This excerpt is applicable to all camera makes.
So you want to take indoor shots of kids at a birthday party. You turn the dial to the Auto mode and pop snaps the flash, narrowly missing your forehead (do not worry, the in-built flashes are designed to scare us, not to hurt us). You start making pictures, every time you shoot, and the flash, well flashes. After the party, you get back home, after the mundane chores of retiring for the day; you take the memory card out of the camera and plug into your laptop. You have the initial feeling of excitement, you’ve bought yourself, what the salesman termed as, the state of the art DSLR, and now it’s time to see the money shots. The pictures load up and you start at the first one. It’s the picture of your indoor plant you took to “test” the camera at home. It’s a good shot, it was shot during the day, it has the blur effect you’ve always admired and wanted to shoot, eureka moment. You want to share the joy with your wife; however, you turn around and find her fast asleep. You move on to the other few images you’ve shot before going to the birthday party. You get to the birthday ones and this is where reality strikes you. Your pictures taken in the auto mode with the flash gunning every two seconds are no better than the pictures your wife took with her smartphone camera. This is where you are glad she’s fast asleep.
A promise from Arotographers. What follows in this article will not only empower you to take brilliant night shots without the flash, you know the ones where the birthday cake candles have the right shade of orange and the ambient light is exactly how it was at the party, but also make you gloat with immense pride about your recent acquisition and the feeling of content that follows.
At this point, please take our word for it and exactly follow the below settings for your indoor shots:
Set to A/Av mode
Turn off the flash. Almost every DSLR out there has this option. You may have to press two buttons at the same time depending on the make of your camera. For instance, Nikon D7000 has a small flash button on the body of your camera right under the contraption from where your flash pops out. You press the button and turn the main dial whilst looking at the small LCD screen. You will notice the flash icon on the screen scratched out. This means your flash has been disabled. Every camera has this function, so go ahead and do just that. Disable the flash.
Take a quick peak at your lens, there would be a bunch of numbers on the rim of the lens. If you’ve purchased the camera with the kit lens, you are most probably looking at numbers such as 18-55 f3.5-5.6 or 18-135 f3.5-5.6 etc. Do not panic, a quick breakdown of the numbers:
18-135 is the focal length of your lens in mm. This means that you have a zoom lens that allows you to focus from 18mm (short distances) up to 135mm (pretty decent long distances).
F3.5-5.6 are the aperture settings. Again do not panic. Will explain all of this in detail in a bit. However, for now, back to the settings.
Dial your aperture to the lowest number. In the above case, to 3.5. You can only do this when your focal length is at 18mm. As you increase your focal length, the aperture increases to the maximum 5.6 if you are 135mm focal length.
ISO – bump your ISO settings to read 1250 or 1600. Do not hold your breath. Will amplify on this in a bit. For now, do as you are told, and we’ll throw in a “please” here. We do not want to come across as rude now do we.
Look up and take that brilliant pic. The turkey is cooked, the chicken is roasted, the pasta is done. Eureka moment. You now have taken the pic you always wanted to, depicting the ambience as it is as opposed to the fluorescent-ish image you would’ve gotten with the flash triggered.
Now let’s analyze what we’ve done.
Contrary to popular belief, making pictures has a bit of a science to it (physics to be precise). It has to be, the likes of Nikon and Canon must be doing something with their thousands of engineers right. Remember when we were made to make our first pin-hole camera at school. Something about cutting a hole in the box and allowing light to pass through the box and the image being displayed upside down on the screen behind. Any guesses on the most important component of photography which is nothing to do with the equipment we have. Not the pin-hole camera, not the screen, nothing at all. The most important component is the light that is made to pass through the hole. LIGHT. It is how we make adjustments to the camera to allow for the best possible light to hit our camera sensors to take that magical picture.
In the above settings, all we did was to ensure that the camera absorbs as much ambient light as possible and to ensure that our pictures, whilst being shot, is not shaken and all subjects are in focus.
The amount of light taken in by the camera can be controlled by, what the best in the industry refer to as, the three pillars of photography i.e. APERTURE, SHUTTER SPEED and ISO. There are three, and only three major components of any photography end user ensemble. The Lens, the Shutter of the camera and the digital sensor on which the picture gets recorded. The three pillars of photography are directly linked to these three components.
Let’s dig a little deeper.
Aperture: The amount of light that can be passed through the lens. The more light that passes, the easier it gets to take un-blurred, properly focused shots. Simply put, Aperture is defined as “an opening, hole, or gap”. Giving it the photography spin the definition reads: “a space through which light passes in an optical or photographic instrument, especially the variable opening by which light enters a camera”.
Once you’ve tried to get your head around the above definition, allow us to break it down for you. Every lens has a small door at its base. The more you open the door, the more light gets in. Remember the most important component, LIGHT, in the photography world, there is no such thing as too much of a good thing is a bad thing. One always needs more and more light, and then some. Especially for night shots without external light shapers i.e. flashes, strobes etc. one needs as much light to get into the camera to ensure the pictures are not blurred when you are shooting hand held.
Shutter speed: Defined as “the time for which a shutter is open at a given setting”. For shooting handheld pictures at night and not end up with blurry images, you would need a fast shutter speed. What this means is, the opening and closing of the shutter, to make the image has to be short, very short, calculated in fractions of a second. 1/60th 1/200th, 1/8000th etc. The larger the denominator, the faster the shutter and therefore the less chances of a blurry image.
ISO: Defined as “ISO is the level of sensitivity of the camera to available light. The lower the ISO number, the less sensitive it is to the light, while a higher ISO number increases the sensitivity of the camera”. What does this mean. The more you dial up the ISO, the camera sensor gets that much more sensitive, allowing more light to hit the sensor thus effectively allowing you to take night time pictures with faster shutter speeds without the images getting blurred. However, dialing up the ISO sensitivity does come with its drawbacks. The higher the ISO setting, the more grainier the image. The element of noise kicks in and images become granulated.
Going back to the settings we pushed down your throat earlier this is what we have done. We had you set your camera to Aperture priority mode (A/Av). This is the mode where you keep the Aperture constant (as constant as it can be depending on the kind of lens you have on the camera). We’ve increased the ISO sensitivity to 1600 (the settings spectrum for ISO range from 100 to mostly 4800, however the higher end cameras have it go up to 256000). 1600 signifies that we have increased the sensitivity of the sensor to ensure that our shutter speed could be fast enough for you to take blur free images. Please note that since we shot in the A/Av mode, the shutter speed is calculated by the camera. In the A/Av mode, you can set the Aperture value and the ISO setting. The shutter speed is calculated based on these settings.
Now we presume you will get that perfect indoor birthday party picture. Please do share your stories with us in the comments below. Whilst what you learnt (got confused) above is pro-bono, courtesy Arotography.com, we do appreciate your LIKE on our FB page facebook.com/arotographers.
If you like us to amplify on any topic that’s bothering you, please leave a comment below, and we will do our best to write a tip or two about it.
(Happy clicking in Japanese) – why Japanese you ask, allow us figure that one out for ourselves and we will get back to you. For now…kurikku kurikku.