Outdoor/Adventure Photography Part 1

Camera Control and Balancing Light

With social media booming, everyone wants to document and capture their explorations and adventures to post and share with everyone. I mean, if you don’t post it, did it really happen??!!

We are going to talk about DSLR’s today, a single lens reflex camera (the SLR in DSLR (I bet you want to know about the D………digital)) is going to give you the greatest control for making photos. Notice I use the word “making” photos instead of taking them. In school, I had an instructor that always told us we were going to make photos. We control the settings of the camera and what is placed in front of the lens, with an understanding of how each setting affected light. Ten people can look at the same thing and see it 10 different ways, the beauty of a camera is capturing what you see and sharing that with others.

The three main controls you have on your DSLR are the ISO, Aperture (f-stop), and Shutter Speed. These all control the exposure of your photo. Your light meter in the viewfinder will help you see how these change the exposure.


ISO: The ISO is the indicator of how sensitive the sensor is too light. In film cameras ISO was selected by the roll of film you put into the camera. The sensor is the digital version of film. Sensitivity to light matters for two reasons; in darker environments you need to allow more light to hit the sensor and the second more important reason is the higher the ISO (more sensitive to light) the less quality the photo will have. High ISO photos have a grainier appearance (called noise) and lowers ISO photos are much crisper. Always shoot at the lowest ISO you can get away with. This will make more sense once the other two controls are understood.

Aperture (f-stop): This is the pupil of the lens. A low f-stop number is a large diameter pupil and a high f-stop number is a small diameter pupil hole. This once again controls two things; the amount of light let in to hit the sensor and the depth of field of your focus. The low f-stop large diameter lets more light in versus the high f-stop small diameter which lets less light in. The more important aspect in my opinion to aperture is the depth of field. A low f-stop number has a very shallow depth of field while the high f-stop number has a long depth of field. I am sure you have all seen a portrait photo where the subject is in crisp focus while the foreground and background are blurred (called bokeh) this is due to the large aperture opening. Whereas landscape photos where the entirety of the photo is in focus because of a high f-stop number. Think low f-stop short focus, high f-stop long focus. This is one control the photographer will use to apply creativity to his photos, the ability to focus on only a subject and blurring the rest makes for very dynamic photos. I primarily use this control for just that unless my environment is extremely bright, and I need a slow shutter speed or if my environment is very dark and I need more light then I use the aperture for light control instead of depth of field control.

Shutter Speed: This is pretty straight forward, it is the amount of time the shutter is open exposing the sensor (expressed in fractions of a second or full seconds). The longer the shutter is open the more light is let in the less it is open the less light is let in. The speed can be used to stop motion or blur motion as well. Faster shutter speeds 1/2500 for example can stop a bat being swung at a baseball, or a slow shutter speed 1/20 can blur a person walking.


All three of these controls affect light and how light is captured. Capturing light is photography. The art is creating a balance between the three controls of having the correct amount of light hitting the sensor for a correctly exposed photo. This is where your exposure meter comes into use. Simplistically speaking getting the meter to 0 instead of in the plus or minus area is a great place to start (not all photos need to have the exposure meter at 0). I will leave you with this now, familiarize yourself with these controls and how to change them, try changing them in different environments and seeing how they affect the photo (pay attention to the settings so you know what changes and why). Digital gives instant feedback making it easy to shoot a lot and see what happens.

Stay tuned for future articles with more tips!

Author: Cory Arola

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