Snapshots to Photographs - Dial In Your Subject

April 02, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

If you are using a camera instead of a camera-phone, then it probably has some settings that you may have wondered about. A quick turn of a dial can create some nice effects and improve your shots if you know a little about what they do.  What can the different modes do?  I’ll show you in just a minute but let me explain a couple points about how it works.

Recall from my last article that the lens of your camera works like the iris of your eye.  As the camera’s aperture (opening in the lens) widens it lets in more light and more of the foreground and background is blurred and as it narrows it lets in less light but more of the foreground and background is clear and focused.  The “mode” settings tell your camera how you want to handle different situations and allow you to create these effects in your photo.  If you use a DSLR you probably have both the mode settings and manual controls to select the f-stop, shutter speed, and ISO.

The mode settings may be a part of the menu of controls or could appear on an actual dial on the camera.  The modes are often disguised in a variety of ways with icons like a flower for close up photos (sometimes called “macro”), a mountain for landscape photos, head and shoulders outline for “normal” shots, and so on.  The menu may also allow you to select your ISO setting to increase the camera’s sensitivity for low light situations.  Check the manual that came with your camera or do a little exploring through the dials and menus. 

Occasionally you get a few extra modes and I’ll get the “Sport” setting (usually a stick figure of a runner) out of the way first.  This one causes the camera to use a fast shutter speed to freeze fast moving subjects so they aren’t blurred. The camera will automatically open the aperture wide to have the correct exposure and cause the things that are very close and very far away to be unfocused.  “Landscape” or “Mountain” setting works in the opposite way and adjusts the aperture (size of the lens opening) to make objects both close and far away appear sharp and in focus and lengthens the shutter speed to provide enough light for a correct exposure .  This could cause moving objects such as leaves moving in a breeze to be blurred

If you are interested in testing this, you can see the effects your camera can create by laying a newspaper down on the floor and taking a picture in each mode while focusing across the page from one side.  You ought to be able to see how the lines of text are blurred up close, clear in the middle, and blurred at the back of the photo. 

OK, now here is an example from my garden. It isn't a very pretty flower but it demonstrates my point.  Would you like to know how to create a photo like the one below?

I propped a piece of cardboard behind that lily and used the “flower” or “macro” setting so the ridges of the cardboard are out of focus and basically invisible.  Yes, I used a DSLR but you can do this with the mode setting on your point-n-shoot.

In fact, if you prefer, you can use the settings to blur the background items without the cardboard, but the effect will depend on how your camera’s mode is set.  If you have a DSLR, you may want to experiment with the manual settings to create the effects in the next couple of photos:

F-stop = 9, or the “portrait” setting

 

f-stop = 4, or the “flower” (macro) setting

 

Go out and experiment with your settings and you can come up with all kinds of ways to make your subject pop out for your viewer. 

Good luck and happy shooting!


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