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camera simulatorUnderstanding camera exposure can often take the joy out of taking pictures. Semi and professional level cameras like the Canon 50D or the Nikon D80 are fairly affordable, and the automatic exposure settings of these type of cameras can help you take good photos. But you may not get your money’s worth if you only shoot in automatic mode. Learning exposure settings on DSLR is not easy, but a website called CameraSim enables you to experiment with exposure settings and get a better idea of how camera exposure works.

Using your own DSLR camera and a few good articles or books about lighting and image exposure, CameraSim might be a useful tool for learning about ISO, aperture and shutter speed settings, and shooting under various lighting conditions.

You can hop over to CameraSim and start playing around with the settings, but if you have no prior knowledge about the subject, I present below a few explanations of settings that you can apply to get you started with the simulator.

Overview Of CameraSim

What’s useful about CameraSim is that it’s designed with the basic metering features found in DSLRs. It presents a fairly typical outdoor shot with shadows and highlights on the subject, a moving object, a shallow depth of field, and fairly normal outdoor lighting conditions. It also includes in the focusing screen the spot metering circle and the AF points, but there doesn’t appear to be a way to activate that feature so we will ignore it.

camera simulator

Exposure Settings

The green settings represent the shutter speed (far left), aperture/ f-stop setting, the exposure level indicator, and the ISO speed.

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camera exposure settings

Moving the sliders below in the simulator is like moving the dials on your camera. The simulator also has the Shutter Priority,  Aperture Priority and Manual modes on a camera. Notice there’s no automatic mode or other exposure presets that many beginners rely upon for shooing pictures. The purpose of CameraSim is to help you get beyond shooting in automatic mode so that you can have more creative control over your shots.

Aperture Priority

Okay, let’s explore a few exposure settings. What I present here is in no way intended to be an introduction to the understanding of exposure. There are many other articles and books that you should read.

First, if you’ve played around with the settings already, refresh the page so that you are taken back to the default settings (ISO: 200, Aperture: 11, Shutter speed: 1/125 sec) in the simulator. The default shot is fairly well composed with a shallow depth of field (DOF), which the means the girl in the foreground is in focus, while the background is out of focus.

But suppose you wanted both the foreground and the background in focus. Click on the Aperture Priority setting (which means that you control the Aperture and the camera will automatically set the corresponding Shutter speed for you) and close down the f-stop to about f/18. This number appears to be bigger but what you’re really doing is closing down the aperture instead of opening it up. Now click the “shutter button” to snap the photo as you would in a real camera.

camera exposure settings

The foreground and background should be in focus. So the lesson here is that if you want a shallow depth of field, you use a larger f-stop of say f/11, and a smaller opening if you want the entire image to be sharp. The distance between the camera and the subject also influences the DOF. Refresh the page for original settings; change the distance to 9.5 feet, and snap the photo. Notice how you lose the shallow DOF at that distance.

Shutter Priority

Now refresh the page again and select the Shutter Priority Mode, which tells the camera that you will control the shutter speed, while the camera will set the corresponding aperture setting for you. In the last shot we took we captured the motion of the toy fan, but now let’s try to freeze it.

camera exposure settings

Move the Shutter “dial” to a slightly faster speed of 1/250 second and snap the photo. That should freeze the fan. Now click the “Return to viewfinder” button and move the shutter speed up to say 1/800 sec and snap the photo. Notice that this setting not only freezes the fan, but it introduces a little more shadow in the girl’s face. This is because the shutter speed is faster which means less light hits the sensor of the camera. So keep that in mind when trying to balance settings.

Note that the image results on the computer screen may be different than what I’m describing, depending upon your monitor’s resolution. The image may appear lighter or darker than it should be. See our article on 5 Online Tools to Help Calibrate Your Monitor 5 Online Tools to Help Calibrate Your Monitor 5 Online Tools to Help Calibrate Your Monitor Read More .

Refresh the page again, and this time – still in Shutter Priority Mode – lower the shutter speed to 1/30 to 1/15 sec, and snap the shot. Notice now that you get a blurred image.

camera simulator

This is because the shutter speed is too slow for hand-holding a camera. You would need to stabilize the camera with a tripod to shoot at a slower shutter speed. Notice also that the reciprocal f-stop is closed down and you lose the shallow DOF.

For additional information about the Aperture and Shutter priority, check out this article Basics: Aperture and Shutter Speeds for Beginning Photographers Basics: Aperture and Shutter Speeds for Beginning Photographers Read More .

The automatic settings on many cameras can provide the appropriate settings for taking photos in typical lighting situations, but learning about and experimenting with exposure is the best way to have more creative control over your shots.

Let us know what you think of CameraSim. Do you find it useful? Are there similar online tools that you find helpful? Let us know about them.

Image credit: Shutterstock

  1. Alfee
    May 27, 2011 at 3:47 am

    Pretty neat! I'll point this out to my girlfriend. She's forever complaining about taking lousy photos and blaming the camera. I've run out of ways on how to tell her she's gotta pick up basic knowledge on shutter, aperture and composition.

    • Bakari
      May 27, 2011 at 2:42 pm

      Yep, it can be a little tricky. Until I started shooting weddings on professional level, I had not gotten a sense of how exposure works. This simulation should help her some. She might start off learning about using exposure compensation to help improve photos. 

  2. Rbmartiniv
    May 26, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    I hope that in the next version the user will be able to select from some other scenes.  I would like the choice of a landscape as I shoot mainly landscapes, very few portraits.  Otherwise, seems like a very helpful program.

    • Bakari
      May 26, 2011 at 4:33 pm

      I agree, Rbmartiniv. This simulation app has potential for a lot of other features. I believe you can send them a comment on their site requesting other features.. 

  3. Moinanjum
    May 25, 2011 at 5:56 pm

    Useful Stuff!!

    • Bakari
      May 25, 2011 at 6:04 pm

      Thanks for letting us know that. 

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