If you described the process of riding a bike it would be impossibly complex. The weight of the bike is here so adjust your body weight there. Control the handlebars as you turn the corner selecting the right line. Allow your body to shift slightly left and right but note if you go too far you will fall, according to the laws of physics. Then the more subtle parts of it: find a pace which gives you some exercise but which you can comfortably maintain – which also applies to mountain walking. If you read all of this you would think riding a bike is extraordinarily difficult. There is some difficulty – think how you learnt it as a child – but it’s largely a matter of confidence and learning the capability of your body. It’s not a theoretical process, it’s something you do.
I think this is the best approach to photography: it’s much easier if you learn by doing it. Having said that, you do need some theoretical understanding so the two things sit side by side. In my instructional video I build up the topic of camera exposure quite slowly, step by step, explaining that the basic ideas are quite simple – ISO, shutter speed, aperture – but then you have to understand a) how the three inter-relate and b) what the repercussions are for adjusting each one of these factors.
My photographic training dates back to using film. My first camera was a Russian model called a Cosmic Symbol, which cost about ten pounds and was a birthday gift. My dad enjoyed introducing me to photography and I enjoyed it too. I never got to know much about his earlier life but after the War he considered photography as a profession and he had a few books which I read, one of them called My Way With The Miniature by Lancelot Vining. The ‘miniature’ was the 35mm camera, described as such when it was a relatively new development. The 35mm camera revolutionised the art because its small size meant you could carry it around with you: this meant the beginning of both documentary and street photography, seen for example in the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson.
My Cosmic Symbol didn’t even have a light meter. This meant I had to judge the light value of a scene myself, to obtain the correct exposure, which I then set manually on the camera. The film speed was fixed so all that concerned me was shutter speed and aperture. However, I did understand what film speed meant – which equates to ISO in digital cameras – and how different film allowed different shutter speeds and apertures: because it was more or less sensitive to light. It was difficult trying to judge the light of a scene and many of my photographs were over or under exposed, but looking back at that time I can see what a fine training it was and how much fun it was. You felt you were working with the heart of photography, dating all the way back to its orgins when the equipment was basic.
There’s one final technical point which I will add to the instruction in my video. It changes the complexity into one simple point which is: there is an optimum exposure for every scene, give or take your creative ideas and how you may want to make it slightly darker or lighter. This optimum exposure is called the exposure value, or EV, and you can obtain this using different combinations of ISO, shutter speed, and aperture.
This is the final part of the topic, which I don’t introduce in the video because it’s seeming complexity is best arrived at on the basis of understanding the facts I presented. The important point is the exposure value, and the secondary point is how you obtain that value creatively according to your technical understanding of ISO, shutter speed, and aperture.
One final note: notice how my camera adjusts the exposure in the last few seconds when I show the poplar treees. Pointing at me required one exposure. Pointing at the sky required another, adjusting for the greater light, which in turn darkens the trees into silhouette form. This concerns another technical point which is called dynamic range.