As an available light photographer, learning how to control the light that comes into my camera is the single most important element of what I do when creating imagery. I’ve spent a lot of time talking about how I set up my sessions and how I use available light, in this blog I thought I would talk about my camera settings and how I decide what settings I want to use to control light. My camera is always set to the manual mode and I’m always shooting in the RAW mode.
There are many different reasons to use certain settings on your camera. I am referring mainly to the ISO, the shutter speed and aperture. As an available light photographer, controlling the light that comes into my camera is how I determine what my exposure will look like. First and foremost, everything depends on how much light I have available to me at the time of the session. I start with setting my ISO knowing that I might need to adjust it. Once that has been established, the next step for me is to decide if I want to stop the action by using a higher shutter speed. Depending on the location, I may want my subject in focus while my background is soft. To create this narrow depth of field with my subject close to the camera, I use a wide open aperture. This can also create a “Bokeh Effect” especially when using a longer focal length lens. The bokeh is an eye catching soft circular pattern of light within the out of focus area of an image.
All three of these settings working together create a nearly perfect exposure. My style preference is to photograph with an open aperture. I like the look of a sharp subject surrounded by a softer background. Remember, so much of how we photograph and the settings we use are also a style choice. This is not a judgment call or a right or wrong statement; this is about creating a beautiful image in your style.
For example: the image above was created using the following settings, aperture 4.0, shutter speed 320, ISO 320 and focal length 70mm. The reason for the settings is simple. I’m photographing in the shade with a small amount of light behind my subject. I set my aperture to 4.0, to let in more light, my shutter speed is set to 320 to stop the movement of my subject, which is constant and lastly, my ISO is set to 320 to give me the additional light I need. The 17-70mm F2.8-4 DC Macro (OS) HSM lens responds beautifully to my quick changes especially when having to focus so quickly.
This next image was created at the beach in the middle of a very cloudy day. The light is very different in this location and my very busy little subject is now preoccupied with the bench she is sitting on. I very quickly adjust my settings to aperture 6.3, I no longer need the open aperture, I lower my ISO to 100 because I have more than enough light and my shutter speed is set to 500 to once again stop any action and to make up the difference in the amount of light coming into the camera. My focal length is 17mm. Again, understand that I am moving very fast, not wanting to miss an opportunity to capture that perfect image. My 17-70mm F2.8-4 DC Macro (OS) HSM lens is small, light and very fast making it easy for me to move in any direction I need too.
Moving inside, my little subject, tired from her day at the beach has fallen asleep on the couch giving her mother and I an opportunity to do whatever we want with her. The flowered wreath we couldn’t get her to wear at the beach is now resting on her head and the rose petals she ripped apart are now lying around her and the basket they came in.
Adjusting my settings to get a good exposure, I set my aperture to 3.5, the shutter speed to 125, ISO 1000 and focal length 25mm to capture the entire scene. It can be very tricky shooting directly into a window, but I loved how the light helped to frame my subject. Sometimes you just have to go for it. Break the rules and see what happens.
Moving in closer to my subject, I find that I have more light than I need, so I adjust my shutter speed to 320 and quickly capture a different perspective on the same scene. My focal length is 37.0mm. The rest of my settings are the same. You never know how long a two-year will sleep so soundly on the couch.
Rested from her nap, this last image was created outside. Aperture 4.0, shutter speed 100 and ISO 320. We were standing under the awning by the front door. I made a quick adjustment to my settings to capture this last image of the day.