Project Manual: Learning Exposure

Today I took the training wheels off. It was a very sunny day in East Anglia, so I went out for a few hours with the intent on getting used to shooting with full control over the exposure. I’m trying to focus on learning one thing at a time, but I’ll have to lump in what I’ve learned about the ‘holy trinity’ as a group since they are so related. So, from how I understand it, it works something like this…

You have three settings that control the exposure: aperture size, ISO, and shutter speed. These things need to be balanced to have the correct exposure.

Aperture size is the size of the opening in the front of the lens, with the lower numbers (f1.8 on my camera) letting the most light in, and the highest numbers (f11 on my camera) the least. The trick is, this also controls your depth of field, with the lower numbers making whatever is not in focus blurry, and the higher numbers making it appear as though everything is in focus.

ISO is the camera’s ‘sensitivity to light’. I have no idea what this means in terms of physics, but basically the higher your ISO the more exposed your shot will be. The trick is, the higher your ISO, the more ‘grainy’ your picture becomes. From how I understand it, you generally want this to be as low as possible (80-200) so that you have good picture quality, but better cameras can push up to higher numbers and still look OK.

Lastly, shutter speed is how long the camera shoots the shot for (kinda?) which is measured in time (seconds, etc.). The longer you shoot for, the more exposed the shot will be. The trick is, anything over a fraction of a second and you’re going to have issues with moving objects, since they won’t sit still. You can use a long exposure to make an object get all blurry, since it’s going to move in the time that the camera takes the picture.

So, I’m still a complete n00b at this, so I try to make simple ‘rules’ to follow and pick these up wherever I can. If anyone who is more knowledgeable than me wants to correct me on where I am completely wrong, please do so.

  1. Low aperture number for macro (up close) shots. High number for landscapes. Middle number for indoor/mixed shots.
  2. Use as low an ISO as you can while still letting you balance the other two. 100 for sunny day, maybe like 400 for indoors? Not sure on this one.
  3. If you have a tripod and are shooting stills, use a long exposure so that the other two can be minimised. If not, use something small for this so that your shaky hands don’t screw everything up.

With these being said, I still have no idea how the math is supposed to work for these. I basically took a bunch of shots while eye-balling these settings in complete manual mode, and a bunch with auto-HDR on (a setting I still have to learn about, I just put it on auto because it seemed to help the outdoors shots).

Everything worked fairly well when I was indoors. I used auto focus, set the ISO to 400, the aperture size to f/1.8, and then tweaked my exposure time until it looked alright.

I was overall very happy with how these turned out. I’m probably a bit blind, but I think these match reality fairly closely in terms of colour and brightness. These gave me the courage to go shoot outside when it was bright out. This was a lot of fun, but I found that in very sunny shots where there were shadows, the shadows were black as the face of Satan and the sky looked like the skin of a metrosexual vampire.

The other thing I learned was that, on a bright day, using just the camera’s screen to judge exposure is fucking difficult. I could barely see, as my eyes adjusted to the light, and so I made everything just a bit too dark most of the time.

Still, I took loads of shots. Even a broken clock is right twice a day, and I think when I shot in the shade I was able to get the exposure closer to decent. Most of these I didn’t expect to be any good, but they ended up being my favourites.

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I think the main reason for the rest of the pictures being pretty terrible is because I was eye-balling with the camera’s screen. In the future, I think I’ll shoot on sunny days in a mode with some automated exposure — probably Aperture Priority mode — since I can’t seem to consistently get the exposure right when my eyes are adjusted to the brightness. The other thing I have considered is shooting in RAW and manually tweaking the curves in Photoshop, but that’s kind of pointless right now since I am trying to learn how to use the camera.

Please feel free to comment and give me tips on how to improve my shots. Keep in mind, these are shot on a compact RX-100 so lenses aren’t in the cards.

Project Automatic

I had some time off recently, and decided to scratch my itch to start making stuff. I’ve always enjoyed taking pictures, especially while travelling. I am currently living in the UK, and I want to make the most of it while I am here. Usually, I use my cell phone camera to take pictures, but I want to step up my game. I know basically nothing about photography, but I want to learn. The first step was to buy a camera. I don’t have a lot of money, but I managed to find a decent compact at John Lewis for about £300. It’s an RX-100 vI.

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It’s apparently quite good, and it lets you shoot in full manual mode which is what I’d like to learn. Of course, I have no idea what I am doing yet. I figured the first step was to just go out and take a bunch of pictures, so that’s what I did. These are shot in superior auto mode for the most part. The camera did all the work, I just pointed and shot.

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In these lighting conditions (full sunlight) it took fairly decent ones. I felt that some of them were a bit bright, or a bit dull (left lots of those out) but I take what I can get. I am such a noob that this is actually a bit of a challenge for me – to just find things to take pictures of and to get the framing right. Overall, I am happy with the results, but now I need to learn how to take control of this thing and shoot in manual mode. I’ve started to learn, but I’ll save the juicy details of my learning experience for the next post.

Post one

The older I get, the more I feel the urge to create things. When I was younger, I used to create things all the time. As a child, I loved to play with Lego. Whenever you get a new set, you use the instructions to create the model, but that isn’t the end — it’s just the beginning. The next step, obviously, is to smash the model into the ground (violently) and make smashey noises. Once the model is broken apart, you are free to build it into whatever you like, and that’s the real joy.

I (mostly) grew out of playing with Lego. Over time, I found other ways to express some creativity. I had a (cringey) phase in high school where I used Photoshop to create ‘graphic art’. I created forum signatures for other people, and larger pictures which would incorporate sci-fi or fantasy elements into them.

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Among the great works of 21st century art: Jesus and Godzilla

Some of these were good, some were terrible, but that’s kind of irrelevant at this point. I have struggled, more and more as I age, to be creative the way I was when I was a kid. I am a bit of a perfectionist when I create things. I think it’s because I am hyper-critical of everything, that I see the flaws in anything I try to create. Want to write a blog post? Better never bother doing it because there’s no way it will be New York Times quality. Want to take a picture? Better buy a professional grade camera and learn how to shoot in manual, otherwise why bother? For a long time, this has given me a convenient excuse not to create anything, or to half-ass it if I did so that I wouldn’t have to deal with the criticism. It’s the sign of a fragile ego, and it’s caused me to repress my creative instincts. I’m hoping that this blog will be a kind of therapy for that.

So, there are a few things that I know I would enjoy creating, had I an excuse to create them. I like to take pictures. I just started, but it seems like a decent and relatively risk-free hobby to take up. I recently started to learn how to shoot manually, and so I’ll be posting that journey in this blog as I go. Most of the pictures will be mediocre, but at least I’ll enjoy learning.

I also used to skateboard quite a bit (cringey high school phase #2: skater kid). I find it really difficult to go out and do now, partially because I am embarrassed to be a 26-year-old school teacher riding a skateboard in public. Skateboarding, though, is a creative sport. I miss it. I think about it all the time, and it’s kind of pathetic that I’m not doing it anymore for (mostly) silly reasons (I also hurt myself badly every time I try).

Lastly, I enjoy writing. I majored in English, and I usually enjoy writing pretentious pseudo-intellectual philosophical treatises (cringey university phase #3: philosophy minor). It’s way too easy to make fun of myself. I’d like to do quite a bit more of this, so this may be a place to write a load of random articles on political, social, or psychological developments in the world.

I hate the concept of a blog. I am not a fan of twitter. Facebook status updates make me sad. It’s easy to make fun of anyone who gets on the internet and creates something, because why should they be the center of attention? What makes YOU so special? The idea of sharing the mundane details of your everyday life with the internet, shouting out into the darkness to see if anyone cares makes me deeply sad, but now I am going to do it. I’m not implying that anyone should read this blog, praise me for my work, or acknowledge me as a particularly amazing human being in any way. I am hoping that this will give  me an excuse to create things so that I can scratch the itch that I’ve pretended wasn’t there for so many years.  So, hello world, it’s time to make some shit.