Photography in changing light

2011-12-03

in Geek stuff, Photography

When trying to photograph a city, one basic step to avoid missing good photographic opportunities is to have your camera out and ready. Camera bags and lens caps are useful for transportation between cities, but they are not things that you should have between you and the subjects you are hoping to photograph.

In a similar vein, it is wise (and good practice) to adjust your camera settings whenever there is a major change in the light around you. When you leave your hotel, for example, you might want to switch to a low ISO setting like 200 or 100 because it is bright outside. Along with that, some suitable settings might be a medium aperture like f/8 or f/5.6, with shutter speeds set automatically via an aperture priority mode.

If you then move from the bright day outside into somewhere indoors and dark, you probably want to open up your lens to f/4 or f/2.5 (or even f/1.8 or lower if it is really dark) and bump the ISO to a level that provides acceptable shutter speeds.

Changing your settings whenever the light changes accomplishes two useful things. In the short term, it sets you up to immediately and effectively photography anything you see. In the longer term, it builds familiarity with your equipment and with photographic settings. Once you have that, you can change settings on the fly more easily when truly unexpected circumstances suddenly arise.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Lynn December 4, 2011 at 7:53 pm

Great advice, Milan, straightforward and simple…I will be doing my best to follow this from now on!

Tristan December 5, 2011 at 10:43 pm

I agree that it’s very important to anticipate the light in which you are shooting, especially because the best photos are often taken at times when the light is changing quickly.

Personally, my approach is less technical than the ones described here. I use P (program) mode, which selects aperture and shutter speed automatically, and set my ISO to auto, so it stays at minimum until it needs to be bumped to get a sharp picture. I set the minimum shutter speed before ISO bump at 1/30th of a second or 1/60th of a second, depending on what lens I’m using, or whether I’m shooting action. This way certainly has downsides in terms of less control of the settings, but the upside is it can be left alone pretty much all the time – the only thing I ever really change is white balance.

Milan December 9, 2011 at 7:39 pm

It’s nice that Nikon lets you choose a minimum shutter speed in auto ISO mode. The 5D Mk II has no such feature. It would be better to set shutter speed and aperture and let ISO float than to dynamically adjust ISO while checking on shutter speed for each shot.

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