Know your gear

We live in a digital age and that means that our photography equipment has more and more features, buttons, and menus that are being added then what most people know what to do with.  I think it is safe to say that the photography industry is creating the “Swiss Army Knife” of photography equipment. So what does this mean? It means that as our photography gear gets more and more complicated more and more photographers are thinking that they have to have the latest gear to keep up. This also means that we are also building photographers that are becoming more and more dependent on their gear and not taking the time to learn the fundamentals.

As an example of people not knowing their equipment, I have a friend who is an exceptional wildlife and landscape photographer and for a while he did photo workshops where he would take people out to places like Death Valley and teach them about photographing landscapes. One of the biggest complaints for him while doing this was all the people that came to the work shop not knowing how to work their own gear.  So he would have to spend a great deal of the workshop time teaching these people what they should have already known before they ever signed up for the workshop. I have also met people in my own area that have been doing photography for several years and when I look at their work and hear them talk about photography it is clear that they are suffering from a server bout of G.A.S.(Gear Acquisition Syndrome).

I am sure that everyone reading this either knows someone or is that someone that feels they need the latest and greatest piece of gear and yet their work is not where it should be. If you don’t know how to effectively use the gear you already have then buying more gear is not going to make you a better photographer. My wildlife and landscape photographer friend buys a second copy of the manual for his camera and wears it out by rereading it whenever he has time.

The main point to this is to know how to change your settings, know how to work your gear. When I was starting out in photography I would look at all the gear everyone else had and I would wish I had the money to get gear like theirs. Then I saw a lighting class on CreativeLive by Scott Robert Lim (Crazy Stupid Light) and I realized that what I needed to take my photography to the next level was that I needed to learn how to use the gear I already have.  And once I got into the proper mind set my photography has improved by leaps and bounds without buying any more gear.

Let’s now take a look at some of the important features of your camera. It is important to remember while learning about your gear that it is not important to know how the camera does what it does, what is important is to know how changing a setting is going to affect your final photograph.

The first thing we are going to look at is the Aperture. The aperture of the camera is the opening in the front of your lens. The aperture is the hole in the front of the lens that lets the light through into the sensor, the bigger the opening the more light that is let in. Aperture is expressed in “f” numbers (also known as “focal ratio”, since the f-number is the ratio of the diameter of the lens aperture to the length of the lens). Examples of f-numbers are: f/1.4, f/2.0, f/2.8, f/4.0, f/5.6, f/8.0. (Read more: http://photographylife.com/iso-shutter-speed-and-aperture-for-beginners#ixzz3BeQnO4LU). The bigger the f-number the smaller the opening or the less light that is let into the sensor. The aperture also controls the depth of field.

Depth of field is the portion of the scene that appears to be sharp. If the aperture is very small, the depth of field is large, while if the aperture is large, the depth of field is small. For example the depth of field at F16 is very large meaning more of the photo is going to be in sharp focus, while the depth of field at F4 is going to be small and less of the photo will be in sharp focus. The important thing to remember about the aperture is the bigger the number the smaller the opening and the F-number can be a depth of field guide, the smaller the number the less depth of field and the bigger the number the more depth of field. Having the right aperture is important, so what is the right aperture you ask? Well this is a question only you can answer because it all depends on the conditions you are working with and what you are trying to capture or your vision for the finished photograph.

When you are incorporating flash the aperture and the ISO controls the amount of flash. The shutter speed controls the amount of ambient light. When you change the aperture or ISO the amount of flash that shows up in the picture will change, if you want more or less ambient light you must change your shutter speed.

Which brings us to the next item we are going to look at is the shutter speed. While the aperture is the opening in the lens that lets the light into the sensor the shutter is the door that opens and closes to allow the light in and the shutter speed is the length of time that the door, or shutter, is open. The faster the shutter speed the less time the shutter is open to allow light into the camera and into the sensor.

Shutter speed controls the ambient light, when there is a lot of light you need a faster shutter speed to get the right exposure and in low light situations you need a slower shutter speed because the cameras sensor needs to be exposed to the light for a longer time.

Another thing the shutter speed is used for is when photographing action is to freeze the action or allow some motion blur. If the shutter speed is to slow everything will be blurry. Having the right shutter speed is important, so what is the right shutter speed you ask? Well this is a question only you can answer because it all depends on the conditions you are working with and what you are trying to capture or your vision for the finished photograph.

This brings us to the third setting we are going to look at, all other settings in your camera are important but aperture, shutter speed, and ISO are the ones you need to understand because these are the settings that directly affect the finished photograph. ISO stands for “International Organization for Standardization” and the ISO is number that stands for the film speed and it is used to indicate the relative amount of light necessary to get a proper exposure. In digital photography the ISO indicates how sensitive the image sensor is the amount of available light, the higher the ISO the more sensitive the sensor is to the light. The less available light there is the more sensitive the image sensor needs to be to even see that light. This is why low light situations need to be photographed at a much higher ISO then midday or sunset pictures. It is also important to remember that ISO and aperture are the two settings that control the amount of flash that you see in your photo, if you need more flash increase the ISO or open the aperture more. For example going from ISO 100 to ISO 200 will increase the amount of flash by one stop of light. If you want to get more technical and learn more about how exactly the camera does what it does then by all means go right ahead but the important thing to remember is how changing the ISO, aperture, and the shutter speed is going to affect your finished photograph. So what is the best ISO to use? Once again it all depends on the conditions you are working with and what you are trying to capture or your vision for the finished photograph.

This brings us to the one question that I know every photographer wants to know; where to start? Once again this is a question that only you can answer because it all depends on the conditions you are working with and what you are trying to capture or your vision for the finished photograph. Yes I can hear all the people out there saying that is a simple explanation and that they have heard it all before and they want something more. Well the point is that it is simple to understand and it is only when we try to over complicate things that we tend to lose sight of the real goal, which is to make awesome photographs that are perfectly exposed.

There are a great many photographers out there who don’t really know what aperture, shutter speed, and ISO really are used for and how they affect the finished photograph. I know that there are many others things that can and do affect a photograph; like lighting and posing, however if you don’t understand the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO than the it doesn’t matter what lighting or posing knowledge you have, you are simply shooting blind. If you don’t know how to work your camera and understand aperture, shutter speed, and ISO than maybe you need to slow down and learn these first.


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