Saturday, March 29, 2014

Forcing the Aperture Setting

Once you've moved off 'Auto' to shoot on the 'Aperture' setting, I found I could artificially force the aperture setting to be higher or lower than the camera was telling me.  On my camera this is called 'Exposure Compensation', a small button that I push down and hold, on top of the camera.  I've found it particularly useful for shots involving bright light like snow on sunny days, or sunrises.

First I needed to understand that even though I had moved off 'Auto', the camera was still automatically choosing an exposure once I set the aperture.  In really bright light a camera will shut down the exposure a little (by choosing a faster shutter speed), because it thinks the picture is too bright.  I find I often need to force the aperture open a little to get the sunrise view I want.

The first photo above was distinctly too dark, but this one, letting in just a little more light, looks about right to me.  Perhaps slightly exaggerated  orange, but close to what I actually saw.

Pushing the aperture too far makes the photo a little too bright and washed out.  But of course with digital, you can shoot one, look at it, adjust, and shoot another, until you get what looks best to you.  I often end up taking numerous sunrise (or sunset) shots, to get a few I like.  I realize you can adjust exposure in software later, but in my experience trying to do that, you're always better off to get it right in the first place.

The same applies on bright snow in the sun.  In fact this was where I first realized it would be helpful to get beyond the 'Auto' setting - the snow pictures I was getting just weren't capturing the bright white.  This picture is from the ski trip we took in January up to Peninsula Lake.  This shot is on automatic, and is both a little darker and a little bluer than realistic.

In this shot I moved off automatic and forced the aperture open a little more than what the camera was telling me.  This seems much more realistic to me, both the brightness of the snow, and the colour.

The third shot here is just a little too bright, slightly washed out compared to reality.  And if you're wondering what those diagonal tracks are to the left, that's someone 'skate-skiing' for a short distance, instead of using the classic track-set trail I was using.

So if you move onto the Aperture setting on your camera, you can then use Exposure Compensation to experiment with forcing the exposure to be slightly lighter or darker than what the camera wants to tell you, a useful trick in some situations.

Technical Info:

I found yesterday's post particularly hard to write.  It's hard to articulate, even for myself, getting beyond 'Auto' without making it too complex.  But if you're in the same position I was in, trying to do that, there is some technical info that may help.

Shutter speed and aperture are two opposite settings on the camera. Shutter speed is shown on the window of my camera as a fraction, like 1/125; aperture is shown as 'F Stops', like F3.5 or F16.  Trying to understand these in theory just baffles me, but learning how they impact the picture through practice comes easily.  For example, if you take a picture of a scene, 1/125 will normally give a sharp picture, but 1/8 will not; you just can't hold the camera steady enough.  And if you want a picture of something moving quickly, you might want 1/1000 or higher to freeze the action.  This seems like common sense to me.

If the shutter speed is faster, the aperture must be lower to let in enough light; if the shutter speed is slower, the aperture must be higher to avoid over-exposure.  In the Auto setting, the camera balances these.  In Aperture setting, you set the aperture, and the camera choose shutter speed; in Shutter mode, you set the speed and the camera chooses the aperture.  But in all cases the camera still automatically tells you what the exposure should be, using the built-in light meter.  Exposure compensation lets you over-ride the camera a little to make the picture lighter or darker.

Mid-range settings are usually no problem either way; it's the extremes that cause you to stop and think about the settings more carefully - like photographing waterfalls, which I'll discuss tomorrow.

You might want to know that I use a Nikon DSLR, the lowest most basic model that was available at the time, the D3000; my wife's camera (which I also sometimes use) is a Canon PowerShot, a higher-end point and shoot model.


  1. You've done your homework on these posts.

  2. You've been quite thorough on these posts.

    Peninsula Lake... I miss it a lot.

  3. I've enjoyed catching up on what you've been learning.

  4. Love your sunrise photos! And yes, photographing snow is always a challenge (especially since I'm in it a lot)

  5. This is lots of good information. I tend to use Auto a lot too. I need to get away from that. Your photos are really beautiful, and thank you for sharing.

  6. Another good post! I actually prefer the first of the three snow photos. The warmed up versiosn look like sand to me. I think I've looked at snow photos for so many years that I just think "snow" when I see white with a blue cast.