Photography / Features

Podcast: A is Not for Automatic—The Basics of Photography


On this week’s episode, we return to our roots—and not just our photographic roots—but we return to our podcast’s original design of chatting about photography among B&H photographers and writers. We welcome back an original co-host of the podcast, Todd Vorenkamp, as we discuss the basics of photography—the control of light through aperture, shutter speed, and ISO sensitivity.

Yes, this episode could be considered a Photo 101 course, and for those who are new to photography (or new to manual control of your imaging) this episode should be very helpful. We walk through the core concepts of how to expose your images to get the look you want and try to clarify the sometimes confusing nomenclature and camera settings. We talk depth of field, diffraction, motion blur, digital noise, “Sunny 16,” and the necessary balance between aperture, shutter speed, and ISO that is required for proper exposure. Photo veterans should tune in, too, because our conversation is by photographers for photographers, and will provide insights and anecdotes that may even improve your skills.

Guest: Todd Vorenkamp

Shallow depth of field can be created by opening up your lens to its maximum aperture.         John Harris
High ISO settings enable sharp imaging in low light but can also produce “noise,” apparent in the sky. John Harris
Even a shutter speed of less than 1 second can create blur or, in this case, a short light trail.     John Harris
Utilizing a 30 second exposure with tripod, low ISO and a small (f/22) aperture, long light trails and intentional blur are created. An auto white balance setting facilitates the proper rendition of the many different color temperatures in this frame.Jason Tables

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Host: Allan Weitz
Senior Creative Producer: John Harris
Producer: Jason Tables
Executive Producer: Lawrence Neves

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I bought the Canon A-1 because it was "state of the art" in 1980 for its aperture-priority, shutter-priority, program, manual, and stopped down metering.

Most times, some cameras are set on Program. With the A-1, it's usually on [P]; with the New F-1, I usually use match-needle, but it may be Av (AE Finder), or Tv (AE Motor Drive FN). For my 5D III, it's on [P].

Manual: The local camera club had a "Show-n-Tell" of panoramas. I thought of leaving that to the DSLR and Photoshop people, but I thought "Why not?" To me, it made sense to put my A-1 on manual; I metered for the darkest area and set the shutter speed and moved the lens to manual aperture to avoid any changes of the scene. White balance and ISO were not a concern since it was Kodak Ektar 100.

Baseball game at night: This sounds counterintuitive, but my lens is 80-205 f4.5. My film speed is ISO 3200 (Kodak TMAX 3200 and Ilford Delta 3200). I set the aperture to wide open and let the shutter speed fall where they may.

Air Show:
Vintage Aircraft (propeller driven): Propeller blur is cool for vintage aircraft; otherwise, it looks frozen.
Also with helicopters, one doesn't want to freeze the blades, otherwise it looks like they're falling out of the sky.

Handholding at slow shutter speeds:
I photographed the Space Shuttle pulling away from the Space Station. I braced myself against my van. Unfortunately, both weren't a straight line. But it was cool to see.

I photographed a concert using Kodak TMAX 3200 pushed two stops to 12800, which maxed out the ISO on my A-1. The grain exploded! But it was the only option available.

ISO: Film vs Digital
With film, the ISO is baked in; with digital, it's flexible.
I would've loved to be shooting digital for the pre-dawn landing of Space Shuttle Atlantis. I wish that I had bought Kodak TMAX 3200 and had it next day delivered, but it was approaching the Sabbath when I got the invitation from NASA and I'd have to go. I bought Kodak BW400CN and pushed it to 1600, which was still too slow. I did have to finish my roll of Kodak Ektar 100 in a dimly lit parking lot, inside a building, and on a bus before loading the B&W film.

Exposure Compensation:
I change my exposure compensation to +2 when it has snows in South Carolina, which is rare; for sunrises, sunsets, I'll change it to -2/3.

White Balance:
The white balance on my 5D is set to Daylight. I frequently forget to change the white balance to auto when inside. I'm treating my DSLR like a film camera, except for the baked in ISO.