Quick Techniques – Beginners: Understanding apertures

Want to get the most out of your Fujifilm X Series cameras? Our Quick Techniques will provide you with lots of handy hints and tips to help you understand the features our range offers. This week we look at apertures. Continue reading Quick Techniques – Beginners: Understanding apertures

Tutorial: Understanding exposure & using it creatively

exposure

w360_6415757_tutorialbannerfordotmailerWhat is “Exposure”?

We’ve all taken them – an amazing once-in-a-lifetime photo but when we look closer, the photo is too dark or too bright or the subject doesn’t pop enough. A properly “exposed” photo will show details in both the lighter and darker areas of a photo AND show the subject and background in proper focus.
exposure triangle
Exposure can be defined as the amount of light that enters the front of the lens and hits the sensor of your camera.

There are 3 elements that determine the correct Exposure and they are heavily dependent on each other – ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture. There are many combinations of these 3 elements that can produce a correctly exposed photo BUT the “effect” of each combination will drastically impact the creative look of the photo. Let’s look at each element.


ISO = Film speed

If you’re old enough to remember using a film camera, you would have bought various “speeds” of film depending on the lighting conditions you were shooting in. ISO determines how sensitive the camera is to incoming light.

Today’s digital cameras allow you to adjust the ISO (aka film speed) either through an ISO dial or through the menu system. The downsides of using a high ISO is that the photo will become “grainy” or noisy. It might be properly exposed but it will not be as sharp.

Generally, you don’t need to fiddle with ISO, as it has the least effect on the creative side of your image out of the 3 elements. To minimise the grainy effect simply set your maximum AUTO ISO to 1600 through your menu system and your photos should never appear grainy. Or if you prefer, you can also set your ISO to a specific number like 200 or 400 and adjust the other 2 elements to get the correct exposure. You may need to use a higher ISO if you have manually set the other 2 elements and your camera is still warning your photo is underexposed. Most cameras have the capability to shoot at ISO 12,800 or higher if needed, but generally you are ok at ISO 3200 before you will see any “noise”.


Aperture = Focus Depth of Field

We’ve all seen them. Those professional looking photos of Aunt May where only she is in focus and the background is blurry. This is easily achieved by adjusting the Aperture setting on your camera. Aperture is the amount of light that can pass through the camera lens and determines how much of a photo will be in focus (called depth of field).

Depth of field example

Click here to learn more about Depth of Field

Setting the correct Aperture setting (called f-stop) will provide you with the desired effect for your photo. BEFORE you set the Aperture you need to know what type of “effect” you want depending on what scene you are shooting.

Aperture blades at different f/stops

If you are shooting a landscape, for example, you will want to have everything in focus so an F-stop of F8 or higher should be used. If you are shooting close-ups or portraits, you will want to blur out the background to make the subject stand out so you should use the lowest F-stop your lens allows like F2.8 or F1.4. Or if you are shooting in low light, you will need as much light as possible so an F-Stop like F2.8 will be adequate. Each lens you use will have different F-stop ranges so be sure you use the right lens depending on what you are shooting.


Shutter Speed = Controls motion

Next to Aperture, Shutter Speed is probably the next element that you will adjust the most. Shutter Speed is defined as how long the sensor is exposed to the light and scene you are shooting. The longer the exposure (slower shutter speed), the more light that hits the sensor and the more movement will be captured. The shorter the exposure (faster shutter speed), the less light and less movement will be captured.

Shutter Speed comes into play mostly when you are shooting moving objects OR low light scenes. Again, you will need to determine beforehand what kind of “effect” you want your photo to show. If you are shooting a moving object like your child playing soccer or a friend playing badminton, you can “freeze” the action by selecting a high shutter speed of 1/500 or faster.

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Fast shutter speed used to freeze the movement in the image.

Likewise, if you are shooting a moving object like a flowing water, you can show “movement” by selecting a slow shutter speed of ½ second or even longer with the use of a tripod.

Slow shutter speed used to increase movement and create a fog-like water effect.

You can even use a slow shutter speed to help capture the drama in an image by panning with the subject as you take the shot.

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Shutter speed set to: 1/40 – image taken whilst panning with the car.

Or if you are shooting low light scenes, like a night sky, where fast moving objects is not an issue, you can select a slow shutter speed of 1 to 30 seconds with the use of a tripod. You can also use slow shutter speeds to create light trails from cars and other similar light sources.

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Slow shutter speed used to capture the light trails from car headlights

Keep in mind, that slow shutter speeds will usually require a tripod as even the smallest hand movement will cause a blurry image. General rule for hand holding, is to take the focal length you are shooting at, say 100mm, and use the reciprocal number for the min shutter speed 1/(focal length) or 1/100. Any slower, and chances are you will get a blurry picture.

One of the hardest photos to take is an action shot in low light, like your child’s school play. You will need a fast shutter speed to “freeze” the action and prevent “blur” due to camera shake so an f-stop like F2.8 or lower is required to allow as much light in as possible. In this instance, you may need to increase the ISO setting to ensure the photo is properly exposed up to 1600 or higher.

How do you know if your scene is properly exposed BEFORE you shoot? Most of our Fujifilm cameras will either show on the LCD screen the shutter speed or aperture settings you have selected in RED if it’s not exposed properly. OR your LCD screen will actually preview the exposure on the LCD screen itself before you shoot.

We know that this topic is probably one of the hardest ones to get your head around at first, but don’t worry, you definitely will and it’ll be sooner than you think!

Happy snapping! 🙂

 

HOW TO: Set up for Action Photography

Following on from the last blog that covered what gear to use for wildlife photography, I’m going to explain how I set up my X-Series cameras for capturing action. Though some cameras are better than others for this type of photography, there are little ways to help yourself help improve your chances of capturing action.

High burst rate

Though using a high burst rate will eat through your memory cards space, shooting at a high frame rate will hopefully get a good selection of action shots.

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Auto focus

First of all make your focus point as large as possible: do this by pressing the AF button and zooming out as far as you can. With a moving subject it will be very difficult to keep the subject in a small selection zone, so give yourself the best chance possible. Continuous focus (This applies to the X-T1 and X-E2 as they have vastly improved continuous AF functionality) is really helpful with certain subjects, especially if they are coming towards you. For those of you with models that are best in single focus mode, fear not! Generally the Fujifilm lenses are quick to auto focus so if you’re following a subject you can focus, take a shot and then focus again or alternatively prefocus if you know where the subject it going to go. Some photographers use cameras in MF mode and use the AFL/AEL button to focus. This is helpful because you can then use the manual focus ring on the lens and see what is in focus via focus peaking. Experiment and see what method works best for you.

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This sequences was taken using the X-T1’s tilting screen and the XF56mm at F2.8.

ISO

My standard ISO setting is 800. To some this might seem high but the output from this is so clean that it isn’t a concern for me. If it’s a bit cloudy and I’m wanting to freeze the action I’ll push my ‘ready’ ISO to 1600. My philosophy is that it is better to have a sharp image that might be slightly noisy as you get up to than an image that might have some motion but has less or no noise.

Shark
A blue shark close up taken at ISO 1600

Shark close up100% close up – In my eyes the noise (or lack of it) is not a problem at ISO 1600

Aperture

For action photography you have to decide if you want to freeze a moment, capture the motion or something in the grey area. If you want to freeze the action you’ll generally want to use a wider aperture to get a sufficiently high shutter speed. The shutter speed required to freeze depends on the pace of the action, and your chosen aperture is determined by the light conditions and your ISO choice. The thing to remember is that shutter speed, aperture and ISO are all intertwined. If you want to read more on apertures then read this previous blog (it contains puppies!). If you want to focus on one, say a faster shutter speed, then this has an adverse affect on the other two factors. If you’re wanting to freeze the action with a fast shutter speed AND also have a large depth of field then you have to increase the ISO. It is also about prioritising the most important factor for you and then compromise with the others. When aiming to freeze the action I am generally in aperture priority mode, where I have set the ISO according to the conditions (usually over 800), and I then choose an aperture to obtain the shutter speed I want.

Frozen Kittiwake

Taken at 1/3800 sec, F5.6, ISO 800

If you want to capture motion blur, say through panning with your subject, then your shutter speed is having less of a constraint on your ISO and aperture so you can change these accordingly to reduce your shutter speed. One way to control this is through shutter speed priority, where you set shutter speed to what you want and then have the aperture in auto mode so it will change to keep the same low shutter speed (with the ISO previously set).

Panning moped

Taken at 1/13 sec, F16 ISO 200

Finally, another set up option for action is to set the aperture and shutter speed to what you want and then have the ISO in automatic mode. You could go fully manual but I find this can quickly lead to problems when trying to capture action, especially if there is a lot going on around you. This method can result in you missing fleeting moments.

Now that you know some action set ups go out and shoot! Let us know what your action set up is with the X-Series and share with us your action shots via our Fujifilm’s Facebook and Twitter. As ever, if you have any questions then please leave a comment below or contact me via:

Twitter – @benji_cherry

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/BenCherryPhotography

HOW TO: Photograph Fog

As winter starts to set in, photographers are looking for ways to capture this cold season. For me, winter is best covered in the morning. This is a personal preference but in the mornings you have frost, a reasonable hour for sunrise and (if you’re lucky) fog or mist.

There are three types of fog,  so you need to decide what you are looking for and this will depend on your location:

  • Ground fog – In mountainous/hilly areas and cold patches you can get ground fog collecting in valleys. After a rainy night or over wet ground you can get shallow precipitation fog.
  • Sea fog – Also called advection fog, this is where warm air passes over cold sea water.
  • Sea/River smoke – Where the air is colder than the water, creating a generally shallow level of fog, this is generally restricted to water areas, hence river smoke.

When trying to photograph fog you need to use the weather forecast to understand what the evening will be like in your desired location. I was fortunate enough to visit Curbar Edge in the Peak District the afternoon before my first morning I was there to scout the location. It was just before sunset and the fog was forming in the valley below and at that point I decided to try it out the following morning to see how it would look.

The weather for my first morning at Curbar was drizzling and there was a thick layer of cloud, which meant it was pretty unlikely I’d witness much golden light, I thought I’d set out and give it a go. I am so happy I did! This was my first real experience of photographing mist and it is incredible how quickly the spectacle evolves in front of your eyes. I one point I was photographing down one end of the valley, taking some long exposures, only to look over my shoulder and see that it had dramatically changed down the other end of the valley!

I used the X-T1 and the XF18-135mm lens for my main set up. As it was a wet morning the weather-sealed kit meant that I could stop worrying about the system and focus on the spectacle. As well as offering weather sealing, the XF18-135mm meant that I had great versatility, meaning that I didn’t have to worry about changing lenses the entire time. However, I also ended up using a neutral density filter to reduce the amount of light reaching the sensor to further extend the shutter speed. This was great but because I was using a filter set instead of screw in filters it meant that the front element was exposed to the conditions. Long exposures and rain drops do not mix! Thankfully a little umbrella tucked away in my bag helped to shelter the filter.

Generally I was not bothered about using a fast/moderate shutter speed so I set up the system on a tripod and used ISO 200 (the lowest RAW compatible ISO) and generally around F8. The addition of the ND filter, which was a 10-stop filter, meant that the shutter speed required was dramatically decreased. This results in the mist smoothing out, giving quite an interesting effect. See the comparisons below (note that despite the fact the ND filter is meant to be neutral it has put a distinct colour cast on the images).

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The ND filter extended the shutter speed so much that I had to use the bulb setting, as the required shutter speed was longer than 30 seconds. For this I used the remote trigger that allowed me to hold down the trigger (lockable) to keep the shutter open for as long as required. The X-T1 shows the length of the shutter speed on the back screen, this is very helpful. There is something to consider thought when using long exposures: the processing time. As soon as you go beyond 30 seconds, the processing time dramatically increases from seconds into minutes, this isn’t a problem but is something to be aware of when trying to photograph a scene that is evolving constantly.

To make sure I didn’t miss any moments while the X-T1 was processing and to get some different shots, I used the X100s with ISO 1600 to produce a fast enough shutter speed to allow me to use the camera one handed. Picture the scene: a wonderful valley filled with fog unfolding in front of me, one camera on a tripod; my left hand sheltering it with an umbrella; photographing the scene with the X100s in my right hand at the same time! Who says photographers can’t look cool…

Mist-15 Mist-16Mist-14

The three above photos were taken with the X100s using the monochrome + red filter jpeg preset.

The reason I chose Curbar Edge is because it provides a high vantage point. This is really important to optimise your chances for good mist photography. It generally means that you should be hit by the early morning light and so should warm up faster! This is a valid point to consider on crisp winter mornings, not that it happened this time around. A high vantage point allows you to see for a greater distance, hopefully providing you with a greater number of layers to your picture. At the top of a valley, Curbar Edge allowed me to see for miles along the valley, which offered both valley fog and river smoke. The ability to then use a telephoto lens to zoom in on particular areas can result in some quite striking shots.

Mist-5

But also having the ability to instantly zoom wide was a great asset to try and obtain a variety of photographs.

Mist-3

The colour photos were all taken with the X-T1 and I used the Classic Chrome camera calibration in Lightroom which produced wonderful colours in my opinion. I have only just started using this camera calibration and I love it.

Mist-17

Though on this occasion the sun didn’t break through the thick cloud cover, the spectacle was nevertheless remarkable and I can only imagine what it would have looked like if sun rays had broken through.

The second morning

Despite being very happy with the previous morning I decided to give it another go as the forecast suggested there was a better chance of a proper sunrise. This time round I decided to not focus too much on lengthy shutter speeds, but instead the details in the fog. What I didn’t expect was the amount of fog!

Mist-2

Mist
Mist-10

The range of the 18-135mm meant that I could capture the grand scale of the fog at 18mm, with the car in the first of these pictures giving a sense of scale. Then using the longer end of the lens I pulled out particular parts of the landscape, such as the little cottage that looks like it should be in Harry Potter and the hilltops surrounded by a sea of fog, turning them into islands. As well as the incredible amount of fog, the sun did make a bit of an appearance too. Despite this it was a very cold morning, producing a wonderful frost. I was very happy to have packed a hat and pair of gloves.

Mist-4

Mist-13

I positioned myself so part of the hilltop was between me and the rising sun, creating a backlighting effect on Curbar Edge, which brings the fog alive.

Mist-8

Because of the brighter sky this time round I needed to use a ND gradual filter, where unlike the filter I used during the first morning, this one changes from one end to the other, as the name suggests. At one end it is darker (you can buy filters at different stops, depending on how dark you want to make part of the image), while at the other it has no effect on the light. I use these when I am photographing something with a sky that is much brighter than the ground below. With the above image I used a filter which didn’t stop down the light enough to correctly expose the sky but I like it nevertheless because of the frost (it get particularly difficult to expose correctly when the sun is in the image). While the picture below is a slightly better example of a ND gradual filter in use.

Mist-7

I hope this has proved helpful and now it is your turn to get out there and photograph the wintery conditions. Let us know how you get on.