Wanting a nice, new camera for Christmas? Just wondering how cameras work? In order to progress with your photo-creating skills, it’s first necessary to understand the basics (you wouldn’t hop into a race car and win your first race without even knowing how to drive a stick-shift, would you? It’s like that, unless of course your last name is Schumacher or Earnhardt for you NASCAR fans). Don’t have enough time to learn? Lucky for you, winter break is right around the corner.
The first step to taking better photos is to take your camera off of auto mode (green box mode). Nice cameras fill their potential when the photographer is in complete control. Put the camera in manual mode.
Next, you need to understand the three main settings that affect the outcome of your photo: aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Sound complicated? It’s really not.
Cameras work by using light – plain and simple. Light comes through the lens, hits the sensor (or film) and the images are written. The three main settings all make the camera more or less sensitive to the light.
Aperture: The aperture is the size of the opening in the lens. Remember the James Bond intros with the blades that close down? That’s what aperture looks like. The larger the aperture opening is, the more light the camera will let in. The smaller the aperture, the less light the camera will let in. The aperture is usually designated by an f/ followed by a number. It’s important to note that the numbers are opposite what you think they are – a larger number lets in less light. For instance, an f/22 value would let in much less light than an f/2 value would.
Shutter speed: If your aperture controls the amount of light, then the shutter speed is the amount of time that light is hitting the sensor. Shutter speeds are typically fractions of a second, though long shutter speeds can be up to 30 seconds long, If you’ve ever taken blurry photos, it’s usually because your shutter speed is too slow.
ISO: Your ISO is the setting that controls how sensitive your camera sensor is to light. Usually, ISO settings range from 100 – 3200, but some cameras go beyond. Think of your ISO as sunscreen for your camera sensor, however, ISO settings work opposite SPF ratings do. An ISO of 100 would make the camera the least resistant to light, while a setting of ISO 3200 would surely lead to a third degree sunburn.
Meter – it was not mentioned before, but it’s what ties all of these settings together. The camera knows what settings it needs for a certain scene. Your goal is to get it there. The meter is often through the viewfinder (or rear screen if you have a nice point and shoot camera). You will see a 0 in the middle and positive and negative numbers on each side. If the bar says that the camera is way on the positive side, try using a smaller aperture (bigger number), faster shutter speed, or lower ISO. Conversely, if the meter is far on the negative side, try using a bigger aperture (smaller number), slower shutter speed, or higher ISO.
Learning these settings and what they can do for you is the next step in taking great photos. Now that you have at least a little basic knowledge of how they work, take out that nice camera. The best thing you can do is experiment. Sure you might produce some horrible pictures, but at least you’ll get instant feedback and don’t have to spend all your Christmas money on getting multiple rolls of film developed.