Thursday, May 19, 2011

Dabbling in Photography

I’m not a photographer, but I love to take pictures. And thanks to my relatively new SLR camera – a birthday gift from my husband – I’m now able to take pictures with something other than our point-and-shoot digital camera which, because of its three-second delay, only captured shots of my kids as they jumped up, ran away, blinked, or burst into tears.

I’d be a better photographer if I would read the book that came with my camera. And if I learned what aperture and ISO mean. And if I learned how to close one eye while keeping the other eye open. (I kid you not – I can’t wink AT ALL, therefore when I take pictures I have to use either my camera or my thumb to hold one eyelid closed.) I plan to do these things at some point, but right now it’s just too hard to sit down with the manual (or to practice winking) when my children are begging me with their cuteness to chase after and photograph them over and over and over again.

Let me be clear, however – my children are begging me to photograph them with their cuteness ONLY. They’re actually quite fed up with my photo sessions, which the picture below captures perfectly. They were sitting on the ledge, grinning and chatting with each other, until I asked them to smile for the camera. I said “smile!” and their reactions said “in your dreams, woman”.

So I decided to give my kids a break, and to start photographing things that couldn’t talk back or run away or throw a tantrum. I’m planning to post some of these pictures, along with short descriptions, from time to time here at Midwestern Girl. If you have them, I’d love to hear your opinions and your suggestions for improvement – I have nowhere to go but up!

Oh, and a bottle of OPI Texas Collection nail polish to the reader who provides me with the Cliff’s Notes version of what aperature and ISO are all about.

Thank you so much to everyone who has left comments for me on Facebook! Might I ask that you leave your comments here instead though? Facebook won't allow me to read your kind words and funny stories after a certain period of time, but comments left on the blog will be available for me to read forever! Thanks!


  1. Erin, the moment you captured in this picture is fantastic! It's a classic.

    You can keep the nail polish, but here's what ISO means in a nutshell. ISO is a holdover from the days of film. Remember film? And how you'd buy 100, 200, 400, or 800 speed film? Basically, what that meant was how densely packed the photosensitive crystals were. The more densely packed, (as in 100 speed) the more you could blow your picture up before it looked grainy. But the catch with "slow" speed film was that because the crystals were so densely packed, they required more light to expose the film. This meant slow shudder speeds in low light conditions (and increased chance you would blur your photograph).

    So if you knew you'd be taking pictures outside with a lot of light, you'd ALWAYS want to use 100. Inside, 200 or 400 would be better as long as you weren't planning on making 8x10" prints.

    Digital photography is cool in that you can simulate the ISO and a good camera (like yours) will let you change the ISO on the fly (in the old days you would have to change your film). This is a setting you can probably leave on AUTO, since your camera will probably select the best ISO it can. However, if you know you're taking a photo that you want to blow up, you may want to force it to 100 ISO and deal with the consequences. Consequently, if you're inside and you don't want to use a flash, you may force it to 800 or 1600 to see if you can eke out enough light.

    Aperture is much more important to play with. If you're not experimenting with your aperture you're missing all of the fun. The aperture is the size of the opening in your lens. (A larger aperture number means a smaller opening). The aperture opening affects two things: 1) the amount of light you let in... and 2) your depth of field.

    If you want everything in your picture to be crisp and in focus, select a high aperture (if you have enough light). If you want a cool blurred effect where only your subject is in focus and the background is blurred, then select a very small aperture (large opening). In the picture above, this effect of blurring the background would have made Will stand out from the distracting background behind him. A small aperture (large opening) also lets in more light, allowing a faster shutter speed. Think about pictures you've seen of fast stuff. A running cheetah or race car always has a blurred background behind it.

    I highly recommend you spend a day taking pictures with your camera in "Aperture priority" mode. Spin that coin-sized dial to "Av"! It's practically as easy as being in full automatic, but you have so much more control. There's a ridged wheel right by the shutter release that you can turn that changes the aperture. When in Av, your camera will automatically adjust the shutter speed to make sure there's enough light to expose your shot, regardless of the aperture. So it doesn't require split-second thinking.

    If you really want to get crazy, play with your manual focus to get some shots with a cool focus/depth of field. (You can also adjust the settings of the auto-focus).

    But start with Av mode. You'll have fun! Let me know if you have any other questions, I'm looking forward to the pictures!

  2. Hey Erin!

    First, I want to say this picture is awesome and far better than one of them sitting nicely!

    As for the layman's version of an aperture I'll try and tell you what I've understood from Neal's explanations (he'll tell you every chance he gets that he's an award winning photographer). 1st: the smaller the number the bigger the aperture. The bigger the aperture, the more light that gets in. So, you want to use a large aperture (small number) in low light. This will keep you from having to use a flash which can really wash out the color in the pictures.

    2nd: The aperture also controls the depth of field and this is where my understanding gets fuzzy (get it, fuzzy!) Fuzzy like the background of the picture will be if you use a large (small number) aperture! So, if you're taking a picture of a single flower and you want everything but the flower to be blurred, then you should use a large aperture. But, if you're taking a picture of a mountain or a group of people you'll want to use a smaller aperture to get everything in focus. Though, say you want to get a picture of the single flower and you use a large aperture to blur everything else, you'll have to do it from standing pretty close, because otherwise the entire picture will be blurred.

    It gets tricky when you want a picture of a large group of people (which means you need an extended depth of field and therefore a small aperture) in low light. I haven't figured that one out yet, so I just use a flash!

    As for ISOs, all I understand is that it's the same as what used to be the speed of the film for film cameras. The higher the number the more light the camera can capture, but the pictures get grainy, so you can't make big prints of them. So, if the light is good be sure to use 100 ISO, since it gets the crispest pictures. But if the light's bad you might want to go higher.

    I hope that helps! Everyone should add though, because I'm sure I missed something. (also, I've really been enjoying your blog!)

    I hope that makes sense...though I might have missed some stuff.

  3. Hey! This one is calling my name....

    ISO is generally how sensitive your camera is to light, so the lower the number, the less sensitive (lower number outdoors/bigger number indoors in low light)

    Aperature is "basically" the size of the opening of your lens when you're taking a picture. Aperature is measured on your digital camera in F Stops. To further complicate things though (I know you said Cliff notes, but I'll go with the Cliffy version....) you'd think that the larger the FStop, the bigger the opening and that is untrue. The larger the FStop, the smaller or more narrow opening. The lower the number, the wider the opening. So when you hear a photographer say, I shoot wide open, they are talking about the plains of TX but instead the size of the opening on their camera lens......


  4. I am not going to lie...I think I need a chart to remember this :)