Introduction to Basic Camera Terms and Functions

10262131_10152702684934471_9033575469495657319_nI have been a Photographer for over 35 years. I have used Polaroid’s, Early Point and Shoot Film and Single Lens Reflex, Digital Point and Shoots, Cell Phones and now Full Frame DSLR’s. I have taken classes, researched, read books, and most of all, experimented and taken millions of photos. I have taken really crappy photos and some amazing photos and I have learned from each of them, and I am still learning.

So now it seems like everyone is using camera’s in the paranormal for either pre investigation or during the actual investigations. There are also those that take random pictures and see things in them that they cannot explain. Getting to know your camera, a Cell Camera, Point and Shoot or DSLR is an important part of determining what is going on with your pictures. It’s good to start with basic operation so that your photos will come out less blurry, with more vivid colors and little to no artifacting. I know I like my pictures to be as perfect as possible, under any condition, but remember, it’s not always possible for every picture to be perfect. Many natural things around you affect your shots, but you do have control over them to a certain extent.

The majority of people tend to use the Automatic setting on their camera, which is great for most shooting conditions, but will not always provide the best picture from your camera. It can be fooled, so sometimes it’s better to delve into the manual settings to get the best possible shot.

Just remember, on Auto Mode, these can all change from shot to shot, depending on what your camera senses when it tries to focus. Not all cameras are created equal; you may have more control of each of these from camera to camera in the Manual Mode. There are many other settings so I would suggest reading your owner’s manual or just researching on the internet or investing in a good book on photography. The big three in camera settings and the ones you’ll hear referred to the most are as follows.

ISO: What is ISO, in film photography is how sensitive film is to light. It is measured in numbers such as 100, 200, 400, 800 etc. The lower the number, the lower the sensitivity of the film to the light and the finer the grain in the shots you’re taking. In Digital Photography ISO measures the sensitivity of the image sensor to the surrounding light. The same idea as in film photography, the lower the number, the less sensitive the senor is to light, but you will get a much clearer picture as a result (Less Noise), especially when enlarged. So shooting at ISO 100 will give a much crisper image when enlarged than say ISO 400.

The ISO is also referred to as the film speed, the higher the ISO, the easier it is to capture moving objects, so an ISO of 800 would be used when photographing fast moving sporting events for instance, to get a nice stop action shot with little motion blur.

Again, this is something your camera will adjust for when in Auto Mode, so depending on the amount of light, this could change drastically, created blurred shots in very low light perhaps if it does not adjust with a higher ISO.

When shooting in low light, and on manual, the higher the ISO and the higher the Aperture and longer shutter speed, the better the shot will be. It’s possible you may not need a tripod (Although I would always recommend one unless you have Anti-Shake technology and a very high ISO capability). This does not mean you can take a shot with no light, handheld, but you can with a tripod and a very long shutter speed.

Aperture/F Stop: This is the opening in the lens. When you press your shutter release, a hole opens up in the lens, the wider the hole; the more light is let in. This hole is measured in F-Stops, for example f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6 etc. These numbers may be a bit confusing though, since the smaller the number, the wider the aperture, or more light is let in.

The biggest result of changes in aperture is Depth of Field (DOF). What this means is that with a larger aperture, say f/22, more of the shot will be in focus, both objects up close and objects in the distance. Small Depth of Field means that only part of the image will be in focus, as in a flower shot, where most of the flower will be in focus (depending on how close the flower is) and the rest of the shot will be out of focus. When thinking about this in the paranormal world, and when shooting in Auto Mode, this could mean only certain objects will be in focus.

Shutter Speed: Shutter speed is the amount of time that the shutter is open, thereby letting in more light. It is measured in seconds, such as 1/100, 1/1000, 1 etc. This is one of the main items we talk about when looking at paranormal photo’s, as normally most shots will be in low light and the camera will be on Auto Mode. Under these circumstances, the camera will try to leave the shutter open longer, to let in more light. Unfortunately, what this will create is a blurry photo when not using a tripod. Even if the “Click” seems fast to you, the shutter is open long enough to feel the effects of hand movement, wind etc, which will cause a slight movement of the image on the sensor, thereby blurring the picture. It could be anything from a slight blur to a blur so bad as to cause the shot to be unrecognizable.

Manual Settings: So, with all that said, Auto Mode is great for shooting outdoors, in high light situations with most cell phones and point and shoots as well as Standard DSLR’s. But when it comes to low light, even with a flash, Auto can create many issues, due to the setting the camera decides to use. The best way to decide what manual settings to use is to experiment. Know your camera; know what settings work best under what conditions.

My personal preference is to only shoot pre investigation shots, to document the location and hopefully get some cool artsy shots as well. Due to all the issues explained above, I won’t shoot anything during the investigation, as it is usually in low light to no light. If you insist on doing so, always use a flash and a tripod at a minimum.