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A Beautiful Visualization Of How Your DSLR Camera Really Works

Leave it to a graphic designer to clearly visualize the complicated inner-workings of your digital camera in a way that actually makes sense.

Here’s the thing about expensive, hulking DSLR cameras: They take beautiful photographs, but only if you know how to use them. And understanding the various settings—adjusting shutter speed and aperture, monitoring exposure—is confusing, even to seasoned professionals. “Even speaking to a photographer friend of mine who works for a pretty prestigious company in London,” says Simon Roberts, “he spent a lot of university struggling to understand how his camera operated.”

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Roberts, a freelance graphic designer and animator was having his own problems about four years ago, when he was teaching himself to use DSLR for motion graphic projects. His recently launched project Photography-Mapped includes a beautifully designed, screen-printed printed graphic that diagrams the features of a DSLR camera and clarifies how they work in conjunction. He’s also created a clever interactive graphic on the site that operates as sort of a testing ground for DSLR—with sliders that demonstrate what exactly happens when you adjust exposure.

For Roberts, the common way of depicting camera exposure in an “exposure triangle”—basically a triangulated coordinate graph with aperture, shutter and sensor as the three axises—was too complicated (it is, take a look). Other metaphors, like one that uses buckets of water to illustrate the three exposure settings—here it is in Photography for Dummies—weren’t that helpful either. One thing they were all missing, it seemed to Roberts, was the element of time, an important factor in photography that’s virtually impossible to include in a static diagram.

So he set out to simplify the concept of exposure with his own diagram, then animated it to be used as a digital tool. Taking inspiration from Harry Beck‘s London Underground map, which is celebrated for its simplicity and still used today, Roberts pared down and organized the information needed to use DSLR into an easily comprehendible graphic. A minimal, two-color depiction of a camera shows the different physical pieces, and four columns break out how the lens, aperture, shutter, and sensor work. A section on light details in clear, concise language why exposure is important and how it is measured. A final column describes what the final image actually is: “Captured light, converted to numbers, displayed as pixels.”

The order of the columns depicts the order of the sequence, demonstrating how these factors work together to produce a photo. The interactive graphic brings that knowledge into practice, allowing the user to adjust the settings in real time and view the results. “Knowing the order in which the light comes in is important to me,” says Roberts. “You have the aperture that is restricting the volume of light coming in. The shutter restricting the time time and the sensor emitting more or less light based on what you want. That sequence, and knowing that’s how it actually works, for me, was the ‘aha’ moment.”

Play around with the digital tool here, or buy the print for $50 (screen-printed) or $27 (riso-printed) for a budding digital photographer here.

About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.

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