Equipment: camera, meter, flash, tripod
This article is a simplified photography course directed at new photographers out there who want to know where to start.
If you really want to learn photography the first thing you need is a good affordable and reliable camera. It must, and I repeat must, be able to shoot in fully manual and fully auto focus modes. (This leaves out any digital cameras on the market right now, sorry.) To really learn photography you must understand the equipment. You'll need to learn how manipulating the shutter speed, aperture, and focus will have a dramatic effect on your photos. Meters, if you have a camera that can work in a fully manual mode it should have an internal meter suitable for what you will be doing. Tripod, you're going to need one whether it's portrait work or landscapes you'll need one eventually. Luckily you don't have to spend a lot here. Just something lightweight and durable. Flash, you can buy a separate camera mounted flash, which is great if you can afford it. Consider what kind of photography that you will be doing though. If you're going to do mostly nature and landscape, you may only need the fill flash that comes with most cameras today. If you plan on doing portraiture alone you will want to consider a camera mounted flash that has an adjustable angle.
Film, film speed to be exact. Slower speeds (25 to 400) are intended for portraiture and landscape photography. Faster speeds (600 and above) are intended for actions shots and photojournalism. So first you need to know what you going out to photograph and make sure that you have the appropriate film for the job.
Now that you have the camera loaded with film consider shutter speed. Do you want to blur motion, or freeze it? If there is no motion at all what shutter speed do you need to expose the scene with natural light. From 1/60th and down to the bulb setting will blur most motion. For example if you want to blur the water in a waterfall, a setting of 1/30th should work. (You'll need a tripod though.) 1/125th is a normal setting for most shots. On many cameras the 125th setting is marked in a different color to make it obvious. If you want to freeze action you'll need to start with 1/500th and work up from there. The faster the motion the faster the shutter speed needed to stop motion. Many cameras go up to 1/2000th of a second. If you're trying to use natural light alone in a scene you will want to determine the aperture first and then see what shutter speed you need to properly expose the scene for available light. (Keep in mind sometimes there isn't enough light.)
Aperture, these are the set of numbers on your lens closest to the body of the camera. They can go from 1.8 to 22, and they are referred to as F-stops. These numbers determine how much light reaches the film inside of your camera. Most internal meters will blink on the appropriate aperture for the shutter speed that you've set, or the speed you've set will blink if your F-stop is correct for the speed. Both the F-stop and shutter speed can be changed to expose the scene correctly. Consider that the faster the shutter speed the more light will be needed to expose the scene correctly. This makes logical sense if you think about it. If the shutter isn't open as long, fast shutter speed, then there is less light able to make it to the film and so the scene must be brighter to expose correctly. To learn, bracket your shots. Take the first shot at the aperture suggested by your meter, move one stop up, take a photo, one down, take another photo.
Flash, I personally like shooting with natural light whenever possible and at most I use a fill flash. But if you're going to do portrait work then most of the time you may be indoors and you will need a flash sometimes. For the amateur the fill flash units that are on the top of most of today's cameras are wonderful for basic work. You will have to read your manual on your particular flash unit to learn what it can and can't do. This is where the camera that is fully manual and fully auto is great for the amateur. You can usually set it so that the camera will meter and set the flash output accordingly and then you still can control the shutter speed and aperture.
This week's assignment: Have several rolls of 400 speed film, find a subject that you can work with preferably something that won't move, and shoot one roll of film. Shoot some of the roll in the morning, afternoon, and evening. Bracket every shot, take notes on time of day and light conditions, and what your settings (aperture) were for each frame, keep the film speed the same for the entire roll. Have the film developed and examine the photos. You should be able to see a difference in each frame. You'll need to repeat this procedure until you feel that you understand the relationship between shutter speed and aperture, and every camera and meter has it's own quirks and differences, you're camera will act differently than someone else's. This way you will learn you own particular camera as well. Once you have a sense of how aperture works you won't need to bracket every shot you take, you may only need to do it in cases where you want to be extra safe on exposing the subject correctly.
If you have some specific questions please visit my Photography Forum at: http://kellypaalphotography.com/v-web/bulletin/bb/index.php
Copyright 2004 Kelly Paal
Kelly Paal is a Freelance Nature and Landscape Photographer, exhibiting nationally and internationally. Recently she started her own business Kelly Paal Photography (www.kellypaalphotography.com). She has an educational background in photography, business, and commercial art. She enjoys applying graphic design and photography principles to her web design.