How To

The 3 Amigos and Lady Light

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Jelly Chase

Okay, can you hear the maracas and guitars on a hot, steamy summer night yet? I find sometimes it is easier to use analogies when trying to remember how things work together. Some photographers, especially those just starting out find it challenging to remember what affect the 3 main camera settings or "amigos" are and what affect they will have on the overall image. By using an analogy when you think about how your camera works, it might make it a bit easier to understand and more importantly. remember so you can make those adjustments on the fly and capture that award winning image. The 3 "amigos" are shutter speed, ISO and f/Stop also known as Slick Click, Sensitive Shawn and Big Mouth Al.

Ok, to get started using this analogy, you really need to envision 3 guys dressed in the expected spanish attire with big brimmed hats and colorful clothes. No drinking of tequila shots at this point or you'll never finish the story!

The first of our amigos is Slick Click (Shutter Speed), who has a pair of vibrantly colored maracas and as he changes the speed at which he shakes them, you can imagine hearing the sound they make going super-fast or so slow that you can almost hear each bead inside as it slowly tumbles. Ok...go it? Well shutter speed works much the same way in you can change the speed at which the shutter activates to give you a desired result. The purpose of the shutter is to expose the camera's sensor to Lady Light for a specific amount of time (or maraca shakes). By having a fast shutter speed you can freeze the action like when your child is playing sports and when you slow the shutter speed down you can do really interesting things like make a waterfall or river seem very dreamy and smooth or do some night shots.

The next amigo is Sensitive Shawn (ISO), who is, what else, in touch with his sensitive side. He has a big guitar and is a great listener. He will also provide the appropriate feedback based on what he actually heard, though sometimes he'll add his own "elements" to the story if he is over sensitive to the topic. The ISO setting is used to tell your camera's light sensor how sensitive it should be. You can also think of the sensors job like a dimmer on a light switch. You control the intensity of the light by this setting. The general rule of thumb with this setting is to keep it as low as possible and I'll explain why shortly.

Lastly, there is Big Mouth Al (f/Stop). This guy creates his own echo when he opens up wide and belts out his tune. When this guy has a wide open mouth, you can see the leaves in the trees blowing so fast that they are a "blur". The f/Stop is a bit trickier in that it actually has 2 effects on the image, first how wide open the lens' aperture is and how wide of a depth of field you have. The f/Stop numbers may appear to be backward in relation to their affect because the smaller the numbers (e.g. 1.4) the larger the opening in the lens and the more light comes in. The inverse of that is true as well. The second affect which is depth of field, also correlates to the f/Stop number. The smaller the number the more shallow your depth of field is. Your depth of field is the amount of your image that is acceptably in focus from the point at which you place your focal point in your viewfinder. You need to be aware of this setting because there are instances where you want the background to be blurry and other times you don't.

Now let me introduce the lead in this here play, meet Lady Light. She is a vibrant and sometimes moody character that loves go to extremes. While sometimes she is blindingly obvious, other times she may be barely noticeable. Her moods vary by the minute which keeps the 3 amigos busy trying to find the right combination to please her.

So do you have your mental picture of all our characters? Good.

For the purpose of simplicity, we are going to assume that you want to take a simple portrait outdoors and not in direct sunlight. To capture the best possible image, the 3 amigos will need to work perfectly together to coax Lady Light into your camera. Since the subject in this example is a portrait that is stationary, your first amigo Slick Click (Shutter Speed) doesn't have a lot of work to do. The general rule of thumb with Slick Click is that his setting should be approximately the focal length of your lens. In other words if you have a 24-70mm lens on your camera then Slick Click should be set to shake his maracas at a minimum of 70 shakes. The reason for this rule of thumb is to minimize motion blur caused by the slightest movement of the camera while the shutter is open. When you set Slick Click's maracas too slow and are hand holding your camera, you dancing to the music will cause the image to not be clear. So now Slick Click is happy.

Next let's move on to Sensitive Shawn (ISO). Technically, Sensitive Shawn refers to how sensitive your cameras light sensor is to the light that reaches it. The higher the ISO (or more sensitive Shawn is), the more sensitive your camera sensor is to the light that hits it so you need less light to get the same result...well almost. Remember before when I mentioned that sometimes when Sensitive Shawn gets too sensitive about something that he will introduce his own "elements" to the story. Well those elements are called digital artifacts, aka "NOISE". When you set your ISO to higher settings, it produces noise and makes your images look grainy. The rule of thumb with Sensitive Shawn is to keep his setting as LOW as possible to prevent him from putting in his own elements in the picture.

Now finally we get to Big Mouth Al (f/Stop) who is a bit trickier than the other guys because he affects the picture in 2 different ways. Imagine the opening in the front of your lens being his mouth. The setting or f/Stop relates to how wide open his mouth is. The first thing that his setting will determine is how much light will get into the camera which you can envision now as how "WIDE OPEN" his mouth is. Obviously the wider his mouth is, the more light gets in. The second affect on the image by Big Mouth Al is depending on how wide open his mouth is will determine how much of your picture is in focus in front of and back of where you put your primary focal point at. The smaller the f/stop or more wide open the mouth, the less the image is in focus from the focal point. So you have to decide how much of your image you want in focus and work from there.

So in our scenario my goal would be to capture an image with the subject in focus and the background blurred. To achieve this I would set Slick Click to 1/200 to minimize any chance of motion blur. I would leave Sensitive Shawn or my ISO at 100 because I don't want any noise and the lighting is good. Lastly, I would adjust Big Mouth Al (f/stop) to 4.0 or 5.6 to start. After you have your starting point, take a test shot and make adjustments.

I've included some pictures that I have taken that utilize the 3 amigos in ways to freeze the action, shoot at night as well as for special effect of very shallow depth of field.

I hope this helps you better understand the way the three primary settings of shutter speed, ISO and f/Stop work harmoniously together to capture Lady Light at her best.

The most important thing is to enjoy yourself!

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