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



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


I love the podcast epecially for the informal chat and always interesting interviews.  But for a basics podcast it's disppointing to hear fundementals like f number getting confused - because if someone is listening for those basics its great and they deserve to be set in the right direction. 

Thank you for the feedback A.  Can you clarify when we confused the f-number...our idea was certanly to be as clear as possible, especially on a "basics" episode, but perhaps we did make a mistake. I'll give it a listen.  Thanks again.

Hi John.  It was early on about five or ten minutes. I think it was the guest (I'm sorry but I'm not familiar with your accents) who said f number is a ratio between maximum diameter and the aperture, instead of focal length and aperture.  This is a common mistake, but it makes comparing speed of lenses with different focal lengths and understanding macro extensions quite confusing down the track. Like I said before the the informality of your podcast is a real strength and I details like this are usually not very important. But perhaps if you do other shows like this you could invite someone with a background teaching the topic who might be more comfortable with the basics.

Cheer, AK.

Hey Antony,

The voice on the podcast at that moment was none other than mine. You are correct, the ratio is derived from focal length. I guess in the interest of not going down the rabbit hole of focal length and mathematical formulas, I simplified the statement to the point where it was not accurate.

I am actually the author of the B&H Explora article on the subject [https://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/photography/tips-and-solutions/understanding-aperture] where I state the following: "The formula used to assign a number to the lens opening is: f/stop = focal length / diameter of effective aperture (entrance pupil) of the lens."

Details are very important and I try to be 100% correct when speaking in any forum. I will certainly be more specific in the future when discussing where the ratio is derived from.

Thanks for catching my error!

I do not miss the film days at all!  I am never going back, and I don't understand nostolgia for film for photography or video, or vinyl music either for that matter.   When I was young and mainly guessing what would work, I burned through film hoping to get something.  More times than not, I missed getting what I wanted.  I was the blind squirrel hoping to eventually find a nut.  I preferred Pentax back in the day, because I could have that "A" setting.

If you're looking for nuts you came to the right place... boy can I tell you stories...

As for your frustrations with shooting film, I feel your pain.

Is film 'trickier' to use? Not if you undersatnd the parimeters of shooting film.

Is shooting film expensive? Yup, especially if you don't develop it ourself.

Does shooting film slow you down and make you think more before pressing the shutter? Yup again, and that's why I enjoy taking a film camera out every once in a while - it makes me a better photographer.

I enjoy shooting film because I learned the art and craft of photography using film cameras.Iit's kind of like driving stick. Some people love it (yours truly included) while most people just want to shift the car into 'Drive'. 

No surprise it's almost as hard to find a new car with a manual transmission as it is to find a new film camera. 

A perfect day in my life? A sunny day tooling around in a stick shift convertible with a film camera... Oh how I can't wait for Spring...




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.

Thank you Ralph...some very practical tips and I enjoyed the anecdote about having to finsih a roll of film before putting in a new roll with more appropriate sensitivity...Good ol' days? 

Thanks John,

One of the things I didn't mention was at the air show. Prior to the start of the Air Force Thunderbirds performance, I loaded a a 36 frame roll of film in my camera. During their performance, I ran out of film. Fortunately, it was during a lull in their performance where they were regrouping for the next pass and I had another roll loaded without missing a shot.