Tag Archives: 31 days to a better photo

Day 8 of 31 – I’m well on my way to a better photo

After a short hiatus for the holidays, I’m back into my 31 days to a better photo.  I found that after just a couple weeks of a break, I’d forgotten everything I learned… awesome.  So I went back, reread the first seven days of the tutorial, and attempted to summarize my new knowledge.  I felt like a college student again, with all of my headers and bullet points.


There are three ingredients that can be fiddled with on a camera: shutter speed, ISO, and aperture.  Changing the setting of one (or all three) will change the outcome of your photo.

Shutter Speed

  • how long the lens is open
  • measured in seconds
    • ex: 2″ = 2 seconds
    • ex: 250 = 1/250 of a second
  • a longer opening lets in more light, but will be blurry unless everything (camera and subject) are perfectly still
  • on my camera:
    1. flip dial to M
    2. press center button
    3. up and down arrows control
    • on left side of screen


  • number refers to light receptors
  • low ISO = clear photo, high ISO = grainy photo
  • measured in numbers such as 100, 200, 400, 800
  • on my camera:
    1. flip dial to M
    2. press menu
    3. scroll up or down to get to ISO


  • Size of lens opening
  • Small number = small border around large opening = focus on subject with everything else blurred
  • Large number = thick border around small opening = all of photo is in focus
  • Measured in F stops (my camera only has two choices – 3.5 and 8)
    • ex: f/3.5 would have a single sharp subject and a softer focus on the rest of the photo, f/8 would have the entire photo sharp
  • On my camera:
    1. flip dial to M
    2. press center button
    3. left and right arrows control
    • on right side of screen

More about aperture

Bean has been napping for over three hours (don’t judge).  That means my time is limited, so let’s get right to it!

Day 6: Understanding Aperture, Part 2

More about aperture today!  A recap: small number = small focal point, large number = large focal point.  This is where my camera is lacking a bit – I don’t have a fancy lens (and it isn’t interchangable), but I do have some room to adjust the aperture.  I think once I learn more about my camera (I’m digging into the handbook during the next nap time!), I might have even more control over it.

Here are some comparison photos using f/3.5 (left column) and f/8.5 (right column).  Featured subject: Louie the cat.  Adorable, I know.

Chocolate Oatmeal No Bake Cookie Recipe – and a photography lesson

Yeesh.  We’ve tackled shutter speed, ISO, and now we’re on to aperture.  You think I’d be better at photography by now.  Honestly, I felt better at it after the second day.  Now that we’re on day five, I’m a bit muddled.  I’m hoping it’ll clear up as the lessons continue.

But first… a recipe.  This is a quick and easy, down and dirty recipe for when you’re craving something sweet but don’t want to pull out all the stops.  (How many more cliches can I use in one sentence, by the way?  And why do I always misspell sentence?)  It pulls together in about five minutes.  Next time, I’ll substitute Rice Krispies for the oats.  Because, you know, it’s too healthy as is.

Chocolate Oatmeal No Bake Cookies

recipe adapted from One More Moore

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter
  • 1 1/2 cups quick cooking oats
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla


  1. Combine butter, sugar, milk and cocoa in a saucepan. Bring to a rolling boil, and boil for 1 minute.
  2. Stir in remaining ingredients and drop onto wax/foil paper. Let cool until set.

Day 5: Understanding Aperture

Aperture refers to the physical opening of the camera lens.  A larger number means a smaller lens to view through; a smaller number is a wider opening.  Counter-intuitive, but true.  A low number (wide aperture) means a shallow depth of field; that is, one focal point is chosen and the background is blurred. A high  number (small aperture) makes the entire photo crisp and in focus.

I don’t have a fancy camera lens – I can only choose between two apertures for any given shot.  The two photos below show the same ISO and shutter speed, varying only in aperture.  Do I see the difference?  Yes.  Do I understand it yet?  Not quite.  But soon… hopefully… soon.

ISO 80 at 1/10 sec., f/3.5

ISO 80 at 1/10 sec., f/8

Pagache Recipe (and photography day four)

Day Four’s photography assignment centered around ISO.  I can’t say I completely understand it, even after fiddling around with it… but I did get some photos of a delicious pagache!

Pagache is a Polish stuffed pizza.  It’s a layer of bread, then a cheesy potato filling, topped with another layer of bread.  What’s not to love?  It’s a Cook’s Country recipe.  Their bread recipes are the only ones I’ll use any more – every time I try another recipe, it falls flat.  Well, not literally… but it certainly doesn’t compare.  So here’s the recipe… and keep reading if you want to hear my ramblings about the photography as well.  (As you can tell from the photo, I haven’t learned very much yet… but I’m working on it.)

polish pizza

Pagache (Polish Stuffed Pizza)

adapted from Cook’s Country Lost Reciepes
makes 4-5 servings


  • 1 cup warm water (110 degrees)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 cups all purpose flour (extra quarter cup may be needed)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons rapid rise or instant yeast
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1″ chunks
  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter


  1. Mix water, oil, and sugar in large measuring cup.  Mix 3 cups flour, yeast, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook.  With the mixture on low, add the water mixture.  After the dough comes together, increase hte speed to medium and mix until shiny and smooth, 5 to 7 minutes.  (Add remaining flour as needed if too sticky.)  Turn the dough out onto a heavily floured surface, shape into a ball, and place into a greased bowl.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rest in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1.5 hours.
  2. Cover the potatoes with one inch of water in a large saucepan.  Bring to a simmer over medium high heat; reduce heat to medium and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.  Drain, then mash until smooth.  Stir in cheese and 2 tablespoons butter; season with salt and pepper.
  3. Adjust oven rack to the middle position and preheat to 400 degrees.  Roll the dough into a large rectangle (9 by 18″), with the short side facing you.  Spread the potato filling on the bottom half of the dough and fold the other half of the dough over ht filling.  Pinch the edges to seal and transfer to a 9×9″ baking dish.  Gently press down on the dough until it touches the sides of the dish.  Prick the top of the dough several times with a fork and bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes.
  4. Turn the pagache out onto a cooling rack.  Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter and brush over the top.  Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Let cool 10 minutes.  Cut in half, and then into strips.  Serve.
And now… for the photography.

Day 4: Learning ISO

OK, like I said… totally stumped.  I think I’ll need a few more lessons before I understand this one!  I set up an experiment where I set the shutter speed on auto and manually controlled the ISO.  All of the photos looked about the same – but the shutter speed changed as I adjusted the ISO.  From what I can tell… a higher ISO correlates to a faster shutter speed.  And we want a fast shutter speed.  The drawback of a high ISO (according to my lesson anyway… I couldn’t tell the difference) is a grainy picture.

Day 3 – Out Comes the Camera

I’m on Day 3 of 31 days to a better photo, and hooray – the camera came out today!  I fiddled around with shutter speed today – something I’d never even considered before I started this journey.  On My 3 Boybarians, Darcy has a fantastic analogy about finding the perfect shutter speed for a photo:

Imagine you’re at the sink with a small cup. You want to fill the cup with water.  So you reach for the faucet. If you leave the water on too long, the cup will overflow and spill.  If you don’t leave it on long enough, your cup will not fill.  You need to leave the faucet running for just the right amount of time to fill the cup, but not go over.  Using that analogy – you need to leave your shutter open for just the right amount of time to let in light to fill your photo and record your image, but not spill over and overexpose it.

Take a peek at my practice shots!  I had a sleepy subject – Bean was out like a light.  My favorite turned out to be shutter speed 1/1.3.  Any slower and her hand was blurred, but faster was too dark.


Day 3: Shooting Fast vs. Shooting Slow

I kept my aperture at 3.5 for all of these photos, but changed the shutter speed.  I took these photos in my bedroom with the blinds open but not pulled up.  It was cloudy outside and I didn’t turn on any lights or the flash, so it was pretty dim in the room.  My findings?  If the shutter speed was too fast, the photo came out completely black.  Slow shutter speeds let it much more light, but it was impossible to keep my hand from moving for multiple seconds when I took the photo.  Moving even a fraction of an inch made the picture blurry.   Also, this was with a still subject – if Bean had been awake it would have been even worse.  I think if I was using a tripod I would have had better results.

Why Didn’t I Think of That?

My photography homework today is simple: find and read my camera’s manual.  How is it that I haven’t done this yet?  I spent $250 on a camera and then proceeded to use it on it’s automatic setting for two years.  Because I hadn’t read the manual.  I already learned a few tips and tricks – even if I stopped following along with the “31 Days to a Better Photo” course, I’d be a better photographer.  But am I stopping there?  Oh no.  I’ve got too much cuteness to document!

Day Two: Find Your Camera Manual

After reading through my camera manual, I’m ready to answer the five questions set out for today’s assignment.  (I’m using a Sony Cybershot DSC-H20, in case you’re interested.)  The manual was very basic – it explained how to locate features and navigate the camera – but it didn’t do a great job of explaining just what those features are.  To go more in depth, I’ll have to find the Handbook CD Rom that came with the camera.  A job for another day!

How do you change the mode of the camera – auto / program, aperture priority, shutter priority?
Hmmm… interesting question.  I’m not even exactly sure what the question is asking, but I’ll give it my best shot.  On the top of the camera, there’s a wheel called the mode dial (on the bottom right of the picture below).  It has several choices:

  • Scene Selection (SCN) – choose from a variety of camera presets, such as fireworks, advanced sports shooting, and beach
  • Easy (EASY) – limits features and makes text larger (perhaps you’d want to do this if you were letting a grandparent or child use the camera)
  • Intelligent Auto Adjust (letter i followed by a camera icon) – automatically recognizes a scene to be twilight, landscape, portrait, etc.
  • Program Auto (P) – sets shutter speed and aperture automatically, but allows access to various settings from the menut
  • Manual Exposure Shooting (M) – allows you to manually set shutter speed and aperture value
  • Movie Mode (film strip icon) – record video

What do the icons on your camera mean? The flower, the running man, a face, mountains, stars, etc. What does each symbol represent?

  • ISO – High sensitivity.  Takes images without a flash in low lighting without blurring.
  • Two people – Soft snap.  Focuses on the foreground and blurs the background.
  • Running man – Advanced sports shooting.  Anticipates the movement of the subject and shifts focus there.
  • Icon of mountains – Landscape.  Focuses on a distant subject.
  • Icon of person with moon – Twilight portrait.  Shoots portraits in low light with flash.
  • Moon – Twilight.  Shoots a low light scene.
  • Fork and knife – Gourmet.  Takes a natural shot of food.
  • Palm tree – Beach.  Makes water photos bluer.
  • Snowman – Snow.  Makes a snow scene brighter.
  • Fireworks – fireworks.  Captures photos of fireworks.

Which wheel controls shutter speed?  Which wheel controls aperture?
In Manual mode, the left and right buttons control aperture value, while up and down control shutter speed.

How do you find the white balance menu and change it?
In shooting mode, hit menu and press the down button until you get to the white balance menu.  The white balance is set to WBAuto, but you can change it to daylight (sun), cloudy (cloud), fluorescent light 1, 2, or 3 (rectangle with lines coming out of it), incandescent (lightbulb), flash (lightning bolt), one push (two triangles below a square), or one push set (two triangles, a square, and the word SET).

How do you change ISO?
In shooting mode, hit menu and press the down button until you get to the ISO menu.  You can choose auto or a number from ISO 80 to ISO 3200.

Now I know how to find all of these features… maybe tomorrow I’ll find out what some of them do!

31 Days to a Better Photo

While surfing the internet on my Nook (okay, my mom’s Nook) at 1:00 yesterday morning (ah, the joys of breastfeeding), I stumbled across a blog called Life with My 3 Boybarians: Boys, Books, Blogging, and Photography.  I was particularly interested in her series 31 Days to a Better Photo.  I’m on maternity leave, so I have the time.  I’ve got a newborn baby, so I have the inspiration.  The real question is… do I have the motivation and follow-through?  I’d say that one of my least desirable characteristics is my lack of perseverance in basically all projects that I begin.  Do I have it in me?  Only time will tell.

Day One : Welcome
December 4, 2011

We don’t even touch the camera on day one.  Semi disappointing… but a little relieving.  I’m already one day closer to having a better photo, and I didn’t even have to do anything… except answer the two questions that are posed on the blog:

When did you realize how much you loved photos? What motivates you to love your images?

I wouldn’t say I have a passion for photography or photographs, but I do find a sense of pride and accomplishment in a photo well taken.  Not only does it preserve a memory, but a good photo can capture the spirit of the moment you’re in.  I want to look back on photos with more than personal thoughts of, “What a fun camping trip!” and “I can’t believe I thought I was fat back then.”  I would like anyone looking at it – not just those who know the subjects – to be moved by the picture.