Let’s keep this snappy – a quick guide to photography

NB Team

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In the Instagram age, photography is something we’re all having a bash at. But, as smartphones get smarter and our in-phone camera settings automatically adjust for us, the beauty of the tech behind what makes a great photograph is lost on many. So we’ve gone back to basics to look at what elements make up a camera. We also explore the different ways you can use cameras to get that internet-breaking shot you’ve always dreamed of.

A camera comprises:

  1. A lightbox
  2. An aperture (a hole)
  3. Something that records light (film)

In this picture, you will see a camera obscura – a box room with a hole in one of its walls. This is a camera in its most basic form. But how does it work? The three components above work together in a camera obscura. They create the optical phenomenon which occurs when an image of a scene at the other side of a screen projects through the small hole, resulting in a reversed and inverted image on the opposite side of the room. Mind blown? Ours too.

Since this innovation, which is mostly used by landscape painters, advanced technology now enables us to capture projected images on film. But digital is more common these days. Now, instead of waiting for the perfect lighting and weather, our cameras have features like a shutter, a viewfinder (in place of a lightbox) and an adjustable lens to focus the light (an aperture), alongside a digital sensor (to record light).

Below you can find out more about the key features in cameras we generally use today, what those setting buttons do and how we can control them to capture the picture-perfect snap:

Know your focus (AV)

The ability to control the amount of light hitting a subject is key to accurately focusing on the subject. So, get to know your “AV” button. For this, we can adjust the aperture value, from a small “AV” of f/22 to a large f/1.2, creating vastly different results. Landscape photographers will typically use a small aperture to capture a large scene. But portrait photographers use a wide aperture to create a shallow depth of field. This makes the subject stand out sharply against a blurred background. For instance, the Humans of New York (@humansofny) Instagram account follows this technique. This style of photography is essential for the viewers to focus on the subject – the person – amid the busy streets. It’s possible because the face is in focus, but the background is soft and blurred.

Watch your speed (TV)

The shutter speed setting on any DSLR (that’s Digital Single Lens Reflex btw) is responsible for changing the brightness of the photograph and creating dramatic effects. This is done by either freezing action (high shutter speed) or blurring motion (low shutter speed). Sport is an area of photography in which photographers use high shutter speeds. For example, Canon Ambassador and England World Cup 2018 football team photographer Eddie Keogh (@eddiekeoghphotos) strives for sharp, clean images of fast-moving footballers. For Eddie, the difference between an average photo and great photo (that makes it to newspaper front pages) could be a split second.

Capturing a ball leaving a player’s foot, for example, requires Eddie to set his shutter speed to around 1/1000th of a second. Conversely, low shutter speeds are used for artistic effect. An example would be capturing light trails from a car in the dark. A further example is Australian photographer Cameron Spencer’s, of Getty Images, infamous shot of Usain Bolt mid-race in the Men’s 100-meter semi-final at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. To capture this shot, Spencer has to set the shutter speed on his Canon 1DX MK2, with a 70-200 mm lens set at 135 mm focal length, at 1/40th of a second. He followed the champion with the lens to achieve the blur.

Get sharp (ISO)

Choosing the right ISO setting starts with recognising the amount of light in the scene you are photographing. An ISO controls the sensitivity of an image and ultimately influences the ‘graininess’ of the picture. The lower the ISO, the less sensitive your camera is to light. This means the image will be darker and the grain finer. Portrait photographers working in well-lit studios will use a lower ISO. For example, Jörg Kyas (@kyasphotography) aims for sharp, clean images of models for his clients, so he photographs in bright studios in which he can use a lower ISO. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive to light a camera; therefore, photographers can use a faster shutter speed. This is useful for sports or wildlife photographers shooting fast-moving subjects enabling them to freeze the moment.

Shout out to our in-house photographer @danwongphoto for his pro tips that helped us create this post! NBU has been working for Canon Europe for over 16 years, so putting our book knowledge to the practical test with Dan Wong was a fantastic way to get hands-on and learn more about the products we are PR-ing every day. We hope you can put the above to use – happy snapping!

Written by Nelson Bostock’s Canon Pro team.