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The word exposure refers to the amount of light hitting your camera's sensor and being recorded by the camera's memory card. Now your camera gives you a little help with this situation by providing you with an internal reflective light meter. That measures the light and dark in your scene and then tells the camera what it thinks the proper exposure should be. You can let the internal light meter do all the thinking for you and see the results. Or you can gain a little more control by adjusting your camera's metering settings or depending on your light in your scene and your artistic intent disregard it completely.
In any case, it's good to know how to control the light entering the camera. And exposure is a combination of three important elements, aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. It's often referred to as the photographic triangle. Aperture measured in f stops, is the opening in the lens that lets in the light. Shutter speed is the amount of time the shutter is open to let in the light and ISO is your camera's sensor's sensitivity to the light.
Does it sound like everything is about the light? Well, it is. When you press the shutter button on a digital camera, a lot more goes on than meets the eye. The camera's internal reflective light meter is assessing the light in your scene. Adjusting for the camera's calculation of proper exposure and focusing the shot. That's a lot to do in a very small amount of time. But the camera is only a tool. You are the artist and have the final decision with your image making. So, let's go over a few things about controlling your camera to achieve the results you want.
Whether you have a compact camera or a DSLR, every camera offers the option to shoot in automatic and that's often where most people start. Now this setting is typically denoted by a green icon on the camera's mode dial or just by the word auto. When you shoot in automatic the camera reads the amount and type of light entering the lens and hitting the sensor. And it makes the best guess for setting the proper exposure with or without a flash and without much control by you. Sometimes it's nice to know that in most situations your camera will take an okay image.
But I'm guessing that you'd like to improve your photographic skills and move beyond the ordinary. It's time to take control and get creative with your photography. If you're just starting out and still need to experiment to build your confidence with your camera, I suggest shooting in program mode. Now, this is a more advanced automatic setting that determines the exposure by focusing, reading the light in the scene and automatically choosing a shutter speed and aperture. Yet allow you make decisions about the flash, white balance and your drive mode.
This setting gives you more control over your camera, but still makes all the exposure decisions for you. If you like to control the depth of the field and create that blurred background effect in your portraits, shooting an aperture priority is a good choice. Referred to as A or AV on most cameras, you set the desired aperture, and the camera automatically adjusts for the proper shutter speed exposure. You can really isolate your subject from the background by setting your camera to the widest aperture, your lens will allow.
If you're shooting with a compact camera, try using the Portrait mode setting represented by the head on your camera. Now every camera is different. The portrait setting could be located on a mode dial or in your menu settings. When you select portrait mode, the camera adjusts the aperture and shutter speed for you, softening hair and skin tones, and minimizing the depth of field for a soft background effect. Now if you're more advanced, then manual mode is going to give you the most creative control. Allowing you to select your aperture and shutter speed independently.
Now, if you're unsure what your manual setting should be, take a picture in portrait mode, first, check to see what the exposure settings are. Then use those settings in manual mode, and make adjustments from there as you see fit.
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