Light & Dark

Cold weather arrived.
Cold weather arrived.

It came. The cold weather arrived. Temperatures in the low to mid 30s. Rain. Some sleet.

Winter. At least our version of it down in the swamp.

That’s not what I came to discuss. Instead, I want to talk about making an excellent exposure. And exposure that is so good that you don’t have to do any work in post production except to develop the picture. Or, to improve it from an aesthetic point of view.

These days, it’s pretty easy. Adjust your camera to “program” and you are done. The camera does everything. You just point and shoot. Or, you can set the dial to “A,” and you pick the F-stop and the camera picks the shutter speed. Or, you can use the “S” setting. You pick the shutter speed. The camera picks the F-stop. You can add a little more, or less, exposure by setting the dial that controls incremental settings, in thirds of an F-stop.

That’s easy to do. Quite frankly, when I photograph subjects that are moving quickly in relatively consistent light, I use the aperture setting and over expose by 1/3 of an F-stop. I can’t keep stopping to adjust the camera’s settings every few seconds.

When I make pictures of something more static, I usually switch to manual. At least, for exposure controls. Auto focus is generally quicker and more accurate than my old eyes with certain exceptions, of course. Oddly, I’m faster focusing on things that are moving quickly than the camera. It just may be that I anticipate better than software. I don’t know.

Aperture and shutter speed. For beginners, it’s confusing even though it’s really simple math. It’s all fractions and equivalence. Sheesh, even for veteran photographers… we often have to take a second and think about it.

Even though most cameras made today read light very precisely, I’m going to talk in old school terms because I think they are less confusing. Meaning that I understand them. Heh!

Aperture. It’s read in F-stops. It looks like f 2.0 – f 2.8 – f 4 – f5.6 – f 8 – f11 – f 16 – f22. Think of those as fractions. So you are really looking at something like 1/2.0 – 1/2.8 – 1/4 and so on. The bigger number lets in more light through your lens. Keep in mind that f 2.0 or 1/2.0 is much larger than f 22 or 1/22. That’s just fractions… 1/2 is bigger than 1/22.

Shutter speed. Starting at 2 seconds, it is usually shown as 2 sec – 1 sec – 1/2 sec – 1/4 sec – 1/8 sec – 1/15 sec – 1/30 sec – 1/60 sec – 1/125 sec – 1250 sec – 1/500 sec – 1/1000 sec – 1/2000 sec. Those are already written as fractions. A 2 second exposure is much longer than a 1/2000 sec exposure.

A quick note. Usually, anything less than 1/30 of a second can produce a blurred image. However, most modern cameras have compensation for that and you can shoot much slower than you could in the past. You can “hand hold” a camera in the digital age as long as one second and it will produce a sharp image. Sometimes.

If I want to make a picture with a lot of motion in it, but with some sharp areas, I work from 1/8 to 1 second. That’s just me.

Another note. Modern cameras use histograms and light meters to read light. The aperture can be read as something like f7.3 or f9.1. Shutter speeds can be read as something like 1/350 sec or 1/1200 sec.

Putting aperture and shutter speed together. There are all kinds of charts and graphs posted all over the internet to use as cheat sheets. I recommend that you learn this information and keep in your head. But, here’s an example.

I like to work at around an F-stop of 5.6. On a bright overcast day that means something like  f 5.6 @ 1/1000 sec.

But. It could also mean f2.8 @ 1/4000 sec, or f4 @ 1/2000 sec, f8 @ 1/500 sec, or f11 @ 1/250 sec and so on.

Why change the F-stops at all? The wider the aperture (f 2.8) that shorter the depth of field. You increase the chances of a blurred background and making good bokeh, while keeping the subject sharp. At a smaller aperture (f 16) the depth of field increases from the front to the back of the scene. The optimal F-stop for most lenses is f8. I like to work at f5.6 because I want my subject to be sharp, but I want to introduce some separation between the subject and the background. That’s one way of doing that.

How you work is your choice.

I realize that after reading and editing this, it looks very complicated. While it appears to be complex, it isn’t complicated. If you Google using the phrase “camera shutter speed chart,” the math will become much easier because it is visual.

I promise you that knowing, practicing and using this will make you a much better photographer. You will begin to understand light. And, photography is really Greek for “writing with light.”

The picture. F5.6 and focus on the water droplets, letting the background fall as far out of focus as it could.




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