White Balance

What the heck is that?  You’ve heard us go on and on about how light is so important to properly exposing an image.  What we haven’t talked about though is the color of light.  All light has a particular color, whether it be the soft yellow of the morning sunlight, the hazy golden tones of the late afternoon, the purplish blue tones a fluorescent light throws, or the very yellow-orange and warm light of an incandescent light bulb. 

Since having your subjects look purplish blue or very yellowy-orange is not typically the desirable outcome, we’ll talk about how White Balance can help that.  White Balance is essentially changing the color temperature of a particular lighting situation.  While the human eye can compensate for most color casts thrown by artificial or natural light, camera sensors have a harder time doing so. 

To help combat this, digital cameras come with some preset white balance settings such as Automatic White Balance (AWB), Daylight, Tungsten, and some others.  Choosing your white balance while you’re taking the picture can help to render a more accurate picture and save time if you do any editing in Photoshop or the like.  White Balance settings will vary from camera to camera, but they usually correspond to the following: 

The best way to handle color casts that happen indoors is to set a custom white balance.  Here is a quick lesson:

This picture was taken with the camera on AWB – Automatic White Balance.  As you can see, it is quite yellow and not an accurate depiction of what these delicious cupcakes actually looked like. 

Since I was indoors under incandescent light, I set the WB setting to Tungsten and took my next picture.  You can see it’s better, but it’s still quite yellow. 

Since I was still getting some pretty bad color casts, I decided to set a Custom White Balance.  There are several ways to do this.  One is to purchase a gray card, which is what most photographers use, but for the purpose of this experiment, you can use a plain piece of white paper.  You want to add the gray card to the same lighting scene in which your subject is.  This can be done by propping it into the scene or simply holding it up to your camera. 

First locate the Custom White Balance setting on your camera – you may have to go back and check in your manual to see how to change this.  Now you will want to switch your lens from AF (auto focus) to MF (manual focus) and fill your viewfinder with the gray card or white paper.  Take a picture, and then go into your camera’s menu and locate your custom white balance setting.  Your camera will ask you to set a photo for which it will base it’s temperature off of, and you will select the picture you just took of the white paper/gray card.  

You can see that this completely changes the tone of the picture, eliminating the harsh yellow cast that was being created by the overhead tungsten lighting.  (Be sure to switch back over to AF mode on your lens before taking the picture.) 

Another fun trick that is fairly accurate in regards to rendering a custom white balance is something called The Pringles Trick.  What you need:  a can of Pringles, a white coffee filter, and some tape.  Eat the Pringles, and then take the clear lid and attach the coffee filter.  You will have to cut the coffee filter down to size and tape it on, and it should wind up looking like this:

Now repeat the steps outlined above for setting custom white balance, switch back over to MF mode and hold the lid up to your lens into the light source.  Take a picture and access your camera’s menu again to choose this picture to use as your custom white balance.  

I have found this method to be the most accurate, as seen below:

So, here’s your homework – Go play around with the white balance settings on your camera, try out the various settings depending on your lighting situations, and attempt to take a picture using the custom white balance. 

You’ll be amazed at the difference, and we can’t wait to see your results!  As always, let us know if you have any questions, but more importantly – have fun!




A histogram is an extremely useful tool when shooting digitally. You’ve probably seen it somewhere on your camera but never realized what it was.  It is a graph correlated with an image showing the amount of light and darkness (aka your exposure.)  It is great because it can give you instant feedback as to whether you need to adjust your setting to let in more light or less light, or to show you that you nailed a “just right” exposure.

Let’s start with how to read a basic diagram of a histogram:

So, an image with too many bars to the right would be overexposed and an image with too many bars to the left would be underexposed.  BUT, when you have a clustering of bars spread out over the entire diagram, or more towards the middle, you have a balanced exposure.  (By the way- the histogram above represents a properly exposed image which you will see below.)

Here are some examples:

First, an overexposed image histogram-

As you can see, the bars are favoring the right side of the histogram, showing that this image is overexposed.

Next, an underexposed image histogram-

As you can see the bars are now favoring the left side of the histogram, showing the image is underexposed.

And finally, a properly exposed image.

This shows an even disbursement of the bars across the histogram.  Now we have proper exposure.  🙂

So here is your homework- Look in your manual (if you need to) and figure out how to view your in-camera histogram.  Shooting in manual, create an image that demonstrates a balanced exposure.  IF you have the capability (with another camera) shoot a photo of your in-camera histogram reading and post it with your evenly exposed image.  (HINT- Avoid using flash to take a photo of your camera’s histogram.  The light will create a glare making it hard to read.)

Shooting in Manual

Learning to shoot your camera in manual mode should be your goal in your journey through photography.  Shooting in manual gives you complete creative control of a photo, letting you be an artist, not just a “snapshot taker.”

At this point we have talked about the “triangle” of photography- aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.  All three of these elements come together to form a photograph.  There are countless combinations you can use to create proper exposure (which is a photograph which exhibits an even and appropriate amount of light.)  You just have to think in terms of priority.  If depth of field is your concern, you are going to choose your aperture first and adjust your ISO and shutter speed accordingly.  If motion is your concern, then you are going to choose your shutter speed first and your aperture and ISO accordingly.

For example-

Let’s say I am outside and I want to take a photograph of a couple.  The background is not important and a little bit of a distraction so I would like to employ the use of a wide aperture to isolate my subject and make it standout in the photo.  So I choose an aperture of f2.8.  With this aperture, I know that the blur from the depth of field will give me the look I am going for here.  The sun is out so I don’t need the extra light from ISO, so I set my ISO to the fastest it will go- 200.  Now I have to choose my shutter speed.  I will need something fast since my aperture is so wide which lets in a lot of light.  I opt for 1/1000.

Now, the great thing about digital is that you can check your exposure right away. How does your photo look?  Too bright and overexposed?  You need to achieve less light.  Too dark and underexposed?  You need more light.

When you need more light you can:

widen your aperture ( use a lower number f-stop- i.e. f2.8 instead of f16 )

slow down your shutter speed ( use a lower number/bigger fraction- i.e. 1/30 instead of 1/100 )

slow down your ISO ( use a higher number- i.e. 800 instead of 200 )

When you need LESS light you can:

use a smaller aperture ( use a higher number f-stop- i.e. f16 instead of f2.8 )

speed up your shutter speed ( use a higher number/smaller fraction- i.e. 1/100 instead of 1/30 )

speed up your ISO ( use a smaller number- i.e. 200 instead of 800 )

Now, just remember when you change one setting, you must adjust the others.

Here is your homework:

Shooting in manual is all about understanding the triangle of photography- aperture, shutter speed, and ISO- and understanding how they affect eachother.  This week you are going to try shooting in manual.

Take the same photo using 2 different settings.  So take one of the photos with a wide aperture and a fast shutter (adjusting your ISO for light.)  And take the second photo with a narrow aperture and a slow shutter (adjusting your ISO for light.)

Shooting in manual takes practice, but once you get the hang of it, it becomes second nature.

All about ISO

So in the past few weeks we’ve learned about how aperture and shutter speed affect the amount of light that is let in or kept out of your camera.  Aperture also controls your depth of field and shutter speed helps to define motion, but for today, we’re going to be to talking about light.  Photography is all about light, and you can’t fully understand that until you understand how ISO works into the picture.

ISO stands for  International Organization of Standards, but you really don’t need to know that.  What you do need to understand is that ISO is the part of the equation that tells your camera how quickly to capture the light it’s exposed to.  In the days of film (or for those of you following along using film cameras), ISO is actually the speed of the film.  In the digital world, ISO is referring to your digital sensor.  The lower your ISO setting (100 speed, for example), the slower the exposure of light onto the film or image sensor will be. The faster the ISO (1000 speed, for example) the faster the exposure of light onto the film or sensor will be. 

For quick reference, here’s a generic ISO reference chart. Don’t be jealous of my crazy free hand photoshop skills. 😉 Hey, I’m a photographer not a graphic designer!

On all  DSLR cameras, as well as some point and shoot cameras, you can adjust your ISO setting for each shot you take. As a general rule, for bright outdoor shots, choose a number between ISO 200 and 400 speed. When you move to a setting with less light, such as when you go indoors, you can quickly increase your ISO to 800, 1000, or higher to keep on taking photos.  Just remember that the quality of your pictures will change depending on the ISO you use.  A very low ISO will result in a crisp, clear image while a higher ISO will create more digital grain or “noise” in your picture.

To explain further, here is an image shot outdoors at ISO 100.  Notice how sharp and clear the picture is.

This is an example of digital grain or digital noise in a picture taken with an ISO of 1600.  If you look in the shadows, particularly on the right half of the picture, you’ll see a lot of different flecks of color.  This is the “noise” and generally considered an undesirable characteristic in photos… unless of course it’s done for artistic purposes… which was not the case here.  😉 


Next week we’re going to get into the specifics of putting it all together and learning to shoot manual, but for this week we’d like you to take some time to play around and get comfortable changing your ISO speeds.  Go ahead and venture into manual (M) mode and see how it all works together.  It may be challenging, but feel free to post questions and pictures with any problems you’re having.  

Remember, it’s all about light.  In a low light situation, the higher your ISO, the greater (or wider) your aperture will usually be and the lower your shutter speed.  All of these are allowing your camera to let in the most light possible.  In bright lighting situations, the lower your ISO will be.  In bright lighting you can also choose to close down your aperture and increase your shutter speed.  These three components all work together to allow you the most control over your image. 

For a little guidance, and since we’re all stuck inside this time of year, put your camera in M mode and choose the lowest aperture you can on your lens.  Set your shutter speed at 1/60 and now choose your ISO setting – start with ISO 800 and take a picture.  Now change the ISO to 1600 and see how it affects the light and quality of your picture.

Good luck, and we’re here if you need anything!

Shutter Speed

Ok- so you learned in the last lesson that aperture is related to how wide the lens opening is… this week we will concentrate on the speed of that opening.

Controlling the speed of your shutter (or how long you leave the aperture open), has a dramatic effect on your photographs.  Let me break this down in the simplest way that I can.

Achieving Proper Exposure with Appropriate Shutter

Here is a list of shutter speeds:

Each number represents a fraction of second that the shutter remains open. Opening the shutter determines how long the light passes through the lens.

1= 1/1 or one second

2= ½ of a second

4= ¼ of a second

8= 1/8 of a second

15= 1/15 of a second

30= 1/30 of a second

60= 1/60 of a second

125= 1/125 of a second

250= 1/250 of a second

500= 1/500 of a second

1000= 1/1000 of a second


Notice that each time you change your shutter, you essentially doubling the amount of light or halving the amount of light to your picture.

1= Lets in the most light because the shutter is open for a whole second.










1000= Lets in just a small tiny fraction of a second of light because the shutter is open for a fast fraction of a second.

So now let’s apply this concept to shooting:

When you are in a very bright situation, you don’t need the extra light. Too much light will overexpose your image.

Since you already have a lot of light, you only want to let a small amount pass through your lens, so you are going to use one of the higher numbers like 1/400 (well, smaller number when you consider that it is a fraction.)

When you have a dimly lit situation, you will need a slower shutter speed (like 1/30) to let in some extra light. Not enought light, and you will underexpose your image.

CAUTION: Be aware of your shutter speed dipping too low when you are hand-holding your camera.  I would suggest not shooting with a shutter under 1/30th or 1/25th.  If you do shoot with a very slow shutter speed, it can result in something called camera shake (visible shake from your hand in your photo.)  Camera shake is something you always battle when trying to achieve the sharpest image possible, and the slower the shutter, the more likely it is to capture motion in even the tiniest movement.  Instead, grab a tripod or rest your camera on something steady like a table.  (There are other ways to get more light into your pictures which we will discuss later.)

Creative Control:  Motion Blur and Freeze Frame

Technically speaking, there are many combinations (of aperture, shutter speed, and -something we have not talked about yet- ISO) that will give you proper exposure.  The wider your aperture (2.8), the faster your shutter speed (1/80), and the more narrow your aperture (f22) the lower your shutter speed (1/15).

Knowing this will help you get to the next level of control: creative control.

Creatively speaking, a slow shutter speed will give something we call motion blur.  This can be used to show motion or movement.

This was taken at f4 and a shutter speed of 1 second.  I wanted to capture the light of the sparklers so I wanted the motion blur of the sparks.

Here I wanted to capture the motion of the train while keeping the couple in focus.  I kicked my camera into shutter-priority mode (which lets me choose the shutter while the camera chooses the aperture for the correct exposure.)  I used a shutter of 1/13 and the camera chose an aperture of f10. Unfortunately, the train came unexpectedly so I did not have use of a tripod.  So I had to handhold the camera.  Because of camera shake, I was not able to get a perfectly crisp picture.. but you get the idea!! 🙂

And a fast shutter speed will give that “frozen-in-time” look.

This is shot with an f2.8 with a shutter speed of 400 (or 1/400th of a second.) It was because of the fast shutter that I was able to capture the girls in midair.

And here is another example of that frozen motion look.  I have captured the water droplets as they are being splashed on the dog.  This is shot with an f4 and 1/8000.

Homework Time

Ok.  Here is your assignment for this week:  Experiment with your camera’s Shutter Priority shooting mode.  (I suggest shooting outside if possible so you have enough light in your photo. IF you are going to do this inside, at least do it during the day or in a very bright lit area so lighting is not an issue.)

Shoot one photo to show motion blur.  Use a slow shutter speed.  I suggest something 1/30 or under. Make sure you brace your arm, use a tripod, or rest your camera on something to steady it and avoid camera shake.

Next, shoot one photo to show a moving object frozen in time.  Use a fast shutter speed. Try using a shutter speed of 1/100th or higher. (If you are shooting inside, bump up your ISO to 800 or higher to get that extra bit of light.)

Make sure when you post your photo…include the shooting settings.

Here are a couple of examples to get you started:

Notice how with the slow shutter speed you see the movement of the hand and the pages.


Understanding aperture is one of the fundamental keys to really learning about your camera and getting the most out of your pictures.  It can sometimes be a little confusing to grasp though.  The aperture or f/stop you select will determine how much of your picture will be in focus.

Depending on the lens you have, apertures can typically go from 1.2 to 22.  These numbers refer to how open or closed your lens is.  The tricky part (for me at least) was remembering that they correspond in the opposite way that you would think.

A very open lens, which will let in the greatest amount of light and provide you with the shallowest depth of field or give you the blurry background (the plain english translation) is the lowest f/stop or aperture your lens has.  For those with the 50mm, this would typically be 1.8 or 1.4.  If you have the lens that came with your camera, this is probably 5.6 but you’ll have to check to be sure.

In this picture taken at with an aperture of 1.2,  you can see that the focal plane is very small, with a focus just on the cluster of leaves here, and rendering everything else blurry, or creating a “bokeh” background.  Bokeh is a photography term derived from the Japanese language that literally means watercolor, and is an accurate representation of what the background of a picture with a very wide aperture looks like.  

The smaller your aperture, the more of your picture that will be in focus, but less light will be allowed in through the small opening.  A closed aperture would be considered f/22, or the highest your lens goes.  Using an aperture or f/stop this high would result in a very deep focus, and almost no background blur to your photos.

Here is the same image as above, but taken at f/16.  You can now see all of the surrounding details.

In order to understand how to adjust the aperture, and what it does to your pictures, this week we would like you to explore Aperture Priority mode on your cameras.  Canon users, this is the AV mode.  On Nikons, it is the A on your dial… but you guys already knew that, because you read your manuals last week, right?  😉  Using this mode will allow you to focus on just the aperture, and let the camera choose your shutter speed.  You will have to select your ISO, but we’ve given some suggestions below.

Okay, so once you’ve set your camera to Aperture Priority mode, we’d like you to find some kind of stationary object, if you can go outside that would be great, but bundle up, we aren’t responsible for frost bite!  If you take your pictures outdoors, first try an ISO of around 200 and review your image to see how that looks.  If it’s too dark, bump it up to 400.  If you have to take your pictures inside, you’ll probably need to bump that ISO way up to 1250 or even 1600.  They won’t be the most beautiful pictures you’ll ever take, and they may look quite grainy, but they will allow you to focus on just the aperture, which is the important part.

Here’s the official homework:

1.  Set your f/stop to the lowest possible setting your lens allows and adjust ISO as mentioned above.  Double check your manual if you’re not sure how to make these changes.  Compose your image and focus on just one thing, and take the picture.

2.  Move your aperture setting up to around 1/8 and recompose your image focusing on the same spot.  Click away!

3.  Finally, close your lens down to the smallest aperture (probably 1/22) and recompose again with the same focal point.  Take that picture.

Now upload those three images onto your computer and check out how the different apertures gave you three totally different pictures!

Here is a quick example for you using the little Mexican figurines we have saved from our honeymoon.

This first shot is at f/1.4.  Notice how only the man in the front is truly in focus, and everything else is quite blurred.

Now, the shot taken at f/8.  You can now see the other characters quite clearly, including that chip on the guy’s foot to the right.  Hmm.. I’ll have to ask my husband about that.  Though the figurines are more in focus, notice that the background is still a bit blurry.

This last shot was taken at f/22.  You can now see that the focus is deep and wide, with the entire image in focus right down to my ugly blinds and the stack of magazines back there on the table.

Now that you’ve seen an example, go try it out.  We can’t wait to see the results!

As a final wrap up, your key words from this lesson are aperture – which describes the size of the opening of your lens and determines how much light is let in as well as the amount of your picture that will be in focus.  f-stop  is the corresponding number typically ranging from 1.2 to 22 on your lens that will allow you to choose a very WIDE aperture (a low number) or a very CLOSED aperture (a high number).  A shallow depth of field is seen when you’ve used a very wide aperture, and a small portion of your picture is in focus, with the rest very blurred, or containing a lot of bokeh.  A deep depth of field is the result of a very closed aperture and most if not all of your picture is in focus with very little blur.

Have you done your homework?

Okay, there’s still a bit more time, but here we are reading away like good little girls. 


If you come across something in your manual that doesn’t seem to make sense or you need some clarification on, feel free to post those questions here.  We’ll be checking in and answering anything we can.  🙂