Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Photo tips 2: How to use your camera

Now that you've chosen and purchased your camera, let's talk about using it! I'm going to stick to using your camera for Etsy purposes only here.

Understanding the settings

Most cameras have a standard "portrait" setting which will be adequate for taking pictures. Many also have SLR-like priority settings, like aperture priority and shutter priority, as well as full manual settings.

So what the heck do these words mean, and when should we use the settings?

Aperture: The size of the opening in the lens. The larger the aperture, the more light let into the lens. The f-stop (focal number), however, is reversed: f2.8 is a very open lens, while f22 is a very closed lens. (If you enjoy math and photography, geek out on f-stop info here.) It also has an effect on depth of field, see below.

Shutter speed: How fast the shutter in the lens opens and closes. The faster the shutter speed, the less light let into the lens.

Aperture priority means that you pick the f-stop you want, and the camera adjusts the shutter speed to the lighting. Shutter priority means you pick the shutter speed, and the camera adjusts the aperture to the lighting. These priority settings will pick the appropriate complementary setting to give you a good picture.

The final term you want to be familiar with is depth of field. Depth of field refers to the amount of the shot in focus. If the entire picture is in focus, you have a deep depth of field. If one object is in focus and the rest of the picture is blurred, you have a shallow depth of field. Depth of field is controlled by the aperture of the lens. The more open your lens (f2.8), the shallower the depth of field is.

A shallow depth of field is useful to isolate an object and to draw focus to a specific part of the setting. It also creates a more interesting picture:

Shallow depth of field focuses on the earrings while blurring the bowl.
The boxes, the metal container and the candle are all in focus in this picture, which has a deep depth of field.
You can create a shallow depth of field while on auto-settings by taking a very tightly framed picture: Get very close to the object, and set your focus on one portion. You will see the camera adjust the focus in your viewfinder.

When to use the settings

Aperture priority is used mostly when you want to control the depth of field. An open aperture gives a shallower depth of field. You can use this to great effect for Etsy photos. I would recommend it for detail shots or secondary images to make your listings more interesting.

Shutter priority is best for taking pictures of fast-moving objects, as it will freeze the motion while adjusting the aperture for lighting. Not really useable for Etsy!

This website has a great breakdown of aperture vs. shutter priority: http://digital-photography-school.com/aperture-and-shutter-priority-modes

If you are a complete photography novice, start off with "portrait" or "auto" settings on your camera. It will give you a pretty good picture. Once you're comfortable with that, experiment with priority settings. The great thing about digital photography is you can take as many photos as you need to figure it out!

Thanks for reading! Next week, I'll be building my own lightbox and talking about lighting your items.

— Jocelyn | paragraphloop.etsy.com


  1. oooo these are great posts - I am generally baffled by my camera, so I'm reading with interest!

  2. GREAT explanation of the vocabulary! It took me forever to figure out the relationship with Aperture/fstops/depth of field (it still trips me up sometimes!) Photographer-hubby gets asked lots of questions on wine charm photo-shoot days. =)

    1. It's very confusing! I took photography classes in high school, so I learned it when I was young and malleable ;)

  3. I need to learn about depth of field and play around with that. Thanks for the advice...looking forward to more!