About the author: Jane Burkinshaw is a professional photographer and passionate about all things photography related. Jane specialises in portrait photography and runs photography courses.

All the gear and no idea! Photography courses by Cheshire Photographer Jane Burkinshaw

All the gear and no idea!

This made me laugh out loud when Julie and Gill announced it as they turned up for their photography lesson! They are not alone in having made the step up from compact camera to SLR and only feeling confident enough to use it on the AUTO modes. Camera manuals don’t help as they are full of jargon and are unnecessarily complicated.

Your new SLR camera will take reasonable photos on the automatic settings and you’ll still be pleased that you upgraded, no doubt glad that there’s no delay when you press the shutter and it feels like a “proper camera”. However, a SLR is capable of so much more if you take charge rather than letting it be in control.

During yesterday’s two-hour lesson with Julie and Gill I walked them through some key information, settings and techniques that will make a significant difference to their photography and how they feel about their SLR cameras.

Lenses – they had both realized that although the kit lens that came with their camera gives them nice clear pictures it doesn’t zoom very far and they needed to buy a telephoto lens. After a quick explanation of the numbers on their lens (18-55mm) and talking about some of the lenses available, they both felt confident enough to start shopping around for a telephoto lens. They also wanted to know if they needed a macro lens to photograph things close up. I think they were pleasantly surprised to discover how close they could get with their existing kit lens.

A kit lens can get this close
Auto vs P – Gill was using her camera on the green AUTO mode, whereas Julie was using the P (program) mode and I explained why P is a better automatic alternative. I’m a firm believer that there’s no shame in using the automatic modes as long you know what to do if they don't give you the picture you wanted. It should be a choice to use them rather than the only option.

Soft focus backgrounds – wanting to know how to get that lovely blurred effect behind your subject is one of the main reasons people book photography lessons with me. They have often been baffled by talk of depth of field, apertures and f numbers. By the end of the two hour lesson Julie and Gill knew how to use their cameras on the Av setting to blur the background, whilst keeping an eye on the shutter speed and how the ISO setting can help when the light isn’t very good. Our mosaic frog was an obliging model!

Soft focus background using the Av setting
Composition – it’s amazing what a big difference a few simple composition tips can make to your photographs and I shared these with Gill and Julie. They were quick to pick up the technique of Focus Lock that allows you to put the subject of your photo anywhere in the frame and not always in the centre.

Using focus lock to put your subject off centre
With all that covered in just two hours there wasn't time to cover editing photographs – that’s a separate session – but I did point them in the direction of Picasa, a free programme from Google that allows you to perform basic edits and create some really good stuff.

From their enthusiastic comments I think Gill and Julie left brimming with confidence and keen to try out all the tips and methods we’d covered. I’m looking forward to seeing their photographs on a Facebook Group that all my “students” are invited to join. I hope they’ve ditched the phrase “All the gear and no idea” now!

If you feel that you have all the gear and no idea, take a look at the course programme for 2013/14 and if you can’t make any of the dates then why not book a bespoke session – share the cost between up to four people if you prefer. 

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

50/50 Project: #2/50 Windswept man (by Cheshire photographer Jane Burkinshaw)

Day 2. Windswept man

50 days with a 50mm lens
Technical data: 1/400, f/3.5 ISO 100. Aperture Priority.

We went shopping in a very hot Manchester city centre today and came across this strangle windswept man - especially as there wasn't a breath of wind! He's a street artist - what a strange way to earn a living. Perhaps his wife thinks he's actually going out to work in an office each day!

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

The Exposure Triangle - what is it and why do you need to know? (Cheshire photography course with Picture It Big)

Click on the image to see a larger version

If you've started to wander off the AUTO setting on your camera and are having a play with the Aperture (Av / A) or Shutter (Tv or S) setting, you'll have noticed that when you alter one, the other changes at the same time. This is because they work together to make sure that your picture will be correctly exposed.

Just in case I've already used a bit of jargon that's confusing, let's cover that off first.

The obvious question you might be asking at this point is why would you change the aperture or the shutter speed, rather than let the camera do it all for you on AUTO? Well it puts you in control of the type of image that you take, rather than pointing and shooting, you are determining the outcome and can get creative. Probably the whole reason you splashed out and bought a bridge or SLR camera rather than sticking with a compact. (Some compact cameras do allow you to set the aperture and shutter speed and all this applies to those too!)

So, first of all, why would you want to change the aperture? Have you ever wondered how you get that amazing soft focus, blurred areas in a photograph, whilst the point of focus is still completely sharp, like in the picture of the baby? Aperture, that's how! Set a low aperture like f/2.8 (which crazily is a big opening in the lens) and you'll get a lovely soft background. This makes your subject stand out nice and crisp and opens up a whole world of creativity. This is also called a narrow or shallow Depth of Field.

If you set a high aperture number like f/16+ then your image will be in focus from front to back. Typically you might do this with landscapes. And whilst you're in control of the aperture, your camera is setting the right shutter speed to get the exposure right.

So, what about shutter speed? This is how long the opening in the lens is open for and it can be anything from the tiniest fraction of a second through to several seconds. If you select a fast shutter speed any movement is frozen - anything higher than 1/500th of a second is considered quite fast. Slow shutter speeds blur movement and can be used to great creative effect. If you use a slow shutter speed - anything less than 1/60th of a second, you need to rest the camera on a flat surface or use a tripod to avoid camera shake.

I started off this blog by saying that aperture and shutter speed work together to get the right exposure. In order for a picture to be correctly exposed the opening in the lens needs to let in enough light onto the camera sensor. If you have selected a small opening, then it needs to stay open longer than if you selected a large opening - simple isn't it?!

But sometimes there simply isn't enough available light to do what you want to do. A situation I've faced a number of times is photographing a child running along a forest path, where the overhead canopy of leaves has reduced the amount of light. The camera is on its lowest aperture setting (biggest opening in the lens), but the shutter speed is still too slow to freeze the child's movement. I don't want to use the flash as it's so flattening and it wouldn't reach the child anyway. But there's another option available to me, thank goodness - the third part of the Exposure Triangle, the ISO setting.

ISO determines how sensitive to light the camera's sensor is. In the olden days of film (!) you could buy reels of film that were more or less sensitive to light and your digital camera's ISO setting is the equivalent of this. The higher the ISO number, the more sensitive to light. So in nice bright conditions you use a low ISO number - 80-200 and in duller conditions you could use a higher one like 800+.

When you use a high ISO number you will find that your shutter speed increases - yay! The only downside to high ISO numbers is that you can get a grainy effect in your images. It depends on your camera how pronounced this is. Top end cameras handle high ISOs well, whereas compact cameras can be notoriously bad. If you leave the ISO set on AUTO the camera will decide what to do for you. Call me a control freak but I prefer to know what it's doing!

So there you have the three settings that make sure your pictures are correctly exposed:

Shutter Speed

And I've even created a handy Exposure Triangle diagram to help you remember it all!

Click on the image to see a larger version
I can bring all this to life for you in a bespoke one to one photography class, tailored to your requirements. To find out more or to book click here.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!
Comments (3)

Is AUTO only for beginners (and what the heck is"P")?

“Oh, I never take my camera off AUTO”. A very frequent comment when I talk to people about their photography. Usually said with an air of slight embarrassment as if it’s something to be ashamed about. They would be pleasantly surprised and reassured to hear that I often have my camera on an AUTO mode (although I use the P automatic mode – more on that later). I have lots of gadgets and machines in my home that offer a variety of settings and I only use one all the time – the dishwasher springs to mind. If I choose the ECO setting it does what I want it to and I feel good that I’ve done something slightly environmentally friendly. I know there are faster and hotter settings, salt rinses etc but I’ve never bothered to work out how to use them and I don’t really care as long as my dishes are sparkling. It’s like that with a camera – as long as AUTO allows you to take a good photo and get the result you want, you don’t need to go off piste and try the other settings. So it’s fine to set your camera to AUTO, but it's better that it’s a conscious decision rather than the only option.

Regular readers of my blogs (I fool myself into thinking there are a few!) will be familiar with my views on technological knowhow versus the role of opportunity and having a natural eye. You could know how to use every setting on your camera but still be unable to spot a good shot or perhaps not even have the camera with you when a great shot presents itself. Taking a good picture relies primarily on being in the right place at the right time, an ability to see that something before you has the making of a good image and having your camera at the ready. In many instances these elements will be sufficient and so will having the camera set to AUTO. However, there are situations where the automatic setting cannot get the best results and if you haven’t got other options then you won’t get the optimum shot. You may have already experienced the frustration of spotting a great photo opportunity, only to find that the shot is blurred or wrongly exposed, despite the fact that your camera has previously delivered great results for you.

LIGHT – or not enough of it may be the cause of the majority of your problems when using the camera on AUTO. The camera automatically sets the shutter speed to suit the available light. On a dull day or in deep shade it will use a slower shutter speed to let more light in. This can mean that although the resulting photograph will be correctly exposed any movement may be blurred or the whole picture may suffer from camera shake. Your camera is quite clever and knows this and will decide to fire the flash to provide some extra light. This might not give you the effect you were looking for as flash can be quite harsh or unflattering. If you take the camera off the AUTO setting you would have a number of options available to you, to stop the flash firing and increase the amount of light coming into the camera without slowing down the shutter speed too much. Setting a larger aperture (lower F number) with the AV (aperture value) setting or increasing the ISO would probably work.

You might be thinking that this is not particularly relevant for you but there are lots of circumstances where you could come across dull light conditions during the day. I have done several shoots in woodland areas and have found that the canopy of leaves reduces the light to such an extent that my subjects are blurred if they are moving e.g. running, waving, even just walking. Flash can just kill the atmosphere and make the background appear unnaturally dark. Using other camera settings has enabled me to still get the shot I was looking for.

Another common instance when you might benefit from moving off AUTO is when you are photographing something or someone against a cluttered background. If you are zooming in on the subject then the background will start to blur but you can control how much it blurs and how much your subject stands out by using the AV setting and using a larger aperture (lower F number).

Taking the camera off AUTO and knowing what setting to use instead puts you in control rather than the camera. When I use an automatic setting I make a conscious choice rather than using it because I don’t know what else to try.

Note that I said “an automatic setting” not the AUTO setting. You may not be aware of it but your camera is likely to offer a semi-automatic mode called P or “Program Mode”. In this mode you can make some of the decisions for yourself and make some corrections. For example you decide when to use the flash – it doesn’t fire automatically. You also have the option to make the picture lighter or darker using something called Exposure Compensation. And you would also be able to change a number of other settings whilst still letting the camera automatically set the shutter speed and aperture size.

It can be quite scary when you go off piste (off AUTO) for the first time, but what have you got to lose? If you make a mistake you can delete it and try again. I experimented with the AV setting by propping my foot up on a stool one day and taking pictures of my big toe with different apertures! Needless to say you won’t find those shots on my web site! And try the TV (time value) setting to increase and decrease the shutter speed with a moving subject – I have lots of photos of blurred running dog progressively becoming in focus running dog!

Not sure about apertures and shutter speeds? Forget your manual, it’s unlikely to help you and sadly neither will many of the magazines and books which claim to be guides to digital photography. In my experience they all assume a certain level of knowledge and tend to jump in at quite a technical level. The best quick introduction I’ve found is in Annabel William’s book “99 portrait Photo Ideas” where she tells you just enough to go out and have a go. Then once you’ve had a play around and grasped the basics that’s the time to start looking at the books and delving in a little deeper.

It’s easier to practise these settings outside in daylight, so do a bit of reading in the evening, use the Quick Set Up Guide, which hopefully came with your camera, to learn how to change the AV and TV settings and then get out with your camera during the day. And don’t forget that AUTO is there for a reason – it will give you a good shot in many circumstances – but go on, be a devil, try the P setting sometimes too! You’ll soon find that you’ll be using that in preference to AUTO and before you know it you’ll be flicking onto AV and TV too.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!

Blurring the edges

After all the effort to unearth my Lensbaby I had a play around with it today at a local park, as I was wondering whether I could use it during some photoshoots to get some shots which are a bit edgier. A Lensbaby is a cute, but odd looking lens that mimics the effect of a tilt & shift lens. It looks like a short piece of black vaccuum cleaner hose with the same bendiness and it gets some peculiar looks. By stretching or contracting the hose bit and bending it at the same time you can determine where the point of focus is (the so called sweet spot) and also distort the areas around it. I've got version 2.0 which you manually hold in place as you press the shutter. More recent versions have systems to fix it in place. Getting to grips with it again was a steep learning curve but I quickly remembered how to handle it and with a very willing model I got some quite nice images for its first trip out in perhaps two years. You can't set the aperture in camera - you choose a disc with a hole which
defines the aperture. I think the one it had in it was f/5.6. Using the camera on AUTO was a complete disaster - totally over exposed, so I constantly checked and changed the shutter speed. It was a bright sunny day with the occasional passing cloud, and we moved from open grass areas into shady woodland. So we ranged from around 1/600th to 1/2000th of a second.
Anyway I've fallen in love with it again and will include it in my camera bag so that it's available for all my shoots. I'll carefully pick and choose which client I first use it with - it'll have to be a shoot where everything has gone swimmingly, it's all in the bag and I've got a willing model to practise with it on. Before the end of the week I'll have a go at some daffodils as they've all suddenly bloomed this weekend and Spring really feels like it has sprung. It's amazing what a lift a bit of warm sun on your face gives you. The grass was cut this afternoon, we had our first barbecue of the year (and I'm sure we weren't the only ones!) and the children dragged out every blanket, cushion, teddy, hammock etc insight.

By Jane Burkinshaw. Share this post by clicking on one of the Share buttons on the right hand side. I'd love to hear your comments too!
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