Learning Digital Photography

I think some things come easy to some people - I am computer and camera challenged.  I have read the helpful material here several times, watched Mark's videos of how to photograph your paintings many, many times - I have spent endless hours reading and watching youtube videos - I was even silly enough to sign up for a "class" that was 3 days of step by step how to set my specific camera - it's a DSLR RAW taking ISO loving Aperture preference and light balance challenged genius piece of equipment ----------------   WAY complicated for my simple mind.  

I think I got the settings off so much by playing around with it that it should have been thrown away or burned.  I was ready to call it quits - seriously.  I'd just pay someone to photograph a painting of mine if I needed one for some reason - in the meantime, that left me alone with being able to see the true colors and posting "photographs" of my paintings online were subpar.  

My husband heard me whining and calling it quits (I even asked him to buy me the new iPhone because it has an excellent camera - P.S. he bought me the nice camera I have now so that did not go over well)……….. it's not the equipment, it is me.

An example of the frustration - I set the ISO to a certain ratio but when I took the photos, the camera would over-ride my settings ---------  I had to read about why and come to find out about 3 other preset functions make it impossible to set ISO unless they are disabled...………   i'm not kidding, it took me a day and a half to figure out how to stop the camera from correcting my ISO setting...…………..    

So, for people who have a chip missing like me, I get the frustration.  I have made a breakthrough in the past two days with some excellent mentoring.  Here are more accurate photos of my paintings:

The reason this is so important is that if I'm posting bad photographs of my paintings and asking for critiques, it can lead to poor choices.

Some of these are still not perfect representations but boy, are they much closer than anything I have been able to capture previously.  I'm glad I stuck it out and hope to have better final photographs of my paintings in the future.

If you're struggling like me, hang in there!!!  So many helpful people will help guide you.


  • These colors are vivid!  These are good photos, and are doing justice for your work.  I get best results putting my camera in 'AUTO' mode.  In Sony I trust.

  • The new camera has made you a better painter. Just kidding but it does put your paintings in a new light literally and figuratively. My camera over-rules my ISO settings too. Still haven't figured it out. The table in the garden is my favorite in this group. It may not be your best work compared to the potted roses and dangling grapes but that's the one I enjoy the most.
  • Julianna and BOB73

    First thing you need to do is set the camera mode to “M” Manual then you can play with aperture, speed and ISO. Otherwise you just might as well whistle Dixie.

    What Is Manual Mode For On A Camera?

    Manual Mode

    Manual mode on a camera allows the photographer to determine the exposure of an image by letting them select an aperture value and a shutter speed value.  This give you ultimate control over the look of the photo, but you must have a deep understanding of exposure, and how shutter speed and aperture affect it.

    When most people start out with photography, they let the camera work out the correct exposure in a fully automatic mode.  On a DSLR, this mode is often labelled with a P, for “Program”.  As knowledge of photography is increased, most people look towards the two semi-automatic exposure modes called aperture priority and shutter priority (AV, TV).  These modes give the user control of either aperture or shutter speed, while letting the camera determine the remaining setting for best exposure.

    Manual mode takes it one step further and gives you control over both, but why would you want to use it?

    First off, I’d like to bust a myth about shooting in manual.  It doesn’t make you a ‘pro’ and not all pros shoot in manual.  In fact, the vast majority, myself included, do not shoot in manual.  90% of my photography is done in either shutter priority or aperture priority.  The times when I switch to manual mode are simply when I think I can do a better job at judging the scene than my camera can.  Typically this is when there is a very tough lighting situation, like a strong backlight for example, or rapidly changing light due to weather conditions like passing clouds.  Camera’s also struggle to correctly meter very bright scenes, like a snowy landscape, so this would be another time when I think I can do a better job at choosing the exposure.

    You would also shoot in manual mode when shooting panoramic images, since you want to make sure that every image you shoot has the same brightness for when you stitch them together.

    Additional Reading

    Return to glossary index


  • Very Good pictures! I see the struggle and sometimes all we need is....a tripod! If u don't shoot in direct sun light outside it can be very challenging to have the time exposure so little that the photo will not be blurry.. Having long time open  shutter lets say 10 secs at 100 Iso with a non direct spot light helps tremendously. Long time exposure is easy. Manual mode start at 5 second with F8 (the higher the F the more definite it will be the photo but also more time of exposure is needed) with 200 Iso. Shoot. Is too dark? So just change the time to 8 sec and so on.. 
    One just need to Remember 3 digit. 5 sec F8 Iso 100. Just change the time if is too dark or bright.
    Also using long exposure reduce the glaring problem because using an high F from 8 above u just take perpendicular light form the surface. Ah last things "White balance " 99 percent of the time works well in automatic.. 

    I wrote this for people who struggle..I see you are already are taking very good pic and your paintings are even more beautiful than I see last time!!

  • Thanks for the info, @dencal and @Bobitaly, I think I'll be whistling Dixie for a while longer or go back to my Kodak Instamatic 35mm. It's so hard to find film cartridges for it nowadays.
  • I used to be a dental hygienist.  I could ask a doctor or dental assistant to get me "a PA of #14 because I am concerned about the MOD inlay - the CEJ is suspicious as well so please make sure you check the three apices for any sign of lesions and also, take a bitewing with the mesial margin predominant - even if that means the distal margin is going to overlap due to alignment - thank you"

    Anyone in a dental office could take those two digital x-rays in a matter of 30 seconds - it would take the lay person a year to understand that language - PA = periapical x-ray... #14 = upper left first molar... MOD = inlay that covers the mesial occlusal and distal margins of the tooth...  CEJ= cementoenamel junction ….  apices - roots (that tooth has 3 roots)… lesions = bone loss at apex of root (s) meaning needs a root canal...bitewing= an xray that shows the crowns of the upper and lower teeth - no roots - just checking for interproximal decay (between the teeth) - mesial margin= towards the midline... distal margin=part of the tooth away from the midline...…

    So, even though I explained the words, some of the explanation words need explaining......periapical= get the tips of the roots in the xray…. mesial occlusal distal just means that a filling is covering 3 areas of the tooth - both in-betweens and the biting surface...  cementoenamel junction= neck of the tooth at gumline where the enamel meets the root surface....interproximal = in between - contact point = where the floss usually has to pop through to get to gumline…..  etc... etc... etc....

    That's how I feel when people talk about the aperture, iso, white balance, F8 - what does F stand for?....ISO means "in search of"...………….   hahahaha    ----  I think my camera has about 75 possible settings - M,A,S,P , auto, etc...  etc... etc....

    So, even I read or watch videos or try to figure it out, even the explaining words need explaining to me.  Does that make any sense?

    I'm figuring out at a very slow pace...   Y'all make it look easy!!!

  • This might help:

    It can be really easy to understand your camera and how the settings in the exposure triangle work the way they do. This explanation is the way I personally think of my camera as an eye:

    • The sensor in your camera is the brain. It receives data and information.
    • ISO is how sensitive the ‘eye’ is to the light.  The higher the number, the more sensitive the eye.
    • Aperture is like the pupil. The wider it is (the lower the f/stop number), the more light is allowed into the eye. Over exposure is like when you’re inside where your pupils are more dilated to compensate for lower light. When you step outside, everything it too bright and your pupils have to get smaller to compensate for so much light. Then when you go back in, everything is too dark (under exposed) because your eye’s aperture needs a moment to open up and let in the light.
    • Shutter speed is like blinking. The faster it blinks, the less light is allowed in and vice versa.
  • at this rate I'll be a dentist before I'm a photographer.
  • ISO
    International Standards Organization.  This is the body that came up with the film speed standard.  It's just a number.  We used to buy ISO100 film, and we were stuck with that setting for the whole roll.  If you wanted to photograph in low light you might use ISO400 film, which is "faster", meaning it can do the same job with less light, although grainier.  With a digital camera, it can dance around with this setting for each photo, and you can generally forget this exists.  Better cameras have greater ISO range.

    Depth of Field
    Range that will be in focus.  Extreme short depth of field means a photo where the tip of the nose is in focus but the ears are not.  Long depth of field means everything from three feet in front of the camera to the horizon is in focus.  Controlled by F-stop.

    Focal-stop 8.  Basically "setting 8 for the aperture".  Size of hole.  4 is a big hole, 22 is small.  Big means more light, and shorter depth of field.  Small means less light, longer depth of field.

    Camera setting AUTO
    Camera does what it wants, ignores any of your settings, you fumbling amateur, and you get decent photos.

    Camera setting M
    Manual.  It means you know what you're doing and will set everything correctly yourself.  Camera absolves itself of any responsibility for your shitty photos.

    Camera setting A
    Aperture priority.  Means you fiddle with the F-stop, and the camera will set the shutter speed and ISO to compensate for your skills to make sure the photo comes out okay.  You would control aperture to change depth of field.

    Camera setting S
    Shutter priority.  You control the shutter speed (fast, to capture the bubbles in flowing water), and the camera struggles with all the other settings to make sure the photo comes out okay.  Slow shutter speed, and instead of bubbles in the water, it's all smooth and blended.  Jessica's source material, for example, is all at high shutter speed, so the moving horse is sharp.

    Camera setting P
    Program mode.  You fiddle with anything, and the camera has got your back.
  • I really struggle to get everything in focus on my phone camera. It's almost like some parts of the painting are razor sharp and others are just slightly out of focus. This is in automatic or manual mode (no matter how I alter the focus setting..) :/
  • Solution could be more light for smaller aperture, and greater depth of field.

    Tripod?  Hand-shake, and rotation of the camera can do that too.
  • Hmm.. thanks Paul, they are things to look at. :)
  • @PaulB I have got an International Organization in my camera!!!  Wow - that is most impressive!  :)  And F means A - for aperture and the small number means it is bigger and bigger number means it is small.  My Auto failed me miserably, My M is completely out of the question, My A is stuck on F22 at the moment because I am scared to move it and my S is stuck at 200 (finally).  The depth of field is just out of my realm of comprehension so whatever will be, will be.

    I heard the iPhone 8 or 10 or whatever is the latest/greatest has the most perfect and easy camera - I don't know why my husband won't buy me a fancy phone because I just want the camera part of it :)

    My genius camera is so smart it doesn't even have a thing at the bottom to attach to a tripod so I have set up an antique high chair with books and paint boxes to help it be steady - I do set the timer at 10 seconds so at least that is completely still while it is trying to be so smart to grab an image of my painting..   I push a plus/minus tiny button and spin a wheel and miraculously, I am bracketing!!!!!!

    It's a miracle I got such good photos yesterday.  I'm afraid to touch anything   :)
  • dencaldencal -
    edited September 2018

    Your next challenge is to sell $1000 worth of paintings to buy an iPhone X.

    If you prefer join a photography group and make friends with your genius camera.

    Craftsy offer 78 photography units on line at very reasonable prices.


  • Better yet!  I can sell my thousand dollar camera for a thousand dollars and seeing that craftsy site made me realize how much I miss crochet and tatting!!!  I could sell my paint brushes, oil paints and canvases, linen and panels and start a sewing shop!   

    I won't be able to photograph my creations, but, hey, easy come, easy go.  

    And, seeing how it takes me about 3 days to tat a doily or collar or bookmark or pillowcase and I could sell it for about the equivalent of a penny an hour of my time - it is about the same as when I am at an art fair selling my oil paintings  :)     I figure I make about a penny an hour given the many canvases, costs etc...

    I'm so thankful I don't have to do this to eat - I'd be in serious trouble (and be skinny) :)

    Well, being skinny would be nice....

    In all seriousness, I am not completely dense - this camera stuff is a bunch of crap - for real.  If one is not savvy with electronics, it is ridiculous.

    I am very excited that I made this huge breakthrough with my photographs of my paintings and I am serious that I am afraid to move the f stop and the iso and the makeshift tripod and light positions.  I'm treating that room like a movie set and nothing is to be altered.  I'll just hang every painting on the nail on the wall and bracket accordingly.  :)

  • Julianna, be like me and embrace your luddite-ness. We ruled for centuries before electronics. They can set their cameras but we can make food, insulin and clothes out of sheep.  BTW my wife went that rout and opened a shop. She called it Westfield Needle Works. 
  • @Julianna, thanks for all your questions, and sharing the experience.  Your paintings are beautiful, the recent photos really show your love of color and the effects they can create.

    The questions you asked, combined with the answers that many in the group gave are helping me understand the whole photography side of painting much better.  I am from the old point and shoot school, only one step from film and store bought instamatics. This is all great, I am learning a lot and am very grateful to see so many people willing to share their experices and knowledge.

    Looking forward to your next painting.

  • Folks

    Excellent short video on everything you need to know about the manual mode setting for your camera.

    How to Nail Exposure using Manual Mode


  • @BOB73 that is so cool that your wife had a needlework store!  @Ephram isn't that the truth!  I am learning so much and appreciate all of the help and explanations - things are so much more clear.  @dencal !!!   That video is awesome!!!  wow    Thank you for sharing
  • Thanks @dencal for the video. Even though he had an accent, I could understand him. Balancing the three settings was explained very well. I'll have another go at trying to get some shots and compensate for an automatic ISO over-ride.
  • Thanks @dencal, that was so informative and helpful
  • EphramEphram -
    edited September 2018
    εγχειρίδιο  κάμερα, κανένα πρόβλημα
  • @Bobitaly Holy Cow!!!   That is fabulous!!!!   Thank you!
  • Wow! Somebody understands what it takes for me to understand. Draw me a picture and talk in bullet points. Thanks boB! BTW your name is spelled backwards from mine??????
  • For me, the key thing that changed my photography was understanding what the light meter and the computer in the camera are doing, i.e. getting the best exposure for an 18% grey value. That's why most people's photos of snow look dull - it's because the camera is trying to make snow look grey.

    Here's a good link that walks you through how you can compensate for what's the normally helpful behaviour of your camera:

    Another option is photograph your art with an 18% grey card in the scene (you can buy them) and then use Photoshop's levelling features to correct the image. That works pretty well.

    Then, when you have a correct exposure, you can worry about colour balance. For that, the first job is calibrating your monitor...
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