Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Savvy Photography tutorial from Laura Kent Photography

March 1, 2011

We are pretty sure by now you know how much we ADORE pictures. Taking them, having them taken (of our kids), looking at other pictures. We have even refered to ourselves as the Momapratzzi. What you may have also figured out is that we are Horrible at taking pictures. Lucky for us we know a few FABULOUS Photographers. And bless their hearts, they are always having to answer our camera questions. This got us thinking, you probably have questions too.

So we asked our Dear friend Laura, of Laura Kent Photography, to stop by and give us some much needed HELP.

Take it away La~

I'm honored to get to be a guest blogger for my great friends Brianna and Amy at The Savvy Mom's Guide! I get asked lots of questions by parents who want to take great everyday pictures of their kiddos in between their sessions... What camera should I buy? Should I buy Nikon or Canon (ha!)? What's the best lens? How do I work the camera?

Honestly, I don't have ANY of those answers for you…
But I will say this: as far as I know, you can buy the BEST camera out there (whatever that is) and manage to mess it up if you just shoot on automatic. That's anyone- professional or not. Automatic, on even the best camera, isn't the best choice in a lot of situations... But, the the good news is that with a couple starting points and vocabulary words you can learn to outsmart that camera- no matter the type, cost or age of it…

I'm here to challenge you to get it OFF automatic :)

So Get out Your Cameras, People!
There are two modes to try out first.
1)AV mode (my favorite outside of manual):
You pick the APERTURE and ISO and the camera chooses the rest.
2)TV mode (less used, but I wouldn't get rid of it!):
You pick the SHUTTER SPEED and ISO and the camera chooses the rest.

Now for the Vocabulary words...
Aperture, Shutter Speed and little ISO
Aperture- (aka f-stop) Ranges from about f1.2 - f22. It controls the amount of light that comes into your camera and also determines the depth of field (how blurry or sharp the background will be). The lower the number, the blurrier the background will be and the less light you'll need to take a picture. Sometimes you'll notice an f in front of the number, but not usually on the camera's display)

Shutter Speed- The shutter speed has the power to freeze action. It controls how long the camera sucks in light and can be longer than 0”3 and faster than 1/1000 sec. Although the most used shutter speeds for our purposes will be fractions, typically just the bottom number is displayed on your camera (1/50= 50 on your display). 1/50 is slower than 1/100 and while that may seem obvious, I tend to confuse myself. So, the bigger the bottom number, the faster it is.

ISO- Try to use the lowest ISO possible to get a good exposure (generally 100-200 outdoors on a sunny day; 300-400 cloudy/shady; and indoors I've gone above 1600). Increasing the ISO allows you to photograph in darker areas when otherwise correct exposure wouldn't be possible. Raising the ISO can increase the graininess, but it's a give and take sort of thing.

Let's start Practicing!
1st task: Set your camera to AV Mode (aka Aperture Priority), go outside in the light (bring me with you of course!), choose an appropriate ISO and turn the aperture to the LOWEST number your lens allows. Let's just say 2.8 for starters (if you've got a kit lens it may be around 5.6). Focus on something and snap that shutter. This should give you a blurry background. To compare, bump up your aperture to 8.0 or larger and take a picture of the same thing, focusing on the same spot. That blurry background just got a little more detail. You now understand the role aperture has in depth of field.

*Use a small Aperture (f1.2 to f5.6) IF:
1) You want your subject to be sharp, and the background blurry
2) It's really dark, but you want to take a picture
*Use a larger Aperture Number (>f5.6 to f22) IF:
1) You want a detailed scenic background
2) You're taking a group picture (try >f5.6)

Here are a couple rather silly examples. Kids are napping so I used barbie in our weeds… Gotta use what ya have, right?

Above: AV Mode; ISO 125, f2.8 at 1/1250 sec. Blurry background (shallow depth of field), 0 stops exposure compensation. I chose a low aperture (f2.8) to blur the background. The camera chose the shutter speed. It's an okay exposure, but perhaps a little dark in the background.

Above: AV Mode; ISO 125, f9.0 at 1/125 sec. Sharper background (more depth of field); 0 stops exposure compensation. I chose a larger aperture (f9.0) to bring out the details in the background. The camera chose the shutter speed. It's an okay exposure, but perhaps a little dark in the background.
2nd task: Set your camera to TV mode (aka Shutter Speed Priority), choose a good ISO and pick a shutter speed of 30, just for kicks. Find a kid who's got energy and have them jump or dance around outside for the camera. The camera will pick the aperture. Assuming you have a lens longer than 30 mm, you just took a blurry picture. Good. Now bump up the shutter speed to 125, then 250, then 500. See what you get. The 4 images should look the same as far as the exposure is concerned (if one's dark, they're all dark). It's the action/motion (frozen or blurred) that will change with the shutter speed. Play around and then take note of which one freezes the best and stick to it when there's action.

Above: f4.5 @ 1/2500 sec, ISO 200, +1/3 stop exposure compensation. When stopping action is the most important part, you can set your camera to TV mode and select a quick shutter speed. I use this mode more when the light is low and the camera wants to choose a slow shutter speed that I know isn't good enough. Note: this picture was taken on aperture priority, but since it was bright, the shutter speed was acceptable to stop the motion in the snowball.

Ummm, thanks, but why aren't my pictures perfect yet?
Well, because even though you tried out the AV and TV modes, the camera's still doing all the exposure work. Notice the little hash marks/ruler lines you see in your camera's viewfinder? Your camera really wants to keep the exposure line in the middle, just like it did in automatic. But the camera doesn't always see things the way we do. It may see a bright sky and want to darken the exposure, but your kid's face is in the foreground and you don't want him to be dark. So you have to be smarter than the camera.

This is where Exposure Compensation comes in...
(Get out your manual to figure out which dial to turn...)
This is basically thanking the camera for its help, but choosing to override its exposure choice.
Look at the Preview of the last several pictures you took and ask yourself a couple questions...
Too dark or too bright? Then adjust the exposure one or two notches to the left (to make it darker) or right (to make it brighter) of the middle hash mark depending on what you need. The camera will keep this compensation for you, until you change it. If you go from a sunny to a shady spot, just make sure you keep checking the previews.
Blurry? Your shutter speed is too slow. Since the camera is choosing this for you in AV mode (probably because you're in a dark room or in shadows) try increasing your ISO or lowering your aperture number. If you're in TV mode, choose a shutter speed that's greater than the length of your lens. Usually the length of your lens is the minimum you can hand hold the camera without camera blur- i.e. 50mm: lens stay above 1/50 (this isn't a science though, don't hold me to it).

Let's go Back to Barbie...

Above: AV Mode; ISO 125, f2.8 at 1/1000 sec. (+1/3 stop exposure compensation). Blury background; +1/3 stop exposure compensation. I chose the Aperture (f2.8), and moved the little hash mark to the right one line, compensating the exposure +1/3 of a stop to make the picture brighter.

Above: AV Mode; ISO 125, f9.0 at 1/100 sec. (+1/3 exposure compensation). Sharper background (more depth of field); +1/3 stop exposure compensation. I chose a larger aperture (f9.0) to bring out the details in the background. I wanted the picture a bit brighter, so I moved the little hash mark one line to the right of the middle line, compensating the exposure +1/3 of a stop. There may be a happy medium between the darker and brighter backgrounds, and that's where post processing and editing come into play (if this weren't a picture of a barbie in the weeds that is :) ), but you get the idea. Sometimes the camera is way off, sometimes it's spot on but now you're able to give it a little piece of your mind.

Congratulations! You got it off Automatic!! Now, just PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!!
When you upload your pictures to your computer, pay attention to the settings that you used for each exposure. You can learn from your mistakes as well as the perfectly exposed pictures. The more you compare and take notes, the more you start to understand the differences that each piece plays in achieving a correct exposure. If you get stuck, you can switch to automatic and see what the camera chooses, then go back to AV/TV mode and make your own decision.

There's a GREAT book with tons of examples and analogies to help all this sink in. It's called Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson. It starts at the basics and takes you to some complicated and creative situations.

Happy Pictures!

Did that help? It helped us get off automatic.

Isn't she great!!!!

Look at how great she is.....

This is My family (Bri) last Christmas in 32 degree weather, which for us Southern Californians is COLD. Even in the bitter cold (again we are from CA) Laura got AMAZING shots. All you Dallas TX friends trust me when I say Laura Kent Photography will capture unforgettable moments and memories that you will cherish forever.


Amy & Bri


  1. Thank you! I am attempting to get off Auto right this moment, and it is shaping up to be more of a challenge than I thought. I went totally manual and now am backing up a bit. Thanks for the simple language!!

  2. Great tutorial! Can't wait to pass it on to our resident budding photographer--the hubs!

  3. What a fantastic tutorial! I'm bookmarking this for sure!