The Art is in the "F" Stop September 30 2009, 0 Comments

Setting your camera on the “P” or program mode is like using a box of crayons that has 24 of the same color. You are missing what gives a photograph its depth, contrast and personal style.

While I agree photographing your child’s soccer game or photographing your child’s birthday party are indeed situations when you would use the program mode of your camera, manually choosing your camera settings in other situations will help you to take richer, more accurate photographs.
In order to use the manual mode of your digital camera you will need to set four things: the shutter speed, the white balance, the ISO (film speed) and the f-stop.

First, set your camera on the manual mode, “M”. If you are not using a tripod, set the shutter speed on 125. This will allow you to hand hold your camera.

Secondly, choose your white balance. This is the dial that shows you pictures of the sun, clouds, light bulbs, etc…and select the one that best fits your location.

Thirdly, if you are in bright sunlight or shooting motion set your ISO (film speed) to 400. If you are in low light or it is a cloudy day, set your ISO to 100. These three steps are relatively easy to choose. But the real art of your photograph is in the f-stop, step four.

The f-stop or aperture is the amount of light that reaches the image sensor of your camera. Digital SLR’s will allow you to choose how much light you want to let reach your image sensor. Traditional f-stops are chosen in numerical increments; 2.8, 3.5, 4.0, 4.5, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, 22. Digital cameras allow you to choose an f-stop that will allow you to be even more specific: 2.8, 3.5, 4.0, 4.5, 5.6, 6.3, 7.1, 8.0, 9.0, 10.0, 11, 13, 14, 16, 18, 22, 24.

Choosing what f-stop to set your camera on depends on the light you are shooting in. If I were shooting outside on a very bright sunny day, I would start with F16. I would then look at my LCD on the back of the camera to see if the photo is too bright or too dark. When too bright, I reset my f-stop to 18 or 22. If my photo is too dark, I would set my f-stop to a smaller number, perhaps f11. I would repeat the process until I could see that I have correctly set my exposure. The smaller the number, the more light I allow into my image sensor. The smaller the number, the less light I allow into my image sensor.

Generally, I will bracket my exposure. If I see that f-16 seems pretty much on target, I may take two additional shots, one at f-14 and one at f-18 to make a final comparison. You will be surprised how such a small adjustment can make a world of difference in your photograph. Eventually, you will get so good at reading the light that you may not have to bracket at all. I usually do at the beginning of a shoot just until I get the feel for the environment I am working in. After that, I can set my exposure within one quarter of one stop with accuracy.
Remember the goal is to spend as little time in PhotoShop as possible. It is a tool designed to process your images not to correct them. Learning how to read the light will make all the difference in your photographs.