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The Craft of Photography

by Kyle Echols.

Aperture, Shutter Speed, and Film Speed or Sensor Sensitivity (ISO).

The craft of photography can be summed up as the mastery of these three variables. The art of photography, of course, is much more, but the craft of determining the appropriate settings of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to achieve the desired exposure will enable your artistic creativity to flourish in ways you may not have previously considered and without the use of image manipulation software, such as Photoshop.

Don't get me wrong, I think Photoshop and other tools are great for achieving effects and exposures not possible in the camera alone, such as the blending of multiple photographs to achieve the High Dynamic Range (HDR). However, for most of my photography, I strive to get the exposure exactly like I want it in the camera at the time I make the photograph rather than spending the time fixing it in Photoshop. In fact, the photos of which I am most proud are those that I can proudly proclaim are "completely un-retouched."

I find there are several advantages to investing the time necessary to truly understand the relationship of aperture to Depth-of-Field (DOF) and shutter speed to motion blur. To do this, however, you will have to switch your camera out of "Green" mode (Full Auto). And no, the "P" mode does NOT stand for Professional. I suggest you start with Aperture-priority mode as most modern camera's have a much wider range of shutter speeds than most lenses do apertures so you're more likely to achieve reasonable exposures in this mode as you experiment with various apertures.

The wonderful advantage that digital presents us with in the form of adjustable ISO for each shot versus a fixed value for an entire roll of film opens up additional opportunities to ensure that your exposure exactly matches your vision for each frame. Of course, understanding the strengths and limitations of your camera in regards to high ISO noise is critical as you adjust it to compensate for low light situations. Many cameras have a "High ISO Noise Reduction" feature that doesn't actually kick in until the ISO is set to a certain threshold. Consult your manual to find out what this threshold is so you don't get frustrated like I did when photos I shot at ISO 560 were noisier than those set at ISO 800. My camera's High ISO Noise Reduction threshold is ISO 800.

The fourth variable that you will quickly want to understand and master is White Balance. If you never adjust your White Balance or have it set to Auto, I'm sure you've noticed, photos made in rooms with fluorescent lights have a greenish cast and those shot indoors with incandescent lights have a yellow cast compared to those shot outdoors. Most modern cameras do a pretty good job of guessing a good White Balance setting if you leave it on Auto White Balance, but if you set it to the proper setting for each shot, you'll be surprised how much better they turn out.

And finally, without getting into the heated debate about whether it is "better" to shoot in RAW or not, I will simply say that I shoot in RAW in all circumstances that the photographs are important and I am not simply testing my photographic craft skills. The flexibility that the RAW format provides when used in conjunction with a powerful software program like Capture NX (for Nikon Cameras) or a similar program for Canons far outweighs, for me, the cost of being able to fit fewer pictures on a memory card or on my computer hard drives. If you use Nikon cameras and don't have Capture NX yet, please check it out. Key words ... non-destructive editing and access to many camera settings after the fact (including white balance)!

In closing, if you want to improve your photographic craft skills, study, experiment, evaluate, adjust, and practice, Practice, PRACTICE!

Happy Shooting.

- Kyle

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