Light, and how to manipulate it

I speak from personal experience when I say that navigating the ever-impressive DSLR camera can be tricky. I’d like to save you from falling into the point-and-shoot trap. Photos and videos are only as professional as the man (or woman) behind the camera.

So here it is, your crash course in understanding the root of all photography and videography: manipulating light.

How is an image captured?
Film cameras operate differently than DSLRs, but the light concept is the same. A photo is captured with a lens, the part of the camera that registers reflected light. The film (or digitally, the sensor) responds to the light let in through the lens by creating a latent image (or a digital image file).

What is a DSLR?
Although photography began as a film-based medium, the digital revolution has maximized efficiency with the DSLR camera.

A DSLR is a digital single-lens reflex camera. This digital camera captures images/moving images with an internal sensor. The reason this camera differs from traditional digital cameras lies in the “reflex” design and its detachable lenses.

DSLR diagram

The mirror reflects the image to the viewfinder for viewing and the sensor for recording.

  • Reflex design: A DSLR contains a mirror to alternate reflecting the image to the viewfinder and the image sensor. This way, you can see what you’re about to shoot in the viewfinder, then capture the image with ease.
  • Detachable lenses: The “single-lens” component of a DSLR is a paradox: while there can only be one lens mounted on the camera, the pool of lenses available to you is vast.

How is light manipulated in a DSLR?
Three components work in tandem to manipulate light and create a viewable image. Individually, each has a different function:

  • The aperture is the hole that light passes through. The size of the hole determines the amount of light that is let in, which determines the exposure of an image.
  • Shutter speed is the amount of time the shutter is open. This determines how long the internal sensor is exposed to light.
  • ISO (Internal Standards Organization) is a universal way of measuring how sensitive the camera sensor is to light. The adjustment of ISO assists in exposing an image, especially in low-light conditions.

Strike a proper balance between all three functions and you’ll capture a crisp, well-lit image. Professional photographers and videographers have a good handle on how to strike this balance quickly, efficiently, and correctly.

Wanna be a pro?
Effective photography comes with practice. Get to know your manual mode. The more you manipulate light yourself, the quicker you’ll catch on!


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