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TTL Metering (light meter)

What is it?
Only the most important concept in manual shooting!
Your light meter is a visual representation that shows you the
exposure (how bright or dark) of your picture.

Here is what your light meter looks like. Outlined in red:

The current exposure is displayed by the little arrow below one of the
numbers or dots on the meter.

Most light meters have a range around -3..-2..-1..0..1..2..3

In manual modes you can adjust this if you're taking a picture which
contains an overly bright object and a dark object. Manually adjusting
it will prevent overly bright objects from becoming blown out or
overexposed and dark objects from being crushed or underexposed.

You typically want the little arrow under the exposure range to be
under "0" although, as always, there are exceptions.

Here are two pictures. Aperture and ISO were kept the same, I just
properly exposed the first picture and then under exposed the second
picture by 2 stops (I did this by lowering the shutter speed).

Basic idea
Aperture adjusts how much light enters the lens. This affects your
"Depth-of-field" or how much of your picture is in focus. This is mainly
what gives your picture depth and interest. It is generally agreed
upon that a shallower depth-of-field (small amount in focus) is more
interesting than a deep one (everything in focus).

What is it?
The aperture is a physical (usually 5 blade) iris that creates a smaller
and smaller circle the larger you set the iris.

Here's a picture that depicts an aperture number to what the device

inside the lens physically looks like. Fully open (f/1.8 ) and at a
smaller aperture (f/22)

The aperture number is inversely related to the size of the hole the
aperture creates.
Smaller Number = Larger Hole = More Light = Shallower Depth-of-

Here is a picture to depict what certain apertures look like inside the
The aperture number is called an "f-stop". Most cameras go as small
as f/22 or f/32 but how large it opens is greatly variable. Most
cheaper lenses go as wide as f/3.5 but many more expensive lenses
can go to widths such as f/2, f/1.8, or even f/1.2.

Here are some examples and a physical diagram of what's happening
with the depth-of-field (yellow). What is highlighted is about what is
in sharp focus.
Focal Length
Basic idea
Focal length is often called "zoom" by beginners. Most people know
what this is so I won't go as in-depth into this. Basically it is how
close your lens puts you to your subject.

Smaller numbers (15mm, 18mm, 28mm) are wider and will allow you
to fit more into frame.
Larger numbers (55mm, 75mm, 300mm) are narrower and will allow
you to fit less into frame.

What is it?
Here's an image with focal length overlays. Use this to understand
how a smaller number fits more into frame.

There's something else though that makes focal length worth

mentioning. It can also be used to squeeze your background and
foreground together or spread them apart.

Here's some examples to show what I mean. The red is the area that
is in frame.
As you can see, the lens in the foreground stays roughly the same size
from 15-85mm. I never moved anything but the location of the
While zoomed out (15mm) you need to be close to your subject and
the background will be pushed away and in relation, it will be more out
of focus.
While zoomed in (85mm) you will need to be further away from your
subject and the background will be squeezed into the foreground and
in relation, it will be more infocus.

Shutter speed

Basic idea
Shutter speed is just as it sounds. It is how long your shutter is open
while exposing your picture.

What is it?
It can be used to create many cool effects. Typically I use a tripod for
anything slower than 1/40. If my lens has some sort of optical
stabilizer I can usually go down to about 1/10 handheld. This is just
personal preference and will change depending on how steady you can
hold your camera. Tripods almost always make for sharper pictures
but sometimes they just aren't practical.

Longer shutter speeds = more exposure time = more light + motion

Shorter shutter speeds = less exposure time = less light + less or no
motion blur

Usually shorter shutter speeds are better but sometimes you want a
long one.

When photographing water, a short shutter speed (1/500) will create

an effect like this:
When photographing water, a long shutter speed (.5sec) will create an
effect like this:
Now you won't just get those effects by changing the shutter speed.
You will also have to adjust your aperture or ISO in order for your
picture to properly expose.

You can do other cool effects with long shutter speeds such as this:
For this I went into a dark room and used a shutter speed of 30sec.


Basic idea
ISO is the same as it is in film. The higher the number, the more
sensitive the film or sensor will be to light, however, it will also be
more grainy. For this reason you will always want to use the lowest
available ISO. In many case you will not be able to use ISO 100 and a
higher one will need to be used but almost always try to add light,
adjust your aperture, or change your shutter speed before you jack up
your ISO.

What is it?
Here is a chart that shows the grain difference in ISOs. Note that all
cameras handle ISO noise differently. Typically more expensive
cameras deal with it better than cheaper ones.

Sometimes you will have to bump up your ISO. For example at night
time, you're not going to be taking a picture of a passing car at ISO
100. You will not be able to get an exposure because your shutter
speed has to be fast enough so that the car does not give motion blur.
For this you will have to bump up your ISO and then you will be able
to lower your shutter speed.

Here's some examples to show you how ISO can make your picture
brighter, darker, or more grainy. Aperture and shutter speed were
kept at f/3.5 and 1/13 for all pictures. The only setting that was
changed was the ISO.
(Full Auto) mode
-Up until now you've probably used this the most because your camera
was too hard to figure out. Well from now on you're forbidden to use
this mode. This mode usually prioritizes fast shutter speeds over low
ISO which results in grainy images. If a low ISO is chosen by the
camera, it will use the flash. This usually makes for pictures with
harsh, ugly shadows, and little to no contrast. Basically amateur
photos. Not what we're looking for.

-If you're not comfortable using the other modes quite yet, start off
here. You won't learn the technical aspects but your pictures will
come out better. It is a somewhat newer feature found on some of
Canon's cameras. It gives a graphical interface on the LCD of the
camera that lets you choose how blurry you want the background, how
bright or dark you want your image, and gives you control over the
flash. Your camera more than likely won't have this mode. It is found
on Canon models starting with the T1i.

P (Program AE) mode

-This is one step from full auto in that you can set exposure
compensation as well as the ISO.

Tv (Shutter Priority) mode

-In this mode you manually set the shutter speed and the camera will
automatically adjust the aperture for proper exposure. You can also
manually set the ISO as well as the exposure compensation in this

Av (Aperture Priority) mode

-In this mode you manually set the aperture and the camera will
automatically adjust the shutter speed for proper exposure. You can
also manually set the ISO as well as the exposure compensation in this
mode. I highly recommend starting your manual adventures in this
mode. I still often use it myself.

B (Bulb) mode
-In this mode the shutter will stay open for as long as you hold down
the shutter button. In this mode you can manually adjust the aperture
and ISO. There is no light meter or exposure compensation in this

M (Full Manual) mode

-Ah, the scary, scary "M mode". It will take a little while to learn how
to use your camera efficiently in full manual mode but once you do,
your pictures will come out so much better and you will feel more
accomplished with your work. This mode is what it sounds like; fully
manual with the only automatic feature being your light meter but
even that is just for your reference. You will have to choose your F-
stop, set your ISO, and figure out your shutter speed as well as any
exposure compensation you plan.