Beginners Guide to Digital Camera Settings

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1 2008 Beginners Guide to Digital Camera Settings Phil Maznyk & Matthew Mannell Kitchener Waterloo Aquarium Society 3/11/2008

2 Hi folks, well finally here is the beginners guide to some of the more basic camera settings most digital cameras have today. While this post may look complex, take your time and read it slowly with your camera in hand. Try each setting we talk about in this post and see what you get. Note: In my case I own a Fuji FinePix S700. When I first began to use the camera I did read the entire manual (yes it's true) but I still found the explanations were vague. I played around with a few settings but was far from happy. My good friend Matt aka GAF dropped over to see my new tank and camera. Well what took place in the next half hour changed the way I look at cameras. In short order GAF had me disable the auto setting which I thought was not too bad and get me onto the manual settings. Hearing him explain what each function did was exactly what I needed. Most digital cameras will all have some form of manual settings. They may not be exactly like mine but will probably be similar. The key is 'Don't be afraid to experiment'. The film costs nothing but your own time. That's the beauty of these cameras. Most of us will not get those stunning shots that GAF posts but we can likely come pretty close and given some time and understanding we can all post more clearer and detailed images of our tanks and fish. Below are the settings that GAF found seemed to work best on my own camera. In your cases, the greatest differences would be in the lighting. Specifically your tanks lighting. Text in bold red refers to my individual settings. *ISO-100* *F 6.3* *Flash -> Set to always on but diffused through a piece of magic tape.* *Shutter Speed ->200* *Regular Macro works great when the camera is within 6 inches of the tank.* *Camera set to -> Manual* *************** *ISO=100* A camera's ISO function sets the light sensitivity of the camera's image sensor (this is similar to the speed rating of FILM). ISO settings are often rated at 100, 200, or 400 but go as high as 800, 1600, and even 3200 on some advanced models. A lower ISO setting is used when capturing overly bright scenes, since it reduces the light sensitivity of the image sensor. This is ideal when shooting brightly lit tanks. A higher ISO setting is often used when shooting under dimmer conditions (cloudy days, indoors, etc.) since it increases the light sensitivity of the image sensor. As brightness in a scene is decreased the camera tries to compensate by slowing the shutter speed which in turn lets in more light but increases the risk of motion blur. To prevent this, you can increase the ISO or sensitivity of the camera, which allows the camera to select a higher shutter speed, thus reducing motion blur. Why not just use a higher ISO all the time? While using a higher ISO setting is often needed to capture images with reduced blur in lower light, it also increases the noise level of the image (In film this is often referred to as "grain"). A lower ISO setting is preferred whenever possible since it helps to reduce this noise or grain. ISO settings can also be used to help control the shutter speed of a camera while in automatic mode. In order to "freeze" motion in a scene, a camera needs to be able to use a higher shutter speed. By selecting a higher ISO you are allowing the camera to gather more light, this automatically forces the camera to select a higher (faster) shutter speed, which helps to reduce motion blur. With film, the ISO rating is considered a "speed" rating. ISO 100 would be considered a slow film, while ISO 400 would be considered a faster film. Digital cameras obviously don't use film thus the ISO number corresponds to the image sensor's light sensitivity. *ISO 100:* Great for bright sunny days, at the beach or on the snow and well lit tanks. Produces clean images that are great for enlargements. 2

3 *ISO 200:* Great for overcast daylight pictures (noise levels may increase, but in most cases not noticeably) *ISO 400:* Great for lower lighting conditions (indoors, night time) or when you need to capture faster moving subjects in lower lighting conditions. In many consumer cameras, ISO 400 can make photos look very noisy in dark areas of the picture. The reason a higher speed ISO helps you capture fast moving subjects is because a higher ISO makes the image sensor of the camera more light sensitive. This forces the camera to use a higher shutter speed to compensate for the extra brightness, which in turn helps to "freeze" movement in the captured frame. In aquarium photography the ISO will usually be set between ; due to the fact a flash is almost always used. If your camera doesn't have a flash then you would need to add as much extra light to the top of the tank as possible and set the ISO as high as possible. (Fish are just too fast moving to get a clear shot of without a flash in most cases) ISO:100 is recommended for the highest quality photos. Lower ISO's work great in brightly lit and sunny conditions like this landscape. 3

4 ISO:400 is useful in lower light situations like this sunset scene, or an indoor setting where a flash can't be used. 4

5 ISO:800 is great for very low light conditions, or lower light scenes that have some fast movement. This Elk Bull was shot on a very overcast day just before a rain storm. In order to freeze the action of his "bugle" call, an ISO of 800 was set and a faster shutter speed was used. (See shutter speed section below) 5

6 ISO:1600 is best used in dark situations or very low light scenes that have a lot of movement. For example, flashes are not allowed to be used inside some museums or at certain indoor events. The image below is an interior detail at the Crystal addition to the ROM, there was very low light and no flashes were permitted. The down side to higher ISO's like 1600 is that the image can be noisy. (Pixels in dark or flat coloured areas of the photo). It's difficult to see the "noise" on smaller jpegs but when blown up or enlarged it is very noticeable. 6

7 A section from the photo on the previous page blown up to 100%. Notice the graininess or pixels referred to as noise. *F-Stop or Aperture 6.3* In the dictionary the term Aperture has this definition: "a usually adjustable opening in an optical instrument, such as a camera or telescope that limits the amount of light passing through a lens." All lenses have an opening (Aperture) that allow light to pass through to the camera's image sensor (digital) or film. A larger aperture, (measured in fractions: i.e. f/3.5) allows more light to pass through while a smaller aperture (F/22) allows less light to pass through. The size of the aperture or its range is determined by the lens itself. If you look around the front of the lens on your camera you might see "f-stop" numbers listed. An example may be: F These number tell you how large the opening of the lens can get at wide angle (F3. and at the telephoto setting (F5.4). In this example "zooming in" will allow less light to pass through compared to shooting the same scene at wide angle. The smaller the F-stop (fraction) the larger the aperture (opening) of the lens can be. An F- stop of F2.0 lets in more light than a setting of F2.8, etc. A lens with a maximum F-Stop of F2.8, F2.0, or F1.8 is considered fast. Most consumer priced cameras usually offer a maximum opening size of F3.5 or F5.6 which are fine for normal everyday shooting but not great when trying to reduce motion blur in lower light situations (school plays, indoor sports). 7

8 A larger aperture (F/9.0 for example) helps to increase "depth-of-field" (the amount of area from front to back that stays in focus) which makes for nice portraits of our fish (head to tail all in focus). A lower aperture (F/2.8 for example) will decrease the distance that will be in focus. Maybe just the eye is in focus and the rest of the fish is "less sharp" or out of focus. For this brevis picture an aperture of F/2.8 was used. You can see that the depth of field (DoF) is so small that only a portion of the eye is in focus and the rest of the body becomes out of focus toward the background. 8

9 In this Multifasciatus photo an aperture of F/14 was used and you can see that there is a much larger area that is in focus (almost the eye to the tail). *Flash: Turned ON, but diffused with a piece of tape* The flash is an important tool in aquarium photography. A lot of light is required to bring out the intricate details and colors of our fish, as well as to freeze their motion in hopes of getting a nice sharp capture. The flash provides the light needed to achieve these objectives but can also cause problems when shooting through glass tanks. Quite often the glass will reflect the light from the flash back into the lens creating glare. Remember the law of reflection states that when a ray of light reflects off a surface, the angle of incidence is equal to the angle of reflection. Simply put, if you point your camera (with built in flash) parallel to the front of the fish tank the flash will bounce directly back into the lens. Try shooting at an angle that reflects the flash outside of the frame. Sometimes the flash may reflect into a corner of the frame and this can be cropped out later. Another problem with using flashes to shoot aquarium fish is that they can be too bright and sometimes wash out the subject's colors or reflect off the fish itself. This is common even with detachable flashes on more expensive DSLR cameras. 9

10 One thing that photographers use to 'soften' the harsh light from a flash is to employ a diffuser. This is simply a translucent piece of plastic or cloth that reduces the brightness and directness of the flash 'burst'. With point and shoot cameras the best way to make a diffuser is to cover the flash bulb with a piece of scotch tape. The bulb can be completely or partially covered until the desired effect is achieved. This will help reduce reflections and spread the light out over your entire subject, especially if your camera is being used within a few inches of the front of the tank. The best lighting for aquarium photos comes from a dedicated flash (or flashes) that are detachable from the camera (Commonly found on DSLR cameras). Usually placed at the top of the tank, or to the side of the camera at the front of the tank. These flashes are what help produce clear and beautiful images, more so than the lens or camera being used. Here is an image taken with a Sony 2.0 point and shoot camera. A piece of scotch tape was placed over the flash covering about 2/3's of the bulb. The camera was at a slight angle to the front glass and only 7 or 8 inches away from the tank. *Shutter Speed ->1/200* In order to capture blur-free "action" photographs (moving fish is one example); you'll need to make sure the camera is using a high shutter speed. Typically a shutter speed setting of 1/125th of a second (shutter speeds are measured in fractions) is considered a "high" shutter speed, although the setting will depend on the speed of the action that you want to 10

11 "freeze". Example: To capture a golf swing you might need to use a 1/500th speed shutter, while trying to capture kids playing basketball might only require a 1/125 or 1/250 shutter speed. Important: Less light gets through to the imager (or film) as the shutter speed is increased, thus it's very difficult to use higher shutter speeds in lower light situations. There are ways to improve the speed of the shutter in these situations. One is to allow more light to pass through the lens (aperture setting), the other is to increase the ISO sensitivity of the imager, or you can try to temporarily add more light to the top of your tank. When using a flash, the shutter speed is slightly less important. Most cameras will automatically set the shutter speed when the flash is enabled. A maximum shutter speed of 1/200th can be used when the flash is on, in order to sync the shutter with the burst of light coming from the flash. A shutter speed of 1/500th of a second was used to capture this seagull stretching its wings. A slower shutter would result in the wings being blurry. 11

12 For this crowd scene a slow shutter speed of 1/6th of a second was used to create a sense of movement. Notice how the faster moving subjects are significantly blurred. 12

13 *Macro - On.* Close-up or Macro photographs offer us a unique view of our world, especially when that world is pictured larger than life. Capturing small subjects such as insects, flowers, stamps, coins and our fish requires careful attention to the technical aspects of photography: focus, lighting, sharpness, depth-of-field, exposure and composition. Close-up photography also requires practice, due to the fact that slight camera adjustments are more exaggerated than they are when shooting subjects at normal distances. Here is an extreme close-up of a dragonfly's eye, shot with a dedicated macro lens, multiple flashes, and extension tubes (increases the magnification of a macro lens). Special thanks to Matt for his valuable input during this project. All photos property of Matthew Mannell (GAF) 13

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