Monday, December 31, 2007

Composition - Color

Color is another important feature of photographs. Color affects the mood of people and has different meanings. Look at this website to get a quick view of its affects- Thus, you can invoke different emotions in your viewer by the use of color. This includes the blacks and whites.

How does the combination of colors in this picture of the Chincoteague Island lighthouse make you feel? If you were a mariner, you could probably see this lighthouse from a long way off.

Now, take a look at this photograph in black and white (I used a popular software among photographers called Photoshop to change the above photo to black and white and give it a different look).

I find this latter combination to be more soothing. However, the lighthouse blends into the background more and, therefore, does not stand out as much. Especially the house at the base of the tower. A lighthouse in dark colors may get lost in the background to a mariner viewing it from the sea. Perhaps this is why you don't see too many lighthouses in dark colors.

(Note that I place a branch in the photo to frame the lighthouse. I did take a photo of the lighthouse without the branch and find it less to my liking. You might find the branch distracting. Thus, the different tastes of photographers and the people that view their photos. Also note that I purposely broke the rule of thirds, although the house at the base of the tower is just below a focal point- this subject is made for breaking the rule in my estimation.)

Would the picture below have been as interesting if I had used two white balls? I don't think so.

Which colored ball attracts your eye the most? Note that the color of the orange stands out in this photo. You can tell it was either taken either early or late in the day by the shadows (late in the day in this case). You know from an earlier posting that the warm colors stand out early and late in the day. Thus, you can impact the viewer further through using techniques that further enhance the colors.

(Note where the balls are located- just about on a focal point. I also chose the close in view so the shoes would be at or near focal points. I think this adds to the photo because the eyes tend to move from focal point to focal point to gather all of the information to determine what is happening. You also know that shadows are longer during the early or late parts of the day. I think the shadows add to this photo. What do you think?).

Technique (Exposure)- The 18% Gray Card

Getting the correct exposure can be difficult in some situations, especially where the subject or the background is light or dark. The 18% gray card will help if you can use it, such as when you are taking a picture of a stationary subject.

An 18% gray card (may not be 18% gray on the screen and the white border is not part of the card).

Meters in cameras are set up to make everything an 18% gray. This is a standard in photography. Many subjects are about this color. If you point your lense at a white subject and it fills much of the frame, perhaps a white flower, and you use your camera's meter to set the exposure, the meter will try to make this flower 18% gray and the picture will be underexposed (the meter closes down to make the white subject gray). Likewise, the meter will try to make a black or dark subject, like a black bear that is really black (some are shades of brown), 18% gray and the picture will be overexposed. The following paragraphs explain how to use it and a way to use substitutes you always carry with you or that are around you.

The 18% gray card is just that- it is a card that is 18% gray. Some other items have been made 18% gray and are of a different material that will withstand field conditions. To use it, put it in the same light as your subject (gray side up) , fill your frame with it (be careful not to throw a shadow on it unless you plan to take your subject in the shadow- the card must be in the same light as the subject)(also, be sure to fill the frame with the card if you are not spot metering because a light or dark background can change the meter reading when the multiple metering setting is going to read these light or dark backgrounds), and check the exposure reading your camera's meter gives you. This will be the proper exposure. It is that simple! Even so, you may wish to bracket the exposure (overexpose and underexpose) by 1/2 stop because some people prefer a slightly darker exposure and some a lightly lighter exposure.

Sometimes it is difficult to carry the card with you everywhere you go or one tends to get lazy and not want to do so. What can you do to make things easier? Well, we'll use something we carry with us all of the time, check the exposure relative to the gray card, and use this other item as a substitute card. I use the palm of my left hand because, like the American Express Card, I carry it everywhere I go (I really don't carry an American Express Card, but the jingle is appropriate). In addition, it is usually exposed when I'm taking a picture. Why the left hand? I am right handed. So, I hold my left hand's palm so it is framed by the viewfinder (or screen on a digital camera) and check the meter reading holding the camera in my right hand and pressing the shutter release halfway down to get the reading. Obviously, a left handed person would use the other hand. Here is what you do. Take a meter reading from an 18% gray card. In the same light take another reading from the substitute object you will use (again, I use my left hand's palm). Unless you are the right color of brown or something similar (you lucky devils) or you always carry something you can meter which reflects light of a similar color as an 18% gray card, your object will give you a different exposure. Note the difference. For example, if you use your palm and your skin is lighter in color than an 18% gray color, the camera's meter will show less exposure. Why? The meter wants to make that lighter colored palm an 18% gray so it will give you a meter reading that lets in less light than an 18% gray card. To make things easy, let's say your palm's reading is 1 stop lighter than an 18% gray card. You now use your palm to take future readings. However, when you use it the camera's meter is going to give you a reading that is 1 less stop than an 18% gray card, so when you then point the camera toward the subject it will underexpose the picture by one stop. You have to open up one stop from your palm's reading to get the correct exposure. The opposite would be true of a person whose object is 1 stop darker than an 18% gray card. They would have to close down 1 stop to get the correct exposure. Be sure to remember the object you are using as a substitute. Your right palm may be lighter or darker than your left!

I know. This sounds like a bunch of correcting to use a substitute. However, all you have to remember is how much you have to open or close down to get the correct exposure and the object you use as the substitute. If you can't remember, just figure the exposure compensation needed again one time during the day and you will likely remember it for the pictures you will take for the rest of the day [or week, month, year, etc. if you have a better memory -mine lasts about 3 minutes (just a poor joke; here's another- I might start using my gray hair as a substitute because it may be similar to a gray card)].

There is a way to estimate the correct exposure when you don't have your substitute available (I hope I always have mine!). As I noted earlier in the article, there are many objects that will give you the same or similar reading as an 18% gray card. To learn how to judge this, take your gray card reading and point it at various objects in the same light to compare the readings. You will see the ones that give the same reading. If you do this enough, you will begin to get a feel for the subjects that give you the same reading. Grass and green trees (not those that are reflective due to leaf coatings) tend to give similar readings as does the gray color of the bark of some trees. Even clothing that is the correct color can be good (then you can have your favorite shirt or pants for photography). You could purchase a camera bag or similar object for photography that you carry (manufacturers have figured out that they can make photography gear in a color that gives you the same reading). Do you have a favorite place you like to take photos? Find the objects that give you the same readings and use them in the future. However, remember that some factors can affect your readings. If that gray tree gets wet the meter reading may change. Likewise, the favorite pants may fade in the wash and get lighter in color. Will a hand lotion or a clean versus a soiled hand change your palm reading? It is wise to take a meter reading from a gray card and compare it to your substitutes once in a while (a dark soil on your palm may change the reading from a light soil, such as white sand). You can do this will a palm with hand lotion on it or soiled to compare the readings. Do you tend to use something else on that palm that may change the reading? Compare your palm with that substance on it to the gray card also.

There is another way to get the proper exposure during a sunny day called the Sunny f16 rule. We'll explore this in another post.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Technique (Exposure) - Your Camera's Light Meter

The first camera I owned in the early 1980's had only a spot meter. This type of camera meter measures the light entering the lense from basically one point. Typically, the place it takes the reading is wherever the center of the viewfinder was pointed. Usually the photographer pointed the indicator at his main subject, take an exposure reading, and set the aperature and shutter speed to give this exposure. This is to try to make the main subject properly exposed. However, as noted above, the meter could be fooled into giving an improper exposure when the subject was darker or lighter than 18% gray or if the background was such and there was a lot of it in the frame.

Later, I purchased a Nikon FA. This was the first camera to introduce a multiple area metering system. Basically, multiple area meters check the amount of light coming from a number of areas in the frame. The camera contains a computer which interprets these readings and calculates an exposure. The Nikon FA has a feature the photographer can change to set the camera to either meter a spot or multiple area.

Multiple area metering (it has many names) has evolved. Modern cameras can have settings which allow not only spot metering but all sorts of multiple area metering. The difference in the types of multiple area metering is the areas being metered - concentrating near the center to scattered throughout the area being framed by the camera.

These multiple area metering systems are basically designed to compensate for the different colors of objects in the frame. They are relatively good at giving the proper exposure readings for most situations. Where they typically fail is when a very light or dark area is in a significant portion of the frame, such as bright sunlight coming from behind a subject.

Thus, you can set your camera to meter multiple areas and usually get a good exposure. In conjunction with a camera set to programmable mode, a person with very little knowledge of photography can take good pictures in many situations. However, there are times when the meter will be fooled. Also, there are factors which will affect how sharp the picture will be.

Use a gray card or a substitute to get proper exposures in difficult situations. This is the subject of the next post.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Composition - Implied Action

When someone is walking down the street the direction of his next step is usually forward or in front of him. The same is true of a flying bird - it is likely flying forward and not backward (even if a hummingbird can fly backward, most people will assume it is flying forward unless something in the picture implies otherwise). So, the action that is implied is that this person and the bird will move forward. Thus, when you take a picture of the person or the bird you should have more space in front of them than behind them. You are leaving space in the frame into which the person or bird can move. Look at the next two pictures and see what you think of each (again, I cropped the picture on the top, so the Cardinal looks larger in the picture on the bottom).

Doesn't the Northern Cardinal on the bottom look like he is going to crash into the right side of the frame if he takes off? In the top picture, the Cardinal has some space to fly into the frame. In general, most people's brains, without thinking about it, are going to tell them that something is strange about the picture on the bottom. The one on the top is going to be more pleasing to them.

If you look at the Little Wood Satyr photos in the last post, you will notice that the butterfly in photo where it is centered does not have any room to fly out of the picture. However, the one on the focal point can fly to its left and away from the tree.

Some folks just like to be different and cause some tension in their viewers. This can be a useful tool because the viewer takes more time to look at the picture to figure out what is "wrong" with it. Creating emotions in the viewer is a compositional tool also (we may explore it later). Look at the picture below to see if it looks strange to you. Of course, you know what I have been explaining here so the impact may not be as great. Call one of your family members to your computer screen and ask them to look at it (try to hide the pictures above so the impact is greater). Watch their facial expressions. Then, ask them what they think of the picture. I suspect their going to say something like, "That bird is too far to the right hand side of the picture."

The impact would be much greater if the Cardinal's head was facing directly forward. However, if the bird's head was turned more to the left so it looked as if it was viewing something in the left side of the frame, then it's implied action (where it was looking) may then be to the left and the picture would not cause as much tension.

Ah! Isn't it fun to break the rules once in a while. Only this one is not illegal folks. It will not hurt you either. Do try it at home.

Composition - The Rule of Thirds

Most beginning photographers tend to place their subject toward the middle of the photograph. However, more advanced photographers apply compositional "rules" to make pictures more pleasing to the viewer. One of these is called the "rule of thirds" (I have seen this called the rule of nines by someone on the internet, but I think you will find that most photographers call it the rule of thirds). Imagine a blank photograph that is divided into three equal parts both vertically and horizontally by lines. Where these lines meet are key focal points (you'll see these points given a number of names by different photographers) to place your main subject. The diagram below shows these key focal points as red circles.

If you turn this diagram sideways the focal points are located where you place the main subject when you are taking a vertical picture.

The next two photos are of the same Little Wood Satyr butterfly. The first photo has the butterfly on or near a focal point and the second has the butterfly in the center of the frame (the second photo is the first one, just cropped to place the butterfly in the center).

You can see how the subject looks different in the two photos (besides the butterfly being larger in the second). Some may find the centered butterfly more pleasing, but this may just be due to the subject I choose. However, this goes to show that sometimes rules are made to be broken. Others may find the butterfly on the focal point more pleasing. Which do you like (comment on this posting to let us know)? You may recall in an earlier post that I indicated we all have our unique way of looking at and displaying the world in our art. Our own style. Well, some will like the top picture and others the bottom.

You will find that some subjects lend themselves to placement at one of these focal points wile others should be placed somewhere else, such as the center. For example, if you wish to show an object and its reflection in water you may wish to place the subject so the line half way between the object and its reflection is in the middle of the frame. The picture will look very similar both up-side-down and right-side-up.

Both photos of the Little Wood Satyr are good, but I like the top one. This is not only because it is on a focal point, but because the implied action is a little wrong in the bottom photo. What do I mean by "implied action?" Read the next posting to find out.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Technique (Exposure) - Aperature and Shutter Speed

A photographer must understand aperature and shutter speed before he can learn how to properly control exposure. Sure, you can put the camera on programmable or one of the other automatic modes and it will generally expose the picture properly. However, it will control the exposure of the subject for you and, to some extent, how the subject is displayed. It does not know you want a lot of depth of field (how far in front and back of the subject you want in focus) unless you tell it. One must understand aperature and shutter speed to really get good at controlling the light and deciding how to display the subject instead of allowing the camera to do this for him.

Aperature is the size of the opening in the lense that allows light to pass through and expose the film or hit the digital camera's sensor and create the image. One thing that is counter-intuitive (you would think the opposite was the case) is that the smaller the aperature number the wider the opening in the lense. The lense has a much smaller opening at an aperature setting of f22 (aperatures are in f-stops and are denoted by placing an f in front of a number - usually this is shortened to "stop" instead of "f-stop" when photographers speak or write) than at f4. However, at f22 the depth of field is greater than at f4. One must ingrain this into their brain until they essentially automatically understand this without thinking about it if they are going to take pictures quickly and properly expose them. However, don't worry if it seems to confuse you at first. It takes a while and only through practice will it eventually become ingrained.

Shutter speed is how long the opening in the lense stays open when you press the shutter release. A shutter speed of 1/250 means the opening will only be there for 1/250th of a second.

Let's spend a little more time understanding aperature and shutter speed and how they relate to one another. We'll begin with the aperature.

Full aperature settings (you can put the aperature fractions of the way between the full openings on many types of cameras) are f1.4, f2.0, f2.8, f4.0, f5.6, f8.0, f11.0, f16, f22, and f32 (if you see something written as an aperature of 1.4 the author is talking about f1.4). Again, a lense set at f1.4 has an opening much larger than the same lense set at f32. An aperature of f1.4 lets in twice as much light as an aperature of f2.0 (going the opposite direction, an aperature of 2.0 lets in half as much light as an aperature of f1.4). Likewise, an aperature of f2.0 lets in twice as much light as f3.5. Thus, the next larger f-stop lets in twice as much light. If you open up (this means changing the f-stop so the aperature is wider or more open) 1 stop (for example, go from f32 to f22) then twice as much light enters the lense. Open up 2 stops (from f32 to f16) and 4 times as much light enters, open 3 stops (f32 to f11) and 8 times as much light enters, and so on. Don't panic if you are thinking you need to remember the number of times the light that enters the lense increases when you open the lense more than one stop. I'll explain why later.

Shutter speeds, in seconds, are typically 1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, etc. These can be as fast as 1/1,000 and faster on some cameras. Some cameras allow you to set a shutter speed slower (the shutter is open longer) than 1 second. There is also a setting typically called "bulb" that allows you to determine how long you want to leave the shutter open. It is usually designated by a "B" on the aperature ring or other way you set aperature on cameras. Of course, a shutter open for 1/125 of a second lets in much less light that one open for 1/2 of a second. Again, shutter speeds work like aperatures - the next slower speed lets in twice as much light. For instance, a shutter speed of 1/2 second lets in twice as much light as 1/4 second, and 1 second lets in twice as much light as 1/2 second. So, 1 second lets in 4 times as much light as 1/4 second. A shutter speed of 1 second lets in 16 times as much light as 1/15 second. Again, don't panic if you think you need to remember how many times as much light is being let into the lense when you change the shutter speed more than one setting.

So, why do you care about changing f-stops and shutter speeds? These affect your subject in a number of ways. As noted above, a smaller opening (larger f-stop number) gives more depth of field (an aperature of f16 will give you more depth of field than f11). Want to keep the subject in focus but make the background out of focus? Use a large opening, such as 1.4. This will make the background less distracting. Fast shutter speeds will let you stop a fast moving object so it is not blurred. For example, you may have to use a shutter speed of 1/500 second or more to stop the wings of a large bird in flight so the wings look sharp. Conversely, if you want to show motion by blurring the wings you will want to use a slower shutter speed. Ever see pictures of a biker or car that show enough detail that you can recognize it but the subject looks blurred to indicate motion? The photographer used a shutter speed that was too slow to totally stop the subject and make it sharp. This may be done intentionally. You can begin to see how these two factors affect the subject.

Now, let's try to understand how f-stop and shutter speed combine to give you exposures. Let's say you took a picture of a flower at f16 and 1/60 second with a digital camera and the picture looks properly exposed. However, you notice that the background is distracting. How do you try to fix this problem using the same camera and lense (there are ways to affect depth of field by changing equipment - a subject we will deal with later)? Well, you know that if the lens is open more you will get less depth of field which will put the background out of focus. However, opening the lense will let in more light. So, once you open the lense you have to change the shutter speed to let in less light to get the same exposure. How do you do this? Well, if you change the f-stop from f16 to f11 you have let in twice as much light. Now you have to choose a shutter speed that will let in half as much light to balance the amount of light entering the lense and get the same exposure. Changing the shutter speed from 1/60 to 1/125 of a second will let in half as much light. What you just learned is f16 at 1/60 (this is the short way of saying an f-stop of 16 at 1/60 of a second) is the same exposure as f11 at 1/125. You let in twice as much light by opening the lense (changing f16 to f11) but, at the same time, let in half as much light by using a faster shutter speed (changed 1/60 second to 1/125 second). So, the amount of light you let in by changing f16 at 1/60 to f11 at 1/125 is the same. You get the same exposure! However, you still notice the background is too distracting. You wish to try to open two f-stops from f16 to get even less depth of field. What shutter speed do you have to use to get the same exposure? Well, you want to go from an f-stop of 16 to 11 and then to 8 (this is a change in 2 stops) and f8 lets in 4 times as much light as f16. So, you have to change your shutter speed to let in 4 times less light. So you change from 1/60 to 1/125 and then to 1/250 second to get the same exposure. Notice a pattern? To get the same exposure, you change the aperature and shutter speed the same number of times in opposite directions (i.e., if you open the lense which lets in more light then you use a faster shutter speed to let in less light and vice-versa). f16 at 1/60 is the same as the following: f11 at 1/125, f8 at 1/250, f5.6 at 1/500, f4 at 1/1000, and so on. Going in the opposite direction (closing the lense), it is also the same as f22 at 1/30 and f32 at 1/15.

Let's look at one more example, using the same flower subject as above and the same equipment. You got the proper exposure at f16 and 1/60. What if you really want to put that background out of focus and open the lense 4 stops. You go from f16 to f11 to f8 to f5.6 to f4. That lense is really open now! You better let in a lot less light with the shutter speed or your picture is going to be too light (overexposed - you let in too much light and the picture is too light). So, you go from 1/60 to 1/125 to 1/250 to 1/500 to 1/1000. The two are the same exposure- f16 at 1/60 is the same exposure as f4 at 1/1000.

Wow, you say, "My head is spinning after all of that." Mine did too when I first learned all of this. What did I do to understand it? One way is to put your camera into manual mode (usually indicated by an "M" on the exposure ring or the dial that lets you decide which mode you will use-- other example modes are programmable usually indicated by a "P," aperature priority by an "A" or "Av" and shutter priority by a "S" or "Tv"). Now, as you increase or decrease the opening (change the f-stop) watch what your meter tells you the shutter speed should be for the same exposure (nearly all or all cameras made these days have a built in meter). Watch what happens if you change the f-stop two times in one direction, three times, more. Another way is to initially carry a chart with you of f-stops and shutter speeds like the following one (you can put it into a table to make it somewhat easier to follow):

Aperature 1.4, 2, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, 22, 32
Shutter Speed 1/2000, 1/1000, 1/500, 1/250, 1/125, 1/60, 1/30, 1/15, 1/8, 1/4

If you open up or close (or stop) down the aperature a certain number of stops from the original proper exposure, you move in the same direction to find the proper shutter speed. For instance, the original exposure is f4 at 1/60. However, you want more depth of field so you stop down to f8. You moved two f-stops to the right on the chart; f4 to f5.6 to f8. Now, you must move two shutter speeds to the right; 1/60 to 1/30 to 1/15. The exposure equivalent to f4 at 1/60 is f8 at 1/15. Note in the chart as the aperature is closed down (smaller opening) from right to left the shutter stays open longer. This makes sense since closing down the lense lets in less light so you have to leave the shutter open longer.

The chart above is a crutch. Don't become dependent on it! It initially helps you understand the relationship between aperature and shutter speed. As soon as you can, start doing this in your head so you don't have to rely on a chart. The sooner the better. You don't want to carry an 8.5"x11" paper around with all of the crutches for doing photography written down. Besides, if you have to make these changes relatively fast, like during a quickly setting sun, you don't want to be looking on a piece of paper for you answers. You can do it much faster in you head once you commit it to memory.

I know this post is a long one. However, understanding how aperature and shutter speed work and relate to one another is critical. You will not become a good photographer until you commit this information to memory.

Now, let's have a little fun. My next post will cover one aspect of composition - the rule of thirds.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Technique and Composition - Drawing with Light

Light is one of the most important aspects of photography. Light falling directly on a subject, casting it into shadows from backlighting, shining through a transparent or thin object, and in other ways will change what the camera “sees.” Warm light during a sunset or sunrise or cool light of a subject under the trees or dark overcast sky will make the same subject appear differently. The photographer must understand how the subject is lit in order to make proper decisions about how he is going to portray it.

There are entire books about the subject of light and lighting, not just in photography. I’m not going to try to duplicate them in a short posting about this all important subject. What I’m going to try is to teach some basic ideas about seeing the light that falls on a subject. If you are a beginner, I urge you first to practice some of the things I suggest without taking your camera out of the bag. Just observe what is happening. Then use your camera to record them and study how it sees the object. For one of these, affects of season, it will require taking photos since you will not remember the differences. Remember to record information about what you are photographing, such as your experiment (I'm trying to determine how light at different times of the day affect my subject- this picture is taken at 8:00 a.m.), your exposure settings (aperature and shutter speed- see next posting), etc. The more you record the more you will learn. But remember, these first set of experiments are to see how light is affecting the subject. So, record what is lighting the subject (such as the sun), where it was relative to the subject (for example, to the left side or directly overhead), was anything causing the light to change (it was shining through light clouds), what the object was siting on (this surface may be absorbing or reflecting light- see below) and similar information. Once you take the picture, look how these various factors affected the lighting of the object (for example, it was siting on a tan table and the bottom of the object where the light was brightest had hints of the tan color in it).

There are many things that affect how light will strike the subject. Just a few of these are as follows:

1. If you are using natural light from the sun, the time of day will affect the lighting of your subject. Morning and evening light are warm (that is, tend to be dominated by oranges, reds, and yellows) and directional (it is coming from the east or west and lights the appropriate side of the subject). Thus, it will make subjects look warmer in color and cast long shadows. As the sun moves higher in the sky the light gets less warm and becomes “neutral” in color. Shadows generally get shorter. There are exceptions, such as around the eyes. Directional light directly hitting the face will light around the eyes. However, look at someone’s eye area at noon and you will see shadows around these organs because the eyes are recessed and the light does not reach them. Objects normally loose details because the shadows that created the look of depth are gone. Watch the same object at different times of a sunny day to see what happens to its colors and details.

2. The time of year will affect the type of lighting. During winter in the northern hemisphere, the sun has moved to the southern hemisphere (OK, for you folks that need everything accurate, actually the earth has moved in its orbit such that the sun is more directly striking the southern hemisphere). The light must travel further to reach the northern hemisphere and the quality of the light changes. Some of the best sunrises and sunsets occur at this time of year because the cooler colors are filtered out by the dust in the air, thus making the light warmer.

3. Clouds have an impact on the light. Light clouds or cloud banks diffuse the light, sending it in many directions. This type of light is some of the best for taking photos of outdoor subjects. Note when you get a portrait taken at a studio that there may be a light, somewhat transparent material in front of the flash. This produces diffuse light. Look at your photo and see what it did to the lighting of your face. However, dark clouds over a subject will remove a lot of the light, including the warmer colors. The blues and greens tend to dominate. Look at a subject in both types of light (under light clouds and dark clouds) and compare it to the same object at different times of a sunny day. Again, use a stationary subject that is not changing by itself.

4. Light bounces off objects or is absorbed by them. Light colored objects reflect light and dark objects absorb it. One way to light the shadows of a subject is to place a light colored object in a way that reflects the sun’s light (or light from a flash) into the shadows. You may have seen a photographer taking pictures of a model on the beach and an assistant is holding a big, flat or curving light colored object (called a reflector) near the model. It was reflecting the sun’s light onto the model, usually the side opposite the sun because the reflector helps fill the side of the model in the shadow (note- be sure not to place the reflector where it will be included in the photo unless you want it to be part of the subject). Many photographers that take peoples’ portraits have flash units directed away from the subject but into an umbrella lined with white, bronze or silver. They are using the reflecting capability of the light colored interior of the umbrella to reflect the light back onto the subject. Of course, a mirror reflects much of the light coming from the sun or flash and this can be very powerful. Ponds with dark bottoms can act like mirrors, reflecting light away from the pond. Interesting lighting can be reflected onto an object when the water moves because the waves reflect the light in different directions.

Want to make a red or orange object look really red or orange? Take a picture of it in early morning or late afternoon sunlight on a winter day.

A flash is normally made to try to reproduce a light similar to that of sunlight reaching the earth. Like the sun’s light, it can be modified. I mentioned reflecting it onto a subject to light it. A light colored, thin material can be placed over the flash to act like a thin, white cloud. It will diffuse the light and make more pleasing pictures (unless, of course, you are trying to get the effect of the more harsh light directly coming from the flash- such as trying to put a highlight in someone’s eyes).

Now that you know how these factors affect light, let’s begin to experiment with how the camera sees this light. Take pictures of an object in which the light is varying due to the factors described above. For instance, take pictures of the same stationary object from the same location (preferably the camera is left in the same location on a tripod) at different times of the day. Take a picture of the same subject, one that doesn’t change physically (doesn't move, change colors except by the light falling on it, doesn't lose it's leaves, etc.) at the same time during different parts of the year- spring, summer, fall, and winter. Notice the differences. Bounce light from a white napkin into the shadows of a small object (basically hold the napkin so the light is being reflected onto the portion of the object that is in the shadow) and see what happens. Now try a different colored napkin. How does the subject change? These experiments help you learn how lighting and the variables that change it also change your subject. You can continue to hope the light is going to be right when you take a picture or learn how to use the light or modify it so it it makes the subject look the way you prefer it to appear. The creative photographer uses or manipulates light to his advantage.

Note that these lighting effects on the subject will likely require changing your exposure since the amount of light entering your lens will also be affected. I will address this in a later posting, after you learn more about exposure. My next posting will begin to address another one of the important keys to photography, proper exposure.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Photography is as Simple as You Want it to Be

Photography. There are probably thousands of books about it. Many people make their living teaching it and related materials. So, how can photography be made easy? Well, it is as easy as you want it to be. Do you just wish to take good snapshots of family and friends. Just learn what you need to do to take family portraits. Wish to take photos of places like you see in National Geographic magazine. Just learn landscape photography. There is no one person I know who is good at all types of photography. Photographers usually excel by specializing in one or two types of photography. However, there is basic knowledge needed to take a photograph. You have to know a little about using the camera just to take a family photo using a digital point-and-shoot. For instance, where to put the batteries and how to power up the camera. Then you need to have an idea of what you want in the picture before you press the shutter release. You don't point the camera at Aunt Susan when you want a picture of Aunt Mary!

Taking the picture of Aunt Susan will require you to know two things. One, you must know how to use the camera. I call this the technical side of photography. Two, you must understand how you want Aunt Susan to appear in the picture. Perhaps you want a photo of her looking straight into the camera. No, you want to show her pleasing side? Well, make up your mind before you snap the photo! How you want the subject to look in the picture is called composition.

These two aspects of photography can be as simple as learning to place the batteries in the camera, turning it on, putting a subject in the viewfinder or screen, and pressing the shutter release. However, people who wish to learn photography usually want more than the average picture that will be exposed during this approach.

I will attempt to teach people photography from "the ground up" in this blog. I'll begin with the basic building blocks and begin to stack them on top of one another until something beautiful results. Basic building blocks of the technical and compositional sides of photography must be understood because both are needed before you can properly control what it is you wish to show when you take the picture.

Will I teach you how to use your camera? No, that is why the manufacturer supplies a manual. It happens often- someone, knowing I'm a pretty good photographer, hands me their camera and expects me to show them how to take a good photograph with it. If you handed me your camera today, unless I had used the same type before I would have little idea of how to make all of the proper settings to shoot a photo. I'd have to learn about it just like you have to learn about it. However, what I will teach you is how to use the exposure composition dial or setting available on your camera, why you may wish to use a faster shutter speed for some subjects, the purpose of the depth of field preview lever, and similar technical material.

Everyone has a different vision when it comes to photography. I once heard an excellent photographer say you don't place limbs or branches of trees around the edge of a photograph. I do it all of the time to frame subjects. Her vision differed from mine. I'm not going to tell you how you should display your subject. I'm going to give you some rules and other information about it. You decide whether, when, and how you wish to apply these rules and information. Remember, rules are made to be broken and part of your vision will be how and when you decide to break them.

I do not plan to begin with just the technical side and then cover the compositional side. The technical side is always advancing and I would never get to the compositional aspects. They go hand-in-hand and I will teach them both. I will attempt to indicate in the title of each post which aspect of photography is being addressed. The word "Technique" will be used to indicate the technical aspect is being covered and "Composition" will indicate a compositional aspect is addressed. In addition, I may also inidcate which specific part of these aspects are being discussed should you just wish to read the postings about it (for example, proper exposure is a technique, so I may follow the word "Technique" with "Exposure" in parentheses). Some subjects cover both aspects and will be labelled with both words.

The word photography basically means drawing with light. Knowing this meaning, one might think light is important in photography. Understanding light is critical to photography! My next posting will just begin to scratch the surface of this all important subject.

Note: The photos I place on this blog may serve as a link to my photography website. It you put your cursor on a photo and the cursor changes (usually into a little hand on a PC), then the photo is linked to my website.