Camera Setting Basics

This is the first of several posts that will address how to control the basic settings on your SLR camera. An SLR is the big camera that you can change lenses on. SLR stands for Single Lens Reflex as there is only one lens. There are also Twin lens reflex cameras out there that use 2 lenses one on top of the other, these are pretty rare.

The primary settings for your camera are – shutter speed, aperture, ISO and exposure. You have to have a combination of these in order to get an image that comes out looking the way you want. I will briefly outline these settings here then subsequent posts will address each in more detail.

Other settings and variables such as light, white balance and flash will be addressed later.

Shutter speed is expressed in seconds and controls how long the shutter is open to allow light to reach the sensor or in the old days, the film. Shutter speed is one variable that controls whether the image will be sharp or not. A 1/500 second shutter speed is fine for the sitting bird but is too slow for the flying bird which results in a blurry bird.

Tufted Titmouse 1/500 second still
Tufted Titmouse 1/500 second in motion


Aperture is expressed as f stops and controls the depth of focus. When you focus on a subject, f stop is one variable that controls what is sharp or blurry in the image. Below I focused on the middle spike of the fence, at f 2.8 only the one spike is sharp, but at f 32 all of the spikes are sharp.

Only center spike is sharp at F 2.8
All spikes sharp at F 32










ISO is how sensitive the sensor or in ages past, film, is to light. A low ISO needs a lot of ambient light while a high ISO can render an image in low lighting at the cost of increased grain or noise in the image.

ISO 200 low grain/noise
ISO 12800 low light high grain/noise


Finally, exposure puts all of the above together. Exposure is the result of combining a shutter speed, aperture and ISO setting under ambient light to give you an image that is not too dark or too light, but looks just right. This is where the art of photography comes in. Balancing the settings to get the image you want.

Exposure too dark
Exposure too light
Exposure just right


Next time we’ll look at shutter speed in more detail.



Spring Abstracts

Viewing the world abstractly offers a wealth of creative freedom. Blurring out recognizable subjects or using water reflections are 2 techniques to create abstract images. The first image blurs tulips by using a shutter speed of 1/15 of a second on a windy day. The wind moves the flowers around to create an impressionistic effect.

The second image uses the same shutter speed but now I moved the camera up and down while the shutter is open to create a blur effect.

The next set of images were taken on a pond right after sunrise. The intense warm light creates lovely color on the trees while the gently rippling water distorts the images for a creative effect.


















The final image of a lone feather is all that remains in the wake of an epic battle of Mallard males. The tranquility of this image greatly contrasts with how it came to be.

Get creative and try these techniques!


Lightroom 4

The newest version of Lightroom is out. I just purchased the program and had no problems with installation. Opening the program for the first time seamlessly updated my current catalog. If you have been considering getting Lightroom now is a good time. The full version is $149 from Amazon and the student/teacher version is $79 from Amazon. Amazing prices for this program.

New features for LR 4 are expanded controls in the Basics Tab. You now have highlights, whites, shadows and blacks replacing brightness, recovery and fill light. This combined with the new process version 2012, which renders a file for editing in Lightroom, helps you recover information in dark and bright areas and define the black and white points with more precision. If you have no idea what I’m talking about I will try to expand more in a future post. There are other new features to talk about!

There are 2 new modules, Maps and Books. Create books and export them to PDF or have them directly printed via Blurb a popular online printing service.  The map module lets you utilize GPS information from the camera, if you have it or apply GPS info via Google maps once you mark the location of the images on the map.

For printing there is a soft proofing control. This gives you an idea of how the image will look printed.  For video buffs there are controls to edit and organize videos. I doubt these are very high end but if you are new to getting into video this may be a good starting point.

So should you upgrade? If you are into editing images and enjoy the process by all means! If you already have Lightroom 3 and are new to the interface, stick with it for now unless any of the new features really grab you or you have to have the latest technology! For a really in depth review of Lightroom 4 and the features it offers visit:

If you don’t have Lightroom at all, well now is the time!

I can’t recommend this program enough. The combination of a friendly interface and variety of editing tools far surpass any other program out there. Photoshop does not have the friendly interface and few programs that come with your camera or iPhoto can match the editing options. Make editing and organizing easier by jumping in with Lightroom 4. To get going take a class, I offer several! Or get a book by Nat Coalson and/or Scott Kelby to help you get started.