camera settings: shutter speeds, apertures & ISO values
A presentation that I’ve given on several occasions, is called ‘Just Give Me The F-Stop‘. The presentation is based on the perception that many photographers, in trying to get to grips with flash photography, try to break it down into what they think are the understandable elements – the numerical values of the settings used. They want numbers, believing that in knowing a certain image was taken at 1/125th @ f4.5 @ 400 ISO, that they might get closer to understanding lighting. They want the f-stop.
However, the scenarios we encounter as photographers vary so much, that it becomes meaningless for anyone to “give you the f-stop”.
Far more important are the methods we use in on-location lighting, such as how to get to correct exposure, and how to get beautiful light, and how to enhance the existing light with controlled use of flash. It is in this intersection between available light and flash that we get great results in seamlessly blending flash with available light. Of course, this is also true for other additional light, such as video light, or even the use of reflectors.
Regular readers of the Tangents blog will be familiar with this topic, but I’d like to expand on this idea a little more …
The above photograph of Anelisa was taken as part of a sequence to show the difference, if any, between using an umbrella and a softbox. But the ambient light changed too much between setting up the different light modifiers for us to make any observation from this.
But I really like this image – her pose; the light on her; the background; the way her hair moved in the slight wind; the composition and framing; the final choice in the balance between available light and flash.
From the actual photograph, a few elementary things can be deduced already.
- This is a wide-ish aperture, but doesn’t look like f1.4 or such a wide aperture. Most likely in the region of f2.8 to f4 somewhere.
- The separation between her and the background, as well as the perspective and the compression of the image, indicates this was a longer focal length. Most likely a 70-200 range zoom used at the longer end.
- There appears to be a fair amount of available light in the background, so this wasn’t a slow shutter speed, nor a high ISO. Since flash was used, we’re probably in the region of being close to maximum flash sync speed. As for ISO, going by the brightness of the background, we’re most likely in the region of 100-200 ISO.
This isn’t so much reverse engineering, as a common sense analysis of a simple portrait. These are things nearly any photographer should be able to deduce, especially since the photograph isn’t a complex one.
That the specifics of the EXIF tell us that our camera settings were 1/250 @ f3.5 @ 200 ISO isn’t then of particular use. The ball-park ideas about our settings were enough, and could be gleaned from the image at a glance anyway.
The more interesting aspects of this, and nearly any other photograph you’d ever see would be … the idea; the concept; the pre-visualization (if any); the circumstance and back-story; working with the subject; posing and positioning your subject; the viewpoint and angle; positioning the light(s); post-processing of the image. Oh, a host of things would be more useful and interesting to know than whether it was f3.5 or f4 or f2.8
So where am I headed with this train of thought?
Well, the way that shutter speeds, aperture and ISO settings inter-relate, is absolutely essential to understand. You have to know these things. If you don’t … then there is homework to be done. Also, the way that choice of aperture affects depth of field, is inescapably necessary to know if you want to be serious about photography. But these elementary concepts are really best studied with a good basic book on photography, and your camera in hand.
There are a few other essential basic things we need to know … but to fixate on the specific numerical values, is a dead-end street. If you find yourself constantly needing to know the EXIF data of an image, or specific numerical values, then I do feel that you’re missing the beauty of photography. Photography isn’t about cameras or camera settings. I know, I know, quite ironic coming from a gear-head like myself. And perhaps also ironic since much of this blog is about photography technique.
So again, where am I headed with this post? While I will continue to mention the camera settings in blog posts here when relevant, I feel the need for this one specific post to refer future questions to, where I can explain that the specific numerical values of camera settings are usually not essential to understanding technique, nor the art of photography.
Perhaps this is also an affirmation that with 400+ posts which often deal with shutter speeds, apertures and ISO settings; that I’d love to continue expanding the range of topics.
newsletter / forum / workshops & seminars
If you find these articles interesting and of value, then you can help by
using these affiliate links to order equipment & other goodies. Thank you!