I get a lot of questions about my camera and the settings I use. I thought it would be fun to make a list of 10 things I’ve learned along the way to get better pictures.
In the steps below I am assuming you have studied up a bit and know what they are and where to find these settings on your camera: ISO, f-stop (aperture), white balance, light meter, shutter speed. If not, you may need to get out that little manual that came with your camera. And read this book. This is a really good website too.
I love outside pictures! It is so much easier for me to get nice pictures if I am outside. Natural light is my friend.
- Turn your camera to Manual mode and make sure the flash is off.
- Adjust your ISO. If I am out in full sunlight (or really bright), I would put my ISO at 100. If it is kinda cloudy or shady to 200. Deep shade or getting dark out – 400. Any higher I would probably be inside.
- Adjust your white balance. I usually put mine on sunlight or shady option. You can set your own white balance – but I just use one of the settings on the camera.
- Adjust your F-stop (Aperture). I usually shoot between a 1.8 (that’s as low as my lens goes) to a 2.8. That is just preference. If I am doing a close up of something or someone I am at 1.8 (this will leave the background blurry and the subject standout). If I am trying to get a bigger picture (more things, people, etc) then I will go up to 2.8. If it is a big group of people I will adjust the f-stop higher to make sure that people don’t end up blurry. A good tip – regarding taking pictures of groups of people – adjust your f-stop to a number one higher than the number of people you are shooting. So if you are shooting 3 people have your f-stop up to 4, or 4 people adjust your f-stop to 5, etc. Just remember, a lower f-stop will eave that nice fuzzy back ground look, but if your subject is too big, too wide or too far away it could leave your subject(s) fuzzy if the f-stop is too low.
- I use my light meter to help me adjust my shutter speed. I can see my light meter as I look in the viewfinder of my camera. Adjust the shutter speed up or down so that when you look at your light meter – it is adjusted right in the middle. I tend to have it a little bit to the right of the middle (1 stop up) – because I like my pictures a little over exposed (lighter). If you are outside then you shouldn’t have much issues getting light into your camera…but you don’t want too much light! If you aren’t sure where to start with you shutter speed put your camera on AV mode and then see where the camera puts the shutter speed at and start at that point – you can then switch to manual and adjust up or down as you want.
- To avoid fuzzy photos – keep your shutter speed above the focal length of your lens. So if I am shooting with my 50 mm – I really don’t want my shutter speed to go below 1/50. And actually, I don’t like it to go under 1/ 100 – personal preference.
- Remember that three things are letting light into the camera. ISO, f-stop and shutter speed. So when I shoot, I can guess my ISO and f-stop based on the environment and what I am shooting. When I adjust my shutter speed – if I can’t get the light meter in the middle while keeping an acceptable shutter speed (for my lens above 1/50). Then I need to readjust the ISO and/or f-stop. Adjusting the ISO to a higher number will let more light into the camera (or a lower number less light). Adjusting the f-stop to a lower number will also let more light into the camera (or a higher number less light). I know to re-adjust the ISO and f-stop and then go back to my shutter speed and light meter. It’s a matter of adjusting these three things – until I have the right combination of settings to produce the best picture.
- The best time to shoot outside is early in the morning or right before sunset. Look for the golden light. During the middle of the day (unless it is cloudy) will cause harsh shadows and squinty eyes.
- If you can – have your subject facing the sunlight – but not blinding them! Although sunlight behind your subject can make for some fun pictures too. Just be aware of the sunglight, what angle it is coming at and set your camera to adjust to it. Just moving to a different angle may cause the need to adjust settings on the camera. Different angles = different light, even outside.
- Remember to adjust your camera when going from inside to outside! I get caught on this a lot.
50 mm f/2.8 ISO 400 1/60
So what could I have done better? My shutter speed was at 1/60 and my subject is moving. This should have told me to adjust. What I could have done, is adjust my f-stop down a bit and adjust my shutter speed up. I also could have adjusted my ISO up to 800. Although I feel like 800 is high for being outside.
50 mm f/2.8 ISO 400 1/125
The picture above is the same location – and almost the same settings. But less blurry. My subject is standing still which helps. But even though I didn’t adjust my f-stop or ISO, from the previous shot – I was able to get my shutter speed up to above 1/100. I did this by just adjusting myself (moving my body). I might have been in a shadow before or the light wasn’t getting into my camera where I was standing.
I think I got lucky on the picture above. First – shooting at f-stop 2.8, I was risking that some of this picture would be blurry. Since I am further away from my subject(s) and taking a picture of a lot of people – to be safe I might wanted to adjust the f-stop up to a higher number. Also, look at my shutter speed. I know that once I get down past 1/100 I am also taking a risk for a blurry picture. If I would have adjusted my f-stop up my shutter speed would need probably go down (to let in more light). I wouldn’t want my shutter speed to go down since I am already lower than 1/100. So I could have pushed my ISO to 400 (adding more light) and adjusted the f-stop and shutter speed to accommodate. I think I got lucky with this shot – that it didn’t turn out blurry. When I notice my shutter speed is below 1/100 and I can’t do anything about it ( I am not willing to move f-stop or ISO) , I hold my breath and try not to move – low shutter speeds work better if you have a tri-pod and not a moving/breathing body holding the camera.
In the picture above – you can see my f-stop is at 2.8 (I told you I like to linger at this number). ISO 100 (sunny day) and shutter speed 1/400. How did I know my shutter speed needed to be at 1/400? Looked at the light meter and I adjusted shutter speed until that little line sits right in the middle (or for me one stop up a little to the right, because I like a little more light to my pics).
The picture above was taken with my kit lens on a tripod. You can see my f-stop is a bit higher 5.0. My ISO at 200 – although it could have probably gone to 100 because we are sitting in the bright sunlight. And shutter speed 1/1600. This probably wasn’t the most ideal place for a picture – because we had that harsh shadow line of the house right above our heads. It was taken at nearly noon when the sun was the highest point in the sky – harsh shadows and squinty eyes.
Above is an example of my f-stop at the lowest my lens will go 1.8. You can see that the background is very blurry and the only thing that stands out is my subject. I like to take pictures like this.
Above is an example of that golden light – when the sun was lower in the sky. I wanted to show that dreamy sun look in the picture. I probably didn’t need my f-stop to be so low – since I wasn’t close up. And probably why my shutter speed was at 1/1600 since I was letting so much light into the camera. But I liked the way it turned out.
Another picture with that wonderful golden sunglight. I had my f-stop at 2.8 and thus my shutter speed was adjusted at 1/400 lower than the last shot but similar affect.
Here is one (above) that turned out well considering I forgot to re-adjust my settings when I came outside. My ISO is set for 1600! Um – I wouldn’t normally set an outside picture at 1600 ISO. So tons of light was pouring in to my camera. Thus my shutter speed is at 1/4000 to compensate, which is technically the highest number it can go up to. Remember that I adjusted my shutter right before I took the picture – I look for the light meter and adjust. I needed to pay more attention to my ISO – but the picture is one of my favorites so it worked.
I like the picture above because you can see the water shooting right in Ethan’s face. And if you look close all the water droplets coming out.
Same settings on this one (above).
Notice in this one, Zooey is in focus and the boys are blurry in the background. I wanted it that way – to keep her and those baby legs the focus. I could have adjusted the f-stop up to have the boys more in focus and the picture would have had a different feel to it.
So that is just a little example of how I adjust my camera when shooting outside. I would say that I like light, an organic-look, lots of natural light type pictures. That is just my style. I like to shoot with my lens wide open and typically use f-stop of 2.8. Again just my personal style. Everyone has what fits them – what they like. By playing with your camera you will find your own style.
You can see that I am learning. Sometimes I get the shot and sometimes I don’t – and sometimes I just get lucky.
Questions and/or comments? I would love to hear them.