I meet a lot of people with cameras in the hills. From the number of cameras stuffed into packs it strikes me that they must rate in importance somewhere closely behind dry toilet paper and slightly ahead of Lea and Perrins sauce. It also strikes me that most people are proficient in the use of toilet tissue, and any mug can get the lid of a sauce bottle in an emergency, however, the same is not often said for the plethora of cameras that goes forth into the wilderness.
As detailed in a previous
column, it was hunting that got me into the game of photography - plain
and simply, the camera was a guaranteed way that the guys at school
were going to believe I did in fact tip over the very occasional Redskin
on weekends. It was a tool of necessity in this regard.
Photos are very important to the social life of the hunter and to the
general enjoyment of all outdoors people, that much I am now sure of,
so how do we take better ones? It surely comes from understanding
the basic principles of camera use and building our skills upon them.
Fallow deer hind. Example of large aperture/fast shutter speed. Large aperture gives a very small Depth of Focus ensuring that the subject stands out from the foreground and background, and that there is plenty of light entering the camera to allow a fast shutter speed. The fast shutter speed ensures that there is no camera shake with the large lens used in this shot, and that if the animal moves it will not blur the image.
1/1000th sec @ f5.6, 400mm lens, Kodachrome 200. Photo by Rob Suisted.
My occasional hunting mate of the time referred to it as the ‘Point and Pull’, describing the manner in which photos were randomly framed up and fired off. Actually, he referred to my rifle of the time in the same way, an old No.4 MkI .303 whose sights where of dubious parentage - though he shot no better. With an eagerness to increase the standard of my photos I next set forth into the wilderness armed with an orphaned Asahi Pentax S1, complete with screw on lenses and independent lightmeter.
The key was that I had made it into the realm of the SLR (Single Lens Reflex) - the camera had changeable lenses, you looked through the lens, and it made the required wholesome ‘clunk’ sound when triggered. It soon became apparent though that having more sophisticated equipment was not a straight recipe for success - quite the opposite actually. With it came a multitude of choices and resulting compromises not readily apparent with my old ‘Point and Pull’ model - stops, f-stops, shutter speeds, depth of field, ASA, exposure compensation etc. In order to take images that even remotely reached the quality of my earlier shonky images I had to learn heaps quickly. Oh I wished for an article like this.
Unfortunately most people these days tend to start photography with a relatively modern camera that can do everything without much thinking from your behalf - turn it on and shoot - dummy proofed and satisfactory in most situations except when it comes to developing your skills. You are highly limited unless we can get back into the driver’s seat and understand exactly what it is that the camera is doing for us, i.e. we need to understand the basics. Fortunately this is very simple, it’s designed to be simple, and conveniently it is exactly what you’re going to get from me today. I’m asked a lot of questions by people wanting to come to better grips with their cameras. It’s enjoyable being able to help, but it regularly amazes me how far some people have got into photography without understanding the basics, and boy does this cause headaches.
You might well switch off at this
point - ‘I know what I’m doing...’ I hear you say, ‘...I don’t need
a cabbage course in camera use!’ Fair enough but I’ll tell you
that I often sit down and again focus on the basics. If you
aren’t familiar with the foundations or principles of camera use,
you can’t develop your skills. Hang on and I’ll try to make
it quick. Just try forgetting
everything you presently know about photography for a moment and ponder
the following. When we cut through the buttons, bells and whistles
on the average camera it comes down to this:
Tararua Forest side creek. Example of small aperture/long shutter speed. Small aperture gives lots of Depth of Focus ensuring that the whole image is in focus from front to back. Long shutter speed gives a blur to the water movement. Tripod and cable release necessary.
1 sec @ f16, 24mm lens, Ektachrome 50. Photo by Rob Suisted
So how does it work? Simple, it’s directly related to those tiny f-stop numbers - the smaller the number, say f4, the less Depth of Focus the photo will have. Therefore a higher f-stop, say f22, would be used for landscape photos so that everything will be in focus. So if you, like the less light your lens lets through (say f22) the more depth of focus you get. Right, here we’re starting to get to the crux of it all. The film in your camera is rated at a particular ASA, say 100 ASA - it requires a certain amount of light to take a properly exposed image. When you are taking that image there will be a certain amount of light available, i.e. if it’s sunny there will be a lot; if it’s overcast there could be 16 times less light about. Your decision is how you use this light to make an image.
Very basically you are to decide whether to let in a lot of light (a large aperture, say f4) for a short time (say 1/1000 sec), or let in a small amount of light (say f22) for a longer time (say 1/30 sec) - As you’ll see these two settings will take the same exposure. This is the key choice that you must decide. There is no right or wrong way, but how you decide will have a definite effect on the result. Think about what you intend to photograph. Say it is a landscape - easy to choose because you want the most depth of focus possible so the most will be in focus, so set your aperture ring at say f22 (a small aperture). Take a light reading with the camera meter (exposure metering tips will follow in a future column). If it was a sunny day it would probably tell you that 1/60th sec shutter speed will be needed, if you used 100 ASA film. If, however, we were taking a photo of a fast moving object (like a hunting mate washing dags off in a freezing river) we would want to use a fast shutter speed to take the shot instead, so select a large aperture (say f4). The shutter speed we would use would be 1/1000th sec. More than enough to freeze the motion (or the thrashing). However, because we’re using f4, the depth of focus will be very shallow so we must take extra care to focus correctly on the main subject. So here we see a direct relationship between shutter speeds and aperture settings. If we go one stop faster in shutter speed, it equals one stop larger aperture.
If we take the two examples above
we can see that we’ve changed from f22 to the much larger f4 setting.
This involved 5 steps - from f22, 16, 11, 8, 5.6, to f4, every time
doubling the amount of light going through the lens - because of this
we can now go up 5 stops in shutter speed to take the same exposure,
from 1/60th sec, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500, to 1/1000th sec. So a
photo taken at f22 and 1/60th sec has exactly the same exposure as
on taken at f4 and 1/1000th sec, the only difference is that the first
will have lots of depth of focus but any movement will be blurred,
while the second will have sod all depth of focus but all moving objects
will be ‘pin sharp’. It is important to understand that no one
set combination of shutter speeds and apertures is correct as both
can be altered to get the same exposure of the film - it’s your decision.
Mount Cook Lily. Use of a medium aperture to give a smaller depth of focus to draw attention to the flowers but to leave the background partially visible. The medium aperture also gave a reasonable shutter speed that helped to freeze the movement of the flowers in the breeze. 1/60th sec @ f8, Fujichrome Velvia 50. Photo by Rob Suisted
This article and images are copyright to Rob L. Suisted - Nature's Pic Images. All rights reserved.