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Photography is a broad subject that eventually boils down to a mixture of art and science. Now, before we disappear down the "Is photography an art?" road I said it was a mixture and although the process of taking and processing a photograph is down to physics and chemistry the driving force behind it is often to some degree artistic or at least creative.
How to take a picture.
Compose and expose. Photography is full of rules and to get us started you have to do two things when taking a photograph.
This is the creative or artistic bit where you arrange all of the elements of your picture within the frame or viewfinder to produce what should hopefully be a pleasing composition.
This is the scientific and mechanical bit where you expose your film to light through the lens of your camera and if you are lucky preserve the image for posterity.
Let’s call this The Compose and Expose Rule. To make life simple compose and expose rhyme so it is easy to remember. You compose first and expose second that is the rule. We will start with the "compose" part first as most of the decision making is for aesthetic reasons which is largely up to you and if you are using a fully automatic camera it is the only bit that will be any good to you.
The modern camera is capable of many things. It can focus for you; work out exposure for you; select a suitable shutter speed or aperture along with a multitude of other functions. However useful you may find these functions the one thing a camera can't do is compose your picture for you. It has no idea what it is pointing at and it has no idea what you are trying to achieve so you are on your own.
If you are using an 'auto-everything' camera like a 35mm compact or program SLR then your main area of control is going to be in the composition of your photographs. Sadly I can't tell you how to take a great picture as to some degree it comes down to your ability to 'see' a picture or the potential to create a picture. Having said that; there are a load of 'rules' and techniques you can use to improve the final look of your photographs. We will look at a few of the popular, effective and easy to implement techniques that you will be able to start using right away.
There are 3 basic ways to arrange the elements within your composition.
Physically move objects relative to each other. Only really works with still life photography. • Tell people to move relative to each other or other objects. Only works with people who can hear you. • Move ! Usually the most effective way to control your composition is to alter your viewpoint.
That last one is probably the easiest and yet most important. How often have you thought 'that would make a great picture' then put your camera to your eye and taken a photograph. Loads of times, you see people do it all the time. By all means do that but right after doing it take a wander about and see if you can improve on your original composition by changing your viewpoint. You may be surprised how much difference walking a few metres can make.
Fill the frame
Sometimes your mind tends to exaggerate what you see through the viewfinder of your camera. You often perceive things a bit bigger than they actually are and you also tend not to notice 'slight' distractions. What you end up with is photographs with huge areas of wasted space around the edge and people with things growing out of their heads. Make sure your subject fills the frame. The best way to do this is to move a bit closer. Before you press that shutter release have a quick look round the edge of the frame and behind your subject. Make sure that you don't have acres
of space full of nothing interesting and check for 'stuff' intruding into your masterpiece. In our wonderful 3 dimensional world that telegraph pole is away in the background; in your flat 2 dimensional photograph that same pole is sticking out of someone. Now we will look at a few techniques you can employ to help improve your composition. If you are taking photographs for your own pleasure, as I assume you are, then you only have to come up with pictures that please you. You may be able to overlook the huge empty spaces or people with their heads cut off but no-one else will. That cute kid looks really cute it's just a pity that you need a magnifying glass to see him. Producing pictures that are pleasing to someone other than yourself will make your photography much more rewarding.
The Rule of Thirds
One of the most popular 'rules' in photography is the Rule Of Thirds. It is also popular amongst artists. It works like this: Imaginary lines are drawn dividing the image into thirds both horizontally and vertically. You place important elements of your composition where these lines intersect.
As well as using the intersections you can arrange areas into bands occupying a third or place things along the imaginary lines. As you can see it is fairly simple to implement. Good places to put things; third of the way up, third of the way in from the left , you get the idea. Duff places to put things; right in the middle, right at the top, right at the bottom, away in the corner.
Using the Rule of Thirds helps produce nicely balanced easy on the eye pictures. Also, as you have to position things relative to the edges of the frame it helps get rid of ' tiny subject surrounded by vast empty space' syndrome. One last thing about the Rule of Thirds for the time being. Once you have got the hang of the Rule of Thirds you will very quickly want to break it ! This is fine. As I said earlier these 'rules' are best used as guidelines and if you can create a better image by bending or ignoring rules then fire away.
The Rule of Thirds is fairly structured but there are a great many methods you can employ which rely on your ability to 'see' things and incorporate them into your composition.
Essentially a camera is just a light tight box with a small hole in it. In fact it is relatively simple to build a camera using a cardboard box, some black tape and some tinfoil or a small piece of aluminiun from a drinks can. Unfortunately, pinhole cameras, that is what they are called, are not particularly sophisticated and your mates won't be too happy when you ask them to keep perfectly still for 20 minutes while you capture that party atmosphere with the box your shoes came in. The sort of camera we are going to look at is the more 'modern' 35mm SLR (Single lens reflex). By 'modern' anything built in the last twenty years will fit the bill, including APS which really is modern but isn't actually 35mm but the idea is the same. All modern SLRs share some basic features:
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A body A lens which is interchangeable. That means you can take it off and put on a different one. An adjustable aperture which is inside the lens. An adjustable shutter which is inside the body A built in TTL lightmeter.(Probably !).Measures light coming Through The Lens
They also share similar controls.
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The aperture ring. This is a narrow rotating ring on the barrel of the lens. It is generally located close to the body of the camera. The focusing ring. This will be a wider ring located near the front of the lens. The shutter control. This is usually a small dial on the top of the camera next to the winder lever. If your camera is an electronic model with a load of 'modes' then the shutter may be altered by using a thumbwheel or presssing a button. Whichever it is the actual control will be located on the top right area of your camera. The shutter release. Again this will be top right, either on the front of the top-plate or near the top on the front. Light pressure on the shutter release usually activates the built in TTL meter. Film speed dial. On the top plate usually to the left. Newer electronic cameras set the film speed from the DX code on the film cassette itself. You may be allowed to over ride this or maybe you won't.
These are the controls that you will have to get to grips with to get the most from your camera. Additionally there may be other knobs and buttons on your camera which could prove useful.
Depth of field preview control. Not very common but very useful. On the front near the lens.
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Self timer. Has its uses. Exposure lock . Has its uses as well. Multiple exposure switch. Probably near the wind on lever, if you have one. Allows you to make multiple exposures on to one frame. Exposure compensation dial. Allows you to over ride automatic exposure settings. Probably easier and quicker to switch to manual if you can. Mirror lock up. You would be so lucky ! On/Off switch. Move to On to make your camera work . Move to Off to make it stop. Leave it on and you will have to buy a lot of batteries.
Now that we have had a wee look at some of the controls we will go on to look at the different levels of automation that may be available to you. Your camera may sport a huge range of features but you will get by just as well without most of them.
The degree of automation a camera offers you can vary from none at all, where you have to set all the controls manually, to fully automatic where the camera makes all the decisions and makes all the settings accordingly. First of all we will get focusing out of the way. With focusing you have two choices, autofocus (AF) or manual focus.There are different types of autofocus systems but basically you either have it turned on or you don't. Although autofocus is pretty standard on new 35mm/digital cameras these days not having this feature isn't a big drawback. AF can be quick, convenient and fairly reliable but is by no means essential. The area where you will find most automation is in the control of exposure. More specifically the control of the aperture and shutter. These different types of automation are usually referred to as 'modes'. Most modern cameras are 'multi mode'. Basically there are four modes you can work in.
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Manual.(M) You set the aperture and shutter yourself. Aperture Priority.(A) You set the aperture and the camera will automatically select the corresponding shutter speed. Shutter Priority.(S) You set the shutter speed and the camera will automatically select the corresponding aperture. Program.(P) You point the camera and it will select a suitable aperture and shutter combination.
Within 'progam mode' you can have a another pile of 'modes' depending on what type of subject you are photographing. You could have;
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Action mode. Landscape mode. Portrait mode. Close-up mode. Fill-in Flash mode. Night mode.
However, you will never find, on any camera, anywhere, no matter how much you spend and no matter how much the sales person tells you how invaluable a cameras multitude of 'modes' and 'features' are, you will not find a 'good picture mode'. An auto camera may simply select a shutter speed to match a pre-set aperture value or it may perform a complex decision making task involving information regarding the type of subject , lens attached and other data you may input. After all this calculation the camera will then adjust the shutter and aperture. And that,basically, is all they do.
We have mentioned shutters, apertures and 'modes' but we haven't looked at how we get the information needed on which to base our combination of aperture and shutter speed. Most, if not all, modern 35mm/APS SLR cameras come with some form of built in light metering system. The finer points of how specific lightmeters actually measure light may vary but the basic operation is the same for most built in systems. Once activated, usually by turning the camera on or by light pressure on the shutter release, the light meter measures the light reflected back through the camera lens from the scene in front of it. This type of lightmeter is known as a Reflected Light Through The Lens meter. Commonly referred to as a TTL meter. Using a TTL meter is a fairly straight forward operation. With the meter switched on simply compose your picture as normal and the meter will take a 'reading' from the scene. You will then be presented with information about the necessary aperture or shutter settings that may be required. These readings are based on the amount of light reflected back from the scene and on the sensitivity of the film you are using. You must inform the meter of the correct film speed either by setting it manually or using DX coded film( it has a bar code on it) if your camera supports this feature. Depending on the 'mode' you are operating your camera in you will be presented with some information about the shutter speed, aperture f-number or both. 1. Manual Mode. What you see will vary according to the make and model of camera you are using but will probably be along the lines of the following.
An illuminated plus sign (over exposure), minus sign (under exposure) or a zero (OK) symbol to the side of the focusing screen.(The bit where you look at your picture) in the viewfinder. You will not be able to tell how many stops over or under you are.
An illuminated scale from plus to minus. Similar to the previous one.
A range of shutter speeds with a symbol indicating the currently set shutter speed and a moving needle indicating the recommended shutter speed.
As above but using LED's ( little red lights) instead of a needle. Steady LED for set speed and flashing LED for recommended speed.
In manual mode you have control of both shutter and aperture and can adjust either or both to reach the correct exposure. You are aiming to 'zero' on a plus minus system or match the two indicators on the other.(Matchneedle system)
2. Aperture Priority. The meter will indicate its chosen shutter speed, based on the aperture you have set. This may be shown on a scale or simply as an illuminated number in the viewfinder. If you change the aperture the shutter speed will change to compensate. Try it to see it working.
3. Shutter Priority. The meter will indicate which f-number it will select, based on the shutter speed you have set. This will probably be shown as a number in the viewfinder. If you change the shutter speed the camera will change the aperture to compensate. Try it to see it working.
4. Program. The meter will indicate its choice of shutter speed and aperture. Or maybe it won't.
The shutter speed and aperture are both represented by a number and to tell which one is which,and what they mean, we are going to have a look at each of them. There is no need to panic, there isn't any maths to speak of. We have taken a look at the creative or artistic bit of taking photographs, composition, if you read that bit, so now we will have a look at the science bit, exposure. Unsurprisingly, exposure simply means allowing light to strike your film. The tricky
part is knowing how much light you need and how to control the amount of light reaching the film. The former is taken care of by a light meter, usually built in to the camera, and the latter is achieved by means of the aperture and shutter controls on your camera. You control the exposure by allowing light to pass through the aperture for a given amount of time. Right now we are going to have a look at the way apertures and shutters are used to control exposure but not the other important functions they perform.
Aperture and f-numbers
The aperture is just a hole whose size can be varied to allow more or less light to pass through it. The size of apertures are expressed in f-numbers. You can calculate an f-number, if you are keen or don't have much of a life, by dividing the lens focal length by the diameter of the aperture. The range of f-numbers follows a standard sequence with each f-number being half as bright, passing half as much light, as the previous one. A typical aperture range may look like this:
f 1.4; f 2; f 2.8; f 4; f5.6; f 8; f 11; f 16; f 22; f 32
There are smaller and larger f-numbers but the actual numbers used are always the same and will maintain a constant value over different lens focal lengths. This just means that f-8, for instance , will always pass the same amount of light no matter what camera or lens you may be using. Similarly, f-16 will pass half as much light as f-11 and f-4 will pass twice as much as f-5.6. The difference in value between one full f-number and the next is known as a 'stop'. If you change aperture from f-8 to f5.6 you will give your film one stop more exposure. The smaller the f-number is then the larger the aperture is and the more light it will pass. The f-number is also used as a guide to the light gathering abilities of a lens. Lenses with large maximum apertures ( small f-number ) are described as being 'fast'. Generally the aperture will always be held open at its maximum irrespective of whatever value you may have set it to and will not actually close down until the moment of exposure. The main reason for this is to produce the brightest image possible onto the focusing screen. To see the aperture in operation you will have to remove the lens, unless you have a preview control, and look through the lens while turning the aperture control ring.
Shutter and Shutter Speeds
The shutter prevents light from reaching the film until the moment of exposure, when it opens for a predetermined time allowing light passing through the lens aperture to reach the film. Unlike the aperture, which is always in an open position the shutter is always closed. Like the aperture, shutter values or 'speeds' follow a standard sequence with each one being half that of the next, allowing half as much light to pass through. A typical shutter speed range may look like this;
1sec; 1/2sec; 1/4sec; 1/8th; 1/ 15th; 1/30th; 1/60th; 1/125th; 1/250th; 1/500th; 1/1000th; 1/2000th
Shutter speeds are expressed in seconds or fractions of a second. Slow shutter speeds run into seconds while fast shutter speeds will be shorter than 1/500th of a second. In normal photography shutter speeds will probably fall into the range 1/60th to 1/1000th of a second. As you may have worked out, changing from one shutter speed to the next changes the exposure by one 'stop' in much the same way as changing the aperture.
Now that you know what a 'stop' is you may realize that to change or control exposure you can alter either one and get the same effect. You may even have worked out that you can have loads of combinations of aperture and shutter speeds that will amount to the same exposure. Here is a wee example: Your light meter tells you to set your camera to f-8 at 1/125th of a second. You decide that you want to change it. You will find out why you might want to change it later. You could reduce the aperture by one stop to f-11 (Stop down or close down). Now your film is receiving half as much light as it requires (underexposure). To compensate for this you select a slower shutter speed of 1/60th of a second so it now stays open twice as long as before and passes twice as much light as before. Or. f-32 1/8th of a second
You could increase the aperture by one stop to f-5.6 (Open up). Now your film is receiving twice as much light as it 1/15th of a f-22 requires (overexposure ). To compensate for this you second increase your shutter speed to 1/250th of a second so it now stays open for half as long as before and passes half as 1/30th of a f-16 much light as before. second 1/60th of a Alternatively, you could start by changing the shutter speed f-11 second then altering the aperture to compensate. The important point is that you finish up getting the same exposure. 1/125th of a You could work your way through the whole range of f-8 second aperture and shutter speeds as in the table on the right: fWhen you combine a shutter speed and an aperture you get 5.6 an 'Exposure Value (EV)'. The table shows a range of shutter and aperture combinations which will all result in the same exposure value. If an aperture of f-8 at 1/125th of a second f-4 produces a perfectly exposed photograph then any of the other combinations will do the same. f2.8 f-2 1/250th of a second 1/500th of a second 1/1000th of a second 1/2000th of a second
Here is something else just to confuse you. In order for your lightmeter to come up with a suitable combination of aperture size and shutter speed it needs to know how sensitive to light a particular film is. A film's sensitivity is known as its ' speed' and is expressed as an ASA/ISO number. The higher the number the more sensitive it is and consequently the less light it needs to form an image. The lower the number the less sensitive it is and the more light it will require. Sensitive films are said to be 'fast' and will have a speed of 400 ASA/ISO or above. Films with low sensitivity are said to be 'slow' and will have a speed of less than 100 ASA/ISO. General purpose films suitable for everyday use fall into the 100-400 ASA/ISO range with 100-200 being the most popular. Like shutter speeds and aperture sizes, film speeds follow a standard sequence.
25; 50; 100; 200; 400; 800; 1600; 3200 Film speed goes up in steps just like shutters and apertures. Each one is twice as sensitive as the next. I know you have worked this out already but the difference between one film speed and the next is a 'stop'. As far as exposure goes all you really need to know about film is its speed. It is very important that you set the correct film speed on your light meter before you start. Most modern cameras read the film speed from a magnetic strip on the film cassette and set the meter accordingly (DX coding). Otherwise you will have to set it yourself using whatever method your camera/meter is equipped with.
Of the various controls on your camera the aperture and shutter controls are the ones which are going to give a lot of control over the content of your finished photographs. It is important to understand from the outset what they are each responsible for and how they affect each other. We have already looked at how the aperture and shutter affect exposure and their relationship in that context. As you, hopefully, know you can use many combinations of shutter and aperture yet still retain the same exposure value, so we are now going to take a look at the factors which will influence how you will select a particular combination of shutter and aperture. In a nutshell, the shutter controls movement, which can be subject movement or camera movement (shake), and the aperture controls how much of the scence (from front to back) will be in sharp focus. This area of sharpness is known as the
'depth of field'. Depth of field is actually influenced by two factors: Aperture and focused distance.
Much of the use of aperture and shutter is juggling one with the other. If you want a lot of depth of field you will have to select a small aperture. To counter this you will have to select a shutter speed that will;
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give you the correct exposure. be sufficiently fast enough to freeze movement within the scene. be fast enough to prevent camera shake.
If you want to capture fast movment you will have to select a reasonably fast shutter speed. To counter this you will have to select an aperture which will;
give you the correct exposure. be small enough provide sufficient depth of field.
There will be many occasions where you will have to make compromises, particularly if you are hand holding your camera. Shallow depth of field is fine so long as the most important part of the suject is sharply focused and some subject movement may also be acceptable but camera shake will consign just about anything to the bin. Unless , of course, the picture is very newsworthy or is of personal significance. We will go on to look at the aperture shortly but first we will look at the shutter, shutter speeds and the dreaded camera shake. It happens to everyone at some point and you can't say 'I don't know whats wrong , this has never happened to me before'.
When you take a photograph you capture a moment in time. The faster the shutter speed is the shorter the moment will be. If you use a fast enough shutter speed the moment will appear frozen and without movement. When you are choosing a shutter speed you will have to take into account two separate types of movement:
subject movement. This is anything within the picture area that is moving or may move during exposure. camera movement or 'camera shake'. This is movement of the camera during exposure.
Movement appears as blurring of the image. Subject movement will only affect the part or parts that actually move during exposure while camera shake will affect the whole image to the same degree. Before we look at how to choose shutter speeds we will address what is a common cause of ruined photographs.
Unlike subject movement which is relative to the camera, and you can often see it, camera shake is movement of the camera relative to the subject and, as it happens during exposure, you cannot see it. Everyone suffers from camera shake at some time or other. Most instances of camera shake occur during hand held photography. This, as you have probably noticed, is a very popular way to take photographs so it is wise to know when you are likely to fall victim to camera shake. Like using a fast enough shutter speed to freeze movement in a photograph you must also use a fast enough shutter speed to freeze any movement of the camera. The actual shutter speed you use to combat camera shake is generally determined by a couple of factors.
Minimum recommended shutter speeds for hand held photography. 24mm 28mm 50mm 1/30th 1/30th 1/60th 1/60th 1/125th
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an individuals ability to hold a camera steady. the focal length of the lens in use at the time. magnification. If you are shooting close-ups camera movement is magnified along with your subject.
135mm 1/125th 200mm 1/250th 300mm 1/250th
500mm 1/500th Many people over estimate how steady they can hold a camera but minimum shutter speeds for your average Joe Punter hand holding a camera are usually given as the inverse of the focal length in use. The word 'inverse' comes from the world of mathematics and as such isa a bit scary to a lot of people but in this case it just means 'one over'. As in 'one over the focal length'. Here is a wee example of how easy it really is. Using a standard 50mm lens the minimum shutter speed you should use will be 'one over 50', which is 1/50. To turn it into a shutter speed you simply call it a fraction of a second, like this; 1/50th of a second. The nearest shutter speed you can set is actually 1/60th of a second but you get the idea. Or. Using a 200mm lens the minimum shutter speed you should use will be 'one over
200', which is 1/200th of a second. So you would set your shutter speed to 1/250th of a second, that being the closest to 1/200. These figures are just a rough guide and may vary according to individual ability. Over time you will learn how slow a shutter speed you can hand hold but if in doubt always err on the fast side. It would be unwise to hand hold any camera/lens combination below 1/30th of a second.
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