Matthew & Erin

We took Matthew and Erin Marshall out to Crystal Cove for a fun beach photo shoot! 


Exposure Basics

The next thing I will cover is


If you're just starting out in photography, you may not understand what exactly this means. I'm going to try to cover this with a lot of detail, yet keep it as simple as I can! :)

Basically, exposure is how long your sensor (or film) is EXPOSED to the light coming in through the lens (TTL). Your exposure will control how light or dark your shot will be. Simple, right?

Not exactly... There's a lot that goes into getting the proper exposure. If you don't understand how to read the meter in your camera, you won't have much success getting proper exposures. So, let's try and figure that meter out!

This is what you will see looking through your viewfinder:


Your meter may be flipped in the other direction, but the reasoning remains the same. 

So, how do you use this thing?! I know it looks confusing, but bear with me.

Basically what you want to do to get a proper exposure is get your shot within the "Proper Exposure" bars I have listed above. Easy right? If you are towards the "+" side of the meter, you will be OVER exposed. This means your sensor has been EXPOSED too long to the light, and the resulting image will be brighter than an optimum exposure. Go too far to the "-" side of the meter and the opposite will happen. Your photo will be too dark. You want to aim for the center. Simple! But wait.... There's more...

So now you understand what you're aiming for, right? Aim for the center. But, what if you're aiming for the center and your photo still isn't coming out properly? What if it's still coming out too dark or too light? This is where METERING comes in.

Your camera is more than likely capable of 3 separate metering modes: Spot metering, Center Weighted Metering, and Matrix Metering. Here is what they look like:







If you look at them, you can tell what they are going to do for you. Basically you are telling the meter where you want it to set your exposure from. If you want to expose for a whole scene, you will want to use the MATRIX metering mode. If you want to expose for the center of the scene, you will use the CENTER WEIGHTED metering mode. Finally, if you want to measure for a single spot.... yeah... SPOT metering.

Pretty easy, huh?

Why do they have separate metering modes? What difference does it make?! Let me show you.

Say you have a scene that is backlight by the sun. Example here:


This is where those metering modes come into play. Nice brightly lit backgrounds can be pretty tough to meter for, so going into the scene, you need to know which way you'll be metering. What do you think you would use here?

Spot metering would be the right choice here. Why? Because if you think about it, you aren't trying to expose for the entire scene here. You're trying to expose for your subject. In this case, these two in the photo. Let me show you what it would look like if I used MATRIX METERING here:


Why do you think that happened?

The meter is trying to give you the proper exposure for the entire shot. If it has to meter the sun behind your subject, it's going to tell you to under expose your subject in order to get the OVERALL exposure to an accurate exposure. 

Hopefully that gives you an idea of the light meter. If not, go back through it, then go take some test shots and play around with the settings. You'll get it soon enough! 

I went over the light meter before this next part because I feel you should understand how to adjust your exposure before you learn what you're actually changing. Enter the EXPOSURE TRIANGLE!


Yeah, it is a little confusing, huh? We'll get there, I promise!

The exposure triangle covers the 3 elements of exposure: Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO.

Each one will affect your exposure in a different way, and it is IMPERATIVE you understand how.

Let's start with your aperture. 

Aperture is controlled by the front dial on the camera (in front of the shutter release button on most every DSLR). Turn it one way, aperture goes up. Turn it the other way, aperture goes down. Easy. But what IS aperture?

Aperture controls the AMOUNT of light that is allowed to hit the sensor. Measured in F-stops indicating the size of the opening of the blades, the lower the f number, the more light you let in. Higher numbers let less light in. 

So, when your meter is reading under exposed, you're set at aperture value f/7.1, what could you do with your aperture to expose properly? 

You could raise your aperture! Maybe try f/5.6 or f/4. Just keep dialing until your meter reads 0 like the diagram above.

So what if you did that? What if you reached your lens's largest aperture (the lowest number) and it's still reading under exposed. Well, that's why it's called the exposure TRIANGLE. We're going to have to adjust something else.

Just a side note, it is wise to adjust ONE part of the triangle at a time. We'll get into this more later, but I want to make sure I get this in. If you adjust all three at once, it will be tough to get a correct exposure.

Let's try adjusting the SHUTTER SPEED.

The shutter speed is the length of time your shutter is open allowing light to pass through to the sensor.

The longer the shutter is open, the more light will hit the sensor. More light means a brighter image. Conversely, the shorter the shutter speed, the less light will hit the sensor. Less light, darker shot. Easy as that.

Here's the trick though... your aperture and shutter speed affect more than just those key aspects of exposure. 

Your aperture also controls the DEPTH OF FIELD or the section of your shot that will be in focus. To get a larger depth of field, you will want a smaller aperture (larger number). If you want a smaller depth of field, you're going to want a larger aperture (smaller number). Smaller depths of field are nice to get blown out backgrounds like this:


See how the background is blown out? If you want shots like this, you will want to invest in fast glass. Aperture values of f/1.2 on the ultra fast end to about f/4 which is still fast enough to get a shallow depth of field. BTW - We call this "fast glass" because, using the exposure triangle, if we are able to raise our aperture to let tons of light in, we are able to then raise our shutter speed to "faster" speeds and still get proper exosures.

What is the benefit of that? Isn't 1/40 of a second like LIGHT SPEED? 

Yes, it's super fast! But not to photographers!

You will learn soon enough that you will not be able to freeze motion in low-light conditions. You'll also learn that low-light means an average room in your house with the lights on at night... but we'll get there later.

This is where the fast lenses come in handy. Say you're still dealing with a situation like the one above... you've raised your aperture to its max value, now you have to adjust something else. Shutter speed. So now we raise our shutter speed so our meter reads 0 for a correct exposure.

Now our exposure is finally correct and the shot is going to be perfect! Ehh, not yet. Your subject is moving a little. Maybe its a flower you're shooting and it's moving in the breeze. That 1/40 of a second isn't going to cut it! Remember this is a triangle though... Enter ISO.

ISO controls the sensor's SENSITIVITY to light. The lower your ISO is set, the less sensitive the sensor is to light. The higher the ISO, the higher the sensitivity. This is a fairly simple concept so let's apply it to our shooting scenario.

These are our settings at the moment... Our aperture is set to a fairly fast f/4, shutter speed set to 1/40 of a second and our ISO set to most camera's base setting of ISO 100. 

I mentioned before our subject is moving. 1/40 of a second just isn't fast enough to freeze that motion and get a nice, crisp, accurately exposed shot.

What do we do here? We've maxed out 2 of the 3 aspects of our triangle.

We're going to be raising our ISO, our sensor's SENSITIVITY to the light coming in.

The downfall of raising ISO is that with all that sensitivity, you are introducing noise and grain into the image. Lower end cameras don't handle ISO increases that well, so this should be the last thing you change if you're using a lower end model. 

Let me be clear however, GRAIN is not a bad thing. You can still have a great shot and have grain at the same time. Let me show you:


Say we raise our ISO to 400. That is 2 total stops of light we shifted up. I'll get into 'f-stops' in another tutorial, in-depth, but a short explanation is an f-stop increase doubles your light reaching the sensor. 

Here's an example:

You're at ISO 100 and you shift up to 200. You doubled your ISO, therefore you doubled your light. What would one more stop up be? 

ISO 400. See how that is a total of 2 stops up?

Anyway, in our situation our settings are now f/4 1/40 and ISO 400.

Since our exposure was properly set before we bumped the ISO, now we will be over exposed by 2 stops because we raised the sensitivity by 2 stops. Your shutter speeds also work in 'stops'. Double the speed to increase a stop exactly like ISO. 

So we're at 1/40 of a second. Let's go up 1 stop to 1/80 of a second. Up one more to 1/160 of a second. This will now give us a proper exposure, only this time we have a shutter speed of 1/160!

THAT will freeze the flower for us!

The triangle all works together. If something goes up 1 stop, something has to come down 1 stop to give you the same exposure.

Keep toying with it and you will end up getting it. Just like anything, the more you do it, the better you will get! Don't give up! 

Composition: The Basics

I’m going to be starting a small “How-To” blog here because more and more people are asking for help and advice on getting into photography; be it for personal shots of kids and parties, to maybe starting the long, arduous journey into professional photography. These will just be the basics to get you going, but they will be a helpful reminder to shooters at any level. 

Lets get started!


First things first… In order to start taking great photos, you need to learn great composition. Composition is basically just the framing of your subject in your shot (it goes way beyond that, but we won't get into that yet!). 

1) The first tip I will give that will be the most helpful, and be with you the longest, is the RULE OF THIRDS.

So, what does that mean?

Basically, the rule of thirds takes your frame and divides it into 9 equally sized rectangles within the frame. Here is an example of what I mean:


As you can see, I've divided the image into the 9 rectangles mentioned above by "drawing" 2 lines vertically and 2 horizontally on the 1/3 and 2/3 lines respectively. Notice how my subject's eye is crossed by a vertical line and a horizontal line? That's no accident! You will want to try to start seeing this way. Before you take the shot, try and line your subject up to where it will intersect one of the black circles I've added in the above image. 

Taking your shots like this will remove the "snapshot" look to the photos you're probably not so happy with. You have to start doing this in your camera and not cropping in post processing! Learn the fundamentals, the very basics, and you WILL get the great shots you want!

2) That leads me to my second tip: CROPPING.

Now, I know what you might be thinking... "Hey, didn't you just say not to crop in post processing?"

YES! Cropping in post degrades the quality of the photo and you, often times, can avoid it! The cropping Im talking about here is cropping in the camera. Use the zoom on your lens, or if you're using a prime, zoom with your feet. Get ONLY what you WANT in the frame. Try to get rid of distracting elements to the photo. Here's an example of what I'm trying to say:


Isn't she cute? What I did here was zoom in with a longer, telephoto lens (in this case my 70-200 f/2.8). What this does is "compresses the background" and takes out the unwanted elements in the frame.

 The photo below shows that unwanted but super cute element. If I hadn't shot with the longer telephoto lens and went with, say, a 50mm or something wider, we would've seen legs and a tutu in the top left corner of the shot! 

Small things like this can ruin a shot. And again, you don't want to crop this in post, because it will degrade the quality of the photo.


Here is one more example of cropping at the same birthday party:


Imagine if I had the whole plate in there... and the napkins, and the plastic forks, and the dirty plate with cake next to it. You get the idea. Cropping in camera is essential. Keep working at it. It will become second nature!

3) Now lets look at one of my personal favorites: LAYERING.

Sometimes called depth, layering is basically just that... Taking your subject and framing them between out of focus elements in the photo. Here is an example:


When you take your subject and you layer them with an out of focus element in the foreground and you couple that with a nicely blown out background, you can get a nice, almost 3D look and feel to the image. This is more of a creative composition style rather than a fundamental, but it is useful even at the very beginning of your journey! Here is another example of layering:


Layering will also help draw your eye in on your subject. It is easiest to achieve layering by using a fast aperture lens. We're talking f/1.2 all the way to about f/4. Anything beyond that, you will still get the foreground blown out, but the background will not be as buttery smooth as you would like.

4) Angles. Angles play an important role in composition. Not only does your angle to your subject change the viewer's perspective, you also can change the look of your subject. Using unique angles is quite subjective. Theres not really a right or wrong when it comes to using them, but there is a looks good and "OMG I don't have 3 chins!" :)

Sometimes, when you're working with a subject that is low to the ground you may want to get down there with them. Changing your perspective can open up unlimited new photo opportunities! I stand 6' 4" tall, so I am almost always getting lower and closer to my subjects angle. Here's an example of what I'm talking about:


I am taller than everyone in that photo. Think about what that would look like had I shot DOWN on the subject. You get a very different shot! Now, that's not to say getting a downward angle is always wrong. Sometimes it adds to that photo-journalistic feel to the shot. Example:


You can see here I am taking an angle from above the subject, downward. Shooting this way is nice for portraits as well because it can remove the double chins you may get from shooting at an upward angle. This will also help to sharpen the jawline on male figures. 

So, using angles is entirely up to you as far as how you want to use them. Try and think of how you're making your subject look. Flattering? Just experiment and you will develop your own personal style!

Composition is a fundamental element in photography. Every single photo must be composed. Why not do it well? There is no right or wrong, however, only guidelines. Sometimes you break all the rules, and it just works! Gaining an understanding and mastery of composition will not only make your photos noticeably better, you will have more fun shooting! The challenge to nail the shot is one of the things I look forward to in every shoot I do. 

Practice, practice, practice. That is the only way you will ever get better. There is no quick path to better photos. You need to shoot to get better! And I promise, if you follow these fundamentals, you will!

And one more thing... Don't get down on yourself if you aren't seeing improvement as quickly as you'd like. As Henri Cartier-Bresson put it so eloquently, “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”

How many have YOU taken?