Playing with light in photography

Starting off in digital photography can be a very unrewarding and unsatisfactory time.

Many beginners try photographing normal subjects without actually playing with the settings on their camera. We hope to quash any questions you may have with what your settings mean and what you can do with them as a beginner.

For this article we will be using light trails as a starting point as you can produce beautiful looking images while at the same time working out what each setting does. Please also note that each image used in this article will also display the settings used. Every image is taken using a Canon EOS 400D (aka RebelĀ  XTi). Please also note this is an article for digital beginners.

  1. Shutter Speed
    This is simply the length of time the shutter stays open for. It is quite often the reason behind blurry or under lit photos. The faster the shutter opens and closes, the less light enters the lens and there is also a smaller chance of blurry photos. This can have a massive impact when taking photos of moving objects as the results can mean a dramatic difference.
    If you set a faster shutter speed (for example, photographing a formula one car) you will capture a sharper image with little light. This is when you need to change your ISO setting and your f-stop/aperture (see below) to let in more light to the lens.
  2. F Number/Aperture
    This area of the camera quite often confuses people the most due to its name. Many different terms and phrases are used throughout each camera but usually it is denoted with an F in front of a small number (often decimal).
    Basically, the higher the number, the more detail your camera will capture. For instance, if your photographing a close object the background maybe blurry with a small f-number.
    However, by upping the f-number you lose light in the photo, so to counter-act this we need to raise the ISO-Speed and/or the shutter speed to bring more light into the photo.

    Aperture/F-Stop Example
  3. ISO/ASA Setting/Film Speed
    An ISO/ASA setting can have undesirable effects. This needs to remain a low numberĀ  in order to produce a clearer picture. Quite often you may find yourself in a low lit area with no flash and an unsteady hand. This means your shutter speed will be slow (to let in more light) your aperture will have a small number (to also let in extra light) but you will be shooting something moving or will be getting regular blurred shots. This is where ISO/ASA may come in handy. It simply makes the camera more sensitive to light when the photograph is taken.
    It can be a big help, but in digital photography it will cause your image quality to degrade significantly. You will see a lot of noise in the image due to the sensitivity. The higher the ISO/ASA, the more light you will see but then more noise you will capture as a consequence.

These are the three main setting we will need when photographing our light trails. You will need a tripod (or a flat surface where your camera can sit) and some sort of moving light source, such as a motorway/highway/road or a small torch.

First of all we need to decide how long we want to capture the image. For this example we are using a busy motorway. We are setting our camera up for a 20 second shutter speed (which means 20 seconds worth of light and cars will be captured) and will set our ISO as low as possible (ISO-100 is good enough). We also need to ensure our Aperture is also a low number (around F-5) as we are not photographing a close subject and need more light.

Once we are setup we take the photo. Ideally we need to have a remote control to stop the camera moving or even setting the camera to the self timer mode (counts down 10 seconds and takes the photo itself).
Once all this is done bask at the glory which is your light trail!

Get playing and see what you can create with a bit of imagination!

12 thoughts on “Playing with light in photography”

  1. Well im a begginer but not a complete idiot with a camera. some of the exsplanations you have given actualy help me understand what im doing my camera.

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  3. Insightful. I like this. Will try to see whether the information provided herein is useful or not by the specific outcome after putting into use in real world practice. Thanks.

  4. Very cool site, love the pics and the tutorial. Long exposures can be a ton of fun. Like you have said, setting the ISO low in those situations can be key to quality and allow you more time to play with the shutter open. Better to get the shot quality up and adjust exposure length by adjusting aperture if you have to.

    For anyone who needs to learn more about the costs/benefits of different ISO values, try here: http://blogs.adamparkerphotography.com/blog/What-does-the-ISO-setting-on-my-camera-do/16/

    Thanks again for the post, can’t wait to read more.

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