torsdag den 24. marts 2011

ISO speed

Basic camera technique – part three of three
By Michael Munk

This is the last brick that we have to add to our base for mastering the technical aspect of photography.
The last part of the Exposure triangle left to learn about is ISO speed. This will give us a whole new dimension of control in low light situations.

Lapwing touchdown
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Exposure: 1/1000 
Aperture: f/4
ISO 100
Focal length: 200mm

In “the old days” ISO (International Standards Organization) made this standard for measuring the speed of film for photography. It simply means how fast a film responds to light. Before digital photography you had to change to another film. Luckily with the modern cameras we only have to push a button, and the sensor inside the camera becomes more or less sensitive to light.

A low number gives low sensitivity to light.

Picture it like putting on sunscreen before sunbathing.

  • ISO 100         A sun blocker with a high factor – You can stay for hours without getting a sunburn.
  • ISO 1000       Normal medium factor sun blocker – You will get a suntan faster.    
  • ISO 6400       Almost like putting on pure water – You will get sunburnt fast.

So when and why to use the ISO setting? When I have to choose which settings to use I always ask myself some basic questions. I will return to these later on in this article. First I want to give some basic guidelines for the ISO speed in priority- or manual-mode:

  • ISO 100         On a sunny day you should keep the ISO low!
  • ISO 400         On an overcast day or at dusk and dawn
  • ISO 800+       Inside at night without flash
Remember to keep the ISO as low as the conditions allows it

So far so good. We have a setting to compensate for low light conditions. But what is the catch?

The higher ISO the lower quality of the image

ISO 100 will give crisp and razor-sharp images (with little noise/grain). Like the image of the lapwing in the beginning of this blog. The more you bump the ISO the more noise you will get. Below I have made a comparison of two images, from the same location a few minutes apart, to illustrate the downside of choosing a high ISO speed in low light.

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Now with this knowledge let us get back to a couple of questions to ask yourself before pushing the shutter.
  • What do I want with this image?
  • How do I achieve this?
  • How is the lightning?
  • What aperture and shutter speed will it require?
  • What is the lowest ISO speed to make this possible?

And then some more concerning composition, but that is another article to be made in the future.
Here are situations where a higher ISO is useful:

  • Indoor family get together    some times a flash would just ruin the moment
  • Indoor sport event                 fast moving objects in poor light
  • Concert                                    again low light
  • Indoor architecture                fx churches and galleries have rules against the use of flash

Another example is the next two images both taking during a full moon. Depending on the setting you will get different results.

A low ISO speed and a long shutter speed will give this glowing light effect
Moonlight painting Vandet sø
© Copyright by
Exposure: 25 sec 
Aperture: f/4
ISO 100
Focal length: 22mm

A high ISO and faster shutter speed will capture details and create another mood
Super moon
© Copyright by
Exposure: 1/80 
Aperture: f/4
ISO 500
Focal length: 200mm

How to use high ISO in a creative way? If you have the right scenery, then a grainy and noisy images will result in a special mood and a raw appearance. Like this last image.

Kayaking before the sun rises
© Copyright by

Exposure: 1/50 
Aperture: f/4
ISO 1000
Focal length: 17mm

Of course there are really good tools in post production (PP) to reduce, or ad, noise from your pictures. I will not go further into this at this point. But still these various types of software will improve a lot of the unwanted noise. I will return to this later on.    

Generally you want to keep the ISO as low as possible. But make sure to bump it up when needed. It is the only way to get the result you are after.


torsdag den 17. marts 2011


Basic camera technique – part two of three
By Michael Munk

This will be the second step on our way to understanding “the exposure triangle” and therefore achieving absolute control over our camera.
ISO speed

Dew on Conifer
© Copyright by
Exposure: 1/100 
Aperture: f/2.8
ISO 100
Focal length: 100mm

When you get to the point where you have reach an understanding for the technical aspect and learned how to control light you can start to unfold your creativity for real.

Aperture is the enchantment of photography. This is the most important feature in directing light inside your camera. As I will show you in this article changing the aperture leads to dramatic changes in the appearance of your image!

Learn to control aperture and you will learn the magic of photography.

Previously (in “the xposure triangle”) I gave a metaphor for a better understanding of the elements inside a camera. As you might remember aperture is both the size of the window and the effect of pulling the curtains. There will be more about this in a moment.

We learned (in “shutter speed”) that shutter speed is measured in parts of a second (denomination 1/200). Aperture is measured in f-stops (f-number, focal ratio, f-ratio or relative aperture). As mentioned before; a change in shutter speed or aperture doubles or halves the amount of light coming through your lens. I gave this following example of three exposures resulting in similar images:

  • 1/125th and f/11
  • 1/250th and f/8
  • 1/500th and f/5.6

The next image illustrates the effect of increasing f-stop (f/2.8 – f/4 – f/5.6 – f/8 – f/11...) with a fixed shutter speed and ISO speed. As you can see this decreases the aperture. One-stop increment will effect in halving the “light gathering area”.
Aperture 1
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The illustrated circles are actually pretty much what your lens opening looks like. In some lenses you can see these blades when looking direct through it (without camera house attached).

Another rule of thumb which is handy to keep in mind is the “Sunny 16 rule”. It is quite simple. When photographing an object in direct sunlight use this as “starting point”.

“Set the aperture to f/16 and the shutter speed to the same as (reciprocal of) the ISO speed.”

  • f/16                     ISO 100              1/100th sec
  • f/16                     ISO 200              1/200th sec
  • f/16                     ISO 400              1/400th sec

Of course in real life it all depends on which type of photo you want. For an example in landscape photography the guideline below is often useful.

Cost of Thy - Bulbjerg
© Copyright by
Exposure: 1/200 
Aperture: f/22
ISO 200
Focal length: 17mm

Start with one the following f-stop (corresponding to the conditions) and adjust shutter speed afterwards.

  • f/22     Snow/sand – a lot of reflection and therefore a lot of light
  • f/16     Sunny
  • f/8       Slight overcast
  • f/5.6    Heavy overcast (f/5.6 is not really ideal for landscape (see DOF below). Keep a smaller aperture and push the ISO speed instead.

I remember one single thing that took ages to understand and remember when I started with a more “serious” form of photography.

That these two facts apply (look at “aperture 1” above for better understanding):

  • a small f-number is a large aperture (bigger opening and therefore more light).
  • a large f-number is a small aperture (smaller opening and therefore less light).

Depth of Field (DOF)
As a new photographer you will feel bombarded with different AND difficult technical terms and abbreviations. Not all of these are really important. But “Depth of Field” is one of the important ones!

I have taken a series of photos with the single purpose of exemplifying what DOF is and how to use it in a creative way. There are a number of ways in making a shallow depth of field.

First let us have a look at what depth of field involves.  

  • Large depth of field – most of the image will be in focus. Both objects close to the camera and far away. (E.g. landscape, the picture of a costline above)
  • Small (shallow) depth of field – only a little part of the image will be in focus and the rest will be blurry. (E.g. macro, the picture of dew in the start of this blog)

And more important – how to get these two different effects:

  • A large aperture (small f-number) will result in a shallow DOF.
  • A small aperture (large f-number) will give a larger DOF.

The following is meant to show three ways of changing the depth of field. I will not go deeper into the theory behind why these effects occur as this will get a bit too technical at this point. Just note that it's the way it is. 

The first method (Aperture II): The obvious way is, of course, to use either a small or a large aperture.

  • Image on the left: When using a small aperture (small opening) the leafs in the background makes it hard to make out the details of the branch in front
  • Image of the right: It is a different story with a large aperture. Here the background is all fuzzy which “hides” all the disturbing elements.
Aperture 2
© Copyright by

The second method (Aperture III): As you can see below (“Aperture 3”) changing only the distance (camera – object) will have an effect on DOF. This is, among other things, useful in portrait and macro photography.  
Aperture 3
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The third method (Aperture IV): The focal length will affect the DOF. Again this is why portrait photographers often use a telephoto lens.
Aperture 4
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Just to drive home what depth of field is I have made this illustration (below). It is extremely simple but hopefully it gives a visual idea of the concept of depth of field.  
© Copyright by

One last thing that I personally find really important is that "less is more". The simpler you keep an image the greater effect it will have on the viewer. I will return to this subject later on but DO notice that DOF is an effective way of keeping an image simple.

And as always I want to state that you need to grab your camera and go experimenting on your own! Use different setting and break out of your comfort zone – the auto-mode!


onsdag den 9. marts 2011

Shutter Speed

Basic camera technique - part one of three
By Michael Munk

This will be the first description of the three elements; shutter speedaperture and ISO speed, that I previously introduced in ”The exposure triangle”.

Before I get started I have two notes for this article. I have given the EXIF informations (Exchangeable Image File Format) for the example images pay attention to these for better understanding. And you can simply click the images for a larger view.

© Copyright by
Exposure: 1/40 
Aperture: f/7.1
ISO 125
Focal length: 17mm

The definition of Shutter speed: a common name for exposure time –the effective length of time that the shutter inside the camera is open. Consequently the time light is allowed to reach the camera censor and creating the image.

To control separate parts of “the exposure triangle” you have to leave auto-mode and use either Priority- or Manual-mode. To achieve this turn the “camera mode dial” (on top of the camera) to:

  • Shutter-priority: “Tv” or “S”depending on camera type (Time value/Shutter-priority).
  • Manual-mode:  “M” (manual)

The shutter speed is measured in seconds – often in fractions of a second.

On most modern cameras you can choose between many steps of shutter speeds. To outline this “scale” and give you a better overview I have picked some main points and given a short description and some useful situations. Starting with the fastest shutter speed.

Deer jumping
© Copyright by
Exposure: 1/2500 
Aperture: f/4.0
ISO 250
Focal length: 200mm

1/16000th s:   The absolute fastest shutter speed available (only available on the top models) 

1/8000th s:     Fastest shutter speed for most DSLR cameras. Useful for getting racer sharp images of moving objects (animals, cars etc.). Requires good light conditions, a large aperture (lots of light) and probably push the ISO number up (larger than ISO 100).

1/2000th s:     A fast shutter speed to capture fast moving objects in normal light (overcastted summerday)

1/250th s:       To freeze normal day picture like humans and buildings. This speed also allows a small aperture (f/11) and therefore a good depth of field (DOF). I will explain this in the following article about aperture.

1/60th s:         Slower shutter speed that doesn’t freeze object instead gives a motion blur. Useful in making panning images and getting a small aperture (f/9-f/16) for great landscape shoots with a good DOF.

1/8th s:           Longer exposure which allows the possibilities of creating great motion blur effects. Another use of these slower shutter speeds is, in combination with tripod, bean bag or other camera support (rocks, bag…), to get pictures of immobile object or landscapes in low light conditions.

1 s:                “Only” (I don’t want to kill creativity! There are NO such things as rules, “only when”, “don’t do this, “you can’t do that”… etc. ALWAYS BE CREATIVE AND EXPLORE NEW WAYS!) with use of tripod for low light photography.

30 s:               Longest shutter speed in most DSLR cameras. Used in night photography – long exposure.

BULB:           Keeps the shutter open as long as the shutter release is hold. With a remote control only battery life limits the exposure time. This can be used in star trail photography (30min – infinity). Low light photography is one of my favorite subject areas and I will return to this.

As seconds pass by
© Copyright by
Exposure: 20 sec 
Aperture: f/16
ISO 100
Focal length: 40mm

If you want sharp images “a rule of thumb” is to use a shutter speeds that is greater than the focal length you are using. Let us take an example to understand this rule.

  • If you shoot at 40mm keep the shutter speed higher than 1/40th sec.
  • But if you shoot at 200mm you should go faster than 1/200th sec. (1/200th – 1/8000th sec.)
In theory this is a good rule but in practice

you will be using shutter speeds of 1/60th of a second or faster

Again we need to look at light to find an explanation. Because at 1/60th sec. or slower there is a great risk of camera shake. Which results in blurred or out of focus images. Simply because a handheld camera will move during exposure (changing the “light picture” the camera “sees”).
As I said you can prevent this by stabilizing the camera (using tripod, bag, rock…)

Don’t forget the exposure triangle – a change in one setting will affect the others (ISO and Aperture)

I am afraid the next few lines will get extremely technical so feel free to skip this and read the examples instead.

·         Halving the shutter speed - doubles the exposure (1 EV more)
·         Doubling the aperture (halving the f/”number”) – increases the exposure by a factor 4 (2 EV more)

That explains the fact that standard apertures differ with about 1.4

Let us take an example:
A picture taken at these three different settings will look almost the same regarding exposure (in relation light).
We double the shutter speed (less light manage to reach the censor). To compensate for this we make a bigger opening in our lens with a smaller aperture (remember the window metaphor: “draw back the curtains”)

  • 1/125th and f/11
  • 1/250th and f/8
  • 1/500th and f/5.6
I will give a more detailed explanation of the use of this in a future article.  

Enough with all the technical nonsense for now! Let us look at something more tangible instead.

Questions you should ask yourself before choosing a shutter speed

1.    Plain and simple:         "What am I photographing?" 
                                         "What is the motive?"
    "Are there any moving objects?"
 If yes, then:
2.    Do I want to freeze these objects – make then look still?
3.    Or do I want to make a blur effect on purpose – creating a sense of movement.

Ducks on the move
© Copyright by
Exposure: 1/10 
Aperture: f/4.0
ISO 100
Focal length: 160mm

Many people want all their photos to be as sharp as possible. I agree that a lion portrait with extremely sharp focus right in the eyeball can give you great pleasure to look at.
BUT on the other hand a well done motion blur can generate a special atmosphere, or tell an amazing story which would have been lost in a racer sharp image.

Spice price
© Copyright by
Exposure: 1/25 
Aperture: f/7.1
ISO 100
Focal length: 17mm

When you have shot your perfectly sharp image - DO look for alternative options - be creative! You might get even better images with unusual settings, or at least get some priceless experience!

tirsdag den 8. marts 2011

Exposure triangle

By Michael Munk

When I took my first steps into the world of photography I remember that the most confusing about it all were the complete chaos concerning camera settings. New difficult technical terms, and some even more puzzling systems of numbers describing all sorts of things.

But with the knowledge I have got now I know how important a deeper understanding for all those technical details are.

It all comes down to one of the most important (if not THE most important) aspects of photography – understanding light. The perfect motive or the perfect scenery might be captured in a picture, but that wow-effect which amazes people only comes with interesting light.

It is all about understanding the light – how it behaves – how to control it – and how to capture it!

I will go deeper into this subject later on. But for now I want to go through the basic elements of taking a picture. Whether it´s done with a point-and-shoot- or a DSLR camera it involve three elements.

Three interconnected vertexes in a triangle. They all relate to light: How it enters the camera. How much that enters and they determinates if the exposure becomes the image we had in mind.   

The three elements are:

Exposure triangle
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It is in the middle of this triangle the exposure is made. BUT as they are connected we can’t change one without it affecting the two others. This is an essential fact to keep in mind before pressing the shutter release.

Different situations require specific setting of both ISO, Aperture and Shutter speed – keep all three in mind!

There are some (among photographers) common know metaphors to ease the understanding of these settings.

The window
This metaphor was helpful to me when I struggled with understanding especially Aperture and ISO speed.

By the fire
© Copyright by
Imagine this:
Your camera is like a sealed house with only one large window (this window is the opening in your lens).
The size of this window can differ (Corresponds to how big an opening your lens can make - maximum aperture. A big opening allows a lot of light inside, but a bigger opening is more expensive). 

For example take these two lenses:
EF 300mm f/4.0 L IS USM      Price example: 1.289,00€
EF 300mm f/2.8 L IS USM)     Price example: 4.494,00€
These are very similar lenses but one has a bigger opening (f/2.8) and therefore capable of capturing more light thus more expensive.

Now back on track; we have our different maximum window sizes: 

Maximum apertures:
f/1.2                   Very big window
f/2.8                   Pretty big window
f/4.0                   Normal window
f/5.6                   A bit smaller window

Now imagine a curtain which can be pulled and drawn back. If it’s almost shut only little light enters.
f/1.2                    Curtains are drawn back – plenty of light (Max aperture - lens completely open)
f/8                       Curtains are pulled a bit
f/16                     Closed quite a bit – less light enters
f/32                     Only a small crack for light to enter  (Min aperture)

I used to think the biggest mind job about aperture was this fact:

A small number (f/"number") is the biggest opening in the lens.

Now when adjusting ISO you should imagine that you are standing in front of the window looking out. Now you have a choice of different sunglasses.

ISO 100              The darkest biggest glasses imaginable
ISO 400              Lighter but yet quite dark
ISO 800              Light brownish sunglasses
ISO 3200            Glasses with little sun blocking effect

The more you push the ISO to compensate for low light conditions the more noise/grain you will get in your image.

Always use the lowest ISO possible! ISO 100 on sunny days. Push it up a bit in low light conditions.

Shutter speed is simply the time from you open the shutters outside the window until you close them again. So it is the amount of time when light is allowed inside the sealed house.

This is not a “perfect” description of the technique inside a camera and there are other good metaphors. Nevertheless I hope you have got the overall idea of the mechanisms behind controlling light during an exposure. This article will be followed by a couple of more detailed articles of how and when to use different settings.
Always remember that it takes a long time and a lot of practice to feel confident about the camera settings! But I can only encourage you to try the Priority-modes and Manual-mode. 
As I have said before

In digital photography you can take as many shots as you like without any cost – go explore your equipment and explore the light!

lørdag den 5. marts 2011

First hurdle of photography

By Michael Munk

I don’t hesitate to make the assumption that most people have taking a picture at some point. Most in the occasion of a family get-together or the ordinary travel photography on holidays.
And on the other hand I guess many people at least once in their life have had this feeling:

“I wish I’d taken that picture!”

From my own experience I know that the following statement is often a common thought among people who has never had any interest in photography.

“I need really expensive gear to get those amazing pictures myself”

From my point of view this is only about 10% of the truth! Yes, I admit that some pictures can only be done with a DSLR camera and again some only with a special kind of lens. BUT I also know that all professional photographers can make extraordinary images with a point-and-shoot camera and a free version of a post-editing program. Why is that?

Because getting amazing images is mostly about opening your mind to creativity and practice your ability to think out-of-the-box  -  to realize the potential of every moment in any situation.

To trees holding hands at sunrise
© Copyright by

Every beginning is difficult and it takes practice to develop! Just as well as sport, a new job and riding a bike does. It all takes time. And we all remember a time when a certain task seemed impossible, but we managed to learn it anyway.

All things are difficult before they become easy. Otherwise we would all be equally skilled!

Therefore do not expect National Geographic to ask for your photos to begin with and you will have smaller risk of disappointment. Because one of the worst motivation killers on the way to become a better photographer, is to compare your own work with all the professional images out there! Instead keep track of your own improvements.

Each time you take a photo, you will get a little bit better!

Digital photography of our time offers a very important feature – DELETE. This provides the opportunity to practice and explore the marvelous potential of modern cameras without consideration. Don´t be afraid to lie down, climb high, get close or step back and push the shutter button over and over again.

Yellow, black and blue
© Copyright by

Another piece of advice when using a DSLR: Learn from it! Notice what setting it uses in different situations. Also force yourself to leave the Auto-mode and explore the way the camera acts in the Priority-modes. After a while this will lead you to exploring Manual-mode. I will do a more detailed article about using the different camera settings later on but here are some quick guidelines:

·         Shutter priority (“Tv” or “S” on the top dial): How does different shutter speeds change the result of my picture? How does the aperture (chosen by the camera) vary when I change the shutter speed?
1/4 sec.                        Low shutter speeds is useful in low light
1/80 sec.                      Medium shutter speeds is good for normal photos in reduced light conditions.
1/1000 sec.                  High shutter speeds is useful in freezing fast moving object (cars, animals)

·         Aperture priority (“Av” or “A” on the top dial): How does the shutter speed vary when I change the aperture. How does the depth of field (DOF) change at different apertures?
f/2.8                              Useful for low light and portrait
f/16                               Useful for landscape photos on a sunny day
f/22                               Only allows a small amount of light through the lens

·         Manual mode (“M” on the top dial): This is ultimate control of both shutter speed and aperture.

Always remember this

All the professionals have taking thousands and thousands of useless beginner photos!

All the pictures you see online and in magazines are those very few good images that have managed to get through the eye of the needle. You WILL get something close to that some day - soon...