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Time Out With Tanya

5 Surprising Lessons I Learned from Photography 101

By Tanya Goodall Smith on March 28th 2015

I would consider myself to be a seasoned photographer. I’ve been seriously interested in photography since I was 12 years old and have been studying it since I was 14, working on the yearbook staff in high school. The silence and solitude of the darkroom was my sanctuary. Even though I never really considered a career in photography back then, basic photography classes in college were my favorite and I’ve continued to learn from workshops and online classes through the years.

When SLR Lounge released the Photography 101 Workshop DVD, I was excited to have a beginning class to recommend to my friends, but didn’t really think I had much to learn from a 101 level course. Surprisingly, the entire workshop was full of ‘Aha’ moments for me. Here are five surprising lessons I learned from Photography 101.

Native ISO and Image Quality

Of course, I already knew that the lower the ISO, the higher quality image you’ll get, as far as sharpness and noise are concerned. I did not, however, know the proper definition of Native ISO and how it can affect the quality of your digital image. Your camera has native ISO settings that are multiples of each other. On a Canon, like the Canon 5D Mark III that I use, the native ISO settings are 100, then 200, 400, 800 and 1600. On many older Nikon DSLRs, however, like the Nikon D700, the native ISO started at 200, not 100. Other cameras use ISO 160 as their base ISO, and others like the Nikon D810, use ISO 64.

Any ISO used on your digital camera that is not a native ISO, like 120 or 300 on the Canon, is being digitally enhanced by your camera and will decrease the overall image quality. So, it would actually be better to set your ISO at 400 instead of 300 on your Canon. You can read more about native ISO here: REASONS WHY YOU SHOULD SHOOT HDR IMAGES AT THE LOWEST NATIVE ISO SETTING

Focal Length Reciprocal Rule

I’m sure I had heard this rule before, but I have a hard time remembering technical mumbo jumbo, especially when numbers are involved. Luckily, Pye used a very good visual tool to help me remember the Focal Length Reciprocal Rule. What is the Focal Length Reciprocal Rule? Basically, to avoid camera shake (which can cause your images to end up looking blurry), if you’re hand holding the camera, your shutter speed should not be slower than the reciprocal of your effective focal length (but not lower than 1/50th of a second). What the heck does that mean????? In numerical terms, if you are using a 200mm lens, your shutter speed needs to be at least 1/200th of a second in order to avoid camera shake. If you’re using a 50mm lens, your shutter speed should be at least 1/50th of a second to avoid the blur. Make sense?

To fully understand why this rule works, a bunch of math and physics come into play, but when you see the visual used in Photography 101, you’ll just get it. Imagine you’re holding a 12 inch PVC pipe up to your eye. It’s not that difficult to hold it steady, right? Now try holding a 10 foot pole up to your eye. Can you hold it out there without any shaking? Well there you go. Longer lens equals faster shutter speed to avoid the shakes. You’ll never forget it now, will you?

Tips For Photographing Flowers

Everyone loves to photograph flowers, right? But they don’t always come out looking magazine worthy. I had a major ‘lightbulb’ moment when Pye brought out reflectors, scrims and a squirt bottle when photographing a bouquet of flowers outdoors.

No need for fancy flashes or off camera lighting, just controlling the available light for a proper exposure. What’s the squirt bottle for? To add that morning dew look to flowers that might not be so fresh. Awesome!

How to Hold the Camera While Panning

Pye demonstrates (quite hilariously, I might add), how to correctly hold the camera in various ways while panning and capturing motion. I never really had any formal training in this area. I guess we all kind of find a way to hold the camera that feels right, but I was surprised that I didn’t know any of these brilliant ways to use your body as a tripod. You’ll just have to buy the course and watch it to find out all these great tips and have a laugh at Pye’s expense. He even demonstrates proper sniper like breathing techniques. Oh, yeah.

The Hand Trick

The hand trick is actually a technique we learn in the Natural Light Couples Photography DVD Workshop, but I always forget to use it. The hand trick basically helps you see the direction of light and how it affects the shadows on your subject. It can help you determine where to place your subject for the most flattering direction of light, or how you’ll need to modify the light if you place your subject in a specific location. This is an easy trick I’ll be using more often on my natural light, on-location shoots.

Have you downloaded Photography 101 yet? What’s your favorite tip you learned from the workshop?

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Terms: #Panning

Tanya Goodall Smith is the owner, brand strategist and commercial photographer at WorkStory Corporate Photography in Spokane, Washington. WorkStory creates visual communications that make your brand irresistible to your target market. Join the stock photo rebellion at

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Janna Slaback

    I love this! I never thought about using a reflector/diffuser for flowers. We have beautiful hanging flowers at our home and my husband asked me just last night if I have photographed them and I told him that I would do it tonight … now I have an excellent homework assignment! Pull out the diffuser!! Can’t wait!!

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  2. satnam singh

    Greta info, thanks!

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  3. Tanya Goodall Smith

    Sorry for all the confusion about the native ISO. Thanks for chiming in and clarifying Matthew!

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  4. Richard Bremer

    I didn’t know the in-between steps for two base ISO steps actually produce a less result then the next base ISO step. Will definitly be trying this out soon. Also, the hand trick is new to me. Thanks for sharing these tips!

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    • Matthew Saville

      Richard, see my comment above. This was a very significant issue in previous generations, but for the past few generations of cameras, it may not be as much of a concern.

      Still, it’s definitely worth testing for your particular camera. Take equal exposures at all your ISO’s, and compare the shadow noise or highlight recovery capability, or the overall image quality for whatever your personal purposes are. If you don’t see a difference, then it’s game on, but otherwise, well now you know what to avoid!

      Good luck,

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  5. Dave Haynie

    That native ISO definition is warped from the one I know.

    Basically, for any sensor, there’s exactly one native ISO. And it’s not necessarily the base ISO. All digital cameras have a photosensor array of some kind. The photodiodes in that array have a very wide dynamic range, but the ADC (analog to digital converter) in your camera is limited, usually to 12-bits or 14-bits.

    When you change ISO on film, you’re changing the size of the silver halide particles, which physically makes the film more or less sensitive. But changing ISO on a digital camera is just changing the level of a variable gain amplifier (and possibly, tweaking some software settings)… the sensitivity of the sensor itself never changes. And so, native ISO is that one ISO setting with unity gain, or basically, the effective speed of that sensor (based on the 12232:2006 standard) directly out of the sensor array, before the amplifier stage.

    So there’s no “native” going up… an ISO 200 setting on an ISO 100 native sensor would set an amplifier gain of 2x, or 6dB. And in fact, if you’re using a video camera, you probably do exactly that — set the amplifier gain directly, in dB. They could have done that for cameras and eliminated lots of confusion, as the native sensor speed on a camcorder is when gain = 0dB, of course. But there’s nothing particularly special about 6dB of gain… there’s no reason a camera would need to resort to software to deliver ISO settings between 100 and 200, or 200 and 400. The camera might actually have a far more accurate “volume” control than just single stepping in whole dBs. In my design experience in other kinds of digital systems, PGAs usually have either a control voltage (for analog PGAs) that lets you set, in theory, as much precision as you like, or digital values usually in 1/2dB.

    It’s also possibly the case that software tricks are employed when you go to “extended” ISOs. At the very least, you’re probably not meeting the ISO spec anymore. For example, an ISO 100 native camera could offer you an ISO 50 mode, but you’re still getting full sensor saturation at a native ISO 100, whether the amplifier can attenuate by 6dB or whether they just do this in software. Similarly, some folks have claimed on some cameras that the very high ISO results are pretty much the same thing they get by manually changing exposure on raw images shot at lower ISOs. There’s only going to be so much practical range on that programmable amplifier, anyway.

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    • robert garfinkle

      So, you wrote “So there’s no “native” going up… an ISO 200 setting on an ISO 100 native sensor would set an amplifier gain of 2x, or 6dB.” and so on…

      in conjunction with what Pye says about Nikon’s true ISO ( back then ) being 160, that would be base – in the case of D810 where they stamp native as 64, is the base really 80? or did they ( Nikon ) change their approach?

      All I’m driving at is, following Pye’s thinking, for my camera is start at 80, followed by 160, 320 etc… for best results…

      I understand the gain thinking…

      but, while we’re talkin amplification, gain, -/+ 6db etc, which by the way so throws me back into the “audio” amplification mindset, why have the mfr’s stuck with 12 and 14 bit and not moved us up to 16 or 24bit like they’ve done with audio – I would think there is a benefit to that, right?

      more so, in the context of the newer “organic” sensor, where the signal to noise longitude has been stretched – sounds like it doubled from 44 to 88db, what does that do for us besides cleaner noise free ( or undetectable noise ) images – appearing to “repel” noise… heck, if I think audio, 115db of s/n would be great, yet 88 ( at least in the audio world ) is pretty kick ass, no?

      your take?

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    • Dave Haynie

      I think some of the confusion is that we don’t always know just what the manufacturers are doing… using the ISO scale made the transition to digital painless, but it also masks what’s really going on. I know the native sensitivity of both of my pro camcorders, but on the other hand, that means that the gain knob doesn’t relate from one to the other. So it’s less natural to me than ISO.

      As for the ADC resolution, you could image going to, say, a 20 or 24-bit ADC… 144dB theoretical SNR on that last 24-bit chip, and just tossing out the ISO scale entirely… the whole “ISO-less” camera for real. But I think the problem is bandwidth versus resolution. A modern audio ADC might sample 24-bits per sample at 96KHz or even 192kHz (I go way back in audio), but that’s still a fairly low bandwidth. Just as one datapoint, if I’m shooting full speed on my OM-D, that’s 10fps, I’ve got a rate of 160M-samples per second coming out of that sensor, however it does it (single or multiple ADCs at work)… so roughly 1000x faster. When you get up to radio, like the 802.11 stuff I’ve worked in, you’re also at 80-160 M-samples per second, and these ADCs and DACs are usually more like 10-11 bits resolution, but we’re also looking at noise floors going down to -100dBm or less. Speed vs. resolution vs. noise is always a trade-off.

      I’m not sure about that organic sensor… the numbers don’t sound reasonable. Any old silicon photodiode will have about 100dB SNR…. just everyday off-the-shelf single parts. I think they’re measuring SNR differently, which is quite possible if you’re looking at power vs. voltage, etc. It’s also hard to know exactly what they’re talking about without more details, since when you say the “sensor” is delivering a wider SNR, does that just mean the sensor array, or is that the digital output, given that most sensors today include the ADC on-chip and just output digital.

      In my usual mathematics, I’d rate a 14-bit ADC at about 84dB full range SNR, real world performance will be somewhat less. Add to that an amplifier that gives you, say, a 48dB range of amplification, and you’re good for base ISO, say 100, up to 25600 done in hardware, then maybe your extended ISOs are done with software.

      A 16-bit audio ADC or DAC can deliver a theoretical 96dB SNR… 88dB wouldn’t be spectacular… back when it actually made sense to measure those things, I had a couple of sound cards that benchmarked at 90dB and 92dB based on loopback tests. Though you’d probably not notice the difference in practice without listening to reference tracks — same idea as pixel peeping vs. real world concerns. But it’s increasingly more difficult as you go up. 24-bit — 144dB — is pretty much impossible to deliver in real world audio. Any real world 115dB SNR would be a very high quality piece of audio gear… some of the better “audiophile” portable music players (don’t call them MP3 players!) hit this mark… it’s easier in a PMP than a high power stereo amp… power vs. bandwidth vs. noise again.

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    • Dave Haynie

      Oh.. and aside from being signal processing geek, I didn’t know the hand trick either — very cool when you get one of those “duh! of course!” moments.

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    • robert garfinkle

      wow – thanks Dave… a bit (no pun intended) to consume – while we are speaking about audio (too) and although unfit for this forum, I’d like to hear your take on PONO music – if you want, you can toss me a private message to discuss – unless you think’s it’s ok to comment off topic like that here…

      and as far as mp3 (to which I think in general is a “magic trick” more or less, and to which I do not subscribe to) – yes, I’m a purest (or as close to it as I can get too) and choose a format that renders a more complete depiction of music –

      however tying a concept of Pye’s, about “purism” if that’s a word even, to which he says that a purest or the “The Ignorant Elitist” as he refers to, in the case of photography he dogs a “natural light photographer”, for good reason, yet I think in the audio world it holds water, that there is cause to want to be pure – and for those who care, still enjoy wav vs. the mp3-look-alike… “Save the Wav!!” foundation.

      tying it back to what we are talking about though – I am not sure of all the angles / specs in photography, though the same terms might be used like audio, but at the end of the day it would stand to reason that in the world of photography the goal would be to achieve clarity, exact color, etc, and that it seems the industry is striving for – yes?

      thank god we don’t use the word “stop” in reference to audio compression…

      “Yup, had to stop down some on them thar mp3’s to get em all to fit on disk…” – you don’t hear that… :)

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    • Matthew Saville

      Dave, while you might be correct about ISO “nativity” (??? :-P )

      …The point we were trying to make is this: There’s a difference between when a sensor does the brightening at the time of capture, and afterwards. At ISO 400, a sensor is doing whatever amplification it needs to do BEFORE the moment of capture, whereas at ISO 500, the sensor may actually be capturing the image at 400, and THEN boosting the exposure in its own RAW post-production, which is obviously highly undesirable compared to just shooting at 400 or 800…

      I hope this makes sense?

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    • Dave Haynie

      Matt — yeah, I understand that there’s a big difference between capturing directly at an ISO setting (eg, hardware amplification level) versus an ISO setting which is then scaled in software. I’m just claiming that there may be considerably more resolution in that amplifier section than folks are expecting — so there doesn’t need to be any scaling within the standard ISO range. Obviously, that’s not to say no one’s doing that, or anyone is — I’m not privvy the to the hardware details, most of that’s likely proprietary anyway.

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    • Dave Haynie

      Robert — actually, MP3 versus WAV is exactly the same argument as JPEG vs. TIFF. If you want to extend that a bit, higher resolution audio is closer to the idea of raw — you want every possible nuance of the thing you’re sampling.

      Far as Neil Young’s Pono project goes, that pretty much explains what I think he was after — not so much claiming that you had to hear things at 24-bit/192kHz, but building a platform that lets you hear the artists’ master release exactly as it’s released, whether it’s mixed at 24-bit or 16-bit, 192kHz or 44.1kHz or something in-between. The Pono marketing distorts the importance of higher spec audio. And there are debates all day about what people can actually hear in audio, see in photography or video, uncompressed versus compressed. But no one argues that being closest to the finished original isn’t the best way to enjoy media.

      Oh, and I have the “Neil Young and Crazy Horse” Ponoplayer. I also have studio headphones modded for differential signalling, that are rated up to around 40kHz. I’m very certain I can’t directly hear 40kHz, but I could give you a demo that’ll sound different on a system that can reproduce 40kHz versus one brick-walled at 20kHz, just based on the interplay of higher frequency sounds. But musically, you’re talking one or two extra octaves, I think it’s far less critical than delivering the best available version.

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    • robert garfinkle

      Off-topic, but have to say anyway

      I was considering PONO – highly… and may drop a dime or two on it – yet I’m still more inclined to buy photography equipment at the moment.

      Of course the last time I was at the PONO site, I found myself looking for 24bit/196kHz music only. a lot of the 16k/44kHz music, I suspect I could get that out of a CD any day, however it all depends on what’s available. If the 16k/44kHz product is in fact different @ PONO vs. off the shelf then I’d consider it… at the moment, not knowing any different, the 16k/44kHz product @ PONO almost has the taste of filler… like they had to do it to have some “bulk” on the site – and again, however, downloadable 16k/44kHz product is practically unheard of, so it may stand that it has relevance / impact…

      Now, for the really off topic stuff – what’s your take on “J@TPS” (Jazz at the Pawn Shop), and if you are rolling your eyes back going “Oh GOD, you are one of those guys…” I completely understand… I own the 24kt gold version, had 4 copies of them at one point – dunno where they went. But, that’s the foolish entrepreneur / pseudo-collector in me… Officially, there are a couple tracks in the original I like, other than that I don’t listen to the whole thing. I know a bit of the story behind it, thought it had some “cool” factor to it…

      But, and then I’m done w / PONO-speak for a while – Yes, I am an audiophile wannabe – appreciate as good as it gets where I can find it… I like the PONO concept up and down – yes, I’ve seen the critics… man, they are harsh on those guys.

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    • robert garfinkle

      Oh, before I forget – I did purchase – fun factor in it for cheap… (no page yet) however you could see it being a viable “voice” platform with the intention to preserve highest quality audio availability on the market – fear: because of the nature of marketing etc; it seemed that everything was going the way of mp3 / sold online, and I would have not like to have seen the disappearance of CD or vinyl for that matter. I mean, most people these days, are about mobility and “more,” take “all” of their music with them thinking, which by the nature of that alone suggests smaller, compressed products – they don’t give a hoot about quality, only quantity – and if no one buys CDs / Vinyl, it sees extinction more or less – and that would be “The Day, The Music, Died…”

      So, that’s why

      What would be cool – a high quality streaming subscription / sales site, similar to PONO, but with stream-ability attached to it – the internet is becoming less and less compression dependent, right? and it’d stand to reason that people could subscribe, similar to satellite radio (which from what I understand is not true fidelity anyway – quiet is not quality, it’s just quiet…), but here is what I’d do if I were doing it… make the site stream-able and downloadable. Devices could consume it across the net, yet that becomes difficult over mobile – as net is not everywhere and of the same bandwidth / speed etc… so, we’d allow patrons to download / cache / save to devices – that of which they are subscribed to or “option to buy” etc… and I’d ensure a low cost factor on the buy side, no need to gouge…

      done rambling…

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  6. Ralph Hightower

    Well, the “Focal Length Reciprocal Rule” is old school for me.; but I’ve been shooting since before there was image stabilization. Likewise, the Native ISO was the ISO of the film loaded in the camera.
    But with panning, we all have our own techniques; I haven’t seen the video. And I haven’t heard of the “Hand Trick”.

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  7. Gurmit Saini

    I learnt this hand trick from Bambi Cantrell, and it works like a charm!!

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  8. robert garfinkle

    1. This page will forever be etched in my brain – maybe, I’ll just make it my home page :)

    2. Confused – I think; ISO, on my Nikon D810. Ok, If Pye states that ISO 160 / 320 / etc… does it apply the other way too? So, if my camera goes down to “Nikon’s” native 64, don’t do that, but 80 is ok, yes? or is 160 the floor – and why would Nikon tag 64 as the lowest native ISO if it’s not as “crisp” as 80…? More so, why would Nikon not want to set default @ 160 vs. 100 default out of the box for most of it’s cams?

    Comment – I mean the next logical selling point, maybe for the D820 (most likely D900) would be native ISO 50, or is it ISO 32 (insane), yet 40 (if it existed) would be the next step down, yes…

    Graham? Pye? Matt? anyone – help…

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    • Matthew Saville

      Robert, this was a mis-speak, about the base ISO of the Nikons. We’ll correct the article.

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    • robert garfinkle

      thanks matt – g’day

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    • Matthew Saville

      Also, Robert, generally speaking, intermediate ISO’s aren’t nearly as dangerous as they used to be. The very first few generations of DSLRs were the worst, especially Canon allegedly. If you used the ISO 1/3 stop above 100, you’d get a 1/3 stop increase in noise. If you used the ISO 1/3 stop below 200, you’d get a 1/3 stop loss of highlight detail. It was very cut and dry- stick with “native” ISOs!

      Nowadays, the drawbacks in image quality are less pronounced. Some people even claim that Nikon sensors (among others, but I don’t know which) actually “natively” sense each ISO increment, but I haven’t had the time yet to do any official testing, personally.

      Simply put, you’re still better off sticking with native numbers, but don’t sweat it too heavily…

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  10. Graham Curran

    The hand trick is a new one on me. Thanks for the tip!

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