Understand Your Camera Settings Well
Leaving art school with a photography degree in my hands, I was confident that whatever I had learned in an academic setting was enough to help me navigate through my professional career but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Of course, the theories, terminologies, and practical techniques learned at school had been extremely helpful for me to kickstart a career as a photographer, but honestly, most of the know-hows I frequently use today were “picked up in the streets”.
Below I have compiled some of my best photography tips that I wish I knew when I was starting out. Bear in mind that again they are meant to be simple but sophisticated at the same time – photography should be flexible and effective, and not complicated. Following that, we will go in-depth into post-processing and how to enhance the photos taken. Have fun reading!
1. Exposure / Brightness
Camera exposure is the overall brightness or darkness of a photograph or the amount of light that reaches the camera sensor when a picture is being taken.
The more you expose the camera sensor to light, the lighter your photo will be, and vice-versa. It is controlled or determined by 3 controllable elements which are aperture, shutter speed, and iso.
Aperture refers to the hole in the middle of the camera lens which allows light to pass onto a digital camera’s image sensor. It is usually expressed in f-stops.
Controlling the size of your camera’s aperture lets you control two things: exposure and how much your image will be in focus. Opening up your aperture allows you to achieve shallow depth of field, blurred background, or known as bokeh, which is mostly used for portraits or macro photography.
On the other hand, closing your aperture allows you to achieve good overall sharpness, which is ideal for landscape photography.
3. Shutter Speed
Shutter speed controls how quickly the shutter opens and closes, therefore, determining how much light hits the camera sensor. It is expressed in units of time: fractions of a second or several seconds
A higher (or faster) shutter speed allows less light to hit the camera sensor. Conversely, a lower (or slower) shutter speed allows more light to pass into your camera.
Use fast shutter speed to create sharp images and freeze movement, like a car driving past or a person running. Slow shutter speeds can create images with blurred movement, or showing movement in pictures
ISO is a camera setting that determines your camera’s sensitivity to light. A high ISO number means your image will be brighter and have more grain. a low ISO value means your image will be darker and have less grain (or noise).
Photographers generally do not go above 500 iso as it’ll produce too much noise and affect image quality
5. Depth of Field
The depth of field is the distance between the closest and farthest objects in a photo that appears acceptably sharp.
Metering is how your camera determines the correct settings if you’re unsure about the exposure. If you point your camera at a very bright area, the bars will go to the “+” side, indicating that there is too much light for the current exposure settings. If you point your camera in a very dark area, the bars will go to the “-” side, indicating that there is not enough light.
You would then need to increase or decrease your shutter speed to get to “0”, which is the optimal exposure, according to your camera meter.
7. Shooting Modes
There are four main types of camera modes that can be found in most digital cameras today:
- Program (P)
- Shutter Priority (Tv) or (S)
- Aperture Priority (Av) or (A)
- Manual (M)
Program mode usually sets the aperture and the shutter speed for you and allows the photographer to set the white balance, ISO, and flash.
This is generally for beginners that do not know how to set the proper exposure.
Aperture priority mode, allows the photographer to set the aperture (the f-stop) and also the ISO. The camera will then set a shutter speed for you so that the picture is properly exposed.
In Shutter Priority mode, you manually set the camera’s shutter speed and the camera automatically picks the right aperture for you, based on the amount of light that passes through the lens. This setting allows the photographer to be slightly more with their shutter speed and do not have to worry about other settings.
Manual mode stands for full manual control of Aperture and Shutter Speed. In this mode, you can manually set both the aperture and the shutter speed to any value you want – the camera lets you fully take over the exposure controls. Most intermediate and professional prefer this setting as it gives them total control over their camera.
8. Focal Length
The focal length of the lens is the distance between the lens and the image sensor when the subject is in focus, usually stated in millimeters (e.g., 28 mm, 50 mm, or 100 mm).
A wide-angle lens has a short length and is generally characterized by the wider than normal field of view. At very wide lengths, the image can appear distorted and fish-eyed. This lens is generally used by architectural or landscape photographers as they want to capture everything in one image
A normal lens refers to the focal length of the human eye. By applying the definition of length to the human eye and comparing it to a lens on a 35mm camera, a result is a number in the 50mm range. This is a very popular lens choice as its convenient size and the images produced are true to size compared to the human eyes see.
Telephoto is a long, length lens that will narrow the angle of view and cause apparent image magnification. This type of lenses are perfect for people who are unable to get up close to their subjects, such as wildlife photographers or sports photographers.
9. Polarising Factors
A quick way to reduce reflections is to use a polarizing filter. Once attached to the front of a lens and rotated to a particular angle, it is capable of cutting out most of unwanted reflected light in a scene, instantly enhancing resulting photographs by increasing color saturation and contrast.
Landscape photographers tend to use this often as they are often dealing with this problem. Good filters are expensive but they are definitely worth the price.
Composition refers to the arrangement of elements used. In photography, it means paying attention to what will be photographed, how it is placed in relationship to other objects in the image, and how well the subject matter is expressed
It is a good idea to take a look at how other photographers use composite their images and learn from that
A histogram is a graphical representation of the tonal values of your image. In other words, it shows the number of tones of particular brightness found in your photograph ranging from black (0% brightness) to white (100% brightness)
This is usually how photographers tell if their photo is over or underexposed.
A type of composition in which an image is divided evenly into thirds, both horizontally and vertically, and the subject of the image is placed at the intersection of those dividing lines, or along with one of the lines itself.
Let’s move on to Post-Processing your photos.
Just like any painting, a photograph can be further enhanced by adding a little more touch to it. It’s called photo editing or post-processing in our case. Photo editing, with no doubt, can make your images look more powerful and visually attractive when applied correctly.
Almost every basic photo editing software has all the features to help you achieve the look you have in mind. But the most challenging part of it is the editing workflow. Sometimes having to edit even just a couple of photos can turn into hour-long sessions because we initially don’t have that vision of the perfect look or even the look that would satisfy us. Note that JPG files, because they capture far less digital data than RAW files so it is advised to shoot with RAW image format.
Here’s our ultimate guide to making your photos stunning just by using the most basic tools:
Even smartphones nowadays have apps to crop and straighten but just be mindful. Only crop photos when necessary because every time you crop you also reduce the image resolution. It’s best to crop to improve minor compositional details, like distracting elements at the edge of the frame or repositioning your subject slightly.
Also, consider straightening the image. Pay attention that your horizon is straight when you shoot. It is possible to straighten your photo in post-production but may be tedious. It is always better to get it done right when shooting.
2. White Balance
White balance relates to color levels, not exposure levels. If your image has any cast of color tone that you find unpleasant or unnatural, you can adjust the white balance to fix it.
One quick way to fix the white balance of a photo is by using the eyedrop tool. It only works when the image has a neutral greys in it. Just pick your eyedropper and drop it in the grey part of the image and it’ll process it right away.
Most editing programs let you pick from preset modes like “flash,” “daylight” or “cloudy” to better calibrate the image for the lighting conditions when it was shot. In addition, many have both a “temperature” and a “tint” slider that you can fiddle with to fine-tune the overall lighting cast on an image.
However, if you want to manually adjust it, there are temperature and tint sliders in most editing software. Normally, inclining it to the left will make the image cooler on the temp slider, whereas in tint slider, it’ll make the image greener when dragged to the left.
3. Exposure / Brightness
Exposure is the amount of light that hits the film or, nowadays, an image sensor. Understanding exposure is important for editing, as manipulating it correctly will produce an image you want to work with. In post-processing, you can make the photo exactly as bright or dark as you want.
Simply put, shadows are the darkest part you see on the image. An image with too many shadows may be underexposed, and will not show much detail, although this can normally be adjusted. Pushing shadows will brighten the dark areas of your photo and reveal more of the shadow detail that was captured in your image.
Highlights are the lightest areas of an image, therefore the parts that have the most light hitting it. If something has too many highlights, we may say that it is overexposed and the area is lacking in detail. If that’s the case, we can always darken the light areas of your photo and reveal more of the highlight detail that was captured in your image. Pure white areas of your photo don’t have any detail and therefore aren’t helped by this adjustment. This is the reason why it’s better to shoot darker than lighter).
Contrast is the range of dark to light tones. When it’s extra high, you see a stark image, where all tones, regardless of color, are either very dark or very light. When it’s extra-low, you see a flat image where no elements in the frame stand out. Normally, we don’t want it so we avoid either of those extremes to make our image look more professional. But if you prefer either of those effects, you can adjust the contrast to achieve that.
7. Vibrance & Saturation
Once the white balance is adjusted, you can further refine colors in your photos with the saturation and vibrancy controls. The distinction between the two is subtle: Increasing vibrancy increases the color intensity in neutral color tones and maintains color intensity in the brighter colors. Increasing saturation makes all colors throughout the frame more intense. When bright colors pop, it can give the photo a more dramatic look.
8. Sharpness and Clarity
Sharpening an image gives it a crisper, cleaner look. Try adjusting the overall amount of sharpness (on a scale from 0 to 100). Start between 20-50%, then adjust the level up or down to get the sharpness you prefer.
Experiment with your editing program’s additional sharpening features to see the effect each produces. One you might try is a “clarity” or “structure” tool. It makes the edges of objects in the photo stand out more, giving the overall image a more textured look.
Note that sharpening an image can’t turn an out-of-focus shot into an in-focus shot. No editing tool can do that. In addition, if you sharpen an image too much you can create an unnatural halo effect around objects in the frame.
9. Finalize & Don’t Forget to Save
After you’ve done all of your editing, set your photos aside. Then come back later and examine them to see if you’re happy with each one. If not, make additional editing adjustments where needed.
Then, because RAW files are so large, you need to convert them to JPGs before you email, post, share, or print your edited photos. You should also save all of the final edited versions of images alongside the original images they came from.