On the recent Exmouth trip (with which the video etc is still an ongoing project – a crashed computer will do that to you), one thing we noticed, usually about every 5 mins while on the road, and in droves at roadhouses, way stops (for toilet breaks) and of course in the caravan parks.
Now I am not sure this term is not a little derogatory, as I am now – quelle horreur – approaching this supposed age, and I am certainly not grey, well not in my own mind! But the term has stuck, and no-one we came across seemed that fussed about being thus branded.
Now there has been reams written (look it up kiddies and millennials) and hours of news footage shot on the grey nomad phenomenon, much of it covering their driving habits. And some on their spending ones just quietly. Marketers take note …
This is not about that. (Although I will say one thing; if you are trundling along with your caravan at 80 kph in your brand new SUV 4WD truck thing then, a) note the speed limit for you IS 100 kph and your shiny new car and caravan are quite capable of that speed, and b) a queue of 5 or more cars behind you is a sign that you really should pull over and let them past. It’s not a question of rights, but courtesy.
So often we saw this, with the very worst being 3 SUV / caravans in convoy with just the right amount of distance between them precluding any attempt at overtaking. I counted 10 cars and trucks in the end all lined up, dutifully sitting on 80 kph. Lord knows how the truckies kept their cool as they are the ones so often (unfairly) maligned and it must have cost them heaps of time (and therefore in their case) money, before these good folk decided to stop at a lay bay, presumably for their morning cuppa and a chat.
Of Cameras and Camcorders
Anyway, what I wanted to talk about was not driving habits or road sense, but cameras, camcorders and by inference smartphones. It was gratifying, the number of people when they found out what I did who started to ask questions.
(Note, I am not a huge subscriber to using smartphones for serious photos or video. If you have nothing else, then fair enough, but you cannot beat the real thing).
How to shoot sunsets, best settings for a smartphone for photos, how to connect their phones to their Blue teeth in the car, and even simply, how to use the brand new Canon / Nikon (usually) dSLR they had bought just for the trip but had them totally stumped. One lady even asked about creating timelapse sunsets!
(Note: We were using the new Panasonic LUMIX GH5S on this trip – and just quietly, loving it!)
But the use of their brand new camera, was by far the most common.
And in most cases, my answer was the same; “Have you read the manual?” And in most cases the answer was the same; “I cannot understand it.”
Even the basics of using the dSLR – let alone camcorders and smartphones – in their manuals was just too difficult to grasp it seems.
It would be very easy to suggest that technical literacy may be a problem, but I don’t believe this to be the case. Many times, these good folks managed to set up satellite TV dishes on their caravan roofs in the places they visited and UHF two way communication is second nature for example. And when you think about, many were of the age group that STARTED with computers in the workplace, albeit with the likes of Lotus 1-2-3 and the first IBM PC or Wordstar and dBase II!
One thing I can say for sure is that for reasons only known to themselves, manufacturers make manuals way to small with the associated tiny print that goes along with that. Second, PDF manuals when on the road are a pain in the proverbial, and this of course makes on-line ones almost impossible to use. In short, manuals are no way thought about as much these days as they used to be.
And this, I consider, is a PROBLEM.
Having said that, here is a basic crash course in the terminology for those that are interested.
Aperture: How wide the lens (or as someone called it, they “eye”) is open. The wider it is, the more light gets in. Oddly, the lower the number eg 5.6 or 2.8 say, the wider it is.
Shutter Speed: The amount of time the shutter is open letting light in. Think of an eye blinking if you like. Of course, then, the lower the shutter speed (in seconds and down to fractions) the more light is getting in.
It stands to reason then, there is a balance between aperture settings and shutter speed, right? On most cameras today, you can cheat and just set the camera to automatic, and the brain of the camera will sort all that nonsense out for you. But why did you spend good dollars then on a flash new camera when you could spend a fraction of the money and get the current version of the old “Instamatic”?
More on that later.
A lesser cheat is to choose an aperture setting (the big ‘A’ on the rotary dial on the top of the camera usually) and let the camera work out the shutter speed. Alternatively, select ‘S’ (yep, for Shutter Speed), after setting one, and the camera will work out the correct aperture. These are called ‘Priority” settings by the way.
But here is the kicker. The camera can only work on the info it has and is certainly not infallible, so these are guides only. Many times, they will work, but not in all circumstances, so be aware of that.
Most commonly is another wobbly that gets thrown into the system, one known as “depth of field”.
In simple terms, the wider (lower number) the aperture, the lower the depth of field gets. This means that objects close to the lens are in focus and those further away are out of focus. Close down the aperture (make the aperture smaller, with a higher number) and the “in sharp” distance is larger. And this is another case of the balance needed between shutter speed and aperture.
Is there a way to learn this? Why, yes, yes there is! I give you the unpatented David Hague Emu Bitter beer can method.
- Setup an Emu Bitter beer stubbie / can on a table in the open in daylight. Option: Open and drink first. Highly recommended.
- Place your camera, ideally on a tripod (when should you use a tripod? Whenever you have one) about 2 metres away. Set the ISO for 400 (more on this a little later, for now, just do it OK).
- Open the aperture to its widest – probably f8 – and set the shutter speed to 1/60th (or 125th in very bright sunlight) and focus on the can. (Why the f? Each setting is called an f-stop. Yes, but WHY? Since you asked:
The f-number of an optical system (such as a camera lens) is the ratio of the system’s focal length to the diameter of the entrance pupil. … It is also known as the focal ratio, f-ratio, or f–stop.
- Get a notepad and pencil.
- Take a shot, note down the settings of aperture and shutter speed. Review the shot in your camera’s pop out LCD (there is usually a ‘Play’ button marked as a right facing arrow head somewhere on the camera top or back. To exit playback, usually a half press of the shutter release will take you back to “take photo” mode.
- Now, keeping the shutter speed where it is, change the aperture to the next highest, refocus and repeat Step 5.
- Repeat Step 6 followed by Step 5, until you have reached minimum aperture (usually f22)
You will no doubt see that as the aperture decreases in size (a higher number remember), the image gets darker and darker to the point that eventually, you probably won’t see anything but darkness. You’ll also note that as you refocus, more and more of the background, not just the Emu Bitter beer can, comes into focus.
- Now repeat steps 1-7 but start the shutter speed at 1/1000th and set the aperture to f16 and keep THAT constant. With each step, DECREASE the shutter speed to the next lowest through 1/500th, 1/250th, 1/125th, 1/60th and so on down to about ½ second. Don’t forget to take notes for each shot describing the settings used and what you saw in the camera’s LCD when put in playback mode for each shot.
This is the best way I have found to come to grips with the twins of aperture and shutter speed and become used to them. Eventually, as you experiment in real life taking photos (or video as the same principles apply except you may find aperture called “iris”) and take multiple shots with different settings of the same subject, rather than a one-off shot on automatic, it will become second nature to pick an average setting for say a sunrise or sunset and deviate from that average a little with a shutter speed or aperture change due to distance, bright light or some other factor. The same applies for shots over snow, in dull, overcast conditions, or with a water proof camera.
In other words, there is nothing in photography that is “average”. And it is the use of these combinations that causes creativity in photography – along with camera angle, light placement, framing etc of course.
Now before you are overwhelmed, let’s just touch lightly on a term I mentioned earlier, ISO. In the “old days” of film cameras, this was also known more commonly as “ASA” and is a measure of the film’s “speed”. The higher the number of the ISO, the more sensitive it is to light.
In Step 2 above, I suggested ISO 400, and this is a good setting to use for every day type stuff. If the sunlight is especially bright, you might want to knock it down to 200.
But why not increase the shutter speed you ask? Simple, because then you might alter it too much for the f setting, or going the other way, and SLOWING the shutter speed, may cause a fast moving object – a flying bird, jumping, breaching whale – to be blurred.
The drawback of ISO is that with the higher film speed, while being able to work in lower and lower light, a factor called ‘grain’ is brought into the equation. And ‘grain’ is exactly what is sounds like; the image looks grainy.
If you are mainly shooting every day stuff, I’d stick to ISO 400 and playing with aperture and shutter speeds along with focus to start with. You may want to up the ISO if say shooting at an outdoor night time BBQ, but as always, take a few test shots first with different settings to see what the results will be.
If you are after the ubiquitous night time star shot while parked in the middle of the Simpson desert, by all means have a play – after all that is what it is all about. A high ISO and L-O-N-G shutter speed with an appropriate aperture can get some amazing photos (and video) any pro would be proud of.
- TRY and read the manual. It really is worth it in the long run.
- Don’t be intimidated by your camera or camcorder. You own IT not vice versa!
- Don’t be afraid to experiment, it’s the best way to learn.
- Take copious notes of the shot settings you have used (when you get more conversant and confident, you’ll start shooting in a mode called RAW+JPG that will assist here as the settings are saved with the shot and you can view them later and even modify the shot in Adobe Photoshop or Corel Paintshop Pro and other image editing applications).
- At the end of each day, copy ALL the shots / videos from your camera’s SD card to a removable hard disk for safe keeping. Create a folder for each day. Label MEANINGFULLY.
- This means you can go through your shots at your leisure and discard the ones that didn’t work, and keep this that did, while still keeping the camera free to take more photos / video. One of my best mates, Ross Gibb is the BEST photographer in my opinion in this country for both motor sport and landscapes. During a V8 Supercar weekend, to get a handful of REALLY top shots, he can take hundreds if not thousands of images. That “lucky shot” really rarely, rarely exists.
- Make sure the files have been moved safely before reformatting your card!
- Always have plenty of spare cards to hand.
- ALWAYS make sure your camera is charged overnight. A spare battery is VERY useful.
- Invest in a tripod or failing that a smaller Joby Gorilla Pod tripod.
Finally, another good mate of mine, Peter Aitchison, once described the art of photography to me in a simple phrase – it is “painting with light”. Remember that; light is THE key, and if you apply that thought to all photos or videos, you’ll go ahead in leaps and bounds!
Oh, and send me your best shot and if we get enough, I’ll showcase them here (video too, just put them on YouTube or Vimeo. If you are not sure how to do that, drop me a line. I’ll put together another tutorial for that very soon I promise).
Get onto me via firstname.lastname@example.org
Oh and don’t forget, if you want to win a RODE Videomic Pro + simply tell us what sorts of stories you’d like to see here? Is this one of them for example. And remember, “Equilateral” is coming soon!
- Click here to see Part 2 of the Exmouth / Ningaloo Trip
- Click here to see Part 1 of the Exmouth / Ningaloo Trip