I know the frustration of not capturing what you see. I’ve heard it before, and I’ve said myself.
“How do I just capture what I see through the viewfinder, on the screen?”
When you buy your SLR, your first thought is quality, and control. That’s what the camera gives you. So it can be incredibly frustrating when you pick up your camera, and it’s just not doing what you want it to.
From what I remember, it comes from a range of problems. The pop-up flash keeps kicking in, the shutter speed isn’t letting enough light in, or there’s too much blur, perhaps the depth of field is all wrong. The list goes on.
This post is all about knowing what to do to counteract these problems.
Follow these in order.
First of all, what you’re currently seeing does not involve a flash. Not even one, off-camera, behind a large softbox. You want to capture the light you currently see, and that means saying goodbye to the flash. This may cause a number of other problems, but this is step one, and something we can deal with.
The aperture control the sharpness and the depth of field of your photo. The wider the aperture, the shallower the depth of field, the narrower the aperture, the deeper the depth of field. We will get to sharpness in a moment.
Picture this. You’re taking a photos of a landscape, using your kit lens, and the aperture is set to f/3.5. The aperture of f/3.5 is about the widest a standard kit lens will go, and this produces a reasonably shallow depth of field. This is clearly no good for landscapes.
So depth of field is something you need to consider when taking a photo. Do you want to capture something in the distance, as well as the foreground? You’ll need to use a narrower aperture, I would suggest at least f/8 or narrower. If it’s a landscape, consider focusing about a third into your frame, to make the most of the DoF.
Sharpness won’t be so much of a problem, but if you want to take the sharpest photos possible with your lens, I would suggest an aperture of between f/8 and f/11. This is typically where lenses are at their sharpest.
The second factor of exposure is shutter speed. You need to do two things when choosing the right shutter speed. Firstly, the speed must be fast enough to freeze/capture any motion in the photo. If you want to capture a moving car, you’re going to have to crank up the speed a bit, perhaps to 1/500 or 1/1000.
The next thing you need to think about is whether or not you have enough light for the exposure. If your shutter speed is too fast, then your photo may be underexposed, unless of course you change your ISO or aperture.
When working with exposure, I prioritise either the shutter speed or aperture, depending on what I’m shooting, and find the correct seeing for that first. Say I know I need my aperture to be f/11 for a portrait, I would set this first. Then I would set the shutter speed. I may need a speed of 1/250 to freeze any movement, but this would likely mean an underexposed photo.
So what do I do?
I turn up the ISO. The ISO always comes last in exposure. I set my aperture and shutter speed exactly how I need them, and then make up any difference with the ISO.
That’s exposure covered, but what about the rest?
When I talk about shooting modes, I’m talking about manual, shutter speed priority, aperture priority, full auto mode, program mode, etc. You basically want to only pay attention to the first three listed there.
If you use full auto mode, it will use the flash at some of the most pointless times, it’s really a rubbish mode. Program is a little better, but you’re still handing too much control to the camera, and not yourself. Stick to manual or a priority mode, and you’ll be able to capture what you see.
If you would like to know more about manual mode, click here.
Do you ever find that you’re taking a photo of someone and the focus is moving in and out, in and out, never quite stopping where you want it to? Chances are you’re on the wrong focus mode, and this can really hold you back. To fully understand how different focus modes work on your camera, click here.
This is actually really important, more so than you might think. It essentially determines how your camera looks at a frame before deciding on the exposure. You can change how much of the frame the camera is looking at, where it’s looking in the frame, even give priority to where you’re focused. I find that when I’m not seeing the results I want with my exposure, it’s usually down to the metering mode, so pay this the attention it deserves!
The wrong white balance will change the colour of your photo, usually to either too orange or too blue.
For example, if you’re shooting in a tungsten light, and you’re on auto white balance, then chances are your camera is going to get it wrong. Your photos will come out looking too orange. You need to change your white balance to the correct preset, or use one of the other methods listed in this post to fix it. The wrong colour cast is not capturing what you see.
This is something that beginners don’t pay too much attention to, mostly because they don’t seem to be too aware of it. My biggest pet peeve is a really simple one, and that’s dead space. On Facebook, I’m constantly seeing group photos of people, taken by people who don’t know hot to frame the photo.
Don’t spend so much time focused on your subject, that you actually forget to have a look at what’s around you, and how you can include (or exclude) this in (from) the frame too.
Post Production & Dynamic Range
So you might be surprised to see post production here, but it’s not the sort of PP that you may be used to. We’re not looking to radically change a photo, we just want to change it to make it look more like what we saw when we took the photo. To do this, we may need to change the dynamic range.
For those of you who don’t know, the dynamic range is between the maximum and minimum amount of light. White and black essentially. This range is very large with our eyes, but our cameras (digital, at least) don’t have such a large dynamic range. To counteract this, we need to use PP to make some minor adjustments. I like to use the burn and dodge tools to finish of the photo.