Photography 101: ISO

originally posted July 18, 2011

I’m still working on the 31 Days to a Better Photo, which more than likely will be a 31-week project for me. Anyway, day 4 of the series is about ISO. And what is ISO you ask? Well, evidently it’s a measurement of light sensitivity, and, coupled with the shutter speed, controls how much light is allowed into the camera’s sensor. On my camera, which is a Canon, the lowest ISO measurement starts out at 100 and goes up to 1600. Each increment doubles in size, doubling the speed at which the light enters the camera – 100 being the slowest and 1600 being the fastest.

I’ll be honest, this is about as clear as mud to me. The suggested exercise was to put the camera in Program mode (which will determine the shutter speed for you), find your subject, and change the ISO for each shot. Well I did that, starting out at an ISO setting of 100, going all the way up to 1600. All of my shots looked pretty much the same. The above shot was taken in Program mode at an ISO of 400.

So I changed my camera to Manual mode and set the shutter speed myself. Here are my results:

shutter speed: 1/125. aperture: 2.8. ISO: 100

 shutter speed: 1/125. aperture: 2.8. ISO: 200

 shutter speed: 1/125. aperture: 2.8. ISO: 400

So, what did I learn? Honestly, I’m not exactly sure. Clearly by the above example, the higher the ISO the brighter the shot. As well, the picture quality started to go downhill as I increased the ISO setting. Increasing the ISO also increases the noise, i.e., graininess, of the shot. What I’m gathering is that it’s best to keep the ISO fairly low for a better quality shot.

I still haven’t really wrapped my head around the meaning of ISO, but I imagine the more I practice the more it will make sense to me.


Photography 101: Shutter Speed

originally posted July 11, 2011

Day 3 of 31 Days to a Better Photo is all about shutter speed and figuring out when to shoot fast and when to shoot slow. Basically, shutter speed has to do with how long the shutter on your camera stays open during a shot. The length of time it stays open also controls the amount of light you’re letting in during your exposure.

Shutter speed starts out being measured in fractions of a second and then into whole seconds, so 1/1000 of a second would be much faster than say 1/250 of a second, and 2 seconds would be slower than 1/250 of a second. To determine where you need to set your shutter speed depends on the kind of lighting you’re shooting in.

I learned that if I’m shooting in low light and darker situations, then I want to shoot slow. This allows for a longer exposure and more light for the shot. If it’s really bright, then I want to shoot faster because the shutter will not be open quite as long and will allow only a minimal amount of light in for the shot.

I did a little experimenting inside my house, which in most rooms offers very low light. My subject was the hanging basket of tomatoes near my kitchen window, and, although this was near a window, the lighting situation was fairly dim.  Here are my results:

My “gear” as they say:

  • Camera:  Canon Eos Digital Rebel XTi
  • Lens: Canon EF 50 mm f/1.8 II
  • ISO:  200
  • Aperture:  f 2.8

Picture #1: I started out with a shutter speed of 1/500. As you can see this speed was too fast and didn’t let enough light in for the exposure.


Picture #2: This was taken with a shutter speed of 1/250 – also too fast for this situation.

I continued taking shots, each time slowing down the shutter speed. I ended up setting my shutter speed in whole seconds – 10 seconds for the above pic – and that resulted in a much better shot. While I was doing this, I wrote down in a notebook the setting for each shot I took, which I found to be a little helpful in keeping track of what I was doing.

This little experiment helped me understand a little bit better how to shoot in low lighting situations, which I do a lot when shooting inside my house. Now I know that I need a slower shutter speed in order to allow for that longer exposure and more light for the best photo.

My next experiment is understanding ISO, so stay tuned for my next Photography 101 post to see how I did.

Next up: ISO

Photography 101

originally posted July 6, 2011

So, you may have noticed that photography is listed as one of the topics you’ll read about on this blog. Go ahead, take a looksie, up there in the right hand corner, and you’ll even see it under the About This Blog heading. Well, please don’t take this to mean that I actually know anything about photography, because I do not. I’ve had my DSLR camera for a number of years but haven’t really taken the time to learn how to use it beyond the basics. One thing I do know though is that I want to learn, and that’s what my photography posts are all about – me learning about, and hopefully, taking better pictures.

Lately, I’ve been taking a lot of photos. I’ve reopened my Etsy shop (yes…I know, shameless plug ;), but I can’t help myself), so most of what I’ve been filming is product photography. Since I really don’t know jack about how to use my camera, taking pictures of my products is extremely time consuming and way too frustrating. I end up taking a million pictures of each item in the hopes of getting 4 or 5 good pics for each listing, and I really don’t have the time for that. Plus, I’m not really sure how to use my photo editing software beyond the basics either, which only adds to my frustration, but that’s another story entirely.

Months ago, I came across the blog Life With My 3 Boybarians. Darcy, the author of this blog, has a great series called 31 Days to a Better Photo, with each day learning something new about photography. At the time, I bookmarked her blog to my favorites with the intention of getting back to it later.  Of course I never went back to it, life got in the way, and then I forgot all about it. This weekend I went searching through my favorites list and found that link to her blog and decided since I’m using my camera more often, now is as good a time as any to really make the effort.

So I’m going to start this little project (actually, I already have started) and post what I’ve learned. I have two main goals: Learn how to use my camera and spend less time fumbling around trying to get the best shot, rather than winging it like I’ve been doing.

While I’m doing this little project, please feel free to chime in with any photo tips and tricks. Your comments are always appreciated!