1. Camera Setup, Triad and Practice


A camera teaches you how to see without a camera. Seeing is more than a physiological phenomenon. We see not only with our eyes but with all we are and all that our culture is. The artist is a professional see-er. No country has ever closely scrutinized itself visually. I believe what we call beautiful is generally a by-product. Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still. The good photography is not the object, the consequence of the photograph are the objects. — Dorothea Lange

Taking good pictures is about learning to see

Setting up a new camera.

Lets make sure the key things in your camera are set up.

  1. Time and Date
  2. Format memory card [in Camera]. Remember there could be a dual slot setting.
  3. Check image quality. Remember memory cards are very reasonably priced, so use the highest quality setting as possible.
  4. JPG + RAW or just RAW
  5. Set your preferred JPG setting for the camera.
  6. Check that your white balance to automatic.
  7. Check that your autofocus is on
  8. Check type of focus (single point, multiple point)
  9. Check ISO

Other Settings of Interest

  1. .Set ISO and speed limitations for automatic shooting.
  2. Check the settings on your lens (autofocus/stabilization). 
  3. Check to see if you on continuous focus or single focus.
  4. Check your face detection AF in new cameras.
  5. Review the programable buttons and reset if desirable.
  6. Check compensation dial.
  7. Wireless setting.

Technical Jargon?

Jargon such as: Bulb, Bracketing, Bulb, DSLR, zoom lens, prime lens, cable release, macro lens, “normal” lens, telephoto lens, wide-angle lens, tilt-shift lens, resolution, jpg, RAW, full-frame, crop sensor, APSC, medium format, 4/3 sensor, fast glass, metadata, chimping, bokeh, depth of field, the circle of confusion, hyperlocal distance, camera shake, lens flare, flare hood, ND filter, panning, golden hour, sensor dust, wide open, back-button focusing, back-button exposure, hyperfocus distance, etc

Jargon can get in the way of learning to use a camera and there is an enormous amount of jargon in photography. Photography is about capturing light so there are only three key things you need to understand so we can ignore the jargon in the beginning. Once we learn these three key things, we can enjoy exploring the jargon or not. The three things that impact how you capture light are f-stop, speed and ISO no matter what camera you are using whether it is digital or not. So let’s park the jargon for the time being and focus on the key elements of capturing light.

Camera Operation: The Triad or the Three Fundamentals

In this chart you can see first the f-stops, then the speed and finally the ISO. The pictures give you some sense of what various settings will do to your image if you select them. The characterizes how f stop either keeps everything in focus or just a narrow amount of things in focus. Speed either freezes the action or does not freeze the action depending on the speed of the shutter. ISO controls the amount of how clear the image is of small distortions called noise (in film days this was called grain), the higher the ISO more noisy or grainy the image becomes.

f-stop / Aperature

f/stop in most cameras is called Aperture and in many cameras, there is a dial on which you will find the letter “A” (unless you have a Canon camera which calls it AV, on some mirrorless cameras the actual f-stop is written on the lens and can be changed by just turning the dial on the lens. So the Aperture (f-stop) determines the depth of field (define) in your shot, how much of the scene is in focus from front-to-back.

Speed / Shutter

Speed controls how fast the shutter opens and closes, which controls the amount of motion blur captured in your shot. This can be anywhere from a lot to none at all.


ISO controlling how much noise is in your shot increases the amount of noise or grain you see the higher the number the more noise appears in your image, as you can see in the diagram below.

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Capturing light is simply a matter of adjusting all three settings to meet the lighting conditions the camera finds itself in. You can see in the chart has two columns under each of these three adjustments. If you look at f 5.6 in the gray column the next stop up is 4.0 moving the f-stop from 5.6 to 4.0 doubles the amount of light coming into the camera. So if you move a full stop in any direction you are either doubling or halfing the light going through the lens to the sensor. Adjusting the Speed of the Shutter using the speeds in the gray area either up or down will also either double or half the light coming into the lens. The ISO numbers in the gray scale effectively do the same think, only they make the sensor double or half its sensitivity to light. The chart gives you partial adjustments in the white columns as modern cameras allow you to adjust your settings by thirds.

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The following triangle is another way of looking at the triad, illustrated by Duja Dudjic, along with some detailed information on the DIYPHotography.net

The Four Shooting Modes

Manual Mode

In Manual mode, the aperture and shutter speed values are fixed by the user. ISO Auto will change the ISO when the light levels change. You do have the option of turning off the auto ISO, which puts the camera in a fully manual exposure mode.

*When using the ISO Auto function in manual exposure mode the electronic analog exposure display of the camera will continue to indicate correct shutter speed and aperture settings when light levels change within a four-stop range. The ISO Auto system increases or decreases the ISO value to maintain the correct shutter speed and aperture value the user has chosen.

Shutter Priority

In Shutter Priority mode the shutter speed is set by the user and the aperture is determined by the camera system. If light levels change, the aperture will change as determined by the camera system. When the aperture determined to achieve the correct exposure is beyond the aperture range of the lens used, then ISO Auto will increase the sensitivity value.

Aperture Priority

In Aperture Priority, the aperture value is set by the user and the shutter speed value is determined by the camera system. If light levels change and the shutter speed required to achieve the correct exposure is beyond the shutter speed range of the camera, ISO Auto will increase the sensitivity.

*As the shutter speed range of a D-SLR is very large, it is rare that a shutter speed beyond the range of the camera (i.e. 30 sec) will occur under normal lighting conditions. 


In Program, Auto or any of the Digital Vari-Program modes the aperture and shutter speed values are determined by the camera system. As light levels change, the camera will alter shutter speed and aperture values to ensure the correct exposure. When the shutter speed required to achieve the correct exposure is beyond the shutter speed range of the camera and the aperture cannot be adjusted any further by the camera system, ISO Auto will increase the sensitivity.

Other Modes on the PSAM Dial

I find the Mode or PSAM dial on cameras can be detrimental to learning to use your camera, so my suggestion is to ignore all modes with the exception of the S, A and M settings on this dial. Often starting out in the Manual mode is most helpful in accelerating your learning process.

Photographer: Vivian Maier

Vivian Maier is a US photographer who worked as a nanny for 40 years and pursued photography in her spare time. In her lifetime she was unknown and unpublished. Here prints, prints and films where auction off shortly before her death and a large amount of them were purchased by John Maloof who now owns 90% of her work. Unable to locate the photographer before her death Maloof set about exploring her work the quickly became an international sensation. Artist and photography critic have compared her work to that of Robert Frank, Diane Arbus and Helen Levitt.

September 1954
The Balaban & Kataz United Artists Theatre in 1961, Chicago Illinois
New York, New York
August 1975
June 1953, New York, New York

Camera Operation: Using Speed Priority

One of the primary reasons photographs are not sharp is camera shake or rapid movement. Let us do some experiments to test at what speeds hand holding a camera can blur a picture and at what speeds certain motions can be frozen.

Testing for Speed with Movement of Head

Here we are going to leave everything on your camera on automatic except for the speed which we are going to adjust manually. What we want to do is test at different speeds whether or not your subject is sharp and whether the rest of the photograph is sharp.

Once you have taken a picture of the hand moving at 1/8, 1/15, 1/125, 1/250 and 1/500. Review the images and look for two things when at what speed are the images of the none moving objects in each photograph less sharp and at what speeds are the movements in the photograph frozen.

Lens Hoods What are they Good For?

All lenses come with lens hoods and often because they make the lens longer find their way onto a shelf, until the photographer realizes there significant impact on their images. In short the lens hood prevents your photograph from developing a washed-out appearance under certain lighting conditions.

Images courtesy of Digital Photography School

Although this is the primary reason to use a lens hood to prevent flare from negatively impacting you image, protecting you gear is another reason. Lenses often get bumped or banged and this can be expensive to fix. When the hood is attached it is usually the first point of contact ,and if it breaks it often prevents damage to the lens, and a hood is very cheap to replace. Most lens hoods also do a good job of keeping rain and other falling particles off of the lens and keeps sharp items, that can scratch a lens, away from the lenses expensive coated surface.


Sometimes a good photograph is within 10 feet of you. Look around the room to see if there is something that interests you, or use what is your pockets to create a still life. Let’s look at taking a few pictures and experiment with the triad.

Photojournal Assignment

Choosing a project is a great way to help your photographic eye and helps to develop your inner artist. This week’s assignment is to carry your camera either on a walk or while you are doing some errands. Try to do this at least once a day. Notice the details in your immediate environment. When you see something that interests, take a picture. Do not worry at this point so much about composition or taking you camera off automatic unless you are comfortable doing so. Next we we will start to take the cameras off of automatic slowly step by step.

Look at all your images to find patterns. What was your eye drawn to during this process? Keeping in mind Dorothea Lange’s quote and before the next class, email me three images that help illustrate what you were drawn to as you made photographs.