Things to Keep in Mind When Shooting

[by Gheorghe Chistol]

This webpage was written to help students enrolled in SP.747. In the film-developing lab, all people realized that many photos were over-exposed for some reason. Hopefully this will help you figure out what could go wrong. I assume you have read the Silly Camera Numbers page.

Set the Film ISO

ISO is the film sensitivity. It's a number, more common ISOs are 100 and 400. The higher the ISO, the higher the film sensitivity and the larger the film-grain size. If you plan to shoot indoors in low light conditions, film ISOs of 400, 800, or even 1600 are preferred. If you are shooting outside and you have lots of sunlight, try to use ISO 100 film, or even slower (you can find films with ISO 50 or 25). The good thing about low-ISO film is that the film-grain is very fine and you have a lot of detail. If you are a diverse shooter, taking photos in various conditions, stick to ISO400 film, such as Ilford HP5+, TMAX400, Ilford Delta 400 and others.

Every time you load film into your camera make sure you tell the camera what ISO film you are using. New automatic cameras should be able to read the barcode on the film canister and know the ISO. If you are using an older one, find the dial or the wheel that sets the ISO. Even if you are using a newer camera, double check to make sure that you and the camera agree on the ISO value:)

PS: Note about digital SLRs - the cool thing about Digital SLRs is that you can change the ISO settings anytime. If you shoot film you are stuck with one ISO setting for 36 frames. With digital SLRs you can crank up the ISO up to 1600 or 3200 if you are shooting at night (so you get reasonable shutter speeds and minimal blur). You can also set the ISO to 100 on your digital SLR if you are shooting in sunlight, such that you minimize noise and get maximum detail in the photos.

Know How to Control the Aperture

You have to control the shutter speed and the Fstop (aperture) on your camera in order to get the pictures that you want. In older cameras you have to set the Aperture (f/2.8, f/5.6, etc) and then vary the shutter speed until the proper exposure is reached. Your light meter should tell you what the proper exposure is (you might have a needle light meter, or a meter with a red dot and a green dot, or something like that).

In newer cameras you can use semi-automatic modes such as Aperture Priority (labeled "A" or "Av") or Shutter Priority (labeled "S" or "Tv"). In Shutter Priority mode you set the shutter speed (say 1/60 sec) and the camera automatically adjusts the aperture on your lens to get the proper exposure. In Aperture Priority you set the Aperture and then the camera uses the built-in light meter to adjust the shutter speed in order to get the proper film exposure.

I almost always use Aperture Priority mode, and I recommend it to everyone. It's easy if you know what you want. Suppose you want to take a nice portrait of a friend. You want a nice blurry background, therefore you want a low Fstop number, such as f/1.8, f/2.8, or whatever the lowest number on your lens is. You focus on the person's eyes, frame the photo, make sure that the shutter speed is reasonable and shoot.

We are coming back to the question, what is a reasonable shutter speed? It's something faster than 1/50th of a second for most lenses that you are going to use for this class (remember the inverse rule). On the other hand, your camera has some maximal shutter speed limit, for the older cameras it's around 1/500-1/1000 sec, for the newer cameras it's around 1/4000sec. Suppose you have your aperture wide-open and you are shooting ISO400 film outdoors. I am pretty sure your camera will say that there is too much light and even at the maximal shutter speed the photo will be over-exposed (different cameras tell you that in different ways, they blink, give you an error message, flash a red dot at you, etc.). In this case you would have to stop-down (i.e. decrease the aperture, from f/2.8 to f/8 for example).

Now suppose you are shooting indoors and there is little light available. Even though light from fluorescent lights looks bright to you, it might not be enough for your lens/camera. Then you have to open the aperture on your lens all the way and try to achieve that 1/50 sec or 1/60 sec necessary for a steady shot (or use a tripod).

If you are able to understand what the Fstops and Shutter Speeds do, you should be able to squeeze the most out of your camera. Remember, a $100, 10 year old SLR camera can give you awesome pictures, and so can even older/cheaper cameras. Ultimately it's all about you (having a nice, auto-focus camera with a fast, sharp lens might help a bit though).