Sunday, August 16, 2015

Feeling So Exposed....

After noticing on Ginny Sheller's Small Things blog that Ginny recommends Bryan Peterson's book Understanding Exposure, and having loved Ginny's pictures since I first discovered her blog, I decided to look into this book.  Fortunately, my library has a copy so I can check it out and see how helpful it might be before deciding to buy it.  

It just came in over the weekend, so this evening I opened it up to see what I can learn about picture taking.  Understanding my camera and taking better pictures are two of my goals on my Year of Projects list, so this is a perfect post this week.

Peterson starts off explaining in a very cursory fashion the relationship between aperture, shutter speed, and ISO (sensitivity to light).  He calls these the "photographic triangle".   It will take a whole lot more practice, and continued reading to truly understand how these three things work together, but within the first few pages of Understanding Exposure, Peterson helped me take better pictures by paying attention to these three things. And I'm pretty pumped about it.

The time I began taking the pictures below was around 8:00 p.m.  It was not dark outside, but the pictures were taken in the shade (as he directed) and the ambient light was diminishing by the minute.  I was limited in my subject matter, but hopefully I'll be able to show and explain what I did to get the different shots. None of the pictures have been edited except, perhaps for some minor cropping.  The camera that I'm using is a 6 year-old Nikon D5000.

The first thing Peterson has you do is turn your camera on Manual and set your aperture to f/5.6 and change the shutter speed so that the light meter indicates a "correct exposure".  Here I had to consult the camera's owner's manual and even then it took some playing around to figure out exactly which buttons and dials made these changes and, even then, I was still guessing on how to read the exposure meter.  I will say...the owner's manual is not for the uninitiated.  A facility with the language of cameras is necessary to fully understand what the manual tries to explain, but I was able to make a bit of headway.

With my new and limited knowledge of which button to push and which dial to turn I headed out to my zinnia patch - just outside my dining room doors.

Aside from this not being perfectly focused, this picture doesn't look too bad:

The aperture is f/5.6 and I have no idea what the shutter speed is.   One thing at a time...

After turning the shutter speed dial until the exposure meter rested on 0, I got this picture:

Whoa!  Much better!   

I may be easy to entertain, but this got exciting pretty quickly.  I don't pretend to fully understand what I'm doing, but by purposefully selecting the aperture setting, and selecting a shutter speed that the exposure meter indicated would get a better picture...I got a better picture!   I'm a bit embarrassed to be admitting that this is the first time I've done this with any intentionality, but... well...there you have it.

And then I played around with another flower a bit.  Again, I'm just changing the shutter speed with each one.  This first one is taken with the exposure meter set on 0 (again, I think this is supposed to be the "correct exposure"):

Not bad, but thinking this was a little too light and bright, I changed the shutter speed and took another.  And then did that again several times.  Seeing the brightness level going darker and then lighter again, I can tell I wasn't being methodical about this experiment.  I can't tell for sure when I went up or down in shutter speed on which pictures, but the important thing to me (at the moment) is that I learned that I can affect this change. Pretty instantly.  Peterson says this is empowering. And he's right!  Let's see what I got:
While the changes in the above four pictures didn't result in dramatic differences, I will say I prefer any of them to the first one.  It's great to know that I can change the brightness of a picture so easily by changing the shutter speed. Again, almost instantly.
The other thing Peterson touches on very early is how to change the aperture setting so that there is a wider range of focus in the picture being taken.  This has always mystified me.  I confess (again)... I still do not understand the how or why behind this, but getting a picture where everything is equally focused appears to be as simple as changing the aperture.  By shrinking the aperture, more of the picture comes into focus.  Understanding that will be for another day.  Seeing and believing it, though happened tonight.
Here's what I'm talking about...     This is how pictures of mine normally turn out:
The items that are closest are in focus.  Everything else is blurry by comparison.
But by changing the aperture (making it smaller),  more comes into focus:
Perhaps not perfectly focused, but all the flowers (in the foreground as well as in the back) are pretty equally focused.
This is so exciting!  With such simple and small changes I can already see how I will be able to improve my picture taking.   I don't know that I'll post to this degree about future learning experiences with my camera (or maybe I will - who knows?), but I do look forward to (hopefully) posting continually improving pictures here.

And before I close this post, I will leave a progress picture of my test crochet project.  It was about 9:00 p.m. and with no lamps on in the room, I opened a shade to get what little ambient light there might be left in the sky.  By using my new found knowledge of aperture settings and shutter speeds I got a pretty decent picture (with accurate colors, no less):
I called the husband up to see what I took.  He looked at the scarf sitting in very little light on the table beside the window.  And then he looked at the picture on the camera.  And he asked with awe in his voice, "How did you do that?" 
And that just might have been the most satisfying thing of all.   


  1. Love the pictures and the tid bits you gave on it. What an interesting post. Photography for my projects and designs is something I'd love to learn more about so I found your post fascinating, as well as you taking great photos of the flowers, I love the pops of colour against the green foliage you got and you did a great job on the shot of your test knit, as well as make great progress on it this week. Looking forward to hearing more.

  2. The pictures are gorgeous - I don't have such a fancy camera, but I can appreciate your points. Love the shawl and agree advice to be given to the husband is high praise!!

  3. Interesting post!
    For the longest time, all my pictures that I take and post are often from my iPad or phone... I am wondering if I should save for a camera? Hmm.....

    1. See my response below to Simply Playing, Christine. I'm impressed with many pictures I see taken with people's phones!

  4. Wow! What amazing differences. I'll admit I no longer have a working camera and take pictures with my phone. And those shots I almost always have to tweak with a Photoshop program. After reading your post I may have to get a real camera.

    1. I keep seeing amazing pictures that people take with their smart phones and I think it would be so convenient to have one of THOSE. lol

  5. Just saw this on Knitting Butterflies about photography and thought you'd like it.

    1. Thank you for the link, Ann. I checked it out and I see it's all about ISO (the third part of the Photography Triangle - she calls it the Exposure Triangle) - Peterson is covering that next in the book I'm reading. I'm looking forward to learning about that next! BTW, I love this gal's photographs.

  6. Lovely photos. Isn't it awesome when the book you want is available from the local library?! It's such a great resource. I'm more of an iPhone photo gal, and if I have to I fix things in Photoshop. Nothing replaces a really well-taken photo, though! The crochet photo is lovely - I really like the shadows. Sometimes I think people try to eliminate all depth of field and even out the lighting entirely to the detriment of the photo!

    1. The last comment reminds me what an art photography really can be. Knowing when and why to change the depth of field (and many other things) will come with practice and more understanding. Today it is enough to begin to learn how.

  7. Brilliant job with the photographs, and in particular with the picture of the shawl (which, btw, looks great!!). I normally just experiment with settings but in order to understand more fully what I'm doing I signed up for an online photography course a while ago but then fell off the bandwagon... will have to get back to completing the assignments...


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