Getting It Right in the Camera: The Imagination Game, Part 3

I propose to you that getting photographs right in your camera is a game of imagination, and in this series of three articles I plan to introduce you to that game and identify many of the possibilities available to you, including:

  • An approach for capturing the photographs you want, the way you want them, in your camera.
  • A checklist for remembering the important points.
  • A roadmap for creating more memorable photographs.
  • Some creative concepts.

So this series is for you if:

  • You want to capture the best quality photographs you can.
  • You want to spend less time in post-processing trying to make up for what you did not remember to do with the camera’s exposure settings, and composition, when you took the shot.
  • You are an enthusiast who has relied on the camera’s auto or programmed settings and are wondering: now what?

Figure 1 shows the subjects we will cover and the role each plays in creating a memorable photograph. Initially, reading this will take you a few minutes; however, the more you practice thinking this through when you are in the field, the more intuitive it becomes.

Part 1 and Part 2 of this three part series contained a discussion of the roles that the subject, lighting, imagination, visualization, and composition play in getting your images right in the camera. In Part 3 we are going to build on this discussion and pick up the subject of shooting strategy and the additional role played by your camera and lenses (see Figure 1).


Figure 1: Checklist


Part 3: Shooting Strategy


“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Wayne Gretzky

Camera and lens settings may be used to create the photograph you imagined and envisioned. Of the many menu selection items or dials on your camera, exposure and bracketing settings deserve special attention.

Exposure

Photography is built on the three pillars of exposure: aperture (f/stop), shutter speed, and the camera’s image sensor setting (ISO). Aperture and shutter speed settings are used for adjusting how much light comes into the camera. We use the ISO setting to manage the amount of light actually needed for a good exposure.

Figure 2 illustrates how these three settings work in photography by providing visual impressions for a range of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO settings. Learning how to use combinations of these settings creatively, and imaginatively, to capture the image you want to capture is the fun part of the game, and the subject of the discussion below.

Figure 2: Effects of Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO Diagram (Source: Hamburger-Fotospots.de)

Combinations of these exposure settings offer many creative choices.

  • Aperture as a creative choice. Aperture defines the size of the lens opening through which light travels to reach the camera’s image sensor. It is measured using a scale of f/stops. Changing this setting by one f/stop doubles or halves the size of the opening which doubles or halves the light reaching the sensor. This in turn influences depth of field (see Note 1). At one end of the scale, a setting such as f/1.4 or f/2.8 creates a large, wide opening, which lets in the most light. This setting is used to create the soft, blurred backgrounds often seen in flower or portrait photography where you want the subject to be in sharp focus and background distractions to melt away. At the other end of the scale, selection of a stopped down, or small, aperture such as f/22 or f/32 lets in less light and is used when sharpness in the foreground and background is called for, such as in landscape photography where you want the image to be sharp and detail captured from the foreground through to the horizon.
  • Shutter speed as a creative choice. Shutter speed defines the time the camera’s image sensor is exposed to light. A very fast shutter speed such as 1/500 or 1/1000 of a second freezes action. Fast shutter speeds are used when there is motion and you want to freeze that motion, such as at sporting events, with animal or bird photography, or even if you are shooting in windy conditions. At the other end of the scale, slow shutter speeds such as 1/8th of a second or up to 30 seconds or more, are used to blur action. Slow shutter speeds are used when you want to create a smooth, creamy effect with moving water, for instance, or to capture car light trails at night.
  • ISO as a creative choice. The ISO setting is used to manage the amount of light needed for a good exposure. The higher the number you select, the less light you need. When shooting in bright light or natural daylight, you would use 100 (or 200, depending on the default setting for your camera). When you have less light to work with, such as when photographing indoor scenes, night scenes, or when under a canopy of trees in a forest, a higher setting such as 400 or higher may be used, which reduces the amount of light needed for a good exposure.

There is one ISO caveat. At some level, raising ISO to a higher number may mean some decrease in quality by increasing what is called “noise.” The amount of noise will vary by camera and at lower settings may not even be discernible. By experimenting with the ISO on your camera, and finding the ISO setting at which noise becomes unacceptable to you, you will be better prepared to take advantage of ISO settings and low light opportunities.

Figure 3 provides two examples of different exposure settings for night photography.


Figure 3a: High ISO for hand-held shot (1/15 second, f/8, ISO 6400)



Figure 3b: Tripod mounted long exposure to capture car trails (180 seconds, f/22, ISO 200)

Each of these exposure settings is a separate setting on your camera and in any particular situation you will be adjusting aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to get the combination that captures the right exposure and the desired creative effect you imagined.

Bracketing

Similarly, there are many creative choices you can make with bracketing. You might do this because you believe there are many ways the subject could be captured, or you may have some thoughts about how you want to use these different images in post-processing and you are giving yourself creative options to consider later.

  • Bracketing shutter speed. This technique may be used to hedge your bets on the correct exposure—getting a good histogram—for a particular photograph. Alternatively, if you plan to use a tool such as HDR (High Dynamic Range) processing, you can also use this technique to capture a greater tonal range of a subject or a scene.
  • Bracketing aperture for a particular shot. This would involve changing the aperture through a range of say f/2.8, f/8, and f/22 to provide a number of depth of field options from which to choose later (see Note 1).
  • Bracketing focal length. With your camera mounted on a tripod you could take photographs near both ends and the center point of the focal length of a telephoto lens. For example, using a 28-300mm lens, you could take photographs at 30mm, 150mm, and 275mm. With a prime lens simply move your camera to achieve the same outcome.

Figure 4 provides examples of results from bracketing.


Figure 4a: Bracket shutter speed to capture full tonal range and shadows (15 seconds, f/8, ISO 200)



Figure 4b: Result of bracketed focal length and f/stop to capture close-up of texture (1/4 second, f/32, ISO 200)

Next Steps

In this series of three articles I have introduced you to the Imagination Game and identified some of the possibilities available to you. I have provided an approach for how to visualize photographing a Subject while taking advantage of the available light, how to use the elements of Composition, and a Shooting Strategy. This is a lot of material and each topic deserves special attention, but don’t try to drink from the fire hose. Turn it into a game of imagination and discovery. Pick a subject that interests you, learn about it, have fun with it, and when you have mastered it, pick another.

Thank you for reading Getting It Right in the Camera: The Imagination Game!
Part 1: Seeing the Light
Part 2: Composition
Part 3: Shooting Strategy

Notes:
1. Depth of field is the distance, or area, between the nearest and farthest objects in a scene that appear acceptably sharp in a photograph. Put another way, when the lens is focused on a specific subject, the area in front of and behind the point of focus that looks sharp is the depth of field. Three things working together affect the depth of this in-focus area: aperture selection as discussed above, distance of the subject from the camera, and the focal length of the lens.

  • Distance: The closer the subject is to the camera, the shallower the depth of field becomes, meaning less of your photograph appears in focus. Moving further away from your subject deepens the depth of field and more of your photograph appears in focus.
  • Lens focal length: As a rule of thumb, the longer the focal length selected (e.g., 100mm), the shallower the apparent depth of field. Conversely, the shorter you set your focal length (e.g., 50mm), the deeper the apparent depth of field.

Mike Watson has an extensive and varied background in consulting and the software industry. He’s most likely to be found these days behind a camera, processing his photographs in Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop or thinking about his next article. He is a workshop facilitator and author of a number of articles published by photo.net, and he shows his landscape, urban, and night photography on www.MikeWatsonPhotos.com.

Sign in or Sign up to post response

    • very informative article. bracketing is not only important if you shoot a hdr image i also use it as a failsafe once in a while where i just take three pictures in a sequence. if the cameras internal exposure setting will not work as i want them to i still have some level of safety of exposure.

    • To post a reply Sign In
    • Hi Alexander - thank you for reading the article.  I agree with your approach; in addition to being prudent, it costs us nothing.

    • To post a reply Sign In
    • As someone new to photography, your 3-part series is very helpful.  Breaking down each point step-by-step makes it all a little easier to understand.  This is something I will refer to often.  Thank you!  

    • To post a reply Sign In
    • Marie:  Thank you for taking the time to read the 3 Part series.

      This series was the result of my own learning experience over the last four years and I'm delighted you found it helpful.  Best of luck with your photography - Mike

    • To post a reply Sign In

Sign in or Sign up to post response