Things I wish I would have known- Part 1

It has been roughly eight years since I purchased my first digital camera. Lately, I have thought about what I have learned the last eight years and what I wish I would have known in the beginning. Obviously, it is impossible to know everything all at once but there are some things that would have been helpful to know and may have actually saved me some money in the long run. As I begin this series there will be no particular order to the posts and I have no idea how many there will be. First up- The Exposure Triangle.

One of the most important bits of information that is important to know is the exposure triangle. Unfortunately, this is something that many people learn later in their photographic journey as they spend way too much time shooting in auto mode. The attitude is, “All I want is good pics. Let the camera do all the work.” The problem with that thinking is a lot less creativity involved in the long run. When I purchased my first digital camera, a Nikon D5000, I shot on auto too- for the first week or so. My goal was to learn the basics of the camera and then to progress to being able to shoot with all manual settings. Yes, all manual! Personally, I believe every photographer should know how to do this. Most of the time I do use AP, aperture priority, but I do enjoy the challenge of setting the camera to manual and experimenting with different settings. You should definitely try this. It is digital after all and the worst thing that can happen is you have to delete some files that don’t come out the way you want. Now to the “triangle.”

The first part of the exposure triangle is ISO. In the film days this referred to how sensitive my film was to light. Nowadays, it refers to how sensitive you make your sensor to light. I always manually set this as I am not a big fan of auto ISO. I usually look at my conditions, be it sunny or cloudy, and set it accordingly. ISO 200 is less sensitive to light and ISO 4000 is more sensitive. On a sunny day I usually begin at ISO 200. If it is cloudy I may choose ISO 800. After four years I have a pretty good idea where my baseline will be. After a few frames I can adjust it up or down as the need arises. This setting is so important that I have it assigned to a function button on all of my Fuji cameras.

The second part of the exposure triangle is aperture. There are a few factors involved in setting the aperture but for me it is always Depth of Field (DOF). What kind of look do I want in the pictures I am taking? Do I want the background out of focus or do I want everything in focus? Aperture controls this and directly affects the rest of the triangle. If I choose to shoot wide open, say f/2, I may have to set my ISO to a lower setting if my camera does not have a maximum shutter speed that will allow a good exposure. This is why it is so important to pay attention to your viewfinder or LCD screen to double-check your settings. I recommend always having ISO, aperture and shutter speed displayed in your viewfinder or LCD.

The third and last part of the exposure triangle is shutter speed. If I shoot in aperture priority then the camera will choose this setting. Many times this works out great but it may be that I decide to set the shutter speed. I like doing this when I shoot in manual mode as many times I like to underexpose or overexpose certain scenes. For me, I tend to underexpose more. This is one of the main advantages of an Electronic View Finder (EVF) as you can see how your settings are effecting your shot. I was recently taking some night pics in Washington, D.C. I had my Fuji X-E2 on a tripod and was taking pictures of some trees with lights in them. I could look at the LCD and watch the scene change as I adjusted my shutter speed. I also ended up doing this in a hallway. I really liked the lights in the hallway as I liked their leading lines. They led to the end of the hallway which had a pink/purple hue to it. I have posted a couple of pics at the end of this post for you to see.

I have listed the three aspects of the exposure triangle in the order I actually use when shooting. Obviously you don’t have to do this but it works well for me.

As a side note, and a very important one, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is for you to know your camera. Setting the exposure triangle should be something that is second nature for you, not something you have to think about. You know where on the camera to set the ISO, aperture and shutter speed and you can do so very quickly.

Let’s make that our first challenge. Find the quickest way to get to these settings and work on setting them quickly. I was out shooting my Fuji X100s today and was working on rotating the aperture dial without even looking at it. I knew how many clicks it was from f/2 to f/5.6 and did it while walking down a trail. Again, get to know your camera. You won’t regret it.

ISO 200; f/22; 1/4 sec

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ISO 200; f/20; 1 sec

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© Vic Schmeltz