Understanding Exposure – aperture and shutter speed

Okay, we’re doing things a little differently this month. There are already some AMAZING tutorials online about aperture and shutter speed (exposure), and these folks have explained everything better than I possibly could. So rather than reinvent the wheel, I’m linking ya’ll to a tutorial for this month.

Check out the tutorial at this link, and then we’re going to have an assignment for this month. I have created an album on the DD Pics group on FB, where you’ll all be able to upload your assignment pictures.


This tutorial is a great guide to understanding your camera, and how to change the settings to get the focus (and background blur) that you want, as well as how to properly expose your pictures so they look better straight out of camera. Let me know if you have any questions – the easiest way to do this is to post the question on the FB group but make sure to tag me when you post the question.

Just a couple of quick pointers that you can come back to after reading the tutorial. A low aperture is a small number (such as f/2.8). You use a low aperture when you want a small area of the picture to be in focus, or when you’re photographing a person (it creates a pretty, blurry background).

Smaller numbers such as f/2.8 are also called “wide” apertures, because the hole in the lens that lets in light is “wide” open to let in as much light as possible. It can be helpful to imagine your lens as an eye. When you’re in a dark room, your pupil gets really wide to let in a lot of light (just like a wide aperture such as f/2.8 lets in a lot of light). If you’re outside in the sun, your pupil gets really small (such as the small hole in the lens when you change your aperture to f/16) to prevent too much light from getting in.

You have to be really careful when shooting with a wide aperture (such as f/2.8) because the area of the picture that will be in focus is REALLY small – like a couple of inches. So if you’re shooting a closeup of a staged photo, and you use f/2.8, only the part of the picture that you’ve chosen to focus on will be in focus – everything else will get blurrier the further away or closer it is to the camera compared to what you chose to focus on.

Also, remember if you want to “freeze” motion, use a fast shutter speed such as 1/500th of a second. Just remember, when you use a fast shutter speed, you’re letting in less light, so you need to compensate for that with a wider aperture to let in more light.

Now, for the assignment. I want everyone to get out and really practice their exposures this month. I want you to photograph one staged photo indoors using good light, and one staged photo outdoors using good light (remember, open shade is always your friend). You can shoot in either aperture priority or manual, but really pay attention to how your pictures look and try to get the exposure correct in the camera – this will help your colors look brighter and more vibrant when we edit your pictures. I also want you to take two pictures of people – one indoors in good light, and one outdoors. Try shooting at a lower aperture to get a nice blurry background, but be careful and pay attention to getting the proper part of the picture in focus (with a portrait, you want to focus on the eyes so that they’re in focus; in a staged photo, you want to focus on the most important element in the picture so that it’s in focus).

Post all 4 pictures to the “aperture and shutter speed” album on the DD Pics group on FB. Make sure to post your best picture of each assignment with good lighting, focus, and proper exposure. Include your camera settings in the description (aperture, shutter speed, and ISO) because this will help me when I offer CC on the images.

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Q&A Tutorial

Hey ladies, remember me? I’m that photographer who’s supposed to be writing tutorials every month. Things got crazy for a while there, but hopefully I can get back into the swing of things starting with this tutorial.

I’m going to keep it simple – I’ll post the question, and then the answer right below that. 🙂 There won’t be any specific “homework” with this blog post – just read through the tutorial, comment on the FB page (making sure to tag me so I see the message) if you have any questions, and try to apply the answers I’ve given in your future photo shoots.

Ready? Okay, here we go!

I know we are supposed to take pictures outside to  use the natural light.  Exactly where outside would be the best place to “set up”?  I remember reading something about putting your object in the shade….at the EDGE of the shade and then standing back & snapping the pics.  Do I want the sun against my back SHINING on the object or do I want to be FACING the sun when I snap the picture? {Tara}

The ideal location to set up would be a covered porch or in the shade of a building. Just remember to look at what’s going on in the background so that you don’t have unattractive elements in the background distracting your viewer.

You want to place the objects your photographing so that the sun is behind you. So place the items near the edge of the shade (be careful when composing the image in the camera before clicking the shutter – you only want shade in the picture, not the bright sunny area outside of the shade). You’ll be standing with your back to the sun.

If I am staging a picture inside next to a window,   where exactly should I stand when I take the picture?  I would love a few tips on staging next to a window. {Tara}

If you look at the previous lighting tutorial I posted, you can get an idea of where to stand. If the window is really big and you want even lighting, you can stage your setup facing the window and you would stand with your back to the window. If you’re using the window for side lighting (you’ll probably want to use a reflector on the side opposite the window to provide fill light), then you would just stand in front of the items being photographed, with your profile parallel to the window.

What would your best tip be of taking pictures of people….sitting at a table?  How can we make that more interesting? {Tara}

There’s not really a whole lot you can do when photographing people at a table. Invest in a Lightscoop to help make the lighting more flattering, and have the photographer sit or crouch at your level to take the picture if you want a more interesting angle that makes the viewer feel like they’re sitting at the table with you.

What is the BIGGEST “no-no” in photography & how can we avoid it?{Tara}

There are so many different answers to this question, lol. In my opinion, for the type of photography y’all do for the blog, the biggest no-no is using the dinky little flash on your camera (whether you’re using a point and shoot or a dslr, that flash is just NOT going to give you good light). Also, really make sure you’re paying attention to what’s going on in the background of your photos – you don’t want trees sticking out of people’s heads, or a car, trash can, or toys in the background distracting the viewer.

Besides using natural light, thinking of interesting angles & creatively, and keeping our background in mind…..what other suggestions do you have that we can start implementing right off the bat? {Tara}

I honestly think it’s a good idea to master the basic steps of using natural light, using interesting angles, and really really paying attention to the background before moving onto other things. I would suggest practicing at least a couple of times a week – the more you practice, the more these basic steps will start to become second nature, and you won’t have to think so hard when taking pictures. That’s when you can start to get creative and have fun.

If you want to go beyond that, if you have a DSLR, I would highly recommend learning how to shoot in manual mode (manual exposure, not manual focus). There are lots of how-to’s online, and once you learn how to control your camera settings rather than relying on auto mode, you’ll start to see your pictures improve drastically.

If I am hoping to upgrade my camera, what camera would you recommend buying if I can’t currently afford a professional one?  OR what price range should I save for if I am looking to purchase a used professional camera?  I see a lot of these for sale online.  What brands are worthwhile and what accessories should I look for to come with it as far as lenses or other options go?  {Kiirsten}

I would recommend saving up for an entry level DSLR. Nikon and Canon are the two brands I would recommend (I use Nikon, but Canon makes good cameras, too). In addition to the camera, a 50mm f/1.8 lens is an inexpensive lens that is sharp and allows you to let in a lot of light in a dark room – it’s great for portraits AND staged photos. You can also purchase a Lightscoop to help when you need to use your on camera flash.

Be careful when buying used cameras – you never know how someone treated their equipment, and digital cameras are only good for a certain number of “clicks” before the image quality starts to deteriorate. Plus, if you buy used, you don’t have any sort of warranty to rely on if something goes wrong with the camera.

What backgrounds (since we’re trying to utilize natural light) are the best to use when taking a picture of an object outside?  What is classy and accessible that won’t be distracting? Do you have any tricks of the trade that make this easier without me having to move half my living room outside to stage an big area every time?  {Kiirsten}

You can try shooting in the grass if you shoot from above. I live in an area with lots of trees, so sometimes I stage my pictures under the trees with the pine needles and pine cones if I want a pretty, natural look.

An easy backdrop that you can take outside is to use two dining rooms chairs. Turn them so their back is facing you, and clamp a blanket to the backs of the chairs so that you don’t need somebody to hold the blanket up for you. Just be careful to avoid wrinkles in the blanket – with practice, you’ll find that some blankets work better than others for this setup.

I know the “flower icon” on my camera has something to do with focusing on a close object.  What is this and how do I take a good picture of something close in totally focus with the background objects/people slightly out of focus? Is this only possible with a professional camera? {Kiirsten}

The flower indicates the “macro” setting. This setting allows you to get REALLY close to an object and fill the entire frame of the picture with something small – the inside of a flower, a baby’s eyelashes, the wings on an insect, etc. The area of focus is really small (less than a millimeter), and this setting should only be used for extreme closeups – you probably don’t want to use it for most portraits or staged photos.

If you want a portrait where the subject is in focus but the background is blurry, you need a camera that will allow you to change the aperture. If you can change the aperture, you want to use a really small number (on my camera with my 50mm lens, I tend to shoot most of my portraits between f/2.5 and f/2.8 – for larger groups I’ll shoot with an aperture between 3.5 to 5.6).

What photoshop program is the best?  If I’m hoping to teach myself over time, other than online tutorials, how can I most efficiently get better at photoshop? {Kiirsten}

Photoshop CS is the industry standard, but it’s pretty dang expensive. Photoshop Elements is quite a bit less expensive, and is a great program to learn when you’re just starting out. It doesn’t have quite as many bells and whistles as the full version of Photoshop, but unless you’re planning on running a professional photography business, you’ll probably never miss any of the extra features.

Scott Kelby writes some great, easy to follow books about Photoshop and Elements – I used his books to teach myself Photoshop, and they’re a great place to start. There are also classes taught online – MCP Actions teaches some classes, and I think the Clickin’ Moms forum offers monthly Photoshop classes as well. It’s definitely a worthwhile investment to consider, because it will save you a lot of time and trouble trying to teach yourself the program. 🙂

I know props are an important part of good photos.  How do you come up with props (including what you do for backgrounds) and what type of styles do you think are flattering for what we do?  My past photos have pathetic props, and I don’t have the “vision” of what things would make the picture look classy/beautiful vs. realistic/plain.  {Kiirsten}

Vintage props are really trendy these days. You can find great vintage items (suitcases, chairs, etc) at antique stores, flea markets, and on Craigslist – or raid your grandmother’s attic if you can. 😉

Look for items with texture – if you’re photographing a simple setup, use a pretty antique quilt as a backdrop. Or layer an antique lace tablecloth over a solid color blanket.

If I’m photographing a small setup, I’ll get in really close and shoot it on an antique chair – the texture in the wood adds visual interest. I’ll make sure to get the backdrop nice and blurry so that it’s not immediately obvious that I’m shooting the objects on a chair.

There are several companies these days that sell affordable paper, vinyl, and canvas backdrops. They have lots of faux wood looks that are perfect for product photography. My favorites are Lemondrops, Bad Sass Backdrops, and Silver Lining Backdrops. I own backdrops from all three companies, and love all of them.

Because of how my house sits, I never have good light! If I take most of my pictures outside, I have a very limited background, very limited props, etc. So how to I make my pictures the most interesting with a very limited supply of items/background without having to go out and buy things specifically for these pictures or driving all over town to make them look amazing? {Kari}

I would strongly recommend purchasing at least one backdrop or a roll of seamless backdrop paper. It’s a small investment up front, but it will have a HUGE impact on the quality of your photos. It will allow you to shoot outside where your light is good without having to worry about what’s REALLY in the background behind the backdrop. 😉

I want my big date pictures to look as amazing as they can, but we usually can only date in the evenings so I know the lighting is really bad..any suggestions? I’m also really bad at taking pictures “in the moment” so they all look very staged. Any suggestions for action pictures? {Kari}

If you have a DSLR, buy a Lightscoop. It will help your lighting immensely. For action pictures, it just takes practice. Try to be inconspicuous and take pictures when people aren’t paying attention to the camera.

What is your process for staging pictures? How do you make them look interesting? {Kari}

When staging pictures, the first thing I do is gather up the items to be photographed. If I’m only photographing 1 or 2 items, I’ll get in really close and shoot from different angles until I get an image that I love.

For photographing groupings of items, I think about the backdrop first. Once I find a background and lighting that works, I’ll start positioning the items that will be photographed. I like to use lots of levels and/or placing items in front of and behind each other to add visual interest. From there, I just start shooting at different angles until I get the picture that I like.

My question is similar to Kari’s. I try to take as many photos for our Big Dates before hand in daylight {the invite, food, set-up, etc.) but the dates are in the evening and we have NO overhead light in our family room. {Gotta love renting in the Mid-west!} So basically we have NO light, and my pictures of the couples on the date (if it is a group date) or the activities we do look horrible. I only have a pop-up flash…and we all know those do nothing. So what do I do? Is their anything I can do to improve these pictures besides buying a flash? {I do have a 50 mm 1.4 lens…so I can do SOME low light, but not much.} Help! {Erika}

Get a Lightscoop, shoot with your 50/1.4, and bump up your ISO a bit. Keep your shutter speed at 1/60th of a second (don’t go below that or you’ll get blurry pictures from camera shake)  to let in some ambient light and prevent black backgrounds.

I’d also like any other suggestions for improving photos in Photoshop. I have the newest version and always like ideas for things I can do to improve there. For example, how to brighten portions of a photo. Like if the background is bright, but the subjects faces are shaded. How do I only lighten them? {Erika}

Go to MCP Actions website, and download her Touch of Light/Touch of Darkness action. If you know how to use layer masks , you can “paint in” the light and darkness you want in different areas of the photo. I can give you PS tips, but it might be easier if we chat over the phone or at least in a live chat on Facebook. 🙂

What is the best thing you can use to help with creating a good backdrop? Wrapping paper, blankets? What do you suggest? (Corie)  My other questions have already been asked…

My best recommendation for backdrops are seamless paper or paper or vinyl backdrops. Blankets can work, but you need solid colors with no texture, and you need to be very careful to avoid distracting wrinkles. Wrapping paper can be problematic because you can get a lot of glare on the backdrop in the wrong lighting. Craft paper (I think you can buy a roll at Walmart) works well in a pinch.

My camera is currently half broken. I say half because it will take pictures, I just can’t see what it’s taking. The screen is broken on the back and it doesn’t have a hole to look through to capture the image. So I’m pretty much just taking blind pictures and don’t know what I have until I get them uploaded. With that said, Is my camera fixable?? Or is just what I’m going to make due with until we are able to purchase a new one?? (lisa)

I would recommend taking your camera to a local camera store (Pictureline is great if you’re in UT). They can take a look at your camera and tell you if it’s fixable. A lot of times though, it’s going to be cheaper to just buy a new camera. 😦

When is the flash on my camera my friend? {Wendy}

In my humble opinion, the flash on your camera is never going to be your friend unless you can find a way to bounce it. Straight on, it will always cause flat light and unflattering shadows. Your pictures will look washed out.

The ONLY time I would use the flash is if you’re photographing in full sun with absolutely no option to move the subject into the shade. If you can get close enough to your subject, it will help to fill in the black holes where their eyes should be. But given the choice, I would move my subject into the shade where the light is a million times more flattering.

Do you like the Canon T2i? Is it too much camera for someone who is a beginner and doesn’t know much? Also, which lens’ do you recommend using to start? {Wendy}

Unfortunately, I don’t know much about Canon cameras since I shoot Nikon. You can find very accurate and helpful reviews at http://www.kenrockwell.com. My recommendation for a beginner lens is the 50mm f/1.8.

I want to know what kinds of fabric to look for and/or avoid when using it for a background.  I feel like I don’t have cute blankets, but have tons of fabric (I like to sew), yet a lot of it’s really bright and demanding to the eye.  Do I avoid stuff like that?  What do you suggest? {Cami}

I would go to a fabric store and purchase something wide, thick, and solid in color. A good jersey knit, or even felt or possibly fleece. Or keep it really simple and invest in a roll of seamless paper.

The rest of my questions have been asked already.  I guess the only thing I could add would be putting together interesting back ground stuff (which was also hit on above).  I do NOT have a creative eye and am NOT decorator so I have trouble seeing what would be good to put together.  Any suggestions? {Cami}

Just keep it simple, create different levels, and shoot from lots of different angles. Don’t be afraid to experiment, and shoot lots of frames so that you end up with something usable. 🙂


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Tutorial #1 – Lighting

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Our first tutorial will be about lighting. When it comes to photography, proper lighting is your best friend. Unfortunately, bad lighting can be your worst enemy. You can have a beautiful setting and gorgeous items or people to photograph, but … Continue reading

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Our “1st” Post…..

Our NEW “Photography Tutorials & Tips” Blog!  We are excited to welcome Shallyse & Abbey to our team!  We can’t wait to learn anything and everything you gals can teach us!  🙂

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