The Light

/ in Photography by Marek

The gradual transition to my new DSLR was a slow process as leaving the comfort zone of point and click to a manual settings approach was not without its hurdles for somebody rather new to photography.

Manual mode gives you complete control of all the camera’s settings whose adjustment affects the amount of light which reaches the camera’s sensor.

The camera’s sensor requires sufficient light to produce a digital image.

As my blog is about how I started recording moths and what led me to the stage I have reached today I will leave the intricacies of photography to the many experts to be found online who can provide a much more informed precis of a camera’s settings than I ever could.

I will, however, mention the three major settings briefly and how I try to manage them to produce the images required for my site.

The first one is shutter speed which does exactly as its name implies by adjusting the speed of the shutter (how long the aperture remains open).

It makes sense that the faster the shutter speed the less light reaches the sensor but, more subtly for macro photography, this setting is crucial to avoid a blurred photograph due to hand movement as I don’t use a tripod.

The size of aperture or F-stop setting, again, is easy to understand with relation to light as the wider the aperture the more light reaches the sensor but again for macro photography this setting is important as the smaller the aperture setting the less depth of field (how much of the image is in focus) is possible.

The third setting, ISO, is the easiest to explain as this controls how sensitive the sensor is to light, but at a cost as the higher the ISO setting the more noise (speckling) is present on your images which is compounded again when it comes to macro photography due to its very nature.

2x2 grid of the same shot with different camera settings, labelled with the settings on each one
A set up

I had learnt already that the best time of the day for recording the images I am looking for is around dawn before the sun becomes too high in the sky and attention to shadows becomes necessary.

Also, as I am taking pictures in a moth house, so that I have a chance of repotting any escapees, it becomes rather warm in there during the summer (rather like taking pictures in a greenhouse) which is uncomfortable not only for me but also the moths as they are held in plastic pots.

As with all things in life a compromise must be reached and by trial an error I discovered that I could not really go any higher than ISO 1600 without introducing too much noise and a shutter speed of 60 is a minimum setting otherwise my shots become blurred due to the shakes.

This leaves the F-stop setting which I found needed to be as high as possible otherwise only a small part of my subject appeared in focus due to depth of field which is not suitable for the displays I am trying to produce.

Try as I may I kept finding myself returning to my trusty Canon Powershot as It always managed to do a better job than I could achieve especially in low light situations.

Photo of a moth with the camera settings I favour for general purpose shots of species - ISO 1000, Shutter Speed 1/60 and F-Stop 10
Old Faithful

So at this point in time it appeared that the odds of getting to grips with my DSLR were stacked against me which leads nicely to my next post entitled focus stacking.