Photography | Camera Settings | Which is Our Priority?


© 2012 Wazari Wazir | iPhoneography | Camera Setting | Manual Mode

One of the reason why people bought a DSLR camera is because they have more choice in term of creative expression with their camera. Unlike some entry level compact camera, you can’t do many customization to your liking, there is a thing you can do and there is a thing that you can’t do or decide on your own and have to let the camera make a decision for you. That’s why those who are serious with photography will try to save enough money to get a DSLR, so they can express themselves better if only they know how to get it right.

I don’t want to write a long post here, just wanted to get to the point. To get a decent exposure we need to adjust this three things, the ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed. In order to adjust all this three things to get a decent exposure ( I don’t use a perfect exposure, because it’s is irrelevant ), a decent exposure which is not too dark and not too bright for a particular subject, we need to know our priority, what is our priority for for that particular subject. We cannot simply shoot just to get a decent exposure without knowing what is important and not so important when photographing something. I will make things easy for you by discussing the most photographed subject which is portrait, landscape and sports.

PORTRAIT – Portrait is a common subject to be photographs, I believe everybody who bought a camera will take a portrait once in awhile even though their interest is wildlife. Usually for formal portrait which include head and shoulder our priority is their face of the person and we wanted to make the subject to stand out from the crowd, so in this case our priority is Aperture. I’m talking about a person standing in front of our camera, not someone who is on the run. They stand still, so you don’t need a fast shutter speed here. You also don’t need to lower your ISO to 100 or much lower because we don’t want to get all the details about someone face unless it is your priority.

Yes you can use any ISO from 100 to 800 depending on the lighting condition and how your camera can handle noise at High ISO but  ISO is really not our priority for normal portrait shot under normal lighting condition where you can use ISO 100 or 400 and shutter around 1/100 and above. Once again I would like to emphasize, if we want to isolate our subject from the background, to make the subject stand out from the crowd, then our priority is the Aperture, use wide open aperture, something in between f1.2 ( Expensive Glass ) to f2.8 or maybe f4 if we don’t have fast lens. That’s why one of the reason why people bought 50mm, 85mm, 135mm which have large aperture (f1.2 – f2.8) for portrait, simply because by using large aperture, the subject will stand out from the crowd and everything will be blur other than your subject face.

Some people wanted to take a portrait with their environment, and if this is the case, then we don’t need to use large aperture, but not too small aperture, we just need the background to be recognizable in order to tell a story better about the subject. In this case using aperture somewhere in between f4 – f8 will be good but this will largely depend on the choice of the lens that you have. We don’t want the background to become a distraction, we just need the background, just enough details to make it relevant with the subject, not too blur, just to be recognizable. Maybe it is a photograph of a fisherman with a rows of boat behind him, the boat need not to be super sharp, just enough details for us to know that there is a boat behind the person we photograph.

LANDSCAPE – For landscape photographers, their priority is details, they want to get everything in focus, they want everything to be sharp, from foreground to the background, that’s their priority. In this case the priority is the details and in order to get the details,the sharpness from foreground to the background, they need to use small aperture, somewhere in between f11 – f22 and usually will use the lowest ISO as possible, ISO100 or lower if your camera allow it. Shutter speed is not our priority here because normally serious landscape photographer will use a tripod to take a picture. If you use low ISO and use small aperture, off course the shutter will be slow but if you are using a tripod, this will not be a problem. It is RARE to see a landscape photographers using large aperture like f2 or using ISO 6400 to take a landscape picture.

Using small aperture like f11 – f22 will make sure almost everything in the frame to be sharp, in landscape photography, we don’t want to isolate something by making certain part blur, unless you want to focus on something like a beautiful single grass or leaf but what I’m talking here is that if we want our landscape to be sharp from foreground to background, the aperture is one of the things that need to be taken care of. In landscape photography, if we want to isolate something, to make it more prominent than the rest of the picture, like a small house against a giant mountain, then we need to compose it carefully, wait for the suitable lighting to illuminate the house on order to get viewers attention, in landscape photography we don’t use large aperture like f2 just to isolate the house from the mountain. We use different method to make the house stand out from the background.

Most of the time, great landscape photography have point of interest, so we have something to look, rather than let our eyes wandering around with no point of interest, but we don’t use large aperture like f2 to isolate the subject. We can wait for the right light to illuminate the peak of the mountain, so it will be our point of interest. We can wait until a small yellow or red canoe or boat to enter the frame if we photograph and empty lake, so we have a point of interest. That’s how we “isolate” our point of interest from the rest of the landscape without using large aperture. We need details in landscape.

About the ISO, why we don’t use high ISO like 1000 and above? It is because if we use High ISO, the image may become grainy, and in digital, they called it noise, High ISO have great “noise” lack of details. You can read about “noise” somewhere else. I don’t want to make “noise” here. So use the lowest ISO possible if we wanted to take a landscape picture and not to forget use small aperture, somewhere in between f11 – f22.

SPORTS – Sports or action photography usually involve speeds, like running, swimming, jumping, football, basketball or anything that move faster. For this type of photography, the priority always to freeze the action, only in certain situation where the photographers will use slow shutter speed for panning to create a sense of movement but for most of the time, the photographers need to freeze the action. so which is our priority here? The answer is to control the Shutter, we need to use fast shutter speed to freeze the action. Usually around 1/500 and above depending on the sports involved.

When we set the shutter speed at 1/500 for an example, the only thing that we can adjust is ISO and Aperture, in order for us to get a decent exposure for that particular subject. In sports choose the Shutter first, we can test few shots and see whether the shutter speed that we choose manage to freeze the action or not. Don’t worry whether your picture turn out to be dark or under exposed. Just get the right shutter speed first and when we get the right shutter to freeze that particular action or movement, lock the shutter and just adjust the aperture and ISO.

If your aperture is wide enough and can’t open up anymore. Like if you are using 300mm f2.8 lens and already open it at f2.8, then the only thing you can change is the ISO, push the ISO up until you get the right exposure. Don’t worry so much about grain or “noise” because in this case, our priority is to freeze the action or movement and not to get super clean image like landscape photography.

In order to get the shot that we want, we may to have sacrifice something, that’s how things works, sometimes we get everything, sometimes we have to choose which is our top priority.

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