I have always loved to take pictures. Just ask my children. When they were small, I had them so conditioned to being the subject of photographs that when they would see me with the camera and I called out their name they would stop and smile. If the three of them were together, they would form a nice little line. No arguments. Although their willingness to co-operate has become less reliable through the years, my love of taking pictures has not waned.
Before taking a big trip in December 2007 to visit some friends in Japan, I bought my first digital SLR, a Nikon D40. For the past two years I have shot with this camera in Auto mode and for the most part, I have been happy with the pictures. Before the holidays, however, I started wondering about all the untapped potential of my camera…all those buttons, modes, and settings that I didn’t understand and had never dared to try. So I signed myself up for a beginner class on digital SLR’s at a camera store in the big city.
The first class left me both inspired and overwhelmed. Aperture, shutter speed, ISO, white balance….my head was spinning. Although I was intimidated, I was also amazed by the creative options opened up by moving the dial from auto to the different priority modes (aperture, shutter speed, manual, etc.).
A week after my first class, I looked out the window in the morning and saw a beautiful hoar frost blanketing the trees. I wanted to throw on my boots, grab my camera and head outdoors to do some experimenting taking pictures. Reality set in, however, and I turned my attention to getting the kids out the door for school and driving to work. On my drive home later that day, I noticed that remnants of the hoar frost still clung to the trees. If I hurried, I could maybe try out a few shots in between picking the kids up from school, running them home for a snack, and getting back in the car to drive them to piano lessons.
While the kids were getting their piano books together and eating, I had about 10 minutes to go outside with my camera. I put the camera in aperture priority mode and shot the pictures below. The first shot is of seeds on an Amur Maple tree along our driveway at a focal length of 135mm (my lens is an 18mm – 135mm, so that means I had the lens zoomed in all the way).
I took the next series of shots of a Prairie Fire Crab Apple tree outside of my kitchen window. The first one was taken at a focal length of 52 mm. I didn’t really know what I was doing, other than trying out the aperture priority mode, so for each picture I tried to dial down the aperture setting as far as I could….just to see what would happen. The aperture setting or “f-stop” for this picture was f/8.0. To be honest, even after my first class, I really had no idea what this meant, except that I knew changing the aperture affected the “depth of field” in a picture. The depth of field is basically how much of the picture is in focus.
I zoomed in a little closer in the next shot to 58 mm and tried turning the aperture down again, but the f-stop remained f/8.0 for this shot.
In the next photo, I once again zoomed in closer to 70 mm. The f-stop setting is f/5.5. The lower the aperture number, the less the depth of field is in a picture. You can see the berries are in focus (sort of) and the background is getting blurry.
Finally, I zoomed in all the way to 135 mm and took the last shot. The aperture setting was f/5.6.
Although these pictures are far from perfect or even particularly interesting, I was proud of myself for finally turning that dial from auto mode and making my first attempt at shooting in aperture priority mode. I have a LOT to learn and even since shooting these first pictures, I believe that I have a better understanding of some of these photography concepts. I will continue to experiment, learn, hopefully improve, and most importantly, aggravate my children by taking lots and lots of pictures.