Despite having high tech cameras at my disposal, I still love using disposable cameras from time to time. I really like them for parties, trips and other lighthearted occasions where the photos taken will largely serve as momentos. You get one click, and don’t have to take it a million times, and then when you get them printed, you have something to send the friends who shared that moment with you (support the post office!)
As I learn more and more about photography, I became curious: how exactly do disposable cameras work? Do they have a crude ‘auto’ feature built into them? What’s their shutter speed? Aperture? And how exactly does the focus work?
I set out to answer these Qs, and, unsurprisingly, disposable cameras are incredibly simple.
Looking into the most popular disposable camera models out there, it’s clear they were built for versatility, to deliver decently exposed and in-focus images in a wide variety of situations. Their shutter speeds and apertures tend to hover around 1/100th of a second and f10 respectively. Those of you who read my article on shooting in low light will remember that 1/100 is about as slow as you can go while avoiding camera shake/blur. It’s fast enough that it’ll be hard to over-expose your image even in daylight, while being slow enough that you can get shots indoors and/or at night in the right conditions, especially with the help of a built-in flash. An aperture of f10 isn’t too wide, allowing a decent depth of field for a fixed focus lens, and again overexposure won’t be something you really have to worry about. However f/10 is ever so slightly on the tighter side, so if shooting inside or at night you’ll definitely want to use the flash.
This biggest thing that seems to vary between models is the ISO of the film it’s loaded with. It seems the popular models are almost always equipped with either 400 or 800 ISO film (I did see one model which has 200). Be sure to check this when buying the camera and keep your model’s ISO in mind when shooting! 800 is pretty good for low-light situations, there may even be certain interior/nighttime situations where you wouldn’t need a flash when using an ISO 800 film. On the flip side, 200 ISO film is going to be very hard to work with in those same scenarios, even with the flash.
As a general rule, I’d say:
As far as focus is concerned, check the specifics for the model you’re using. But generally speaking, for best results keep your subject about 3-10ft from the camera.
If you’re wondering what options are out there for disposable cameras, I’m a huge fan of the ILFORD black and white disposables. And for further comparison of the different models out there, the folks at Lumoid did a fantastic comparison experiment where they ranked 7 different available models, which you can read about here.
External hard drives are absolutely crucial pieces of equipment. Keeping your data off your desktop will help prevent your computer from getting bogged down with files, while also ensuring your data is more secure in case you need to factory reset your computer (something far too many people have suffered).
Thankfully the price of externals continues to drop, while their speed and storage capacity continues to increase, it’s a win-win!
One external harddrive I love in particular is my LaCie Rugged Thunderbolt USB-C. This little drive is great because it’s super portable, is built to withstand bumps and drops from heights of up to 2 meters, and since it uses “bus” power (ie draws its power from the computer it’s connected to) it doesn’t need to be plugged in separately, meaning one less needed outlet and fewer chords and wires to get tangled up in.
This model has a built-in thunderbolt cable integrated into the design, and also comes with USB C to C and USB C to A cables, meaning you have 3 options for connections. Pretty much every computer has at least one USB A port, and USB C and thunderbolt are gaining popularity. This means you can feel pretty confident that you’ll have no problem using your HD across a wide range of computers both now and probably for the next several years to come.
The model I have has a capacity of 2TB. However you can now find the same model with 5TB of storage space for just $90 more ($270 total). So at just $54 per terabyte, if I were shopping now I’d probably pay the extra money to max out my storage capacity.
One thing to note is this drive is not an SSD (solid-state drive) so it might not be as fast as certain video jobs would require. LaCie does offer their rugged drives in SSD form, however for the same 2TB the price jumps up to $530 from $180 for the non-SSD version. I haven’t run into any serious problems when it comes to speed yet, but it’s something to bear in mind!
One of the most important pieces of equipment in a digital photographer's kit is the memory device which the photos and video will be recorded to, and these days more often than not that’ll be an SD card. When shopping for an SD card, it’s important to know which cards will be conducive to the type of shooting you’ll be doing with your camera.
There are three main pieces of information printed on the face of an SD card: the capacity, the maximum read speed, and the minimum write speed. The minimum write speed is the most important number to pay attention to, because this will determine whether or not this particular card will be able to record the type of photos/video you’re trying to shoot. Importantly, to shoot 4K video you must have a minimum write speed of 30MB/s.
Minimum Write Speed
Minimum write speed is indicated by up to three symbols printed on the upper-right of the SD card: the speed class, UHS speed class, and video speed class. This may look complicated, but all three of these refer to the same thing and are in fact redundant. The reason all three are printed on newer cards is that the manufacturers were afraid people wouldn’t adapt to the new numbering systems as they came out, and therefore just kept listing all three on there.
Speed class ranges from 2 to 10, 2MB/s to 10MB/s respectively.
UHS speed class can be 1 or 3, with 1 writing at 10MB/s and 3 at 30MB/s (so you just multiply the number inside the “U” by 10)
Video speed class ranges from 6 to 90, 6MB/s to 90MB/s respectively
4K video requires a minimum write speed of 30MB/s. So, to shoot 4K, you need an SD card that says U3 and/or V30 or higher.
The number you see in the top-left refers to the maximum possible speed at which data on the card can be read by your device. Listing this speed is largely a marketing tactic, since it is the maximum possible speed and not a number you can rely on. However, the possibility of being read at 170MB/s vs 20MB/s does sound good to me, so get a higher one if you can. Bottom line: the higher the better, but don’t pay any extra for increased capacity in this particular area.
This is the simplest piece of info to understand, it’s simply the amount of data that can be stored on this device. A general guideline is that a 64GB SD card can hold about 90mins of 4K footage. It’s hard to say a number of photos it can store, since there are so many factors that change the file size of a photo. I’d say for the most part a 32GB card is sufficient for me when I’m shooting a 2hr event on my Sony A7s II (about 1,000 RAW photos) but 64GB gives plenty of breathing room which I find more comfortable. Nowadays with storage being cheaper than ever I wouldn’t buy a card with less than 32GB capacity. On the flipside I think any more than 128GB on an SD card is overkill. With it being such a tiny, high-use piece of equipment, I simply don’t want to leave that much data on it in case of loss, malfunction, etc. I’d say 64-128GB is the sweet spot whether you're recording photos or video.
The SD card pictured above works perfectly with my Sony A7s II, and can be purchased for just $20 here. If you have a different camera and want advice on which SD card to buy, feel free to ask questions in the comments below!
I got my start as a professional photographer shooting comedy shows in Boston, and to this day I still photograph shows for my comedian friends about once a week. After spending years shooting hundreds of shows with moving subjects in low light, I’ve learned a few tricks for shooting in these kinds of conditions. The tips below share some of these, and would apply to live performances and any other photography which takes place indoors, at night, and/or with moving subjects.
Shutter Speed 1/60-1/100
Through years of trial and error, I’ve found that 1/60th of a second is the absolute slowest shutter speed you can get away with when shooting a moving subject and still get an in-focus image, especially if you’re shooting handheld. Of course, if your subject is stationary and you can use a tripod or other steadying device, go as slow as you want! But when you’re capturing a moving subject, 1/60th is as low as you can go without sacrificing focus and dealing with a significant amount of motion blur. Personally I tend to go with 1/100th to be a little on the safer side. You might be ok with motion blur if you’re going for some creative effects like tracking shots or pop flash, but if you’re going for a crisp, well-lit shot, this is going to be your sweet spot.
Unlike shutter speed, I don’t have a hard and fast rule on this. I mention these two settings together because since your shutter speed is basically locked, these two settings in tandem will be what you rely on to get your exposure. A higher ISO means a brighter picture, but the higher you go the more noise you get. If you use Photoshop, there are some excellent options for noise reduction, but these can only do so much and there is often some quality degradation. Some cameras (like the Sony A7s ii I use) are known for being able to handle very high ISOs, whereas others might struggle with anything above 1600 (like the Canon T2i that I used up until last year). For me, I generally shoot around ISO 3200-6400, and try to avoid going higher if I can.
When it comes to aperture, the biggest consideration is: the wider the aperture, the harder it is to focus. This is because your depth of field gets shallower as the aperture gets wider. So when you have a moving subject, them shifting even slightly forward or back can mean a loss of focus. I almost always use manual focus as I find auto-focus super unreliable, at least with the lenses in my price range. Even with a camera body that’s famous for its auto-focus chops, I still manually focus through the viewfinder (which I find yields better results than relying on the LCD screen). My preference is to shoot no lower than f/5.6, and ideally at f/8 or f/11, but I’ve shot as wide as f/1.8 when I want to ease off of a higher ISO. This takes a lot of practice and trial and error, and you’ll eventually find the balance of settings that works for you.
All-in-all, I’d say 90% of the time when I’m shooting a show in low light I’m at: 1/100, f/5.6, ISO 3200
Notes on Lighting
Flash an option for supplementing low light conditions but be careful with this. A burst of light going off during an event or performance can be distracting, so talk to the people in charge beforehand and make sure they’re okay with it. Maybe fire a few off before the event gets started so they can get a sense of what the flash is going to look like, and then they can make the call on whether the disruption is worth the improved picture quality. Letting your client “behind the curtain” can be intimidating, but I find that people appreciate knowing where your head’s at and being brought into the decision-making process. Also note: one way to minimize the disruption is to use the flash on its lowest setting (if you have a flash with adjustable brightness like the one I use) to minimize the disruption.
Some venues have really fabulous lighting, especially those that are primarily used as performance spaces. However live performances can take place in all sorts of venues including bars, coffee shops, comic book stores, and beyond! If you have a relationship with the producers of the show, it can be a good idea to brainstorm with them on how to improve the lighting conditions in the space. Let them know it will make your job easier and make their photos come out better. Some products I’ve used and recommended are a constant light LED wand, a small spotlight (like this one), and some simple shop lamps (like these) that you can get at home depot. Each of these has its own set of considerations: What’s the battery life? Does it need to be plugged in and where are the outlets? Can it stand on its own or does it need a mount? To what extent is the light focused on the stage and how much “spray” will spill into the room? Will this lighting detract from the live experience? These are the questions you and the show producers should ask yourselves as you look for solutions to the low lighting.
On Getting *the Shot*
Shooting events like these is some of the most exhausting photography work you can do. You'll be constantly tweaking your exposure settings, trying to find a framing that works in terms of both making the subject looks good and positioning yourself in a spot where you won't distract from the show or get in anyone's way. And on top of all this, you still need to get *the shot*. What I mean by that is a photo that is perfectly exposed, perfectly in focus AND features your subject looking good–usually smiling, laughing, or looking charismatic or funny in some way. This means you will take hundreds if not thousands of photos during the course of an event. You might be surprised how often performers look at the floor, avoid the light, or just generally put themselves in not so flattering positions. What this means is you have to be vigilant and always on. Suffice to say, your arms will be very tired. But once you've got this shot, you'll likely know it, and can give a sigh of relief and catch your breath, but only until the next performer takes the stage!
Another thing most comedy show producers (and event producers in general) might ask for are shots of the audience enjoying the show. This is a great resource because it demonstrates that not only did the show happen, but a lot of people came out for it, and enjoyed it! For this, you need to have a sense of which of the performers is most likely to get a big reaction from the crowd. If you're unfamiliar with the people on the lineup, ask the hosts who they'd recommend. When that person is on stage, train your camera on the audience during their build-up (you'll start to learn how to recognize when a punch line is on its way). That way, you'll be ready to capture them when they're laughing (or cheering or clapping for other types of performance). You need a near-universal reaction, two or three laughing people in a sea of folks looking bored will not do! Once you have a few audience shots you think you can use, turn your camera back to the performer, you don't want to miss out on shots of the heavy-hitter either! Also bear in mind that the audience will be kept very dark in comparison to the stage, this is where you'll be opening up your aperture to it's widest setting and kicking that ISO up a few notches. For audience shots I'm usually at 1/60, f/1.8 ISO 12800. Be prepared to switch back and forth between these and your stage shot settings quickly since the perfect moments come and go in an instant!
All photos included in this article were taken at Boyz in the Woods Comedy which takes place every 3rd Thursday at Friends & Lovers
Thank you to the comedians pictured in this article!
Photo 1 (from left)
Gabe Pereira, Twitter @gabe_pereiras IG @gabepereiras
Nick Chambers, IG @chamberscomedy
Tawanda Gona, Twitter & IG @tawandus
Photo 2 Brendan Gay, IG @BrendanGay
Photo 3 Calise Hawkins, IG @calisehawkins
Photo 4 Adam Mamawala, Twitter & IG @adammamawala
Photo 5 Courtney Reynolds, Twitter & IG @fullcourtcomedy