Camera Operator Skills

A fast car won’t get you anywhere fast unless you know how to drive a fast car fast.

That sentence was an attempt to illustrate that all the expensive gear in the world won’t help you take a better photograph unless you know how to work it.

The ‘Skills’ instruction here at ASAP is specifically for this. To help you learn to drive your gear.

We all have different collections of gear and experience and skills already so instruction has been broken into Units of 2 hours. Feel free to pick and choose what you need.

Each Unit assumes you already know what has been covered in the previous Unit and all the Units target fundamental skills so variations in gear won’t matter too much. The prerequisites section for each Unit will tell you what we expect you already know and the minimum gear you’ll need to bring along. If you’re not sure, feel free to write. In general relevant information will bleed across Units anyway so don’t freak out if you are not sure about what you do and don’t know.

S1. Focus – Some people shoot a scene and let their camera worry about what it is focusing on. This is not the best approach. For example, if you a shooting a portrait, you want to make sure the eyes of the subject are in sharp focus (generally). This Unit is for those who don’t know how to make their camera focus where they want it to. How to lock focus so that they can recompose without losing focus on the subject. Focusing in low light conditions etcetera.

S2. Exposure – In the days of film, exposure made perfect sense. It was getting the right amount of light onto the film so that the chemicals could chemical away and capture the scene. Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras have been built to mimic film and so correct exposure is about the same amount of light as film used to need (for the same ISO). Quite interesting. Anyway, exposure is basically how to get the shot lit the way you want it to be. Not too dark and not too bright. This unit will take some of the mystery out of getting correct exposures in all sorts of conditions with all sorts of composition choices shooting Program, Aperture priority, Shutter priority and Manual. You really need the next two units to get Exposure properly hacked. Sorry.

S3. Aperture – You will probably have seen pictures of people with nice blurry backgrounds. Or perhaps a football field of players who are all sharply in focus. This is called ‘Depth of Field’ (DoF) and is driven by the aperture choice you make. In case you don’t know, in your lens is a clever arrangement of metal leaves that close or open to make a hole to let light through. This is called the aperture (note that it isn’t in the camera body on a DSLR). This unit teaches you how to get the DoF you want while also getting correct exposure. So you will be shooting Aperture priority and/or Manual.

S4. Shutter Speed – In the camera body of a DSLR is a fabric or metal curtain that skids a slit across the sensor in your camera for a small amount of time. This is called your shutter, and the amount of time it is open is called your Shutter Speed (I don’t know why it was never called Shutter Time.. hmm. anyway..). Shutter speed captures a small window of time in your photograph. The biggest thing Shutter speed does is determine how much of the world gets frozen in your image. The shorter the shutter speed the less the world gets a chance to move. Drops of water from a shower don’t get to go far in 1/1000th of a second, but travel quite a way in 1/25 of a second, so the first image has frozen dots of water, the second has blurry streams of water. This unit teaches you what shutter speed is useful for what while maintaining correct exposure.

S5. ISO and Light – ISO started as the number that told you how sensitive to light your film was. It now means how sensitive to light your DSLR is. This unit teaches you that ISO is useful to know about in more situations than just low light places. It tends to become a refresher in getting correct exposure too. It will include the use of flash and reflectors to get light to cooperate.

S6. White Balance and Light colour – Visible light is made of a spectrum of colours. Full spectrum light has all the colours so the colours in your images should be correctly presented. The trouble is, not all light is full spectrum. Some light is missing bits. Since the colour of anything is just the colours of the spectrum it doesn’t absorb, you can probably figure out that if your light source is missing some parts of the spectrum then your colours may all be screwed up. White balance is how you compensate for the light sources available to you so that the colours in your images are closer to what was there, or you can add a colour cast to your image to make it cooler or warmer etcetera.

S7. Focal Length – You may wonder why so many photographers that shoot with DSLR cameras have such a wide range of lenses and why they are often looking to get more. It is because not only does the lens determine the maximum aperture you have available (smallest ‘f’ number. So f2.8 is not as big an aperture as f1.4. It gets explained in the S3 unit), it also determines the type of distortion you’ll get in your image. There is a thing called foreshortening and a very basic way to describe this is to tell you that a short focal length lens will make things look long and a long lens will make things look short. So you would use a short lens to make a limousine look long (say 24mm) and a long lens to make a Porsche look short and fat (say 200mm). This may not make sense right now, but that is what the unit is for.

S8. Workflow – Digital photography means you have to work with digital image files. There are different image file types. They can be shot at various resolutions and bit depths and thus be different sizes. They can have various colour profiles assigned and so print funky sometimes. And files are files. Many digital photographers don’t have a clear system they stick to for their file management and so they struggle to find images they’ve worked on etcetera. This unit is 2 hrs of stuff to know about working with images and computers. It may get flicked and become just a set of notes for free here on this site so stay tuned.