Impoving your photography
A manual way to good photography
Want to get photos that grab attention?
Sure you could download a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model or Hollywood hunk, or you can learn to use your digital camera -- and a I do mean learn. An understanding of f-stop, shutter speed, aperture, lighting, and seeing like a camera will help make your photos and pictures snap. How to do that?
Here are a few secrets I've learned over the years that can make your photos have more appeal -- whether your shooting a nature project like my One Year in the Backyard or shooting a concert.
Do you need an expensive, pro model camera?
Probably not unless your doing pro shooting in a tough conditions with demanding spec requirements.
The new cameras on the market are nothing short of remarkable. You can put them on a variety of program modes and let the camera do the work.
But I have a better idea, one most pros I know follow: They put the camera on Manual mode and make the picture look the way they see the scene they're photographing. In the old days of film, to do this took a lot of practice or one wasted a lot of expensive film. With digital camera's instant feedback, it's easier than ever to take control of the camera so it records what you see. I have a small Canon point and shoot digital, a pair of Nikon SLR-types and have used a Fuji S -- all of which have manual overrides. I won't buy a camera for me without the manual setting.
What's light got to do with it?
Three factors control how much light is recorded by a camera, either on film or digitally.
The first is what ISO speed you set the camera at. If you're shooting in bright lights, you'll most likely select a lower ISO, say 200. If it's dark, you might set the camera at ISO 1600. Some new pro cameras go up to a mind-boggling ISO of in excess of 12,000. Trust me, that's impressive, but you'll probably never need that speed.
Aperture and shutter speed.
Once you select an ISO and set your camera to the selected rating, you have two other features that, on each exposure, affect the lighting.
One is called the F-stop or aperture; the other is the shutter speed or length of exposure.
The larger the F-stop, the more light you'll need to record an image. You get more light at any particular F-stop by increasing the exposure -- usually measured in a fraction of a second unless you're doing long time exposures.
So if you make a photograph at F8 and 1/125 of a second -- a fairly normal setting for an outdoors scene in moderate light -- and it comes out too dark, add more light by lengthening the exposure to 1/60th of a second.
You also could have chosen to allow more light in and keep the 1/125th of a second exposure and "opened" the lens wider by going to a numerically smaller F-stop, say F5.6. (That actually makes the lens opening through which light passes -- the aperture -- bigger.) The bigger the opening, the more light that gets through. The longer the exposure, the same thing is true. The choices you make affect the final photo. Most cameras on program mode will average everything out to create a reasonable record of what the camera is pointed at. Sometimes those programs can't be beat. I often take at least one photo on the program setting as a fail-safe that I at least get a usable image.
Where to start
I often then switch the camera to the Aperture control mode, usually marked with an A. That allows the photographer to set the F-stop which controls how much depth of a photo is in focus. In the A setting, the camera then picks the shutter speed. Take a picture. Review the results on your screen and decide if it's perfect, too light or too dark. Note the numbers in the viewfinder under the A setting, say F 5.6 at 1/250 of a second. If you want more light and the same focus, change the shutter speed to 1/125th of a second in the manual mode while the F-stop is at 5.6. In essence that doubles the light. Keep making the adjustment until you have captured the color, the highlights, the image you saw and wanted. Often it can be quite different than the program setting. Other times it can be right on. And once in a while -- yes it does happen -- the automatic program mode will prove to be better.
If you're shooting sports and want to stop action, select a f-stop such as f2.8and increase the shutter speed. Usually, sports are shot as fast of shutter speed as possible to stop action and catch the moment.
Sometimes it can be effective to shoot sports at a lower speed if you want the blur to suggest speed. Or, shoot at a lower speed and pan your camera with the subject as you release the shutter. Sometimes that can keep the subject in reasonable focus and leave everything else a blur. It's fun trying.
Are you confused?
Practice with your camera. Heck, you can delete everything and there's little cost except for the time and batteries.
Once you get adept at this process, you will have gone a long way to making the camera a tool to capture what you wish to photograph in the way you see it.
You'll quickly learn through experimenting how to get concert photos that show the details of the faces rather than washed out hot spots. Maybe you want to capture highlights or peer into shadows. Mastering the manual mode will allow you to do that.
A slightly underexposed (dark) digital photograph tends to be easier to correct after the fact than one overexposed or full of hot spots.
Steady the camera when shooting.
If there's a lot of light and you're just seeking snapshots or small photos, hand holding the camera is OK.
If it's low light or you seek to make enlargements with great details, use a tripod and shutter release or remote control. If you're serious about your work, you'll come to appreciate how using a tripod will increase sharpness and clarity.
Time of day matters.
The most dramatic light, and often the most flattering light, is early in the morning or prior to sunset. Some photographers try to avoid shooting between 10 a.m. and mid-afternoon because the light is harsh and can cast unflattering shadows. And while time of day may depend on subject matter or schedules, if you like scenics or photographing people in light that warms their look, early morning or a the sweet hours approaching sunset are preferred times.
Pros learn about the rule of thirds. Some cameras, such as my Nikon D90 can be set to visually divide the camera into a tic-tac-toe grid of nine rectangles. The rule of thirds would suggest one move the center of attention out of the center of the grid to increase the dynamics of the photo.
The simple matter is, try to make all information in the photo important or move to eliminate distracting or useless elements. How you "arrange" the elements either by posing the subjects, or your lens choice, where you position yourself and how you have the light reaching the subject are just some of the considerations in composition.
Don't be afraid to experiment. Get down on the floor with kids or the pets to shoot them eye-to-eye. Climb on a chair (safely) to photograph adults. It tends to be more flattering to have adults looking up at a camera as it tightens chins, raises eyes and flattens tummies. Turn a person sideways and have them turn their head slightly to look at the camera when shooting a heads and shoulder or torso shot. It's more flattering. If shooting a group shot, have someone place their hand on someone else's shoulder. For some reason, it looks more natural, even if it isn't
Try giving photo subjects, if appropriate, a prop to hold that says something about them -- a baseball bat, a trumpet, flowers --- whatever it is you're trying to record. Have them play around with the prop, both to make them feel at ease and just maybe to strike a pose you wouldn't have considered.
Bracket your shots.
Technical stuff again. That means once you think you have the perfect lighting, shoot an image with a little more light and one with a little less light. Some cameras can be set to do this automatically. Some also have exposure control dials by the shutter to do this without changing the F-stop and aperture settings, one just moves the wheel to + or - 1 and so forth.
Proper exposure, part 2
Learn to see like a camera
Your eyes and brain work together to let you "see" what you're looking at. The camera just records light and there's no brain there to edit out unwanted information. Thus while you might just see a person when talking to them on a street corner, if you take a picture of them there you might be surprised to see a stop sign or traffic light popping up right behind the head in a distracting way. On the street, your brain filtered the sign out and told you to concentrate on the person. You have to do the thinking for the camera and look to make sure there are not distracting objects where you don't want them to be.
There's so much more, but if you even learn and practice these few tips, you can make photographs that say what you want them to say and that can catch the attention of a viewer for the right reason.
See like the camera
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