Category Archives: Tips and Tutorials

What is ISO? How to use your DSLR in Manual Mode

It’s time to take that step into putting your camera into full manual! This is the 3rd and final step to putting your camera into manual mode and taking complete creative control of your images. If you haven’t read my first 2 steps, read step 1 about Aperture and Aperture Priority here and about Shutter Speed and Shutter Priority here.

Generally, you want to keep your ISO fixed at the lowest possible setting. Most entry level cameras have a minimum ISO setting of 100. When you raise your ISO, you gradually begin to introduce grain or “noise” in your photo, which is why its best to keep it as low as possible. Most of these entry level cameras can perform well at ISO values up to 800 or 1000 before the noise is really noticeable.

So when do you need to change it? Any low light situation is when you can think about changing it. Lets go over a couple scenarios.

Lets say you go out and want to shoot a landscape at sunrise and you forgot your tripod. These are low light conditions that can be challenging if you don’t know how to adjust ISO. So since you now have to hand-hold your camera, your shutter speed needs to be no slower than 1/60th of a second. So since you are in full manual, (The “M” on your dial)you also adjust your aperture to f/8. You want your total picture to be in focus, since it is a landscape, so f/8 is the lowest you want to be. (F/8 to F/11 gives you the sharpest image on most lenses). If you try and take that shot, you will see that its still very dark. So now is where ISO comes in. If you raise your ISO up you will make the photo brighter! That is essentially what you are doing with any of the 3 settings; Aperture, Shutter Speed, or ISO, also known as the Exposure Triangle.

Another example is one of my favorites; Astrophotography! I love to shoot the Milky Way! Now, in order for me to do this, my aperture needs to be at its widest setting, and my shutter speed needs to be anywhere from 20-30 seconds. So I have to raise my ISO up to 2500 0r 3200 to be able to see the Milky Way properly.

So lets put it all together. In general, lets leave the ISO at its lowest setting. Now, we think about what we want to do with our shot. Are we shooting landscapes or a portrait? For a landscape, we set out aperture between f/8 and f/11. Next we look at our camera meter, usually shown something similar to this. (Reference your camera manual/guide to see how to find this on your model).


This is your camera’s meter readout. If it is on 0, then your camera meter is reading that it is properly exposed. You can see this on the back of the camera’s LCD, or if you look through the viewfinder you will see it also. Make sure you are pointing the camera at whatever it is you’re shooting when you are looking at this. If it isn’t reading o, and is at 1, -1, 2, or -2, simply adjust either the shutter speed or the aperture( depending on what effect you’re wanting). In the case of the landscape image, you’ll want to adjust your shutter speed. Now you’re ready to take the picture! If you like it, then sweet! If you feel that its too bright or too dark, you can simply adjust your shutter speed to get the look that you want. You may find that o looks a little too bright and -1 is perfect.

Those numbers, are called stops. That is how light is measured in a camera. 3 clicks of your dial(aperture or shutter) is one full stop. That means you’re letting twice as much light in. So to go from a shutter speed of 1/4 of a second to 1/2 of a second, you’re increasing your shutter speed by one full stop. Clicking the dial 3 times, and you will go from 1/4, to 1/3, to 1/2.5 to 1/2. It works the exact same way for aperture. 3 clicks of the dial make it twice as bright or twice as dark, depending on which way you’re turning the dial.

Now we know how to adjust the brightness and darkness of our image by changing our shutter speed or aperture! Now stop reading and get outside and try it! Take a few shots outside. Now go inside and take some more shots, adjusting your settings as needed. Now you can take control of the camera and your photography and really unleash that creativity!

Shutter Speed and Shutter Priority Mode

What is Shutter Priority? Why do I need to use it? This is an important step in taking creative control of your photography. If you haven’t read my first article on Aperture and Aperture Priority, you can read it here.

Knowing how to manipulate your shutter speed is a great way to show some creativity  in your images. Lets talk about a couple of examples, and you’ll see why your shutter speed can make a big difference in the feel and look of your image.

Lets say we are at a sporting event and there are a lot of moving around and running. How can we capture that movement, and freeze it, so the picture isn’t blurry? Well, we can simply increase our shutter speed to capture that motion. If you place your camera in “S” or “Tv” depending on your camera manufacturer. You can increase the shutter speed to 1/500th or 1/800th of a second to capture the movement. So you set the shutter speed, and the camera determines the correct aperture to properly expose the image! Its the opposite of Aperture Priority.

Let’s also say we are in the forest and we want to take pictures of a waterfall. We can shoot the waterfall at 1/60th of a second, or 1/100th, 1/250th or higher and freeze the motion of the waterfall.

Grand Falls Power1


But what if we want to get that silky water look? Thats called a long exposure. But, in order to do that we will need to slow down our shutter speed so it will stay open long enough to get all that motion. We will need a tripod to do this, however. Its impossible to hold the camera still long enough to get that look. Any shutter speed less that 1/30th of a second, you will need a tripod( or you can rest the camera on a rock or the ground). So with the camera secured in place with a tripod, set your shutter speed to at least 1/2 of a second or slower if you’d like. The camera will set the aperture and boom! You got silky water!


See, now you can really start to get creative with your shots! Now get out there and shoot! Practice with both Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority. In the next article, we will talk about ISO, and take the 3rd and final step into fully manual, and take full control of our images!

What is Aperture? Setting your DSLR to Aperture Priority

So you bought a DSLR camera and have it set to Auto, because you have no idea what any of the settings on the top dial mean, right? This article is the first step in taking creative control of your images and not letting the camera choose what IT wants your image to look like.

What is Aperture? What is Aperture Priority? Your Aperture is the diaphram(hole) in your lens that opens wide or shrinks small to let light into the sensor. It also controls your depth of field, or how much of the picture you want in focus.

Lets say, you want to take a portrait shot of someone, and you want them to be sharp, but you want that beautiful, blurry background(called bokeh). How do you get that look? You simply adjust your aperture so that the hole in the lens is wider or larger.

Aperture is measured in F stops. You will see numbers like f/1.8, f/2.8, f/4, f5.1, f/7.1, f/8, f/11, f/16, f/22, etc. What you need to know is this; the smaller the number, the larger the aperture. So in my examples, f/1.8 would be the widest aperture, and f/22 would be the smallest. So if you want that blurry background, or, in photography terms, shallow depth of field, you want your aperture at f/1.8. Conversely, if you are taking a landscape photo and want all of the photo in focus, or in photography terms, greater depth of field, you would set your aperture to f/22. As you make your way from f/1.8 to f/22, the depth of field begins to change, making more and more of the picture come into focus.

Tutorial Lens Aperture - Result


Now, most kit lenses that come with your new DSLR have a minimum and maximum aperture. Usually they start at f/4, and go up to f/22. Some will vary in minimum aperture as well. For example, a Nikon 18-55mm kit lens that comes with a Nikon D3300, will say something like this; f/3.5-5.6 or on the barrel of the lens, 1;3.5-5.6. That simply means that at the shortest focal length of 18mm, the minimum aperture is f/3.5, and at the longest focal length of 55mm, the minimum aperture is f/5.6. The more expensive, higher end lenses have a constant minimum aperture throughout the focal range.

Now lets get into taking our camera off of Auto! Lets put it into whats called Aperture Priority mode. Turn the dial on top of the camera to “A” or “Av.” This is a semi-auto mode that lets you control the depth of field, while the camera then determines the shutter speed based on its meter. Now you can adjust the aperture from its lowest number up to its highest, take some shots and experiment with that depth of field. Boom! You have taken your first step in taking creative control of your images! Now go out and get some shooting in, and come back to read the next article on Shutter Speed, and Shutter Priority.

Planning a Photography Trip


photographers ephemeris plan photography app apps     I recently went out to Canyon Lake here in Arizona to shoot some star trails at about 3am. I got to the place I wanted to shoot, set up, and realized I forgot my wireless trigger! So guess what I had to do? Yep, I had to sit there and manually snap the shutter about a hundred times back to back to back, because I was unprepared.

Even if you’re a beginner, I can assume you have a similar story about forgetting an important piece of gear, or not charging your battery. Well, as I write this, I’m preparing to leave tomorrow night on a 12 day trip to Guatemala! So I felt it appropriate to write about this very important subject for us photographers. Now I won’t spend too much time on the obvious, like passports, clothes, etc. I want to talk about the importance of details like equipment, making lists, knowing about your destination, and logistics.

I’ll start with the obvious, equipment. Since I will be going for 12 days, batteries and chargers are paramount. After some research, I found out that the hotel my girlfriend Brittany and I are staying at, in Tikal National Park, turns off the power at night and periodically throughout the day. I guess that’s the way it goes when you’re staying deep in the Mayan Jungle! So I am making sure I have 4 full batteries, my Nikon battery grip with a secondary AA battery insert, 8 rechargeable AA batteries, GoPro Hero 5(for my first YouTube video), Karma Grip, lenses, tripod and ballhead, filters and wireless trigger.

Since I plan on flying, I had to find out all the airline and FAA regulations on batteries, storage and camera gear. Just a heads up, you can not have free floating batteries in your checked bag. You can have spare batteries in your carry on, so long as they are separated in their own container. You have to eliminate the possibility of the batteries touching and shorting out. I went on Amazon and bought AA cases and a Think Tank DSLR battery case.

The next part I want to tell you about is planning your actual shoots. This involves using apps and the good ol’ internet to plan out all the little details of your trip. Google maps is a great starting point for finding good locations to shoot from. Now if you plan weeks or months ahead, the weather is hard to predict. However, its good to know what you’re getting into a few days before you go. My favorite weather app is WeatherBug. It’s accurate and even tells you the closest lightning strikes for all you storm chasers. The next app that I use religiously is The Photographers Ephemeris(TPE). Its a pay app on Google and Apple stores($4.99). The desktop app is free. It tells you the times of sunrise and sunset, moon rise and moon set, civil, nautical and astronomical twilight, and which way the sun and moon rise and set( See top left image). SkyView is also a good one for astrophotography.

The last thing I will say is make a list a few weeks ahead of time. Write everything down. Add or subtract to it later. You may realize you need to jump on Amazon and order cases, batteries or chargers. You may need a smaller backpack for a carry on, or use those apps to see where you want to shoot, and get a hotel near there that doesn’t turn the power off at night!

Now we’ve prepared ourselves, got every last detail covered, our gear packed, our list checked,  50 extra batteries and our passports, lets cross our fingers and hope the weather doesn’t hate us…