This post contains some of my assignments for the ‘Basics’ module (chapter 3) of the Matador Utravel photography course.
In my previous post I talked about the shutter speed and its impact on photos. Today I’m going to discuss another important variable in the exposure triangle: the aperture. As I said in my previous post, the aperture controls the exposure, that is the light that hits the sensor, but it also affects the depth of field or DOF (=the size of the portion of a picture that appears in acceptable focus).
What is aperture?
The term aperture defines the size of the opening of the diaphragm inside the lens (a kind of hole into the lens – the hole through which the light makes its way to the sensor). The size of the opening of the lens diaphragm (the hole) becomes wider or tighter as you rotate the aperture dial on your camera body.
How aperture works
The aperture is measured in f/numbers, and higher f/numbers correspond to tighter apertures (this is a bit counter-intuitive, isn’t it?) So, if you take your camera now and set it the lowest aperture number available you are actually opening up the lens diaphragm. Now, rotate the dial in the opposite direction until you reach the highest f/number (for many lenses this is f/22 or f/29) – you’ve just stopped-down the lens.
The relation between aperture and shutter speed
The wider the aperture the higher the amount of light you’ll let in. Conversely, as you stop down the diaphragm you will progressively decrease the exposure. Therefore when you stop down the lens, you need to slow down the shutter too. This shouldn’t be difficult to understand: with a tight diaphragm you’ll need more time to let enough light in to hit the sensor and achieve good exposure. Vice versa, when you shoot with wide aperture values you’ll be able to use higher shutter speeds. If this concept is still not clear, you may want to read the shutter speed post if you haven’t read it already, or look at the images below. Keep in mind that I’m not talking about ISO right now because I’ll do it in the next post.
This is what happens when you change the aperture keeping the shutter speed at the same value:
How aperture affects focus
As I said above, the aperture affects the DOF of a photo, that is the size of the portion of a picture that appears in acceptable focus. More precisely, the wider the aperture (=the lower the f/ number), the smaller the area of focus – a tiny area of focus is referred to as shallow DOF. As you stop down the lens diaphragm, the area of focus – and the depth of field – increase. A large DOF is also referred to as deep focus.
It’s important to keep in mind, however, that the DOF is also influenced by various other factors, including:
the distance between the camera the subjects – moving close to a subject tends to restrict the DOF.
the focal length of the lens – longer focal lengths tend to restrict the DOF too
Aperture in action
There’s no right or wrong aperture settings, only aperture settings that are appropriate for the type of image you’re shooting.
Examples of situations where large apertures are appropriate include:
low light conditions or action shots – opening up the aperture maximises the shutter speed and helps avoiding motion blur or camera shake
portraits or still life photography, when you want your subject to stand out – using a large aperture in this case helps to throw uninteresting or distracting elements out of focus.
On the contrary, tight apertures become necessary when it is important to maximise the DOF – in landscape and architecture photography, for instance. This is the reason why most professional landscape and architecture photographers use a tripod: the aperture range they move in requires inevitably slower shutter speeds.
Another thing to keep in mind is that very few photographer go beyond f/16 because most lenses become overall less sharp between f/16 and f/22 due to lens diffraction, as explained in this article.
Comments and feedback are welcome as usual – Thanks for reading!
As you manipulate each one of these variables you increase or decrease the exposure, that is the amount of light that hits the sensor. However each variable also brings about some ‘side effects‘. In very simple terms:
the shutter speed affects the appearance of moving subjects
the aperture, which is the size of the opening of the lens diaphragm (think of it as a hole inside the lens), controls the depth of field (DOF) – in other words it controls how big or small is the area of the image which appears in acceptable focus
high ISO settings can result in varying amounts of digital noise. Excessive amounts of digital noise can seriously compromise the quality of a picture and render it unusable.
In this post I’m going to discuss how different shutter speeds can work for different types of images. I’m also going to show some pictures I’ve taken at different shutter speeds as examples.
Using high shutter speeds
Using high shutter speeds can result in freezing the action of a moving subject. High shutter speeds generally produce sharper images but because the higher the shutter speed the lower the exposure, to use high shutter speeds you need to have a decent amount of light available, whether natural or artificial to avoid underexposure.
Extreme high speed photography uses high shutter speeds to capture very fast phenomena like the droplet rebounding upward in the picture below.
Certain types of action shots, including sport shots, are generally best taken with a high shutter speed in order to avoid motion blur. However in certain cases a tiny amount of motion blur can add a more dynamic element in a shot.
Using slow shutter speeds
Low shutter speeds become necessary when working in very low light conditions (i.e. interiors, night photography) to ensure good exposure, or in landscape photography, when it is important to close down the aperture to achieve a large DOF.
When the exposure is too slow it is important to use a tripod or to rest the camera on something sturdy (a stone, a wall, etc.) to avoid camera shake.
Many travel photographers use a slow shutter speed technique called panning (check my other post on how to take a panning shot to learn more about this technique and see some panning photos) to convey a sense of fast motion in their pictures. Some photographers also use ND filters to reduce the exposure in order to be able to slow down the shutter speed even during daylight hours. Doing so allows them to catch the movement of elements like water, clouds, people, etc. Other slow shutter speed techniques include radial blur and light painting.
What is your approach to using different shutter speeds? Please share any thoughts in the comments below.
This post contains my assignments for the “Equipment” module (chapter II) of the Matador Utravel photography course.
While I’m no gear freak I always try to buy the best pieces of photographic equipment I can afford. Of course buying a new state-of-the-art camera doesn’t automatically make you a better photographer, but if you become aware of the limitations of your current travel photography gear, buying new or better pieces of equipment can open new creative possibilities, and help you gain more creative control over your photographic process.
In this post I’ll talk about my travel photography gear and I’ll outline how I use it. At the end of the post I’ll add my travel photography gear wishlist, that is all the pieces of photographic equipment I’d like to buy sooner or later. If any of my friends are reading this, then remember it’ll be my birthday soon – oh, and Christmas is not that far away either 🙂 just kidding!
I hope fellow aspiring travel photographers, people who are interested in travel photography in general, or those of you who are considering buying new travel photography gear find this post useful.
I currently own two camera bodies. A Canon EOS 500D (Digital Rebel T1i / Kiss X3 Digital), and a Canon EOS 5D mark II. For those who don’t know, the difference between the two cameras, apart from the price, is that the 500D is an entry-level camera with a crop sensor, whereas the 5D is a professional camera with a full frame sensor. Full frame sensors are way more expensive than crop sensors, but they also guarantee exceptional image quality and higher performance (meaning less digital noise and grain) with high ISO. Full frame sensors are a great choice for working in dim light conditions when you can’t avail of, or don’t want to use any lighting equipment. Another characteristic of full frame sensors is that they allow for a larger field of view – for further reading on this subject check this article at Digital Photography School:
While my 5d is my first choice in most situations, I often use my 500D too. In fact, having two camera bodies is a great thing, and when I go out to shoot with both cameras, I can experiment shooting the same subjects with different focal lengths without having to swap lenses, minimizing the risk of dirtying my cameras’ sensors.
For a long time I managed to ‘survive’ with one general purpose lens only: my Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM – over time I became attracted to other types of lenses, so I bought a prime lens first- a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II – and finally a couple of ultra-wide angle lenses: a Canon EF-S 10-22/3.5-4.5 USM (this only goes on my 500D), and a Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens. Having – and using – a varied set of lenses allows me to see the same scene in many different ways. I don’t have a favourite lens overall, and I tend to use all of my lenses almost interchangeably. Which lens I’ll use depends on the space I have available, the light conditions, the feeling of the moment and the type of story I’d like to tell with any image. For instance, I love using my 50mm prime lens for people shots (including head shots, or head/shoulder type of portraits), but there are times that I prefer to use a wide-angle for portraits if it allows me to include in the frame significant elements from the environment around my subject, and perhaps convey a sense of intimacy. For further reading on photographing people with a wide-angle lens, check this interesting article by travel photographer Jacob Maentz on How a Wide-Angle Lens Can Add Intimacy To Your People Photos. On the other hand, while I love using my wide-angle lenses – or my general purpose lens – for landscape and architecture photography, sometimes shooting buildings, interiors and landscapes with my prime lens makes more sense to me than using any other lens.
There is a debate whether travel and documentary photographers should or should not use a flash. While the purists say it’s a no-no, other professionals just claim that – if used properly – an off-camera flash can go a long way towards helping you make dramatic, yet realistic images. Travel photographer Mitchell Kanashkevich has a great eBook titled “Seeing the Light” where he covers how to use lighting equipment (e.g. flashes, reflectors) as well as natural light in travel and documentary photography. Mitchell’s book includes several case studies and I couldn’t recommend it more. Actually, after reading it myself I started saving and eventually I bought a transmitter (Canon Flash Speedlite Wireless Remote Transmitter ST-E2) , a flash (Canon 580EX II Speedlite), a portable softbox (Interfit strobies), and some flash gels to manipulate the colour of the light – This is more or less the type of equipment Mitchell used to use at the time he wrote the book.
As an example, here is an an image I took in North Vietnam using Mitchell’s off-camera flash technique:
a travel tripod – this is important for landscape, interiors, night and long exposure photography
a couple of remote shutter triggers that I use to minimize camera shake when the camera is on the tripod
UV filters – which I use to protect the lenses
lens hoods to minimize glare and lens flare
a couple of camera bags – a big one that I use for long trips and a smaller one that I use for photo walks
cleaning kit, including air blower, cloth and lens paper
Laptop, storage and post processing
There are many opinions about travel laptops and many digital nomads wonder what is the best travel laptop out there. Before Romana and I set off on our 8-month round the world trip we decided to buy a new laptop – the one we already had was too big and heavy. Because we had to use photo editing software to sort out our pictures while on the road, we were looking for something with a reasonably sized screen (definitely larger than a netbook) which could provide good performance. Of course we also wanted something light and thin. We ended up buying a Dell Inspiron M301z and we were more than happy with it – it proved a reliable travel companion. We also brought with us a WD my passportUSB hard drive and used it as a backup device. In terms of post processing software what I use most is Lightroom. From time to time I also use Photoshop CS5, Nik Color Efex Pro, and Photomatix.
So, here is what I’d like to buy one day:
a good telephoto lens – I think having a telephoto lens would open a whole new world of possibilities as far as landscape and portrait photography are concerned. For further reading check Using Telephoto Lenses and Telephoto Technique.
a polarizing filter. Polarizing filters are great for landscape photography, and, among other things, they can enhance the contrast in the clouds, darken the sky and saturate blues and greens.
a ND filter like the B+W 110 – these filters reduce the amount of light that hits the sensor, therefore increasing the exposure time. With these filters you can practice long exposure photography even during the day. Check some photos made with ND filters like this on this flickr group
Underwater camera housing. Given the prices I think it won’t be too soon before I buy an underwater housing for my camera. But I definitely want to explore underwater photography one day.
What do you think? Is there any piece of photographic equipment you’re dying to buy or you’re particularly interested in? Any piece of travel gear that you already bought that changed the way you photograph? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
Disclosure:some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning I will earn a commission (and you will be supporting thesiracusas.com) if you buy from those links.
I’m 35, I don’t have a regular source of income, I’m living in an economically depressed area, I’m going to be a dad soon, and I joined the Matador U travel photography program. Am I insane? Well, probably I am 🙂
Seriously – while it’s no mystery that I’m passionate about travel photography, I think I never stated it explicitly on the blog that I would like to become a full-time professional travel photographer one day. I know it’s not going to be easy, I know it will require a lot of sacrifice, including financial sacrifice, and I know I’ll have to find another source of income while I try – probably, even when I’m able to get my first paid assignments, or sell my first prints, I will have to supplement that income with something else (perhaps another job?) I know it will take hard work, eagerness to learn, a good portfolio to show off and, most importantly, some business acumen. But I also know that if I’m focused and committed enough, I might well get there one day. Fortunately my wife and my family are with me in this endeavour, and they are encouraging me every minute. This means a lot to me and I’m grateful to have so many special people around me.
With all the factors I had to weigh in it took me ages to make a decision, but in the end I joined the travel photography course at MatadorU – Why? Because I think I will benefit from
following a structured learning path, and
participating in a diverse, global virtual community consisting of professionals and published authors, as well as fellow aspiring travel photographers, ready to provide tips, feedback on your work and interesting conversation about the industry.
The rest of the job will involve going out with my camera and shooting, shooting, shooting.
As part of the course I will have to complete some assignments – I will post these assignments on the blog and I’ll share them with the folks at MatadorU, and with any of you who might be interested in following my adventures in travel photography.
One of my favourite travel photos
As a first thing, for the folks at MatadorU, I would like to post one of my favourite travel photos, along with its caption. This is a photo I took in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, North India, and a slightly different black & white version of it was recently accepted, and is currently featured, into the 1x photo gallery.
Why I’m interested in travel photography, what are my expectations and what type of travel photographer I want to be
My interest in travel photography stems from my tireless curiosity and my passion for our planet, its nature, people’s histories and cultures. I believe travel photography can play an important role in promoting the value of diversity, challenging ethnocentrism, and encouraging people to step out of their comfort zone and evolve.
Along with putting together a portfolio with my Asian shots, I would like to specialize geographically in the Mediterranean area, shooting stories and other types of travel pictures for tourism boards, magazines, image libraries, and socially oriented organizations, including NGOs.
I hope you will enjoy following my new travel photography thread and my assignments at MatadorU. As usual you are very welcome to participate with your opinions, questions, feedback and ideas. I love to hear from you!
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