day 32: Yesterday was my first wedding of the season (woohoo!) and I was so excited to not only get to shoot a wedding (which I love) but to also get to shoot it with some ridiculously awesome lenses. Check out this shot with the 50 1.2. Pretty much the only thing in focus is ONE of her eyes, the depth of field is that shallow. I really shouldn’t rent things I can’t afford because now I want both of them 🙂
day 31: Tomorrow is my first wedding of the season. True, I shot one a few weeks ago, but it was as a second so I don’t really think it counts. Tomorrow is my first REAL wedding with one of MY clients. And to celebrate I rented 2 fab lenses, the 50 1.2L (which I took this shot with) and the one I’m even more excited about… the 24 1.4L. I am pretty sure it’s going to be my new best friend. Too bad I don’t own one 🙂
Hopefully you already read the last post (how your camera works) and saw the very very brief introduction to aperture (aka f-stops). This is going to be one of the most important pieces in the puzzle for you to learn how to take pictures that look “professional” so I thought it would be good to start here. I always think it’s best to learn about one feature of your camera or aspect of photography at a time so that you can really get a hang of it before you move on. Once you nail this one you’ll be well on your way to taking much better pictures so get ready to impress yourself with your mad photo skills 🙂
I’m sure you’ve all seen a picture where the subject (let’s just say it’s a baby because as a mom I’d say 90% of my pictures are probably of my babies) is in focus. You can very clearly see the little eyes and mouth peering out at you from the image, but the background is out of focus. That’s the result of something called depth of field, and depth of field is a result of a few things but mainly the distance you are from your subject and your aperture. If more of the image is out of focus we say it has a shallower depth of field. More in focus it’s got a longer depth of field.
I already mentioned that the depth of field has to do with your aperture and that the smaller the number (which if you remember means BIGGER opening and more light coming in) the more potential there is for the background of your image to be out of focus, which is what a lot of you are probably going for. Lucky for us this actually works to our advantage. Generally we want to have a fast shutter speed (to keep those little hands and feet in focus and not turn them into a blurry mess) and a wider aperture will not only let us get that “out of focus background” effect we want (which by the way photographers refer to as “bokeh”) but it will also allow us to crank up our shutter speed a little and have a better chance of stopping the motion of our little ones. The other main factor is how far you are from your subject, and how far that subject is from the background you want to be out of focus. generally speaking you want to be closer to your subject than your subject is to the background in order to get the greatest amount of blur. If you are shooting a baby on a couch for instance, chances are the back of the couch is still going to be in focus when you take your picture UNLESS YOU ARE VERY VERY CLOSE TO THE BABY. If your lens is closer to the baby than the baby is to the back of the couch, bingo. Out of focus background. The smaller your f-stop the more blur, and the more you’ll get that fabulous bokeh.
Let’s just take a look at a few photos to illustrate the point. Both of these were shot with a 50mm lens. Both at f 2.8 and 1/50th of a second. In the first one I’m much further than from the baby than she is from the back of the couch and you can see the texture of the couch.
In the second shot I moved closer (this is not a feature of zooming or cropping, I actually moved myself) and now not only is the back of the couch out of focus but so is a little bit of the blanket in the foreground. Same settings, totally different effect.
Want to learn to use your aperture settings to get exactly the look you’re going for? Try setting your camera to the AV mode (aperture priority) and changing your f-stop to see what difference it has on your pictures. Then try moving closer to and further from your subject and see what that does. After playing with it for a while I’m sure you’ll start to be able to visualize what the effect will be before you even snap the shutter. One last word of warning. When you first start playing with wider apertures you may be frustrated by more “out of focus” shots. This is because when using a shallow depth of field it’s absolutely critical that you have your focus locked in on your subject. When shooting people I always suggest focusing on the eyes. If the eyes are in focus your mind will perceive everything else to be in focus as well, even if it’s not. It’s a neat trick 🙂
day 30: Doing taxes stinks. Yesterday we did our taxes. And so by association yesterday stunk. Not only did we owe money (boo) but we also paid h&r block an arm, leg and two ears for having them help us. Very not cool. After getting home from the super depressing meeting with the tax guy we had no energy for cleaning up the messy kitchen. Lucky me however that Ben decided to be super dad and not wake me up this morning to feed the babies and he even cleaned the kitchen. He’s the best ever.
Ok so you’ve agonized over the decision, read reviews, questioned your friends and family and you finally went out and bought that dream SLR you’ve had your eyes on. You rip open the box, pick it up, and you realize you have no idea how it works. Yes, if you push the shutter button (provided it’s got a battery and memory card in it) it will probably take a picture. But do you have any idea how that picture is going to come out? How can you make that picture look like the one that you meant for this new and fancy camera to take?
Your camera can’t read your mind. It doesn’t know what kind of picture you want to take. So chances are it’s going to play it safe. It’s going to try to get all of the picture in focus (so that your subject is in focus) and it’s going to shoot for an even and predictable exposure (because that’s what its little camera computer brain is programmed to do). In order to take the kind of picture that YOU want to take (and not the one your camera wants to take) you’re going to have to learn a little bit about how your camera and photography in general work. I know it sounds daunting but it’s really not that bad and we’ll take it slowly. Promise 🙂
First things first, exposure. Exposure is the result of three elements all working together: shutter speed, aperture, and iso. I’m going to explain them all very briefly and we’ll come back to each one later in a separate post (because goodness knows that all there is to learn about exposure could fill a book… or several… and does)
First up is shutter speed. This is the one you are most likely to already know a little something about. Shutter speed is simple. It is the length of time that your camera’s shutter is open for when you’re taking the picture. Take a picture at a fast shutter speed and it will “freeze” the action. Take a picture at a slow shutter speed and chances are it will be blurry. A quick and dirty rule of thumb is that if you are trying to take a picture handheld (aka you’re not using a tripod) the ABSOLUTE slowest shutter speed you should ever use is 1/the focal length of your lens. I know we haven’t gotten to focal length yet but say you’re using a 50mm lens. You couldn’t take a steady picture slower than at 1/50th of a second. I promise we’ll get into it more later but for now just stay above 1/60th an everything will be groovy 🙂
Next up is aperture. This one is a little trickier but you probably know more about it than you think. When your camera’s shutter opens it doesn’t always open the same amount. The amount that it opens controls the amount of light that comes into the camera at one time, so the bigger the opening the more light, smaller opening less light. The increments of aperture are f-stops. It would be nice if the bigger the f-stop number the more light but it’s actually the opposite. Bigger number = smaller opening = less light. Lenses that open wide (less than f 2.0) cost more and are generally pretty desirable pieces of equipment. Your”kit lens” that came with your camera probably doesn’t open any wider than f 3.5 which is why I always recommend getting another lens with a wider aperture. Canon makes a great “thrifty fifty” 50mm lens that goes to f 1.8, but equipment suggestions are for another day 🙂 There’s one more catch about aperture that I haven’t mentioned yet and that is what the change in aperture does to the picture besides controlling the amount of light. Aperture is one of the major contributors to something called “depth of field” which is (to put it very simply) the range of distance in front and behind your subject that is in focus. The wider your lens is open the more opportunity there is for the background and foreground of your shot to be out of focus. This isn’t a bad thing. This is how photographers get that great separation between their background and subject and make everything else look “fuzzy”. It’s something that takes practice to control (and needs way more explanation than I’m giving right now) but for the moment just keep in mind that it’s one more variable when to consider when choosing the perfect exposure.
Last but not least is ISO. On your digital camera this variable may be controlled way down in the depths of your menu.. somewhere you’d never look… or it may be easy to get to. It depends on your specific model. Check with your manual if you’re not sure. ISO is the digital equivalent of film speed from the olden days. You used to have to choose how fast your film was and shoot an entire roll of the same speed. Lucky us digital shooters we can change our ISO every shot if we want. The ISO controls how sensitive your camera is to light. The higher the ISO number the more sensitive it will be, so a picture shot outside may be shot at ISO 100, but once you go inside you may need to bump it up to more like 800. This will allow you to keep your same settings (shutter speed and f-stop) for a shot without it being much to dim due to the reduced light situation indoors. This is one setting you most likely cannot change while in “green square” auto mode on your camera. But we don’t want you using that anyways 🙂
Ok are you worn out yet? I’m worn out just from typing so I can’t imagine how you must be feeling after reading all this. My suggestion is to just try to master one of these variables at a time by playing with your camera’s AV and TV settings. AV is “aperture value” and allows you to choose your aperture while the camera will pick the right shutter speed for a good exposure. TV is “time value” and will allow you to choose your shutter speed while the camera chooses an appropriate aperture. Both are great tools for the beginning photographer while you learn how to set exposure. Once you’re good and practiced with these settings we’ll get into a little bit more detail about each of the variables and how you can use them to your advantage.
And just because I hate to have you read all of this text without at least one photo, here’s a favorite of my little ones. I’m going to try to put up new photos with each post and give you some the exposure info so you can get an idea of how each of them was shot. This was at 1/125th, f 2.8, ISO 1600 in natural light:
day 29: Today my mom watched the babies for a bit while I was in the home office working on taxes (fun stuff). Paul was asleep but Amelia woke up so she was playing with her and I could hear them in the other room. It’s incredible to me that they are getting so big and so much more interactive. They learn something new every day. Now when you hold things up for them they reach for them and grab them and look at them. I love watching my mom play with them… it makes me realize how amazing they are.
day 28: Today I went for a long walk with the babies in the evening. I love looking up through the trees in our neighborhood and seeing how the late afternoon sun lights up the leaves and makes them glow. I wish I’d stop and notice things like that more often.
day 27: dear new sample album; How do I love thee? Let me count the ways… I just got my new sample album from Forbeyon (the new company I’m using this year) and it’s my new bff, I love it to death! Here’s the sweet cover:
I can’t wait to make these for clients, they’re gonna die when they see how awesome they are!
day 26: The wedding theme continues with Nick and Emma’s engagement photos… I can’t believe I’m about to do this (it’s quite embarassing) but take a look at this post from a few years ago of the two lovebirds 🙂 They were some of my very first couples portrait subjects and now that they’re getting married how could I not say yes to being their wedding photographer?! I like the new portraits just a hair better than the old ones and can’t wait for the wedding 🙂
day 25: holy cow, I can’t believe that in a few short months Allison’s going to get married! How ridiculously exciting is that?! Today was her super fabulous bridal shower at Bonnie’s house. I was glad to have an afternoon out of the house and Ben did an A+ job of watching the babies so that I could have a worry-free outing. Everything was beautifully decorated and super delicious and it couldn’t have been any better! Here is the guest of honor and the super talented hostess 🙂