Back To Basics

The last 24 hours were interesting, in photography terms.  Since my parents are going on vacation later this year and my dad wants my mom to be able to do some night shots, I was asked to help show her how to use manual mode on her camera, a Canon SX10 IS.  Until now, she has been the typical tourist photographer – it came out of the box in Auto mode, and hasn’t been moved since.

We had to explain to her how ISO affected her shot (light vs. grain), when to use a faster or slower shutter speed and how slow you could go before human shake became a factor, and how aperture not only affected depth of field (and what that meant), but how it also affected the surrounding light in the shot.  For her, it was Manual Camera 101.  For us, it was Refresher 1A.

To her credit, for someone who professes to not be technologically adept, she picked up on it amazingly fast, especially with the ISO.  We did the “lesson” in scenic Niagara-on-the-Lake, where there would be numerous different lights as well as unlit areas, to give her an extremely wide variety of shooting conditions. It didn’t take long at all for her to go from “what ISO should I use” to “I have it set to 800 with a shutter speed of 1/20.  That should be good, right?”.

Today, we followed it up with a trip to Port Dalhousie, for some waterfront pictures.  Between the light reflecting off of the water, the shade of the trees, and the speed of the birds and the boats, I figured this should make for a good daytime lesson in shutter speeds.  Again, she did well!  And more importantly, she is enjoying it!  She commented on past occasions where, had she known then what she knows now, she would have been able to get certain shots.  Hopefully, this will help her get those key shots when she’s on vacation!

The secondary effect of this lesson was that it provided me with an excellent refresher course.  As we progress in anything, we reach the point where we do things by rote.  If you don’t believe me, go drive your car and then try to think back to what it felt like the first time you did it.  Back then, you paid attention to everything; the gas, the gauges, the mirrors, and every little piece of gravel on the road.  Now, it’s almost instinctive.  Well, the same happens with photography.  As I’m setting up a shot, I don’t stop to think, “what ISO should I use?”.  Instead, I just look through my viewfinder, line up the shot, play with the ISO, shutter and aperture until I get the balance I want, make sure the shot is still lined up, half press, confirm, and press the rest of the way.  I don’t stop to analyze any one element, other than knowing where my subject is and what my balance is.  These exercises forced me to go back and actively think about each aspect individually again, as though I was the one starting all over again.  I’ll admit, it was interesting!

With her kind permission, here are some of her results of her first 24 hours of shooting in Manual mode!  These are as they came from the camera, with no editing whatsoever. And to make it interesting, the one rule was “no flash.”  Flash wouldn’t carry down the Champs-Élysées, so it doesn’t work here, either.

(In all fairness, once she gets comfortable with this, she’ll be a much better photographer than she thinks she will be!)

A horse and buggy, shot at f5, 1/15 of a second, ISO 200

f5, 1/15 sec, ISO 200

A storefront with a fake sheep in it, shot at f5, 1/20 of a second, ISO 400

f/5, 1/20 sec, ISO 400

Canadian Heroes SUV, shot at f5, 1/20 of a second, ISO 1600

f/5, 1/20, ISO 1600
A yellow flower, shot at f3.5, 1/800 of a second, ISO 80

f3.5, 1/800 sec, ISO 80

(She’s learning very quickly on this DOF thing!)

A jetski and boat in the water, shot at f/5.6, 1/1000 of a second,  ISO 200

f/5.6, 1/1000 sec, ISO 200

A young child sailing, shot at f 5.6, 1/1000 of a second, ISO 200

f/5.6, 1/1000 sec, ISO 200

I’ll grant you, the shutter speed was probably a little higher than what she needed, but she said she wanted to freeze the action, and she did just that, so you know what?  The speed worked!

All photos in this post are © Carolyn Edwards 2013, used with permission.

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