BetterPhoto Q&A
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Photography Question 
Katie Black

Beginning Basics

I am currently taking a photography class at a university and the professor is going over my head. I am confused about shutter speed and f-stops. What speed goes with which f-stop? My camera that I am using has dials where you manually select both the f-stop and shutter speed. Is there some chart or graph out there that I can consult to tell me for instance, if I want to take a picture where the background is fuzzy but the subject is in focus, which f-stop and shutter speed to use?

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9/4/2003 6:59:16 PM

doug Nelson   Maybe this analogy will work as well for you as it did for me when I was learning. The shutter is a door that opens and slams shut for varying precisely timed intervals. The aperture is a pipe to let light through, of diameters of precise size.

The film is saying to you, hey, Katie, I want a specific amount of light to give you a negative that will print for you. When you set the ASA setting on my package, you agreed on the amount of light you're gonna give me. I don't care whether you dribble the light to me through a tiny aperture (hole) or squeeze a little through at a time with a fast shutter. You can let a big burst through a huge aperture, or let in a lot through a slow shutter. The amount of light the film wants is a COMBINATION of shutter and aperture. The aperture and shutter are two sides of an equation. Whatever I do to one side, I must do something to the other.

1/500 sec is a fast shutter speed. We use fast shutters to stop action. It doesn't let in much light. I must compensate on the other side by opening the aperture wider to make up for the tiny amount of light I let in through the fast shutter.

f16 is a really tiny aperture. More of the objects in the depth of your image will be in focus at small apertures. If I let in so little light through a tiny hole, I must make up for it with a slower shutter to let in a bit more.

The light meter in your camera is there to tell you how much to compensate on one side or the other. Share this post with others in your class who need it.

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9/5/2003 9:56:11 AM

Donna Hodges   Dear Katie B.: Write this down...If you want to take a close-up where the front focused and the back blurry, try f4.0-5.6...if you want to focus on distant objects and don't care about what's up close, try f20+. If you want a little of both, try f11.
Don't snap just yet...your shutter speed comes next. Start at 125 (1/125). Gently press the shutter button halfway down. If your camera has a needle or light meter that tells you if there is enough light coming in, check the meter now. If the meter says there is enough light, take your picture. If the meter registers not enough light, start dialing the shutter speed button down a notch (check the needle again). If your needle begins to register a safe amount of light below 1/90, it's time to mount that camera onto a tripod to steady your hand. Anything below 1/90 will require a steady hand, or your picture will (most likely) turn out blurry. Blurry can be nice in some cases but that's another chapter.

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9/9/2003 1:06:48 PM

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