Tag: beginner

Complete guide to flash for beginners (III): Tips for using an external flash

If you are still reading this article series is probably because you decided that you need an external flash or you even got already one! Congratulations! You did the harder part. Now it is time to have fun! Unlike with the built-in-flash, shooting with an external one is a bit more than pointing and firing. If you don´t know yet how to handle your new gadget, don´t worry! We will give you some tips that will help you starting using it.

#1. If you want to use the TTL, you need to set your camera in Aperture Mode

This might seem obvious for a lot of photographers, but I did not know it when I started using the external flash. I usually  shoot in Manual, so the TTL was not working for me. I was kind of: “What happens to this flash? Maybe I have to ask for a refund because it doesn’t work!”.  So remember: No Aperture mode= No TTL!

flash guide

#2. Wait a little between shots to give time to the flash to load 

Maybe you are used to shoot several photos in a raw or in continuous mode. External flashes need some time to load , so if you shoot too fast, some of the times it won´t fire.

#3. Become a Bouncing master

Bouncing is  one of the most important things you can do while using a external flash.  It is not common to flash directly to the subject. Light will be too strong, it  will look unnatural and in addition, it is uncomfortable for the model. Instead, the good thing to do is pointing with the flash to a surface close to your subject (wall, ceiling…). It is the light that reflects from this surface the one that will add light to your subject. It will be a diffused light, so it won´t be so strong and it will look

flash guide

flash guide


flash guide

If you don´t have any evident surface to bounce in, you can use other things, such as the white clothes of somebody around you, a board, some furniture… or you can use reflectors and difusers .

flash guide

#4 Be respectful when using your flash

Don´t fire your flash directly to the eyes of neither people nor animals. I always like to make sure that people does not mind I use the flash, especially if I am shooting events. The strong light can be quite annoying, so it is good that people agree. Some people get into the situation of wanting you to take nice photos, but they don´t want you to use the flash (or they complain about the light). In that cases, try to explain to them nicely that not using it might affect the quality of the photo. If they decide they don´t want flash anyway, at least you were clear about the consequences.

External flash guide III

#5. Be extremely aware for not flashing  babies.

It is easy remembering not using the flash when you take photos of a baby at home. But when you are in an event or with a big group of people, it is easier to miss it. Flashes are quite aggressive for delicate eyes of a baby, so try to be always aware of the proximity of one of them.



#6. Do wrist workouts.

Do some gym style exercises that will  increase the strength of your wrists. Just kidding!! But if you are going to hold your camera with a external flash for long time (this happens a lot if you are shooting events), you will notice the extra weight. Rest form time to time to avoid soreness (and now I am serious! After shooting a night wedding and carrying the camera with the flash for several hours, I felt my writs sore next day).

I hope you liked this series and that you find it useful. Have a happy flashing

Complete guide to How To Use Flash : Do I need an external flash?

There is a moment in the life of each photographer that the big question arrives: Do I need to get an external flash? The question is not easy to answer, mostly because when you are new to the subject, even the terminology used to describe them sounds confusing. After checking for a couple of flashes it’s easy to feel even more confused, so you can end up not getting an external flash or getting the first one you check. I want to help you to decide if you should get an external flash by putting together a complete guide with everything I learned when I decided to go into the wonderful world of external flashes.

External flash
My first DSLR camera with its built-in flash raised and my first external flash. Both of them I still use today, that’s why I recommend to take the time and check what you need and what the market has to offer before purchasing

In this first article, we will focus on the advantages and disadvantages of both the external and the built-in flash. This will help you to decide if you need to invest in an external flash or not. In the following articles of this guide, I will talk about things you should consider when you choose your external flash, some useful accessories and I will give some tips to start using your brand new flash! Let´s start!

Built-in flash

A built-in flash is an integral unit of the camera that discharges strong, rapid pulses of light when you are taking a photo. It is working in the most basic way possible. It is synchronized with the camera’s other apparatus.

External flash
The built-in flash; compact and available, you can see it is a quite simple apparatus

Advantages of using a built-in flash

#1. Always with you: One of the main advantages of this flash is that it is already in your camera. You don´t need to choose it or make any effort to remember to put it inside your bag. It is always there ready to fire!

#2. Intuitive: Using the flash is something quite intuitive to most starting photographers; you are in the dark, you pop out your camera’s built-in flash, you take the photo- problem solved.

#3. Small and light: The built-in flash does not add extra volume or weight to your camera bag. Depending on the situation, this can be a really good thing.

Disadvantages of the built-in flash

#1 Light always comes from the same spot: The most obvious disadvantage of the built-in flash is marked in its name; you have no control over the light source location or its direction, it will always come from right in front of your subject. And most of the times this means that the light will go straight to his eyes (besides being annoying, it produces a very evident red-eye effect).

#2. Lack of adjustability: Most built-in flashes offer very little in terms of adjustability. Some cameras offer three options: “No flash” in which flash will not be fired, “Auto flash” in which the camera will trigger the flash if the exposure is too low, or “Default flesh” in which the flash will be fired every time you’ll take a photo. That´s all! In cameras with more advanced flash options you might find some more options, but usually, you need to change them from the settings menu and it is quite uncomfortable to do it.

External flash
The built in flash is quite limited in terms of adjustability, and changing its settings is not so easy to get to

#3. It uses your camera battery: The built-in flash is dependent on your camera’s battery, making your battery’s lifetime shorter.

#4. Not good for long distances: Although it could illuminate quite well for short distances of up to three or four meters, it loses its effectiveness at greater distances.

External flash

The external flash is like the built-in flash’s bigger brother. It is an external unit which can be attached to the camera body through a designated port called a horseshoe. The more basic external flashes are merely triggered by the camera while the more advanced ones can get more information from the camera such as the lighting conditions and the settings of the camera (aperture and shutter speed)

Advantages of using an external flash

#1. It saves camera battery because it has its own

#2. Placement flexibility: the fact that the external flash has its own battery means it is also possible to mount it on tripods or on feet of its own and place it wherever you want.

external flash
The external flash can stand and work independently and separately from the camera, here you can see it standing on a foot

#3. Bouncing Head: the light source itself is usually set on a rotating and tilting head which allows you to play a bit more with the lighting’s angle, enabling you to bounce the light off of surfaces (this is good when you want to avoid hard light)

#4. accessories: the external flash can be combined with many gadgets and accessories such as reflectors, tripods, filters, diffusers and more. Using them could be very helpful and fun.

external flash
Here you can see the flash is built with a tilting head (it’s a bit harder to see but it is rotating too). Another thing you can see here is the white velcro I glued on it, I use it to attach many accessories to my flash

#5. You can control the light better: at the most fundamental level, the flash is a lightbulb, its intensity does not change, but the duration of the discharge can change if the flash is lit for a longer time the amount of light captured by the sensor is greater. In the external flash, setting and changing the duration of the discharge is one of the most basic things you can do.

external flash
With just five buttons, you need a little practice but after you get the hang of it, it is quite easy to adjust the flash and change its settings

#6. You can synchronize several flashes: I don’t know if you are thinking about using more than one flash for now, but it is good to know this possibility exists. It is a good way to ensure even lighting in the photo, especially when you have a big group or a complex subject, or if you want to create certain effects.

#7. They can reach further: external flashes have more power than the built-in ones, so you can illuminate subjects that are further from the flash.

Disadvantages of external flashes

Like with everything else in life, there is a trade-off when using an external flash. The more you want to get from the flash, the more planning is required and less spontaneous you can be.

#1. It adds weight to your camera bag: having its own battery means the weight is greater. Think that you usually will carry extra batteries too. So you end up with almost the same weight as if you are traveling with two cameras, and when you take a photo it’s as if you’re holding a camera and a half.

external flash
Several sets of batteries and a charger sure take their space in your bag and you certainly can feel their weight

#2. It might take a lot of places: most external flashes are too big to fit in a standard camera side bag and require you to either have a specific bag or have a much bigger bag and the flash to be detached from the camera while inside.

#3. It is one more thing you need to recharge (and to remember to recharge). Having its own battery means you have another thing that requires a charger and a socket, this could be especially limiting if you are traveling

#4. You need to invest extra money: external flashes are not included with the camera, so you will need to spend some money and depending which type of flash you want, they can get really expensive (the range of prices is wide). In addition, depending on the type of photography you are into, it might be at risk of damage or loss (outdoors, bad weather conditions…) so you might prefer to get two cheaper flashes instead of one that is more expensive.

#5. Not so intuitive: after using them for a while they are not so complicated, but at first they are a bit hard to get used to. It is not just turn on and fire.

#6. Not all the flashes are compatible with all the cameras. This means you should ALWAYS CHECK COMPATIBILITY before purchasing a flash

In summary, built-in flashes are a good option if you don’t want to carry the extra weight that an external flash (and it’s batteries!!) might add to your bag. It will free you from charging batteries all the time and needing to check if they are ok (they don´t last so long when you the flash a lot). However, this freedom comes with a price: the loss of flexibility and control. Usually, the built-in flash is good if your photos aim to document a moment without too much regard to the photo’s technical quality (a good example of this situation will be when you are at a party and you want to commemorate your friends goofing off). However, when you want to have more control over your photos, The built-in flash is quite limited. If this is your case, you will need to consider the option of getting external flashes.

This is my first article in a series of articles about flash I hope you find it useful. If you have any questions, topic suggestions or remark write me a comment. Have a happy shooting!

Activities to improve your photography skills easily

If you are new to photography, you might feel a bit lost. It is easy to get stuck in using auto mode because it is fast, easy, and many times can produce a decent result. However, if you feel like you could improve your photography skills and get more out of the camera it is time to take matters into you own hands.

There are tons of things to learn and it is hard to decide what to do first. You can easily spend days and weeks just reading photography books and articles, watching tutorials or jumping from one website to other and adding more and more into your to-do list. If you want to improve your skills as a photographer at some point you need to put theory aside and start taking photos yourself. However, with our usually busy life, it is easy to let weeks pass without touching your camera and shoot a single image. For that reason I thought it might be useful to make a list of easy photography activities that will help encourage you to grab your camera and start practicing your craft without complicating things so much.

photography skills
If you started photography recently, it is normal that you feel a bit overwhelmed. It feels a little like being lost in a new country.

A theme a day/week

If you don’t know which subject to pick, you can start by choosing one color or a geometric shape. You can even ask somebody to help you decide. They don’t even need to know why you are asking them. It can be something like: Which is your favorite color? Do you prefer squares or circles? Once you know your photography subject, take photos of only this. Focusing on one photography subject might seem restrictive at first, but it will push you to develop your creativity. Extra mile: once you have all your photos, select the best ones and build a composition. Then share it with the person that helped you to pick the subject. He/she will love it!

photography skills
One day I took photos of circles. This forced me to pay attention to objects that I usually don’t even look at! It was a really interesting experience.

Practicing one photography composition element for one day, week or month

Learning composition can be one of the most overwhelming things in photography. Composition is based on the relation that the different elements of your image have between themselves and with the frame. Trying to control all these relations might be overwhelming, even when you have been already taking photos for a while. To make it easy, you can create a list of composition elements (lines, negative space, symmetry, patterns, texture…) and focus on one of them each time. The amount of time you work on each element is up to you. When you finish the list, you will have a nice photo collection which will illustrate how you understand composition. If you repeat this activity over time (every certain months or every year), you will be able to see your how you evolve as a photographer.

photography skills
Man made structures are good for practicing symmetry.

Blurring people

When I started, I was obsessed about sharpness. I wanted everything inside the frame to be clear. No blurriness allowed! However, I changed my mind when I started to see the potential of showing movement in my photos. Don’t misunderstand me. I am not talking about out of focus images. I am talking about movement! A great way to practice is by going somewhere relatively crowded, set your shutter speed on a high value (slow speed, like a quarter of a second) and take photos of the people moving.

photography skills
In this photo I combined the movement of passers by with the stillness of my friend Nita while she is practicing yoga

Try to combine different degrees of blurriness: everybody blurry, just some people blurry and also nobody blurry. For this you need to play with different shutter speeds. You might need a tripod if your shutter speeds are too low. I, for example, need a tripod at any speed slower than 1/60 seconds. Decreasing shutter speed means that light will enter into the sensor for longer. If for that reason you are getting photos with too much light, you can close the aperture and decrease your ISO. If it is still too much light, a Neutral Density filter might help.

Play with the different light angles and look for the shadows

You don’t need any fancy studio light. You can do it with a home lamp or a flashlight. Pick an object you like and shine the light on it. Try different light positions, directions, add light modifiers (color papers, clothes…) and see the affect light has on the shadows of your object. You can also do this exercise outdoors placing your object in different positions regarding to the sun, or taking photos in the same place but at different times of the day.

photography skills
For this activity I took some of my nephew’s toys and a flashlight. I practiced the effect of light on the shadows of these little guys by changing the position of the light and the angle of incidence. In the upper photo I didn’t use the flashlight. The light was really soft, so there are no shadows. In the other two photos I used the flashlight and I changed its position to get 2 different shadow orientation.

Photo sequences

Taking photo sequences is a great way of telling stories with your photos. Photo sequences add a dynamic effect and they are great to give a sense of action and movement. You can do photo sequences of tones of subjects. You can start with friends/family or animals. Take 2 or 3 photos of any activity they are doing: walking, cooking, putting make up, dancing, doing homework… take a lot of photos (shooting in continuous might help) and afterwards choose the 2 or 3 that work better together. You can also do it with objects by placing them in different ways in your frame to build a little story.

“Correfocs”, which means fire-run, are one of the outstanding traditions of Catalan Festivals. People dressed up as demons run through several streets while holding lighten fireworks. This photo sequence was taken in Vilanova i la Geltru, Catalonia.


Dust buster

Take the photography equipment you are using the least (lens, tripod, external flash, filters etc.) and make it your point to use them for the day. You might realize that you should use them more, or you might realize you should give them away. Either way, it will help you to be more efficient.

Close ups- animals

Try to take photos of animals from as close as you can, this will help you to understand how to approach animals, how close should you try to get, from which direction and how fast you should move.

photography skills
Cats are extremely tricky to approach, mostly because they are unpredictable. However, the more experience you have, the less likely it is that they will surprise you

I hope you like these activities and that you find them useful. Do you like any other activity to practice your skills? Now it is your turn: grab your camera and have fun with it!! Happy shooting!!!

Exposure for Beginners: Playing with the Shutter Speed

In my last post I talked about exposure and I gave you some ideas of how to play with the aperture of your camera. In this post I will talk about another one of the 3 elements that control exposure: shutter speed.

What is Shutter speed?

Your camera has a shutter, which is a curtain in front of the sensor. When this curtain is closed the light can’t reach to the sensor. This curtain opens and let light into your camera only when you press your camera’s shutter bottom. It is open just for a certain time (usually for fractions of seconds or one/few seconds). The amount of time that it is open is the time that the camera’s sensor is exposed to light, it is known as “shutter speed”.

Shutter speed is measured in either seconds or fractions of seconds. Keep in mind that in the second case, the bigger is the denominator of the fraction, the shorter is the time that the camera shutter is open. For example, 1/4000sec is a much shorter time than 1/250sec.

What is shutter speed scheme


Shutter speed can be used creatively because short shutter speeds (also known as fast speeds) freeze action while long speeds (also called slow) can create motion blur. In the latter case, moving objects appear blurry along the direction of their movement. It is useful to know which shutter speeds are good for freezing or blurring some common actions. These numbers will give you a good starting point for your own experimentation.

Shutter speed table
The numbers in this table are an approximation.

When you are shooting at slow shutter speeds you can get blurriness even if you don’t want it. This happens especially when you are taking pictures holding the camera in your hands. When the shutter speeds are slow the slightest movement of your hands makes the picture blurry (I mean the unwanted “OMG this mountain looks blurry”, not the creative blurriness we were talking in the previous paragraph). For that reason it is recommended to use a tripod when the shutter speed is slow. Where is the threshold between using tripod and not? It is said that you need to use a tripod when your shutter speed is less than 1/focal length. The result of the equation is expressed in seconds. Focal length is the measure of how much you are zooming. It is easier to understand with an example: if you are using a focal length of 35mm, then you need a tripod when the shutter speed is 1/35sec. For myself, I know that I need a tripod when I shoot slower than 1/80sec, doesn’t matter the focal length I am using.  I guess there is a personal factor here. If you don’t have a tripod, look for alternatives that can help you to stabilize your camera. For example, you can lean onto solid and stable things (trees, walls, light posts, tables…).

Exercise 1: Understand how shutter speed affects the amount of light

For this exercise you need to set your camera on Manual Mode. Then, fix the ISO to a certain value. ISO 100 or 200 is a good way to start. After that, fix the aperture. You can try a value of f/5.6. Find a subject for your photos and set the camera on a tripod (or any alternative means of stabilization). Take a photo using a slow shutter speed (for example 1/10sec). Take photos changing the shutter speed progressively. Once you are done, check what happened with the exposure of your photos. The only thing that changed between your photos was the shutter speed because you fixed the ISO and aperture. So whatever changes you see in the exposure are due to the changes in the shutter speed. You can repeat this exercise with new values of ISO and/or aperture and see what happens!

The numbers in this table are an approximation.

Exercise 2: Understand how Shutter speed mode works

For this exercise you need to set your camera in Shutter speed Mode. Set the ISO on a fixed value, for example ISO 100 or 200.  Find a moving subject for your photos (I used the same Maneki-neko from the last post. This cat turned out to be really useful for practicing exposure) and set the camera on your tripod. Take photos while changing the shutter speed progressively. As you are using shutter speed mode the camera is constantly changing the aperture in order to get what it considers a good exposure, so all your photos will look the same from the point of view of amount of light. Go over your photos and see which aperture value the camera used for each shutter speed value. The faster the shutter speed, the lower is the light going into the lens (because the lens is open just for a short time) and to compensate for that, the aperture needs to be bigger (remember that bigger aperture is expressed with lower f numbers). Have a look at your photos. Did you managed to freeze the movement? At which shutter speed? Do you have any photos with motion blur?

Exercise 2 shutter speed
When you use Shutter speed mode, you play changing with the shutter speed and the camera will adjust the aperture in order to obtain a well exposed photo.

Depending on the lens you are using, It is possible that the camera won’t be able to compensate for the shutter speed by the aperture. For example, the lens that I used today is an AF-S Nikkor 18-140mm 1:3.5-5.6G; its aperture can open to a maximum of f/3.5. Other lenses can open more and reach f/1.8. Check always which is the maximum aperture of your lens and take into account that if you zoom in, this value will change a little (for example, when I zoom to 140mm with my lens, I can open it not to f/3.5 but only to f/4.8). If you reach the aperture limit of your lens, what you can do to get a well exposed photo is use a slower shutter speed. If you still want to keep the fast shutter speed, as you can’t change the aperture (you reached its limit), you will need to play with the ISO settings. You can have a look to our college  Damon Pena’s post to see another example of ISO adjusting.

Exercise 3: Freezing and blurring moving objects

This is one of my favorite exercises! Go to the street and take photos of moving things. Cars are perfect subjects. Set your camera in the same way as in exercise 2 (Shutter Mode and ISO 100 or 200).  Use your tripod/alternative option to stabilize the camera. Pick a fast shutter speed and take a photo of a moving car. Did you manage to freeze it? Change to a slow shutter speed. Is the car blurry now? You can try also to freeze/blur bikes, runners, walking people, pets…

Shutter speed and movement
I took these two photos in a busy junction in Tel Aviv (Israel). In the left my camera was set on: ISO 100, f/9and shutter speed 1/160sec. The cars were not going too fast, so I managed to freeze them. In the right my settings were ISO 100, f/22 and shutter speed 1/6sec. At this shutter speed I got the blur motion I was looking for.

Problems you might have: when you open the shutter for long time you are doing what is called long exposure photography. This is a lot of fun and can add a new dimension to your photography. However, it can make things a bit complicated. If you don’t feel like getting into it, just keep practicing with shutter speeds that are not so slow. Take your time and have fun practicing. If you feel like you are ready to go into long exposure photography, a ND filter might be useful for you. You can learn more about this filters and how to use them in the great article “Daylight long exposure – Using ND filters” written by Leonardo Regoli.

Extra exercise

If you like night photography, you might also like playing with light trails. Light trails are the lines recorded from the movement of a point of light (like for example cars) during the exposure. Set your camera on a tripod (important). With the camera on Manual mode, set a low ISO, an aperture higher than f/8 and try different long shutter speeds until you get the light trails you like. Maybe you will need to reset ISO and aperture values to get a good result.

Night long exposure
Light trails are always fun. I set my tripod and camera on a bridge in Haifa (Israel). I tried several settings and I ended up using ISO 500 (although you can use lower ISOs too), f/22 and a shutter speed of 6 seconds. This shutter speed worked well in my case because it allowed me to capture long light trails. Shorter shutter speeds also allowed me to capture light trails, but they were short (They didn’t stretch all over the road).

I hope these exercises will help you to get familiar with shutter speed. Soon you will be able to get more creative by freezing and blurring your subjects. I will be happy to know about your experiences with shutter speed. Feel free to share with me any suggestion about other exercises! Have a happy shooting!!

Exposure for Beginners: Playing with the Aperture

If you are a photography beginner, you might feel a bit confused with all the things you need to learn. But don’t worry, I am going to make things a bit easier for you. One of the first things you should understand is exposure. Exposure is the amount of light the sensor of your camera captures when you take a photo. When you master the exposure of your images, your skills as a photographer will improve! How can you know the exposure value of your picture when you are shooting? Your camera will tell you by its camera meter.

Master exposure
This is what the camera meter looks like in my Nikon. I see it either in the viewfinder or in the live view. It can look slightly different in other cameras, but the idea behind the exposure indicator is always the same. So if you understand the principle, you will be able to work with any camera that falls into your hands.


In my Nikon, I activate the camera meter by half-pressing the shutter release (Maybe it will be slightly different if you are using other camera models or brands. It will be explained in your camera manual). Once it is activated,  the camera will tell you the exposure value (EV) of the scene. But why should you care about the exposure of your pictures? Because you don’t want your photos to be too dark or washed out (too bright).

Master exposure
In the overexposed picture the petals look almost white but the leaves look very vibrant, on the other hand, in the underexposed picture you barely see anything except for the petals, but you can see a lot more details on them (like the dew drops). The neutral exposure is the spot of full compromise between the two. If you are a beginner, I recommend you to focus on trying to understand how to get neutral exposures. Once you master the concept though, try to be more creative: does an overexposed picture work better for what you want to express in a particular photo? Do you prefer to use underexposed pictures in other cases? Go for it! But do it because non-neutral exposures fit your creative purposes and not because you didn’t know how to get the correct exposure.


How can you control the exposure? By using different combinations of the 3 elements that control exposure:

Aperture: it controls how much light goes into the sensor of your camera. It also affect the depth of field.

Shutter speed: it controls how long the sensor is receiving light.

ISO: it controls the sensitivity of your camera’s sensor towards light.

You can go really deep into technical details about exposure and how each element works. I recommend you to take it easy at the beginning. I won’t go into complicated numbers or photography terminology here, but if you want to get more information, there are other awesome blog posts explaining these 3 elements. What I want to do here is to give you some exercises that will allow you to start practicing with exposure on you own. Photography is a craft, once you feel confident with the essentials you will be ready to go into more detail.

Keep in mind that the 3 elements of exposure are connected between them, so although you can focus on just one of them, the other 2 will have their role too. Today we will focus in the aperture. My next post will be about shutter speed. For ISO, you can take a look at this great post by Kim  Suarez: The Guide to ISO in Manual Mode.

What Aperture is?

As Damon Pena well explains in his article Aperture vs ISO vs Shutter Speed – A Beginner’s Introduction to Manual Mode, aperture is the size of the opening in which the light will pass through your lens.  Aperture sizes will depend on your lens and they are written as a ratio to between the diameter of the aperture in the lens and the focal length of the lens (f-numbers or f-stops).  This seems complicated, doesn’t it? If you want to keep it simple for now, just remember one thing: the lower the aperture number, the larger the opening will be. Or in other words:  small numbers mean lots of light and the other way around.

Master exposure: aperture


And now that you have the aperture concept in mind, it is your turn to practice! I propose to you 3 easy exercises that will help you to start playing with the aperture of your camera. You will just need your camera and a tripod, if it is possible. If you don’t have a tripod, try to set your camera on a surface in a way that it won’t move along the exercises. If you are not familiar yet with how to change the settings of your camera, keep your manual at hand.

Exercise 1: Understand how aperture affects the amount of light

For this exercise you need to set your camera on Manual Mode. Then, you set the ISO to a fixed number. ISO 100 or 200 are good to start with. After that, you fix the shutter speed. You can try a value of 1/125sec.  Find a subject for your photos (I used my Maneki-neko) and set the camera on your tripod (or any alternative way that will keep the camera stable and immobile). Take a photo using the highest aperture number (f-number) you can. In my case, using a AF-S Nikkor 35mm 1:1.8, it was f/22. Take photos and change the aperture progressively. Once you are done, check what happens with the exposure of your photos. The only thing that change between your photos was the aperture because you fixed the ISO and shutter speed. So whatever changes you see in the exposure are due to the changes you did in the aperture. You can repeat this exercise with new values of ISO and/or shutter speed and see what happens!

Master exposure

Exercise 2: Understand how Aperture mode works

For this exercise you need to set your camera on Aperture Mode. Set the ISO to a fixed number, for example ISO 100 or 200.  Find a new subject for your photos (to add a bit of variety) and set the camera on your tripod/alternative option. Take photos changing progressively the aperture. You will see that all your photos look the same in terms of exposure. Why? Because when you are using Aperture mode the camera is constantly changing the shutter speed in order to get what it considers a good exposure. Go over your photos and see which shutter speed the camera used for each aperture value. The lower the light going into the lens (because the lens is not open so much), the longer the camera let light go in (slower shutter speed, but we’ll wait with that for the next post).

Master exposure

An interesting variation of this exercise is doing the same but holding the camera in your hands. I did it and I realized that when the camera is adjusting to slow shutter speeds my photos were blurry. Why? Because I am not able to hold the camera still for longer than 1/80 sec. My hands shake and the result is a blurry photo like the one below. The shutter speed threshold that you are able to handle when you are hand-holding the camera is important to know. Imagine you are going around in a sunny day taking photos in Aperture mode. Everything will work ok. However, if for some reason the day gets dark (clouds, shadows, sunset) your camera will start compensating this decrease in light with longer shutter speeds. If these new shutter speeds are longer that the time you are able to hold the camera without shaking…you will have blurry photos.

Master exposure
A shutter speed of 1/15sec is too long for me when I hold the camera in my hands. Result: a blurry photo.

Exercise 3: Depth of field 

For this exercise you can set your camera in the same way as in exercise 2 (Aperture Mode and ISO 100 or 200).  This time you will need several objects. 3 or even more will be great. Set your camera on your tripod/alternative option. Focus on one of the objects and take photos changing progressively the aperture. Start checking the photos with small aperture. Which objects are in focus? Are all of them in focus or just one? Does this change when you use other aperture values? This exercise will help you to understand the depth of field and know which aperture values will allow you to keep the whole frame in focus and which will not.

Master exposure

Now you are ready to go out and have fun with your new knowledge!! It will be easier for you to take well exposed photos and you can change the depth of field in order to get the effect you want. Have a look at the 2 nature photos I took using different depths of field.

Master Exposure
In this photo I wanted to highlight the young leaf. For that reason, I used an aperture f/3.5 that allowed me to have my subject (the little leaf) sharp and all the others blurry.

Master Exposure

In this photo I wanted to show how rich this landscape was: fields, mountains, clouds. I wanted to show everything, so I needed everything to be sharp. For that purpose, I set the apertures higher than f/8.


I hope these exercises will be helpful for you. If you try them, I will be happy to know how it went. Do you have any suggestions for other exercises to practice with aperture? I would love you to share them with me! Have a happy shooting!!

How to Adjust ISO in Manual Mode

Becoming a good photographer takes practice, but also requires immense technical understanding. Among the 3 basic pillars to master, along with Aperture and Shutter, is ISO. As a beginner, you most like are shooting in Auto ISO. This is a great starting point to get right out and shoot. After some practice, you’ll want to begin experimenting in full manual mode. This will allow complete control and understanding of your equipment. Even if you plan to shoot in Auto all the time, you’ll want to understand how it works.

On a sunny day, you can shoot ISO 100, shutter speed at 1/100 – 1/125 and f16. This is referred to as the Sunny 16 rule

How Does ISO Work?

ISO controls the amount of sensitivity to light your camera displays. This can range from 100 (least sensitive) up to 25,000+ depending on your camera. The settings increase in powers of two, meaning from 100 to 200, 200 to 400, 400 to 800, and so on. Each increase of the setting is doubling the sensitivity of your sensor. Which means the higher the ISO, the better it will perform in low lighting. Lower ISOs are better for higher amounts of light. It also means the higher the ISO, the more grain you’ll see in your images. But more on that later.

There are a handful of common ISO values, which you can fall back on when shooting in manual mode:

On a sunny day, you’ll want to shoot at or around ISO 100.
On a cloudy day, you’ll want to shoot at or around ISO 400.
If you are inside, you’ll want to start around ISO 800 and work your way up if needed.

In concert photography, I am usually shooting at ISO 1600 – 3200, higher if needed.

Remember, this is all based on your camera’s sensor. Some are more sensitive than others. You’ll need to experiment to see what works best for the image you are capturing. Above is a general starting point to follow when learning manual mode. Use these values as a guide and adjust from there if needed.

This scene is more cloudy than the one above. Here, you should adjust to ISO 400, while adjusting shutter and aperture accordingly to achieve the desired effect.

How Does ISO Work With Aperture and Shutter Speed?

It’s important to understand how ISO relates to Aperture and Shutter Speed. All three interconnect and a change to one affects the others. You’ll need to understand when to change ISO and how to adjust Aperture or Shutter to compensate.

The larger the ISO value means the smaller the shutter speed needed for the image. This means: When in ISO 100, your camera sensor needs 1 second to capture the image. But as you increase ISO, your camera sensor will need less time to get the shot. It increases by a power of two, so from 100 to 200. 200 t0 400, 400 to 800 etc. As this doubles, the required shutter speed halves. So at an ISO of 1600, you’ll need 1/16th of a second to get the same shot as ISO 100 at 1 second.

So, say you are shooting outside at ISO 100 and 1 second and are happy with the image. But, the clouds start to roll in. You’ll need to adjust ISO, but you want to maintain the same image. Increase ISO to 400 and increase the shutter speed to 1/4. You’ll achieve the same image as before, but now you’ve exposed for the clouds. All while keeping aperture the same for both images.

Increasing aperture lets in less light. This means if shutter and ISO stay constant, but aperture increase from, say, 3.5 to 8, the image will be dark. This is because less light is coming in through the lens. If you want to increase your aperture to allow more of the image in focus, you’ll need to increase your ISO. Because you increase your ISO, you’ll need to decrease your shutter. If you want to maintain the same image exposure and focus.

To figure out the correct settings, begin with identifying the desired outcome. Are you in low lighting? Or are you outside looking to freeze the subject? Identifying that outcome will confirm which pillar (ISO, aperture, shutter speed) to set first. If you are shooting low light, you’ll want to start with a low aperture and high ISO. Then you can determine shutter speed. If you are attempting to freeze motion, set a high shutter speed. From there, determine ISO and aperture needed.

If you are unsure which ISO you need, follow the general guideline above. It’s always best to start low and increase as needed. If your shutter and aperture are at an acceptable value, but the image is still too dark, turn up your ISO.

This is a low light image, shot at night. You’ll need to increase ISO, start at 1600 and adjust from there. You’ll need a tripod here, as this will mean slow shutter speeds to maintain the exposure and open aperture.

ISO and Noise

When you take a picture and notice a lot of grain in the image, that is the noise. You will see noise in your image if you are using too high of an ISO setting for the light required; however, too low ISO values don’t always guarantee proper illumination, which can translate in blurry images. For example, the below image, taken at ISO 200, has a lot of imperfections, as the lighting was too dim to allow for a proper exposure under such ISO values. The same image, if taken at ISO 800, looks much better. As I adjusted ISO, I also adjusted shutter and aperture to allow for the same exposure.

Noise can be subjective based on the photographer and type of image they are creating. In some instances, a gritty image is what you are looking for. And you may adjust your ISO for this. It will all depend on your desired outcome. This is another example of why understanding this pillar is important. In auto ISO, your camera will adjust for the perfect exposure. If you do not want a perfect exposure, you need to know how to get there. How to manipulate ISO to achieve this more or less noise is a great skill set to have as a photographer.

The process of manual ISO control will take time. But you will gain a better understanding of your camera. It is important to work towards having complete control over your images. This way, you will understand the appropriate adjustments to make, to get the image you want.

Because of the extremely low lighting, I had to shoot at ISO 6400. Because of the limitations of my camera, I could only shoot at f4 and therefore 1/50 shutter. You can still see a lot of noise in the image, but given the subject, it seems to work ok
Because of the extremely low lighting, I had to shoot at ISO 6400. Because of the limitations of my camera, I could only shoot at f4 and therefore 1/50 shutter. You can still see a lot of noise in the image, but given the subject, it seems to work ok

How to Start a Photography Project

A personal photography project is a series of images sequenced to tell a specific story. Usually, a story which the photographer has a great passion or emotion towards. The project can range in the number of images and amount of time. Or from simple subjects (Elias Weiss Friedman aka The Dogist) to complex, global initiatives (Sebastiao Salgado’s Genesis).

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Why Start a Photography Project?

A personal project is a great way to expand beyond a single image into more complex story telling. You’ll learn to plan, shoot and edit a sequence of photos to convey a story. You can experiment with different styles, techniques, and gear. These may be outside of your normal shooting but might be what you enjoy rather than what would pay the bills.

Personal projects aim to be a creative break from your standard paid work. They allow the photographer to expand on a subject which they feel passionate about. Personal projects are also intended to be self-motivated and fun! They interest the photographer first, so shoot only for yourself. You have the ultimate creative control here.

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How to Start?

Find a Subject

Start with a passion, whether large or small. You will always have a unique voice and story to tell, and keeping that story close will create a strong body of work. You might be a part-time musician or maybe you volunteer a few hours at a local non-profit. Great! Shoot their stories from an insider’s perspective. Or explore your neighborhood. You can do a story on a local business or business owner – shooting them at home, work, on days off, etc. There are ideas all around us, it is up to you to get out and find them.

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Short or Long-Term

Short-term projects are good for starting out in photography projects.  You don’t need to commit long-term, but it will get you thinking about the process. This can span a few hours or days. Even a few months can be short compared with decade-long projects. Bruce Davidson shot his project Circus over 4 months and Brooklyn Gang over a summer. Long-term projects are more popular in photography because complex subject matters need time to develop. Yet, the time commitment and editing of images into a cohesive project can seem daunting. A great example of a long-term photography project is Josef Koudelka’s Gypsies. He spent 9 years traveling with a Roma community and photographing their society. His 9-year immersion in the project created beautiful images. Another great long term project example is Nicholas Nixon’s The Brown Sisters. A yearly portrait of his wife and her sisters, this ongoing project has spanned 40 years of their lives. Studying well-known photographers and their projects is helpful when beginning your own project.

It is important to understand how much time you plan on shooting this project. Whether 1 day or 10 years, it’s important to have a general idea of how long this project will take you. This can change as you go along depending on subject matter, but have a general timeline in place and be aware of it.

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First, you should nail down your subject matter before getting into equipment. You may need different lenses if you plan to shoot indoors  vs. outdoors. Or when shooting something generally close up or far away. Or even your expected lighting conditions when shooting. You may also need more portable equipment if your story takes you out away from civilization or on a long trip. This is for you to determine, there is no right or wrong answer here, only the vision of you the photographer.

Just make sure your equipment stays consistent throughout the duration of the project. It will help the images flow together and achieve a uniform sense. The focus here is the subject, not the variety of lenses you have and techniques you practice. If you want to showcase a specific piece of equipment or skill set, pick one and stick with it. You’ll have other opportunities in future projects to show different skill sets.


Editing Your Work

Aside from post-processing, you’ll need to edit and sequence your photos. The goal here is ensuring you don’t present too many or too few images. You’ll want to find the least amount of images required to tell the full story. Most likely, you’ll take way more than necessary, which is fine. It’s better to shoot too many and spend longer sequencing, than realizing you have gaps in your story. Don’t limit yourself to a set number of images, just let that come with the process. Lay out physical prints, and begin arranging them in order, pulling out any excess images. You’ll find this process easier than it sounds.

If you find you have too many images and cannot edit further, walk away. Removing yourself from the process will ensure you come back with fresh eyes. Some photographers swear by this method of letting photos “marinate”.

Also, getting your project critiqued by a trusted photographer friend can also be beneficial. They don’t have the same connection to the project, and can give an unbiased opinion.

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When you’re finally ready to share your images, it’s time to publish your project.

There are many publishing options, and you’ll find one that works best for your project. Some options include printing a book, exhibiting in a gallery or posting to social media. A printed book is a great portfolio piece when meeting with potential clients. You can even send the book to publishers to get a book deal. As long as it is right for you and the project. You can also exhibit in a gallery. It could be challenging to find a gallery willing to showcase your work, but it could be great exposure. Social media is quick, easy and will reach the largest audience. But some may find it does not convey their story the right way. You need to ensure the publishing process you choose is right for the project and your vision.

There are no rules here, just stay true to your vision and tell a story you are passionate about. You have control of what you present to the world, make sure you enjoy the process as much as the final outcome.

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Suggested Further Reading

Below are just a few of my favorite photography books for further inspiration. Keeping photo books around can help for inspiration and continued motivation.

Bruce Davidson Subway
Robert Frank The Americans
Josef Koudelka Exiles
Willaim Eggleston’s Guide
Trent Parke Minutes to Midnight
Martin Parr The Last Resort