Camera ISO Basics

A real quick history lesson

Back in the day when cameras were designed to use film, ISO referred to how sensitive a roll of film was to light. Photos shot on a roll of film with a higher iso number would need less light hitting the film to end up with a photo that is properly exposed.

When it comes to modern digital SLR cameras, we no longer use film because it has been replaced by camera sensors, but similar rules still apply. Instead of having different types of camera film that are more and less sensitive, Digital camera’s are able to adjust their sensor ISO setting to act more or less sensitive to light.

The general “Rule of Thumb”

Unlike a camera’s shutter speed or aperture, there is no real creative advantage of changing a camera’s ISO setting.

A general rule of thumb is to always have as low of an ISO setting as possible while still having your photos properly exposed.

The higher the ISO setting, the more you introduce noise into your photos. This is the tiny speckling effect that looks like static in a photo and it is typically avoided as much as possible. On a quick side note, make sure that you do not confuse the photography terms “noise” and “grain”. Although they may seem similar, grain refers to the speckling effect from film photography which is sometimes intentionally added, while noise is only introduced in digital photography and is considered a negative in photos.

How ISO effects the look of your photos

A camera will always take its best photos at what’s called it’s “native ISO” or “base ISO”. For the majority of camera this will be either 50 or 100 ISO. The further away from a camera’s base ISO you get, the more noise will appear in your image.

As much as possible, you want to avoid changing your ISO setting to extremely high digits like 50,000 or what some photographers call “Swiss cheese mode” because the amount of noise will ruin your photos.

Every camera is different depending on their age and sensor, but usually noise will start to become more obvious and distracting at ISO settings over 2,000.

So what is the benefit of adjusting the ISO?

The main purpose of adjusting a camera’s ISO higher is to allow for faster shutter speeds in low light environments. You can think of it as the more sensitive your camera sensor is the quicker you can freeze movement. With that being said, if you are taking photos mid-day or in direct sunlight, there is not much of a reason to set your ISO to anything higher than the Base ISO.

In my next article I’ll talk a little more about the exposure triangle which is the relationship between a cameras aperture, shutter speed and ISO and how they all work together to take a photo! Thanks for reading and be sure to leave a comment if you have any questions!

Shutter Speed Basics

Today we’re going to be talking a bit about shutter speed and how it effects your photography, so if you are new to an SLR camera or typically use it on automatic, this will give you a better understanding about shutter speed.

What is “Shutter Speed”?

Shutter speed refers to how long a camera is letting light hit its sensor while it takes a photo. This length of time is adjusted using the “shutter” on a camera. A shutter on a SLR camera is similar to a tiny set of blinds that open and close to let light through.

Every time a photo is taken on an SLR camera, the shutter moves out of the way to let light hit the sensor when you press down on the shutter button to take your photo, and then the shutter stays open for the amount of time you specify before closing again and finishing the photo. On a side note, that is why the main button on a SLR camera that takes the photos is called the “Shutter-Release Button”

Similar to how wider apertures allow more light through the lens when taking a photo, slower shutter speeds allow light to hit the camera’s sensor for a longer period of time.

Where do find your Shutter Speed?

When you look at the back screen on most SLR cameras, you’ll see that the shutter speed is measured in seconds indicated by the “inch” symbol. If the current shutter speed is set to be quicker than a full second, the shutter speed will be displayed as a fraction of a second.

Entry level, beginner SLR cameras tend to have one screen to show all of the relevant information on the back of the camera, but you are also able to view a very minimal version of your camera settings including the current shutter speed by looking through the viewfinder. The numbers and symbols that light up across the bottom of your viewfinder window will allow you to know these settings without the need to stop taking photos.

When you are using a mid-range or professional SLR camera, these tend to have a secondary screen on the top on the camera that shows basic settings as well without the need to wake up your main screen and save some battery life.

Motion Blur vs Freezing the action

Unless your camera is stationary, like on a tripod, your camera will have more motion blur the slower your shutter speed goes. There are lots of charts that exist out there to show at roughly what speed a shutter can freeze different types of movement, but the best way to learn these settings is to simply take photos with your camera on “Shutter Priority” mode and play around with different shutter speeds with moving subjects.

Typically shutter speeds one second or slower are reserved for long exposure photography. A slow shutter speed or “long exposure” photo is used for things such as astrophotography or making moving water appear smooth.

In these cases, photographers will use a tripod to keep the camera perfectly still while taking the photo so that only movement in the scene they are shooting will appear blurry.

A faster shutter speed is used to freeze fast moving action in like in sports photography or splash photography.

Understanding stabilization

You can get away with taking sharp photos handheld at slower shutter speeds that normal when a lens or camera has optical or digital stabilization included in it. Keep in mind however, that optical/digital stabilization only helps with a shaky camera. It does not freeze fast moving subjects like fast moving athletes or wildlife.

Around half of the camera’s and lens being produced today have some form of stabilization built into them. When a lens has optical stabilization built into it, there is usually a switch on the lens to give you the option of turning the stabilization on or off. I recommend leaving the stabilization on in most cases so that the glass elements in the lens move slightly and help you stabilize your shaky photos. The one time you should remember to turn off lens and camera stabilization off is when you are taking photos on a tripod, otherwise the stabilization can lead to softer images. The same rules apply to camera bodies that have optical stabilization built in, except for with cameras, the stabilization comes from the physical sensor in the body moving slightly to compensate for camera shake.

The general “Rule of Thumb”

A quick and easy rule of thumb for taking handheld photos is to always make sure your shutter speed is the same or quicker than the focal length you are shooting at. If you have any form of optical stabilization turned on you can use even slower shutter speeds, but this is a great starting point for reference. So if you are taking a photo with a 100mm lens, be sure to have your shutter speed set to a minimum of 1/100th of a second.

Thanks for reading and be sure to leave a comment if you found this information useful or if you have any questions!

Camera Aperture Basics

In it’s simplest form, the aperture in a camera lens is the size of the hole in the lens that allows light of varying amounts to pass through the lens to hit the sensor in a camera body. You can think of a lenses aperture similar to a person’s iris (the coloured part of an eye). When you are outside and it is really bright out, your iris adjusts by making your pupil smaller to let less light into the back of your eye. When you are in a dark movie theatre on the other hand, your iris adjusts to make your pupil in the centre of your eye much larger to let in as much light as possible so that you have the best chance of seeing in the dark. Now take that information, but replace a person’s iris with a lenses aperture and you will quickly understand how an aperture works.

What is a F-Stop?

The aperture (or the small blades that form the lens’s aperture) are always adjusted using something called f-stops. f-stops typically start around f-1.2, and go all the way up to around f-30 or f-40.

So as an example, if you have a lens that opens up to f-1.4 as an aperture setting, this means that it is opening up very wide and is letting in a large amount of light through the lens to hit the camera’s sensor. On the other hand, if you have a lenses that only opens up to f-3.5 or so, that means that there is less light going through the lens and hitting the camera’s sensor.

If you are currently using an entry level SLR camera, most likely it came with what is known as a “kit lens”. Kit lenses are inexpensive lenses that typically don’t open up very wide when it comes to their aperture. On the flip side of things, if you spend more money on a “professional” lens like the Nikkor 50mm 1.8 or 1.4 lenses, you will have the ability to let more light through the lens which is referred to as being a “fast lens”.

One thing to keep in mind is that the wider the aperture is able to go on a lens, the more expensive it tends to be. This is because when lenses let it more light, the lens requires a larger aperture and physically more glass to accommodate.

Why change the aperture?

There are two very specific reasons why you would want to change the aperture setting on a camera. The first reason, which I have already mentioned, is to allow more light through the lens to hit the sensor on the camera. The second reason is a much more stylistic choice. The easiest way to remember it is that the more open an aperture setting is on a lens, the more blurred the background will be behind you or your subject. And on the opposite side of things, if you close down your aperture to a very high number, say f-20 or f-30, the majority of your scene or subject will be in focus.

Depth-of-field

The “depth-of-field” is a fancy term to describe how much of a photo is actually in focus. For a quick example, in the linked video, I am using an f-2.8 lens behind the camera. For this series of videos I am using this lens at it’s maximum aperture of f-2.8 so that I can be seperated from the background by having the background out of focus.

On the other hand, you may require a really high f-stop for something like product photography. For product photography, photographers typically want the product to be fully in focus. If were to take a photo with a wide open aperture of a product, where you focused on the product would be in focus, but everything else would have varying levels of being out of focus.

A lenses “Sweet Spot”

One last thing to keep in mind. With a few exceptions, the majority of lenses are sharpest (and therefore give the highest quality results) around the middle of their f-stop settings. If you are using a kit lens for example, if it goes from f-3.5 down to f-20 or so, it may be a good idea to start shooting at around f-8 because that is when your lens is typically sharpest and go from there.

If you take away only one thing from this article, just remember that a small f-stop number will actually let in more light into your camera. A lot of people starting out with photography will get this point mixed up and reverse it (since that would seem more logical!)

Thanks so much for reading this article about photography! If you found this article useful or if you have any questions for us please be sure to leave a comment below!

4 Types of Lighting for Your Home Photography Studio

Let me guess, you have been a photographer for a little while now in one form or another, and you are now ready to take that next step into setting up your own photography studio. This is an exciting step that allows room for more opportunities and to be more creative! Besides the bare minimum of a camera body and a lens, one of the most important areas to invest in for your home studio is lighting. Here is a list of 4 styles of lighting for your home studio and why you should consider each of them!

#1 Natural Light

One of the most important aspects of photography is lighting. The saying goes bright pixel are sharp pixels and light can really make or break a good photo. When you are first starting out in photography, the only light source you have is the one that is readily available to you, natural light. The majority of photography taken outdoors relies on the sun (or moon) as their main light source, but we can’t forget the power of natural light in home studios.

If you are wanting to set up your own home studio, try your best to find a room that has a large window that has sunlight coming through it. Two things to note, thin white curtains are amazing on a window for creating a soft light source for nice, natural looking shadows, and if you are planning on using any form of artificial studio light, be sure to find black out curtains or have a dark sheet over the window when you are not wanting the natural light in your photos.

#2 Speedlights or “Flashguns”

The second form of lighting that photographers use in their home studio is off-camera flash, speed lights or “flashguns”. you can pick up a manual speedlight for around $80 and although they are not as powerful as something like a studio strobe, they are small, versatile and very useful when paired with lighting modifiers.

One of the biggest benefits of using speedlights is that they are light and portable. You can use a speedlight attached directly to the hotshoe on the top of your camera for a wedding photos, and then that same week you can use the speedlight off-camera in your studio space for anything from model photos to product photography.

If you are going to use a budget speedlight off camera, then most likely it will not have any wireless capability built into the flash. For this reason it is a great idea to purchase a pair of these Yongnuo Wireless Recievers for around $40. One of the receivers attached to the top of your camera, and the other connects to the bottom of your speedlight to allow you to have a wireless flash. I have a pair of these receivers from several years ago and they still work great! On a quick side note, these also work as a wireless remote for your camera and you can also attach the receiver to any studio strobe that isn’t wireless (you’ll read more about that below) If you are interested in attaching light modifiers to your speedlights, be sure to pick up a couple of these speedlight brackets to attach them to your Bowens modifiers.

I have a pair of these receivers from several years ago and they still work great!

#3 Continuous Lighting

If you have a very lean budget for lighting, another option is to use continuous lighting. These are similar to your typical light bulbs that are always lit, but on a brighter scale. You can pick up two continuous lights including soft boxes for them for under $100. One of the benefits of continuous lighting is that you are always able to see how your lights will effect shadows etc in your photos.

In the past few years, continuous lighting has largely been heading towards LED light panels which work better than bare bulbs, but these panels are much more expensive and not worth the investment unless you are also doing lots of video work. I would still strongly suggest going with one of the other lighting options as continuous lights are not very bright for photography and are used more often in videography such as video interviews.

#4 Monolights or “Studio Strobes”

Lastly, most professional studio photography work takes advantage of monolights or “studio strobes”. These are the large lights that you have come to recognize in most studio setups. They can vary significantly in cost from the $150 Godox SK400 to around $2000 for the Profoto B10. Keep in mind that unless you use different adapters, the studio strobes that you purchase will need to be the same mount as your modifiers. This is why my recommendation, especially for someone starting out in flash photography would be to purchase one or two strobes by Godox like the one listed above.

Almost all strobes take advantage of having two light sources. There is a large bulb in the centre called a “modelling light” which is a form of continuous light that can be turned on and off to see how your light will effect shadows in your frame, and there is the actual “flash tube” which flashes extremely bright and gives off a popping sound. It is worth noting that when you fire a strobe, the modelling light will shut off briefly and will therefor have no effect on your photo.

Strobes from budget brands like Godox or Neewer work with the Bowens mounting system which is the most universal style of light modifier. If you stick with the Bowens mounting system, you’ll always have a good selection of lighting modifiers at your disposal.

Our Great Western Canada Adventure!

I am not exactly the greatest writer, but I have been wanting to write a blog post about our Out West trip for a while now. Hopefully the photography will make up for the less-than-perfect writing and still allow you to experience a small portion of what we saw while we travelled together!

This past summer my wife, Deanna, and I finally made a decision that we had been putting off ever since we were married, to travel out west and see the Canadian west coast. Being a photographer, I had seen countless images from Alberta and BC’s national parks and I had always wanted to see them for myself. We decided to fly out on July 6 and spend two full weeks out west to make the most of our time there. Since sometimes our priorities are different, we decided to go to Alberta for the first week for me to get my photography fix, and then we would fly to Vancouver island in British Columbia to spend a more relaxing second half of the trip finding nice coffee shops and visiting with her Grandparents who live there on the island.

We started our trip off with a bit of unexpected luck. We needed to wait for a couple hours once we landed in Calgary, Alberta either way, so when Air Canada had overbooked our first flight, we gladly said yes to a free lunch and $400 between us. Furthermore, once we landed in Calgary and went to the car rental company, they had run out of our cheap car option because of the Calgary Stampede, so they upgraded us to a beautiful new VW Tiguan SUV (Deanna still keeps telling me we should get that as our future vehicle)

Our travel vehicle for the first week of our trip (with only 1,400km on it before our trip!)

After we were all sorted out with our new vehicle, we took off from Calgary towards the mountains. Our first stop right before the National Parks was to go to Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary. This place was the home of dozens of wolf dogs of varying amounts and we were able to get up-close with a couple of the wolf dogs and capture some great shots of the beautiful animals.

A wolfdog we met at the Yamnuska Sanctuary

As we continued towards the mountains, I finally realized the massive scale of them. We began to drive right into an intense lighting storm as we passed the first mountains and I couldn’t believe the way they looked in the storm. I kept on asking Deanna if she could see what I was seeing (of course she could and was).

One of the mountain peaks as we entered the National Parks

Just after we drove through the storm, we entered the first park to see a group of cars on the side of the highway. We decided to take our camera and see what all the commotion was about, expecting to see a deer or bear off in the distance. When we arrived at the fence with the others, we couldn’t see anything. Then suddenly a full sized grizzly bear stood up not 20 feet from us in the grass! It was an amazing site, but after taking a couple quick photos, we decided this wasn’t our best plan, so we agreed to leave the bear alone and keep driving.

The Grizzly Bear we saw (not zoomed in very far)

Our last stop before finding our AirBnB was at the famous Lake Louise that everyone talks about. We couldn’t deny how beautiful and surreal the lake and it’s surroundings were, but with the busses full of tourists (like us) and the way it was built up, we really didn’t need to stay long.

Since the first half of the trip was more my end of the deal, I chose a tiny home for us to stay in for the week from AirBnB. The location in Spillimacheen looked rustic and cute in the photos online, but it turns out it was extremely rough and forced us to spend the most time possible out and about the whole week!

The view from on top of the Natural Bridge

The next day was a full one, we began our adventure with a trip to Sunwapta Falls in Yoho. We then went stopped at the side of the road on our way to Emerald Lake, another well known location, to see something they called the “Natural Bridge”. This turned out to be one of my favourite locations to shoot photos from as it wasn’t too busy, and the landscape of the natural rock bridge was incredible to see. We then continued on to Emerald Lake where we stopped to get a coffee from the single building in the middle of the lake. Next up was an adorable town called “Field” where they had a music festival happening (the festival took up one small pub-like building), but while we were there we enjoyed a yummy coffee at the Siding Cafe.

One of my favourite shots of the trip showing Sunwapta Falls

One the way back to our tiny home, Deanna pointed to a small road on the side of the highway that I had completely overlooked. We turned the car around and stopped at this location to find one of our favourite places from the whole trip. We ended up at a small lake called “Faeder Lake” with just one other family there, and it had an incredible view of the mountains in the background with water so calm it imitated glass.

The view we had across Faeder Lake

Our last hike of the day was on a trail called “Hoodoo Trail”. At this point, we were very tired so we agreed to have Deanna stay in the car and I would do the quick hike myself to see if there were any good vantage points for some photos. After walking by myself for 15 minutes, I finally passed the first people I had seen the whole time. They mentioned that the Hoodoo Trail takes roughly two hours of hiking up steep inclines and that there are warning to make sure to have bear bells on you at all times to warn nearby bears that you are on the trail. I decided to turn around and go back to Deanna and our car. Our very last stop for the day was at a surprisingly nice restaurant and series of cozy cabins known as the “Cedar House”. You need to drive all the way up a mountain to get to their location, and once we arrived, we had the nicest dinner we have had in a long time prepared by their house chef.

Emerald Lake showing the coffee house we enjoyed

The following day we decided to make our way up to Jasper National Park. As we drove the four hour drive to Jasper, we passed incredible glaciers and ice-fields (remember this was July), and went to places like Bow Lake, Bow Summit and Peyto Lake. Our images from Peyto Lake may look photoshopped or fake, but that really is how the lake looks when you are there. Breathtaking.

Peyto Lake from our viewpoint
(Fun Fact: this image was also featured on the official Banff Tourism Instagram page)

We spent only a couple hours in Jasper once we had arrived, because remember, this was still a day trip with a four hour drive each way. While we were in Jasper, we went to a great shop called the “Bear Claw Café”. We then ventured just a little more north of Jasper to “Pyramid Lake” before heading all the way back to our tiny home, seeing more bears on the way.

One of the hundreds of icefields we drove past on our route to Jasper

That night, I wanted to experiment with some star or “astrophotography” around our tiny home in the country. I ended up staying outside until 2:30am to capture the images I was wanting (Astrophotography requires a lot of patience).

Our tiny home at 2:30am (It looks much nicer from the outside!)

The next morning, we decided we needed a bit of break from our intense adventuring. We took a shorter trip into Kootenay National Park to where we saw the Radium Hot Springs, Sinclair Canyon, and lots of wild elk and bighorn sheep. This still counted as our “down day”.

The next day was our last day experiencing Alberta and all of the National Parks. We started the day by hiking for an hour or so up Johnston Falls to see both the lower and upper falls (The upper falls are quite a trek to get to, but definitely worth it). We got into the massive lineup of cars for the second time to try and get to Morianne Lake, but we eventually realized there was no way to get there because it was so full of tourists.

After that, we went into the Town of Banff to explore for a while and we ended up at the a great coffee shop called Evelyn’s Coffee Bar, and then the Banff Brewing Company for a fun bison burger lunch and beer tasting. We then drove back to Calgary where we started a week earlier to a hotel and began to prepare for the second half of our adventure.

Our last stop to view the mountains as we headed back into Calgary
Our last stop to view the mountains as we headed back into Calgary

Once we landed in Comox’s small island airport, we were greeted by Deanna’s Grandma and we spent the next few days exploring around Union Bay on Vancouver Island where they live.

A typical view of the forest under a massive canopy on Vancouver Island

A few days later, Deanna and I ventured off on our own in a second rental car and travelled towards the town of Campbell River to a second AirBnB. This location was much nicer in every way when compared to the tiny house I had chosen previously (good job Deanna!) We explored the local town for the next day, where I was able to find a Baby Brownie camera which I love. They were originally sold for $1.25 during world war II!

Trying to see the tops of the gigantic trees inside of Cathedral Grove
We heard so many interesting stories about the old day of logging in the forests from Deanna’s Grandpa Gerry

We then continued across the island, visiting some of the largest trees in the entire world in “Cathedral Grove”, and stayed the following two days in the town of Ucuelet, just outside the more common Tofino surfing town.

A mule deer just 1o feet from our rental vehicle waiting as we packed up our AirBnB

After spending some time checking out the local Amphirite lighthouse and beaches, we finally made our way to our last destination, Tofino, British Columbia. It took a lot of careful driving on part to make it through the mountains on the one and only road into the town, but once we got there, we spent our day doing what we do best. Taking tons of photos and drinking at the local coffee shops and cafés.

Amphirite Lighthouse on the Pacific Ocean 5 minutes from where we were staying

It turned out that the trip we had dreamed of having together ever since we were dating became our favourite trip to date. It is amazing how many things you can squeeze into two weeks if you are careful and plan ahead of time. We now have all of the great memories from this trip, and 6,500 photos to visualize it.

The sun setting on over the ocean on one of our last days out west