Feb 11, 2011


by Kelly Willette

[image by Kelly Willette]
Let’s take some baby steps to REALLY use your digital SLR....and I realize that I’m throwing a ton of info your way with this...so read it several times if you have NEVER attempted to shoot in manual mode.

(this is for digital slr owners/users, but if you have a point and shoot, you should read along as well!)
  • First of all, read in your manual how to turn the camera to FULL MANUAL mode (this is NOT the same as full manual focus mode on your lens).  Your camera may have a few different shooting modes: program, Auto, Aperture, Manual, Sports, etc. (totally depends on your camera model as to what they are called/what modes you have).
  • Now, look through your view finder.  Hold the shutter down half way, and keep looking through the view finder.
  • You will see something similar to this:
This is called the in-camera light meter.
  • This is what will help you figure out if your combination of settings (shutter speed, aperture and ISO) is working towards perfect exposure.
  • If you see tick marks to the left of the center 0, then your image is overexposed (or, too bright)
  • If you see tick marks to the right of the center 0, then your image is underexposed (or, too dark)
  • If the tick mark is right at the center 0, then you should have perfect exposure.I, personally, shoot just a tick above the 0 to the LEFT to make my photos a bit on the bright side).
  • Your goal, is to figure out what the winning combination of aperture, shutter speed and ISO is to get a photo perfectly exposed.
  • It is kinda like algebra….once you “get” it, then you’ll always understand it.
  • Now, read in your camera manual HOW to adjust your shutter speed, your ISO AND your aperture.
  • Practice changing all three items, taking shots in between and seeing how each affects your light meter’s reading.
  • I usually keep my aperture between f/2.2 and f/2.8 (unless I’m photographing a ton of people together….in which case I use a larger f/stop number).  So my aperture is usually my constant with my camera.  That is the factor that I usually just keep at my magic f/2.5 number and I worry about the other two factors (ISO and shutter speed)
  • How I go about getting my tick mark in the center….
o   If my image is OVER exposed, then I have TOO much light coming in….I first start by decreasing my ISO, then I check my shutter speed and INCREASE my shutter speed.  If I’m still over, THEN I use a larger aperture (f/stop) number (I rarely have to get to this point since I’m primarily an indoor photographer)

o   If my image is UNDER exposed, then I don’t have enough light….I first start by increasing my ISO, then I make sure that my shutter speed is at a low enough number (but not too low…I rarely go below 1/200th of a second shutter speed if I’m hand holding….just to ensure crispness with the image), and I make sure my aperture is a low number/low f/stop (since this opens up to allow more light in).
Soooo….I know this is a lot to swallow, so just keep plugging away.  I will try to post a video of me messing around with my camera this week so you can see how I work.
You may have some limitations with your camera….
o   If you have an entry level dslr, you may not be able to use the high ISOs due to massive grain
o   If you have a kit lens (the lens that came with your camera), you may not be able to get the lower aperture/f-stop numbers due to the lens’ inability to “open up” that wide.  Most kit lenses only allow you to go as low as f/3.5.
I recommend an inexpensive prime lens to start exploring being able to use the lower numbered apertures (such as the 50 mm 1.8 lens, which is only about $100, or my personal favorite, the 35mm 2.0 for tighter spaces).  Both give you the option of using the lower aperture numbers.  Smaller fstop/aperture numbers = creamier backgrounds.  So once you have a lens that has the lower aperture capabilities, your photos will start having those creamy backgrounds.

And, I HIGHLY recommend purchasing and reading Bryan Peterson’s book Understanding Exposure for more info on how shutter speed, aperture, and ISO work together for perfect exposure.

Once you master exposure, your photos will be even more amazing!

Kelly Mcmahon Willette is a life-long resident of Norfolk, Virginia where she lives with her husband, two kids, "wild as hell" dog and senior citizen cat.  She affectionately refers to her home as the Willette “Gong Show.”  She runs Willette Designs, which is a photography business that offers on-line photography classes for parents and photographers.  She also makes a mean beef stew, still knows all the words to the Beastie Boy’s song “Paul Revere,” and has gotten used to being the master of multi-tasking.  You can find her at www.willettedesigns.com or on facebook at www.facebook.com/willettedesigns.  She’s also been known to be found at her local starbucks. 

{Pssst} Kelly is featuring a FREE online course for February!  You can sign up HERE.   Everyone is welcome, and you don't have to be a professional photographer to take advantage of this awesome class!  Did I mention that it's FREE??


Larkin's said...
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Elder Larkin said...

Woo! Hoo! Kelly thanks so much for offering such a fabulous on-line class! I am enjoying it so much. And thank you for sharing your expertise with all of us at Las Vegas Photographer!