Smartphone cameras have improved over the past few years and with technology advancing at a fast pace, we now get some enriched high-quality images. A mix of hardware and software ingredients offer DSLR like features, for instance, manual mode to adjust ISO, aperture, exposure, stabilisation etc. The gap between smartphone camera and DSLR is said to be narrowing but let’s just accept the fact that when it comes to shooting amazing shots in any lighting condition the digital single-lens reflex camera still holds the upper hand.
But for striking shots, you need to first understand the key ingredients and settings to get the desired output. When it comes to photography, there are a lot of big words that get thrown around leaving you confused. But worry not, here are some of the important photography jargons simplified to help you understand your camera better.
The heart of any digital camera is the sensor. It is a part of the camera’s hardware that captures light and converts what you see through a viewfinder or LCD monitor into an image. You can think of the sensor as the electronic equivalent of the film that was used in old analog cameras. The sensor is the key in determining the image resolution, low-light performance, depth of field, dynamic range and even the camera’s physical size. Your camera’s sensor also determines how your image looks and how large you can scale or print them.
Your image quality not only depends on the size of the sensor but also on how many millions of pixels (light-sensitive photosites) fit in it, and the size of those pixels. Usually, budget or mid-range DSLRs use smaller sensors, which apply a crop factor to the lenses, capturing less of the scene than what full-frame sensors do. Whereas, high-end DSLRs have full-frame sensors that are equivalent to the traditional 35mm film.
Another important factor is to understand the exposure triangle that carries three important elements which are required to balance the exposure of an image. The exposure triangle includes- ISO, aperture and shutter speed. Let us elaborate on how these elements work:
The ISO determines the sensitivity level of the camera sensor to light. In simple terms, the amount of light that the sensor is allowed to capture in a particular shot. The value is indicated in numbers for instance 100, 200, 1600 etc. Higher the number, brighter the image (better exposed). A proper understanding of ISO settings helps to adjust the light in varied lighting condition.
For instance, if it is a bright day increasing the ISO value would tend to overexpose the subject resulting in oversaturation and loss of detail. The more you increase the ISO level, the more the sensor is exposed to light. A point increase of the ISO level leads to 2x the amount of light that hits the camera sensor. Increasing the number is ideal when you are shooting a photograph in low light situation. In such condition, the sensor requires good amount of light to pass through to capture detail. However, the caveat of increasing the ISO is that it results in increased noise and image deterioration. Besides only adjusting the ISO won’t help retain details, you need to tune the shutter speed and aperture as well to properly capture the subject.
Shutter speed determines for how long the shutter of the camera remains open to let the let the light in. The faster the shutter speed the lesser time the sensor gets to accumulate light. The speed is measured in a fraction of a second that you will see in the camera display under following options- 1/15, 1/30, 1/60 etc. If you want to capture a subject (freeze the moment basically) in motion, for instance, a bird flapping its wing, then you will have to increase the shutter speed. The faster the movement of a subject, higher the shutter speed needed to capture the moment.
However, if you want to add motion-blur effect for a pleasing shot (eg. capturing a waterfall), you will have to lower the shutter speed. But for this, you need to consider a few factors – the amount of light available in a particular scene, the speed of the subject and the camera placed in a perfectly still position. You can adjust the shutter speed in Manual mode or for a more rigid control you can select Shutter Priority mode. The latter ideally allows you to tweak Shutter while the rest of the settings are adjusted by the camera for better exposure. The lower the shutter speed, the longer is the length of exposure, meaning more light passes through the sensor.
Aperture is the opening that you see in the camera lens that appears to be like round blades. It basically controls the amount of light that gets to the sensor. The aperture value is determined by f-stops like f/5.6, f/6.3, f/7.0 etc. If you increase the f-stop value, the aperture becomes smaller and allows less amount of light to get to the sensor. Smaller the aperture (high f-stop value) results in wider depth of field while wider aperture will give shallow depth of field.
Larger aperture is useful in macro photography and portrait shots where you need to keep the subject in perfect focus while the background in the frame is blurred. For landscape shots, a smaller aperture will help capture detail from the foreground till the end. But like we mentioned, if you tweak one setting in the camera, the other two variables need to be adjusted as well. There is Aperture Priority mode that you will find in the camera dial as ‘A’. The mode allows you to adjust the aperture while the other two are automatically taken care of by the camera.
Sometimes the image that you shoot with a camera appears to be yellow or sometimes it has a blue tinge. In digital photography, white balance helps in correcting the colour tone of the picture. For proper white balance, you need to understand the different light sources. Light sources have different colour temperatures which are measured in Kelvin. If the white balance is set to auto, the camera itself tries to adjust the Kelvin value based on a white object. It generally produces decent results but in certain cases, you need to tweak the white balance manually to get the best output.
To change the white balance, you can alter it in Settings menu by selecting the WB option. In some cameras, the option is available in the dial button itself. The White balance presets in most DSLRs include the- Tungsten (to adjust blue shade), Fluorescent (to adjust green shade), Cloudy (used in gloomy shade), Preset (used to match colour with a white card). In most cases, choosing the right Preset setting yields the correct white balance. For this, all you need is to hold a white card in front of the camera and press the shutter button. The camera lens will read the colour temperature of the light that is reflected from the white card and adjust the setting.
We will stop here for now and let you play with the above settings on your camera. Do let us know if it helps you get better results.