Workshop Basics Of Photography

This workshop is for starters, people who are interested in more than the camera in their smartphone and have no clue as to what photography is all about. This workshop gives you an insight in what all means and possibly in the choice to make when you are going for your first camera. You will learn the first things to know and control your camera for fine looking first results. However... you will not get an advice as to which brand and type yours is to be. But in your search you will now understand what is and isn't in the box and if that will suit your first needs. This page is under construction and the chapters will appear over time. Keep an eye on the updates page.

1. Selecting and maintaining your equipment

Camera (body)
If you still need to acquire your first equipment, don’t start off wrong. First thing everyone looks for is the camera or, in case of interchangeable lenses, the camerabody. Technical specifications are what is being looked at and judged over. But… do you already understand all those specs? And if you do… do you already know which type of photography you like enough to select a body to match that? My guess is… no, you don’t. I know… exceptions are always around but this information is not meant for them. The first thing to look at or better: feel for, are shape and weight. A good camera is the camera that fits both your hand (size) and grip (shape). Then feel the weight, does it balance in your hands? Is it a lightweight smal camera or a bigger system camera or a big Bridge model or even a DSLR? The bigger cameras require that your left hand is held under the lens which forces your arm to rest against your body and so creating more stability.

If your camera of choice has a fixed lens then skip the next part unless you value the lens more than the camera itself. The lens is what shapes the projection leading to the image. The camera just records that projection, it defines the amount of pixels and the exposure time and exposure sensitivity and therefor the image. The projection itself however is completely made by the lens and its optical and mechanical construction. So… in order to get a clean and sharp and contrasty image you need a projection of at least that quality as the camera only degrades that. Even the best camera. An excellent (expensive) lens with a cheap camera is a better combination than a cheap lens on an expensive body.

The third part of the camera set is the flash. When the body has a build in flash use it. Just to get used to what it does. How it performs, the covered distance at a given aperture and iso sensitivity. Unless you need serious more power from a flashgun you better first get used to the effects of flash light like red eyes and sharp shadows casted by the flash. An article about the use of a flash(gun) will follow.

When you have a low light situation or a long exposure time because of another reason you may want to use a tripod to put your camera on in order to obtain a sharp image. Tripods com in many sizes and shapes and not the least,,, in many prices from €10 all the way up to over a €1,000. And most important... in many weight classes. And weight may be paramount as you'll have to carry it. At the moment I have 3 as my smallest has given up after (realy) a few decades. There will be a new one shortly, not sure yet if it will be a Manfrotto or a Gorillapod. The three remaining are a small travel tripod from Sirui, a mid format normal tripod with a special boomarm also from Sirui and my heavy duty Manfrotto 058b which is mainly used in the studio as it weighs 8 kg. But that hevy guy also comes with me on my Aurora trips in Lapland because of its stability. It simply stays where it is when I mess around with the load on the head. And that stability is what a tripod is all about. However! One thing is to be reckoned with! Switch off your imagestabilizer in either your camera or lens! It will try to stabilize your already fixated camera and so it will shake a bit CAUSING trouble instead of preventing it.

Bags come in an amazing number of brands and types, some really suck, some are just to put the camera in before storing it for a longer time, some are good for some use during a daytrip and so on all the way up to heavy duty daily all weather use. It is almost impossible to advice a bag as it mainly depends on your needs and your needs only reveal themselves when used. And over time your needs will change and your collection of bags will grow. Good brands that can take a beating and more or less rain are Lowepro (my 1st to 10th choice), Kata and Manfrotto. They don’t come cheap but then gain… did your camera and lenses? At the moment I regularly use 5 of 6 bags that I own. 3 of the 5 regular used are Lowepro. The others are a huge Pelican case (actually I’ve got a small one to for special purposes) and an ancient but indestructible Fotima Professional that I have since 1988. The almost decommissioned bag is a Lowepro Dry Zone 200 that is way to heavy to fly with but it is watertight so I won’t get rid of it. Why are these bags good? The zippers are protected on both sides by covers. dust and rain will have a pretty bad time trying to get in. When cleaning the bag be sure to vacume al seams as sand will creep into them!

For cleaning you equipment there is a vast range of stuff available. Paper cloths, textile cloth, microfiber, fluids, handblowers and compressed air. Be carefull not to wipe dirt or even sand into the camera when a lens is detached. Best use a Rocketblower and a cheap microfiber cloth. Be sure though that de microfiber cloth was packed and sealed before it got into the store. Microfiber picks up everything it encounters and you do not want a single grain of hard dust or sand in that cloth while cleaning your lens. I will publish a separate article on cleaning the camera and lenses. Do not blow yourself as your breath is moist! Do not use compressed air for the inside of the camerabody! A Rocketblower is fine but blow with care and not on full power and not from closeby on the mirror and shutter! When a fluid is used: never on the inside of the body and never directly on the lens as it may get inside thru the rim.

2. Aperture

The aperture is the hole in the lens that lets the light pass into the camera. Quite obvious a bigger hole lets in more light, a smaller less light. But when, why and how to select the size of the hole? Well there are some catches to it. The size of the hole is represented by a series of numbers. Each next number going up makes the hole smaller and going down makes it bigger. Each step up halves the amount of light coming thru, each step down doubles it. Keep this in mind as one of three variables that will come together later on at the exposure chapter.

3. Shutterspeed

The shutter determines the period of time that light will hit the sensor. This can vary from hours down to 1/8000 of a second depending on the model of the camera. The steps are also numbered though a bit different from the order of the aperture. But is has a thing in common namely that the amount of time is cut in half or doubled by the step you take. 1/125 is twice as long as 1/250 which is half the time of 1/125. For practical reasons the next step down doubling the time is 1/60 instead of 1/62,5. Look at it in the way that it is more symbolic so it fits (or fitted in the past) on the little wheel that was the selector for the speed. You see the same with 1/15 and 1/8. Keep this in mind as #2 of the three.

4. ISO

ISO is symbolic for sensitivity. The iso can be doubled or halved by going up or down the set of numbers. Much the same like Aperture and Shutterspeed. The regular ISO values are 50-100-200-400-800 and so on though on the better cameras the steps are done in thirds like 100-125-160-200 and so on. There is one little catch to it. When you double the sensitivity the noise in the image due to electronic enhancement will increase. There are exceptional methods to circumvent that but this is not the moment to dig that out. So this is number 3 to keep in mind. Let's put those three together now!

5. Exposure

The trio shutterspeed, aperture and iso value are tied together inseparable. Change one and at least one other has to change with it to keep the balance. Deviating from this is possible when this concept is truly understood. For this you have to examine the workshop about measuring the light.

6. Focal length

The focal length mainly determines the field of view. The standard was once set by the 35mm film cameras that we now know as the full frame cameras. That means that the sensor size is 36x24mm. For this size a focal length of 50mm is standard as it roughly covers our human field of view. Because it is so well known many smaller sized sensor cameras show the focal length as an equivalent of that full frame size.
So when the focal length decreases the angle of view increases and shows much more of what is in front of it. However... when the focal length increases the angle decreases and... the image enlarges so it becomes a tele lens getting distant things closer.

7. JPG vs RAW

The camera stores the files in a few possible formats mostly being JPG or RAW. Raw is a professional format containing much more information on the image than the JPG. JPG is way more compact than RAW and ready to use. There is a catch to that: it has a limited quality and very little flexibility to process it. On the other hand: processing a RAW file is something you better not do if you do not really know what you are doing. It also takes up very much more space up to 85MBs or even more per file.

8. Colourspace

Electronics have limitations with regards to colour reproduction abilities. The technique behind this is complicated but there are many colourmodels to work with. The simplest is RGB. Now I can start to explain about how many colours can be reproduced but there is a lot more to that.

(entry level: starter)

  • 1 Equipment
  • 2 Aperture
  • 3 Shutterspeed
  • 4 ISO
  • 5 Exposure
  • 6 Focal length
  • 7 JPG vs RAW
  • 8 Colourspace
  • 9 Flash

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