Tuesday, September 15, 2009

SIMPLE Photography Chapter 2 - Photographic Zen

In our last chapter we discussed the concept of thinking SIMPLE when approaching a photo opportunity. Your homework was to make the acronym SIMPLE part of your photographic mantra each time you take a photograph. Have you done that? Has it helped?

This week let’s take the SIMPLE concept a step further and discuss how two camera setting interrelate and potentially influence your SIMPLE photograph. To me, the interrelation of camera settings is a kind of Photographic Zen.

To begin this discussion let’s set some primary goals and make one key assumption:

Goal #1 – We want our photograph to have optimum uniform clarity

Goal #2 - We want our photograph to have average lighting and color quality (no extremes – high/low key, etc.)

Assumption – Your camera allows you to manually set aperture and shutter speed

Now, assuming that our lens is clean and we are able to get our subject in focus, there are two primary camera features that can help us attain our goals; they are:

Shutter speed – typically measured in some fraction of a second

Aperture (f-stop) – The size of the shutter opening.  The smaller the number the larger the opening.  

So how do these features provide picture clarity?

- Shutter speed can freeze the actions of a moving subject

Dogs on Run 4x6 Low Res

This picture was shot at a shutter speed of 1/500s which freezes the motion of  the running dogs.



Aperture adjusts the depth-of-field or focal length of the camera

BigBear Silo2

This picture was shot at an aperture setting of F9 in order to achieve a greater depth-of-field.   This setting keeps the not only the silo in focus but also the sky  and clouds above it.

Also note that both features also effect the amount of light that hits  camera sensor

So here’s the Zen:

  • As the shutter speed increases, picture motion is stabilized but the light hitting the camera sensor is reduced, darkening the picture
  • As the Aperture setting decreases (lower f-stop #), your picture will become brighter, yet the chance of uniform clarity in your picture decreases.   In other words depth-of-field, or the range in which subjects will be in focus decreases.

01-21-05 045

This picture illustrates a shallow Depth-of-Field.   The primary subject is in focus, but the rest of the picture is blurred.   The shot was taken at 1/500s @ F4.5


Confused?      Here’s a few practical scenarios:

1) You’re shooting an event and your on camera meter says you need more light. Currently your camera is set to 1/500s @ F8. In order to brighten your picture your first thought is to lower your aperture setting, say from F8 to F4. Doing this gives you the light you need but now your picture clarity does not appear uniform.

2) You’re shooting an event and your on camera meter says you need more light. Currently your camera is set to 1/125s @ F11. In order to brighten your picture your first thought is to slow the shutter speed, say from 1/125s to 1/60s. Doing this gives you the light you need but now your picture is showing some motion blur.

3) You’re shooting an event on a brightly lit day. You set your aperture to F4 to allow maximum light so that you can attain a really fast shutter speed, say 1/1000s, because you really want to stop the action. But you are dissatisfied with the picture because the clarity is just not uniform.

These are three common scenarios with three common solutions. Technically the solutions chosen were correct as they did address the challenges of Motion and Lighting. However the resulting photos did not reflect our Intent, nor did it address all of the challenges of the Subject.      Getting the picture – SIMPLE?

So could we have done better?   Could we have addressed Motion and Lighting while also addressing Intent and Subject?    Realistically you will not always be able to satisfy all of the SIMPLE concepts in every picture, however in the scenarios described above here are some options that will improve overall picture clarity:

Scenario #1 - Rather than lowering the aperture setting which in turn reduces the focal range or Depth-of-Field, slow the shutter speed to approx. 1/400th.   At this setting you can still stop most of the action in a sporting event, increase the brightness of your picture, while maintaining a reasonable depth-of-field at F8.  

Scenario #2 - Rather than lowering your shutter speed, which increases the likelihood of motion blur, try lowering your aperture, perhaps F8. By doing this you maintain a reasonable depth-of-field, increase the brightness of your photo and prevent motion blur.  This is ideal where moderate movement (i.e. walking) is a factor.

Scenario #3 –  In bright lighting, rather than reducing the aperture consider reducing the shutter speed.  For instance, a setting of 1/800s @ F8 will maintain picture brightness, provide a reasonable Depth-of-Field, while providing a fast enough shutter speed to handle most any sporting event.


When composing a photograph, remember that there is a yen and yang balance to the Photographic Zen.   Making a camera adjustment with one feature (i.e. shutter speed or aperture) may address an obvious issue but may have an adverse effect on another of the SIMPLE principals.   If you are aware of this prior to setting up your shot, you’ll make more educated decisions that give you a much better chance of getting the shot you Intend.

In my next post I’ll share with you some of the basic rules of thumb that I use in various scenarios.   Until then keep thinking SIMPLE and find your Photographic Zen.   Happy Shooting!


Got questions?  Have a topic that you’d like for me to discuss?  Your Comments are welcome here or on my FaceBook page at: http://facebook.com/jkuamoophotography .   Also feel free to start a new or join an existing discussion on the FaceBook discussion board.


  1. This is by far the biggest challenge for me in coming from the point and shoot world to the D-SLR world. The camera always did what it 'thought' was best...getting to the point where I instinctively know when to use which shutter speed/aperture setting is one of my photographic goals (and I know that it's vital in order to get my work to the next level).

    Thanks for breakin' it down like this with real-world scenarios--very cool!

  2. You know me, I like to keep things SIMPLE...