  But today... EXPOSURE AND FOCUS!



We have discussed shutter speed, aperture, and ISO and how all of these numbers help us get the right exposure for our picture.  But how do we know we have the correct numbers for the the right exposure?  Remember how we talked about the light meter that is inside the camera?  This will help us get to the right exposure. 


Depending on the focus mode and exposure settings for your camera, it will use that light meter to set your aperture and/or shutter speed to get what it thinks is the correct exposure.  In higher end cameras it will also show you an indicator that indicates if your exposure if perfect for what it thinks the scene should be exposed at, under exposed, or over exposed.  In aperture priority mode, you pick your aperture, the camera then picks the shutter speed for this aperture and ISO to get the exposure where it thinks it needs to be.  Works the same in shutter priority as well.  If you are shooting manual you can adjust all of your settings and the indicator will tell you what it thinks the exposure is.  Here is what it looks like on many Nikon DSLR cameras.  On the right is what you would see in the view finder.  The left, what you might see on a screen.  You can get that exposure indicator right in the 0 point and take a picture.  Most likely your photo should be decently exposed.





However, as we have discussed, we don't want to just leave all these decisions to the camera.  For many good reasons, both art and otherwise, the exposure meter may be off in some ways.  What it thinks is a good exposure might be a little too bright, or a little too dark, depending on how the camera is reading the light.  Because of this we want to spend a little more time thinking about what we are actually seeing in our scene and trying to make our own decisions on what WE think is the right exposure..... with still getting some help from the camera.


Zone System

So, as we look at what we think might be important to us for understanding how to expose our image, we must first realize.... our eyes and brain lie to us.  Oh, they do it for a good reason, but it causes us problems in photography.  When we look at something.... outside... inside... around town... we will see both bright and dark areas.  This difference between bright and dark areas is called contrast.  Our eyes and brain work hard to reduce the contrast of a scene.  Why?  Our minds are designed to extract out as much detail and information as they can from what we see.  So our eyes and mind work hard to make the shadows less... shadowy?... and the bright areas not as bright so that we can see some of the fine details in these sections. 


Our cameras, on the other hand, do not do this at all.  If we want to see the details of the shadows, there is a good chance the bright areas will be too bright, or blown out.  If we want to see the details in the bright areas, such as the sky, the dark areas may end up being very dark.  It really presents problems to us when we are taking pictures of objects that are partially covered in shadows.  Our minds work hard to make the item look almost uniform in how much light reaches us.  But when we take a picture we suddenly will have very bad shadows or over exposed parts messing up what we thought looked really cool. 





So quick example.  What our brains usually think when they see someone standing under a tree for a photo is shown on the left.  When we actually take the photo the camera actually sees what is on the right.  So, we have to train our eyes and brains to actually think about the light we are seeing.  Shadows like this aren't necessarily bad, but we have to be careful when trying to use the shadows to take good photos.  As can be seen here. 


Wendy Hope



One system that is used to train our eyes is called the Zone system.  This system was created by Ansel Adams.  If you don't know who he is, google his name and enjoy.  He was a black and white photographer.  The secret to B&W photography is contrast.  If you don't have great contrast in your image, it looks flat and... disappointing.  So to train his eye he created a system that let him pick what he wanted as his mid tone and he could, in his mind, determine where all the other values of light in the photo would fall. 



So, remember or scale from black to white before?  Lets refresh it a little and add some zones to it!





Looks familiar right?  But now we have added numbers to each of the black to grey to white sections.  Each of these sections we call a Zone.  If you were reading closely earlier you will also see the camera meter.  Remember how we discussed that a camera thinks the perfect exposure is a neutral grey?  Here it is again!  So, how does this work exactly? 


Well, I look at a potential area and I find what I think the neutral light is in the photograph.  I mentally mark that as zone 5.  If that area is zone 5, you can then start assigning other zones to other areas of lightness.  Sun shining brightly on one section?  Might be a zone 8 or 9!  Deep shadows under that rock? Zone 1 or 2!  Once you have these zones laid out, you can start adjusting them.  Don't care if the bright areas get a little brighter because you really want to have those shadows exposed?  Then overexpose your photo a little to pull that zone 3 to a zone 4 or 5.  You really want the sky and those clouds to look perfect?  Underexpose a little to bring that zone 8 to a zone 6.  When you are really good you just pick what you want to be zone 5 and mentally adjust from there! 





Say we want someones shirt to be our zone 5.  How do we actually make sure that shirt is zone 5??  Well, on cameras with more features we can select how our light meter works.  We can have it measure the whole scene and then just adjust exposure from the light everywhere.  Or we can change it to a spot meter.  When doing this it usually takes its light reading from where we set the focus in our camera.  If we set our light meter to spot metering and then focus on the shirt, the camera will adjust the exposure so that the shirt lands in zone 5.  Easy!  There are other tricks as well such as metering one section, then focusing on another.  Many of these tricks are dependent on your camera itself.  Most straight forward one is the exposure compensation.  Move that up or down to get your photo lighter or darker.


And if you are not quite sure what zone you want your light to fall in, take several different photos with several different exposures and see what works!


In the end, you don't have to fully use this system.  It IS good practice though for you to start seeing the light for what it is, and not just what your brain tells you.  It helps you practice seeing what might be too bright or too dark in a photo.  Soon many of these thoughts become second nature.  You will look and say out loud "Nope, light is too harsh right there."  Everyone will stare at you and think what a dork you are... but you will know you have some mastery over the light now!



This rant is also not a good rant of the zone system at all really, just a quick introduction to the fact that it exists.  Google "zone system adams" and take a look at what those sites have to actually say about it.  There is a lot of good information that I just don't have the mental capacity to put down here in words.  There are other systems/thoughts out there about how to deal with this light.  You are welcome to hunt those out as well if this one doesn't do it for you.  But you do want to practice looking at a scene and thinking about how it will actually look when photographed, not just seen in your big primate brain.





Ok, we now have some idea of how to get a picture properly exposed for the light.  Now we want to take a look at making sure we have our photo in focus exactly the way we want.  Many will say, just focus on your primary subject, let the camera tell you it is in focus and then click!  Yes, much of the time it is that easy.  However, you are missing a lot of detail and nuance of making GOOD photos if that is all you do!


First off, most cameras and lenses now have autofocus.  Use it, be happy with it.  On more advanced cameras there are lots of options of how focus can work.  I will not go into all the different options there, at least not today.  Just know there are lots of ways to have your camera focus on your scene.  Today we are more interested in the physical idea of what focus is, and how we can play with it!


Lets say you are out hiking with some friends and you come across a beautiful mountain scene.  There are some great flowers in the foreground and the mountains in the background look awesome!  You want all of these items to be in perfect focus in your picture.  There isn't just one item that is perfect, you want it all.  But how do you get it all?  This is where the fun of aperture comes in. 


Aperture affects what we call "Depth of Field".  The larger the aperture (smaller aperture number), the less depth of field we have.  So what is this you ask?  depthoffield.thumb.jpg.f7fac93e338af74896aacac72171de7c.jpg


Here you go!  The smaller we make our aperture, the more of our photo comes into focus!  So F2.8 gives us a small area of focus, F/11 gives us a very deep depth of field.  Most photographers don't go past F/16 for aperture though.  While the smaller the aperture the deeper your depth of field, past f/16 you can actually cause more blurriness as well.  This is due to the nature of light and the idea of circles of confusion.  What is that??? We will get there if you are really interested! 


So, as you decrease your aperture you are letting less light into the camera.  What do you need to do?  Slower shutter speed, or higher ISO.  This is why you will see nature photographers carrying around tripods.  We want that aperture way down do we usually have to expose for longer times.  Longer exposures show camera shake if you are trying to hold it by hand.  There are more reasons as well we will discuss next time.  


On the flip side, you want to take a photo of someone but don't want all that crazy background stealing the thunder of your photo?  Well, use an aperture of f/2.8 and get a nice blurry background while keeping your subject in focus.  This blurry background is called Bokeh.  Different lenses have different types of Bokeh depending on how many leafs are in their aperture.  Don't worry too much about it unless you want to wade into very strange debates!






Circles of Confusion (Warning!  This is very technical and not necessarily required to take photos!)

When we talk about in focus and out of focus, we are actually talking about circles of confusion.  What are circles of confusion?  When light is emitted from something you want to take a photograph of, it doesn't just shoot one laser beam from it directly to your lens.  Photons from your subject reach your lens at different angles and your lens then tries to focus those light particles on your sensor.  How tightly your lens can focus the light on your sensor defines how big your circle of confusion is.... or better is your image in focus or blurry?  The bigger the circle of confusion, the more blurry your photograph is. 





Looking at the photo above you have three points labeled 1, 2, and 3.  In the top image they pass through a lens and get focused on the sensor (5).  In both instances object 2 is our object we have focused on.  When we have a large aperture, the top image, the light coming from points 1 and 3 can't be focused perfectly down into one point and so are shown as larger points.  This is the circle of confusion and what makes our photo blurry.  Instead of one point making a big circle we have an infinite number of points all making big circles, which makes everything blurry.  The bottom image is what happens when we make our aperture smaller.  Now not all of the light that comes into the lens is actually making it to the sensor.  Because we are allowing only a narrower range of light through, our circles get smaller making those areas look more in focus.


Now, why can't we just keep making our aperture smaller to get the best focus we can?  Well, light behaves funny.  Ever heard of diffraction?  Small openings can cause light to change its path or bend around it.  We call this diffraction.  When our aperture gets small enough most of the light going through the aperture has been diffracted.  This bending of the light causes our object to go out of focus.  When the aperture is bigger, light is still be diffracted, but it makes up a much smaller percentage of what we are seeing and so does not effect the photograph. 


Back to normal discussions

See, focus was pretty straight forward.  However, you must spend some time practicing how you can change your depth of field.  Ok, homework!



So, lots of things to play with and try! 

1.  Start just looking at stuff and trying to think... what would a picture of this look like?  What might be too bright? Too Dark?

2.  Read up some more on the zone system.  There are much better explanations out there than mine. 

3.  Take some photos practicing placing different areas of the photo at zone 5

4.  Play with focus

5.  See what your aperture does as you increase and decrease it.  Focus on something close and change that aperture back and forth.  Focus on something further away and change aperture.  (Hint, changing your aperture effects close objects differently than far away ones)

6.  Just get comfortable changing your aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to again get the best exposure you can!








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ok gonna make a post to get started on this, not sure i got my manual anymore so we will start with the homework of geting to know your cam and i will make some notes here to keep track


so i got what is now probably considered an older camera since technology move so fast these days


So i got a sony nex-5 which has an upside to moveable screen, downsize you cant actually see directly into lens, you got to work by the screen as its sort of a hybrid between a what was the regular cam to have for vacay photoes back in the day and a full scale photograp thingy with lense (not good with names). this means i can put a really small lense on if i ever got one and have a was it digital cam they called it, and it will be very lightweigth and small.


i however only have bigger lenses, i have not yet read through the entire class so maybe this will make more sence later but my first lense i got with cam is 3.5-5.6/18-55 and another i goten later thats 4.5-6.3/55-210


the first one is what i am more likely to do mostly in course as the other one dont do well for shooting short distance inside 😛



ok so you say its hard to find, what does Lii do - look in all the nooks and cranies of hiden hatches or small stickers with supersmall print...where does she find it after almost giving up...stuck in descent size print rigth smack on the front of the cam in a corner next to the mount...14.2 MP cam 😄



menu - brigthness/color - iso

first choice in that menu, its set to auto currently 😛

though come to think of it the phototip thingy thats on sometimes brings it forth while i try to take pics as a sugestion for that pic to play with it 😛 (yes Liitha has survived by having her camera sugest/tell her what is the best choice in the situation)



to be contiued

Edited by Liitha
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Lets see what I can help with!

First thing, google the manual.  That will be your guide to everything you do!  And that will show you the 14.2mp as well!




The Handbook manual looks good for going through the basics of the camera, which is what you should focus on first.  


So, first, set your shoot mode to 'A'.  That gives you the aperture priority.  Then figure out how to change the aperture, I am guessing it is the wheel on the back, have to read manual!  


ISO is usually the hardest setting for people to figure out.  The numbers really don't make sense with it and it isn't a setting usually changed much.  So, lets see if I can simplify that for you.  First, get out of ISO auto.


1.  Set your ISO to 200.  It can probably go lower, but 200 should give you a photo with no ISO noise


2. Set your cameras shoot mode to 'A'


3. Focus on your scene


4. Set your aperture to where you want it.  You can shoot through the whole range to see what it gives you (your lenses probably won't blur the background they way you would like as the aperture numbers start high)


5.  What does the camera tell you the shutter speed will/should be to take the picture?


6.  If the shutter speed is too slow either set aperture to be wider, lower number, or increase the ISO (Will mention later, but if trying to hand hold a shot the rule of thumb is your shutter speed should be 1/(lens length) or faster, otherwise you will get a blurry shot.  So, you using your lens at 50mm?  Then your shutter speed should be 1/50 or faster (usually shown as just 50 on camera).  Zoomed to 200mm? Then 1/200 or faster).  


7.  If shutter speed is too fast (can it be too fast??  Yes? No?  In reality, if you don't have a lot of fast motion in your shot your shutter speed doesn't need to be too fast.  If you only need 1/250 and you are getting 1/800 you can make adjustments) stop down the aperture more for more depth of field.... if you want it.  Or you can move your ISO lower, say from 800 to 400.  This reduces the amount of noise in the photo. 


Its a straight forward process.  We will talk in the next class about different types of shots and just knowing when you are going to want a higher or lower ISO to start.  Even then, you will adjust your ISO, take a test reading, if it isn't what you want, change it again.  If you leave it in auto, you are limiting the decisions you can make about the kind of photo you want.   


The goal here is to understand why your camera is suggesting those things.... then ignore them because you now know what you are doing!  




(Nargy should really do next section too)

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*sneaks in to a seat in the back* yes master, right away master! 😇

Very good class narg thank you you want us to share our homework in here, yes? We're currently moving so I must maybe do the class a little slower than the rest would that be ok?

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  • 4 weeks later...

Master @Nargbert! I can't get my camera to work. It takes one picture and then tell me there's no more place, the memory card is wiped and I tried to get it to format it or whatever it's called several times and it just don't work..

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What kind of camera is it again lava?  Sometimes the memory cards go bad.  Hard to say.  Can you pull the card and connect it to a computer and wipe/format it that way?  

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I'm not sure I'll check it tomorrow it's not a fancy one but I love it and think it takes great picks so I hope it isthe card and not my camera..I could try to buy a new card I guess..

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I know you said we could use our phones but I really wanted to use my camera that's all..

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