All posts for the month July, 2009

Ok, ok, so it doesn’t exactly spell MAPS, it spells PASM big difference 🙂 But what do all those letters mean anyway?

That dial on your camera with all of those letters P, A, S and M are actually different exposure modes that you can use on your camera. These particular settings control how much of the decision for the exposure you want to use is left up to the camera. In other words, do you prefer to choose your own exposure settings, or would you like the camera to make all the decisions for you. You use the different exposure modes P, A, S, and M to tell the camera just how much of it’s brain it should use when setting proper exposure for your photo. For those who don’t know, exposure describes the light that is hitting your film or camera sensor (in digital cameras), used to create your image. Specifically, exposure describes the amount (brightness) of light hitting your film or digital sensor, and for how long that light is recorded by the film or sensor.

This is actually quite a large topic to discuss so let me tell you a bit about what’s to come. The next 4 blog posts will be related to just this topic. Today’s post is an introduction and overview of all 4 of the exposure modes, and then in subsequent posts I will explain each one in detail. Back to the content…

There are 2 terms you should know about before we continue as they are going to come up a lot in this discussion, shutter and aperture.

The shutter – is a very small opening in your camera that sits just in front of the film or digital sensor. It can open and close like a window. Most of the time the shutter is closed and does not allow any light to reach your film or digital sensor. However when the shutter release button is pressed on the camera, to take a picture, the shutter opens and allows light to strike the film or digital sensor for a pre-determined length of time which creates a photograph. This length of time is known as your shutter speed, and is usually measured in seconds or parts of a second. It can range anywhere from 1/8000 of a second to 60 seconds depending on the type of camera you use.

Aperture – refers to the size of the opening in the lens of your camera. This determines the amount of light that will be allowed  through your shutter and ultimately reach the film or digital sensor. You can almost think of aperture in terms of a water pipe. The larger the pipe, the more water that will flow through it. The larger the aperture setting used, the more light that will flow through your lens and shutter hitting your film or sensor. Aperture sizes are usually referred to as “f-stops” and range from f/1.2 to f/22 depending on the lens used on your camera.

So if those letters don’t spell MAPS, or PASM or even PAMS, what do they stand for? Programmed Auto Mode (P), Aperture Priority Mode (A), Shutter Priority Mode (S), and Manual Mode (M). Let’s take a look at what each one does.

Programmed Auto Mode (P) – This is the full automatic exposure mode of the camera. Basically in this mode the camera makes all the decisions for you when it comes to exposure. The camera will automatically set the aperture and shutter speed for you in this mode. Not only that, it will decide which aperture and shutter speed will work best for the particular photo that you are shooting. This is the mode where most beginning and intermediate photographers live. It’s very easy to let the camera decide how your photo should be exposed. But not always the best choice as the camera is merely an electronic piece of equipment and lacks the creativity and artistic eye of a human being. One way to vastly improve your photos is to take a trip out of the P mode once in a while and make some of the exposure decisions yourself. I know it can be scary, but remember #4 from the last blog post, this is digital, it doesn’t cost us anything to play around and try new things. If it doesn’t turn out quite right you can always delete it before someone else sees, the camera won’t tattle on you, promise!

Now this is where the apprehension and panic will begin to set in for some of you. In fact, there may be a few of you out there who will come to this point and say “Scott, I’m perfectly happy living in P mode and letting the camera think for me” and actually not continue to read the rest of this post. First, everyone take a deep breath, count to 3, and RELAX. There is nothing to be worried about…even if P mode is your “happy place” to shoot photos, and I’m sure for some of you it is, I do request that you at least give me a chance and read through the rest of this post. It may just make you think twice about keeping that camera in P mode for the rest of it’s life. Do cameras even have lives? Well I suppose that’s a topic for another post, anyway moving forward…

Cactus with a shallow depth-of-field, large aperture

Cactus with a shallow depth-of-field, large aperture, 75mm, f/3.5, 1/500s, ISO 200

Aperture Priority Mode (A) – In aperture priority mode you set the aperture manually and the camera automatically calculates the optimal shutter speed for your photograph. This mode allows you to take some control over your exposure while still allowing the camera to make some decisions for you. Why would you want to do this you ask? Well we know from above that aperture controls the amount of light coming through your shutter, but what you may not know is that aperture also controls your Depth of Field or (DOF). Depth of Field refers to how much of your photo is in sharp focus. Take a look at this photo of the cactus. The cactus is perfectly sharp and in focus, but if you notice the flowers in the background they have a nice soft blur on them. This draws the viewers eye directly to the cactus which is the main subject of this photo. This shallow depth of field is controlled by your aperture. The larger the aperture the “more shallow” your depth of field will be. In other words the larger the aperture setting the smaller the area that will be in sharp focus in your photo. To achieve the results shown in the cactus photo, use a larger aperture. We’ll discuss aperture and depth of field a lot more in a future post.

Stuntman captured mid-fall, fast shutter speed

Stuntman captured mid-fall, fast shutter speed

Shutter Priority Mode (S) – This mode is the opposite of the A mode discussed above. In this mode you set the shutter speed manually, and the camera determines the optimal aperture setting. As we discussed before, the shutter controls the length of time that light will be allowed to strike your film or digital sensor. However, it also controls how “frozen” the subjects are in your photograph. For example, at a baseball game when a player is just about to slide into home plate and a photographer snaps the award winning shot perfectly freezing the moment when the players hand makes contact with the plate. Or when you take a photo of a beautiful waterfall and the water looks like beautiful creamy flows. The sense of movement in these photos are all controlled by the shutter speed. The faster the shutter speed, the more “frozen” and sharper, the action will be in your photo. Take a look at this photo of a stuntman captured in mid-fall. To freeze his motion a very fast shutter speed was used for this photo. We will discuss shutter speed more in depth in a future post.

Manual Mode (M) – For those who want the ultimate control over their exposure, this mode is for you! In this mode the camera does no thinking at all. Both aperture and shutter speed are set manually by the photographer, hence why the call it Manual Mode. This mode can seem a little daunting to use at first, but after you play around with it for a while you’ll get a very intuitive sense of which aperture and shutter speed to use for a particular situation. As they say necessity is the mother of invention, and when you don’t have the camera helping you out with exposure settings you pick up real fast what works and what doesn’t.

We’ve barely scratched the surface of exposure modes in this post, but I implore you to take a trip out of the P zone every once in a while. Please comment with your experiences and share some photos with us. Next time we’ll begin to look at the 4 exposure modes more in depth. Until then, go out and shoot some great photos, it’s the only way you’ll become a better photographer.

Everybody wants to take better photos right? Here is a list of 5 easy things that you can do to improve your photography.

1. Rotate that camera! Most beginners always hold their camera horizontally or in what photographers call a “landscape” format. You’d be amazed at how much better your composition can be with certain subjects if you simply rotate your camera to a vertical, or “portrait” format. The position you hold your camera in should reflect the subject matter that you are photographing. Nature shot on a lake landscape format is best, 20′ cactus in the desert use portrait. Alternatively, you could hold the camera still and get a body builder to come and rotate you, just dont’ have any loose change in your pocket.

2. Fill the frame. Photos are small by nature and people want to see the greatest detail possible when looking at one. Get as close to your subject as you can, whether this means zooming in closer or actually moving closer to your subject (your legs do work when composing a photo, I promise). This will give your audience a clearly defined central point of interest in your photo. You’ll know your at the right distance when your subject looks just a little too close in your viewfinder, then take the shot, you’ll be amazed at the results and the detail.

3. Speaking of viewfinders, use it! Now it’s true that not all cameras today have a viewfinder, but if yours does this is one of the best ways to improve the composition of your photos. The viewfinder allows you to better visualize how the composition of the final photo will come out. Plus it helps you to steady your camera as you are now using your head to add extra support and your arms are tucked close to your body.  As opposed to holding it at arms length away from you while trying to compose a shot in a tiny, dim, LCD screen.

4. Take more photos. Remember when you owned a film camera and you only had 24 shots? 36 if you splurged. And then you had to pay $6.00 and wait 2 days to see if those photos that you took looked good or even came out? Now we have digital and it’s a whole new world. You can snap away all you like and it doesn’t cost you a dime. Feel free to experiment. Not sure which is the best angle to make a particular shot look it’s best, try them all. Not sure if you should shoot in front of the tree or the swing, why not shoot both. The more you shoot, the better the chance that you will get that “perfect” shot. This is where those large capacity memory cards come in handy.

5. Look before you click. Take a moment to look around the background of your photo before you click the shutter. Check to see if there is anything unsightly in the background that may detract from your photo. Things like garbage cans, litter, someone getting arrested in handcuffs, anything that would take away from the center of interest, your subject. This is something you have to conciously keep in mind when taking a photo as your mind tends to focus on your subject, rather than the entire photo as a whole. And, while we’re at it, please make sure your subjects aren’t sprouting trees from their heads 🙂

Happy imaging and feel free to share your results with everyone.

Happy 4th of July,

There is a lot going on here at Dengrove Studios this summer. First off, as you can see this little update is now being called an official newsletter. It occurred to me that I was sending this about once a month, so I thought it only fitting that we make it an official newsletter.

Last month I had two “on the road” shoots while I was in Phoenix on business for my day job. Both turned out to be quite a success as they produced some new images in the Glamour and Boudoir galleries. I also recently had a shoot with my second “alternative model” in Brooklyn, which was a great success. Look for those photos to be posted soon.

Speaking of the website, if you havent taken a look at the site lately now is a great chance. We have completely changed the navigation of the website. You will notice the links have changed on the left side of the page and created several new groups of menus. The new interface makes the website less cluttered in addition to making the site load a lot faster. Check it out at

I would also like to announce the addition of several articles and the opening of the Dengrove Studios Blog! The blog has been set up as a place to learn about photography for both beginner and intermediate photographers and enthusiasts and learn about the latest news and information from Dengrove Studios. There is something there for everyone from dear old grandma taking pictures of the kids birthday party, to the aspiring photographer who just bought his new DSLR camera. You can access the blog at or by visiting the link on the website. If you missed any of our other newsletters, you will be happy to know, they are all archived right on the blog.

I hope everyone has a happy and safe holiday, and as always comments and feedback are welcome and appreciated, and now you can post them on the blog. If you have need of a photographer or know anyone who does we are always looking for new projects and business.


Scott Dengrove
Dengrove Studios

Dengrove Studios - Fireworks over building - f/11, 1/3s, ISO 1600

Dengrove Studios - Fireworks over building - f/11, 1/3s, ISO 1600

With the 4th of July upon us, I figured I would touch on a topic appropriate to the occasion. Who doesn’t love Fireworks? Well maybe there are some who don’t like the loud noise, but you have to admit they sure are beautiful and mesmerizing.

So mesmerizing in fact, that anywhere you see people watching fireworks you also see plenty of people photographing fireworks. Unfortunately, for various reasons most of those fireworks photos never come out the way people hoped they would. They may be too blurry, or too dark, or just not have the same sense of awe that they had when they were bursting above your head. So what can we do about it?

I present to you some excellent tips to make this 4th of July the one where you capture your best fireworks photos ever! Ok, maybe not the best ever, but certainly better than last year 🙂

The first tip I have is to TURN THE FLASH OFF! I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve been at a night event of some sort (fireworks, a ball game) where people are taking photos and all you see is *FLASH* *FLASH* *FLASH*, come on, you guys who are guilty of this know who you are, don’t deny it. Maybe it’s because you didn’t realize you had the flash on, perhaps it’s because it’s easier just to leave the flash on, or maybe you never learned how to use all the buttons on that shiny new camera you bought? Don’t worry about it, whatever the reason I won’t tell on you, because I know after reading this you’re going to make sure to turn that flash off next time you’re photographing those beautiful bursts in the sky and you’ll be well on your way to making those photos better.

Now, some of you may be saying, “but Scott…I’m taking photos at night time, and the flash makes things brighter and light up, so shouldn’t I use it when taking pictures of fireworks, since they are shot at night time”? Allow me to explain… the effective distance of a standard pocket-sized digital camera’s flash is about 10-15 ft depending on your exposure settings (aperture and ISO). Basically what this means is that when you take a photo in the dark with your pocket-sized digital camera it will only light up objects and people that are 10-15ft away. Most fireworks shell bursts occur between 300 and 1200 ft up in the air. As you can see your camera flash, which can only reach a couple of yards at best won’t do anything for a burst of light in the sky (or at a pitcher throwing a ball while you’re sitting way up in the stands for that matter).

Once you’ve turned your camera flash off it is extremely important that you follow my next tip, or your fireworks photos are guaranteed to come out blurry if shooting with your camera in a full auto mode. You must find a way to steady your camera. The absolute best way to do this is to use a tripod. However, some of you may not have tripod’s available, so then what do you do? Leave the camera at home and don’t shoot the fireworks? Of course not! Find useful objects nearby that can help you. If you’re in a park for example, find a nice bench with a bit of an angle, or a trash can, or lamp post, that you can rest your camera on while you shoot. This will help to steady the camera and will undoubtedly sharpen those fireworks photos right up.

For those intermediate readers that have ventured beyond the “automatic” mode on your camera, I have some tips for you as well. For those that are happy with the camera making the decisions, feel free to skip to the next paragraph. When photographing fireworks you want to use a slow shutter speed. You may think that you want to use a fast shutter speed as fireworks seem to burst in an instant, but in reality it is the long trails of light that give fireworks their awe. These trails of light are around for a bit of time after the initial burst of the shell. This is why if you want to capture the full beauty of fireworks you must use a slow shutter speed, so that you can get all those gorgeous light trails in the photo as well. I recommend a shutter speed anywhere from 1/2 second to 4 seconds. You should experiment a little bit to find the shutter speed that works best for the types of fireworks they are shooting at your display. Incidentally, this is why it’s important to turn the flash off on your camera. When the flash is on it typically sets your shutter speed much higher than 1/2 second, usually a minimum of 1/30 – 1/60 of a second. This is much to fast to adequately capture the beautiful light trails of the fireworks.

Don’t forget your aperture while shooting fireworks. Ideally your aperture should be set anywhere from f/8 to f/16. Why do you want to use such a small aperture while shooting at night? Typically at night we would want use a large aperture to let more light into our camera for a better exposure, but now when shooting fireworks. Here’s why, the light from fireworks are actually quite bright, even though they only last a few seconds at most. In addition, as I mentioned before fireworks bursts can occur quite high in the sky, nearly at infinity distance. With that type of range you want to have the greatest depth of field possible. In other words, you want the greatest amount of focus you can get in the scene. Choosing a small aperture of f/8 to f/16 will allow you to have a very large depth of field. Combined with a tripod or other steadying technique I talked about those fireworks are guaranteed to be crystal clear and perfectly sharp.

Now I know there are some of you out there who would love to take better fireworks photos, and follow my advice, but feel it seems like a lot of work. Good photography often is, but there is a shortcut… most digital cameras today come with a “fireworks” mode. By setting the camera to “fireworks” mode the camera will automatically turn off the flash, set your aperture to a the right range, and the shutter to a slow speed all with the touch of a single button. You’ll still need to find a way to steady the camera though. For more information you should check your cameras user guide. You remember the user guide, it’s that thick book that came with your camera that you’re probably using to balancing your table leg 🙂 Well replace it with a stack of napkins and take it out and learn a bit about your camera.

I would like to wish everyone a great 4th of July, stay cool, stay safe, and have a hamburger for me. Most importantly though, go take some amazing photos of those fireworks tonight! Feel free to comment on this post, ask questions, and share some links to some of the photos you have taken.

Dengrove Studios - Multicolor Fireworks Bursts - f/8, 1/2s, ISO 100

Dengrove Studios - Multicolor Fireworks Bursts - f/8, 1/2s, ISO 100

Welcome to the brand new blog for Dengrove Studios. I have jumped on the interactive bandwagon 🙂 My goal for this blog is to discuss what’s going on here at Dengrove Studios, new projects, existing projects, and photography in general.

I would also like to use this blog to discuss how you can become a better photographer in your daily life. It will be aimed at beginning and intermediate photographers; everyone from dear sweet grandma taking occasional snapshots of the family vacation, to the aspiring photographer who just bought his first DSLR camera.

I would like this to blog to be a place for interaction and discussion so please feel free to register and post comments. Do you have something you’d like to let people know related to photography? You could be a guest blogger or regular contributor, just let me know if you’re interested.

Thank you for visiting our new blog. I have resisted starting one for a while because they very easily can turn into a boring life history of the person posting. I promise to keep this blog on track with the goals I’ve discussed above, and if I should happen to veer off course, which could happen from time to time, just post a comment getting me back on track 🙂


Scott Dengrove
Dengrove Studios