Thursday, February 21, 2008

Technique- Ways to Make Your Images Sharp

Unless they're trying to be creative, most photographers don't want their pictures to look fuzzy or like their out of focus. Early on I did not realize why my photos looked like they were out of focus when I knew I clearly focused on the subject. I eventually found out it was camera shake. As usual, there are some general rules which will help you avoid this situation.

The best way to get a very sharp picture is to use a tripod. Not only will it make for very sharp pictures, it basically forces you to slow down and think more about what you're doing. You can pose your picture much better. You can look through the viewfinder or in the display and look around the frame. Is there anything in the view that you really don't want in the picture? Once I took a great photo of a group of maple trees, being tapped for their sap, lining a winding road. When I got the photo back there was a piece of trash in the lower right part of the frame that essentially ruined the whole picture. This was before the days when software was available to easily fix this problem. If I had looked around the viewfinder before I snapped the shutter I would have noticed it. Easy to do when your camera is on a tripod. In my estimation, a tripod or something similar is a necessity for landscape photos and excellent closeups are difficult to take without a stabilizing method.

A similar device is the monopod. As the name suggests, it has one foot or leg. It is relatively stable, but not as stable as a tripod. It is a little easier to set up and some fold up, take little room, and weigh just about nothing. There are times when you need to use another method to reduce shake with the monopod, such as when you are using a long lens (a lense that makes a subject a Long way off look closer). There are a number of ways to do this. The typical ones should be used when you are taking any photo- take a breath and hold it, hold the camera as still as you can, and make sure you push the shutter release smoothly (that is, don't flinch when you push it or punch down so hard the camera jerks). Another is to spread your legs far enough apart that you feel very steady. You are basically forming a tripod using your two legs and the monopod. Additional methods discussed below can be used with the monopod, like the one in the next paragraph.

Most people sway in the wind when they are standing. Don't believe me? Put a long lense on your camera, look through the viewfinder at a subject, and try to keep the subject in the center of the frame. You'll find it difficult to do, especially for any length of time. Anyone who uses binoculars knows what I'm talking about. One way to prevent this is to lean against a sturdy object. One I often use is a tree. You can also put the barrel of the lense against the tree if the lense is long enough to do so and let you see through the viewfinder or see enough of the screen on a digital camera.

What if you put your camera on a steady object other than a tripod and either pushed the shutter smoothly or, better yet, put on the timer and removed yourself from the camera and let it do the work? You'd find your pictures turn out sharp. A number of items can be used. One that has been around for a long time is the bean bag. I made myself one with rice in it. I can set the "rice bag" on a steady object, put my camera on it, compose the picture, put on the timer, and let it rip. Using a bean bag is a great way to take photos from near the ground. Another object you can use is the top, trunk, or hood of your car if it is in a good location for the shot. I have done this for landscape photos when I forgot my tripod. Putting your bean bag under the camera helps protect that paint job! I have set my camera on a stump to steady my camera when taking photos. The number of steady objects you can use is just about endless, limited only by your imagination. Photography gear manufacturers are always coming up with new ones.

There is a rule when handholding a camera that will help you reduce the number of blurry images you take due to camera shake. The rule is that you should not have a slower shutter speed than 1/the length of your lense. Let's say you are using a 70-210mm zoom lense on the 70 mm setting. You should use a shutter speed of at least 1/70 of a second. At least on SLR cameras, there is not 1/70 second setting. So, you go up to the next fastest speed. In this case, it would be 1/125 second. If your zoomed out to the 210 mm setting you should use no slower than a 1/250 second shutter speed. Again, this is a general rule. Some people can hold a camera more steady than others and may be able to use a one stop slower shutter speed (for example, use 1/60 second at the 70mm setting on the zoom instead of 1/125 second- please see earlier postings if you need to learn more about stops and how exposure works). In addition, if you are steadying yourself, such as leaning against a tree, you may be able to shoot at a slower shutter speed than the rule requires. However, it is best to follow the rule and even increase the shutter speed a stop or two if you have enough light and you are not doing something creative that will require a slower shutter speed.

If you have to hand hold the camera and are not leaning against a steady object, spread your legs so that you are sturdy and try to put your elbows into your side. This will steady your arms and, therefore, your hands will not move as much. Remember, draw in a breath and hold it and press the shutter release smoothly to get a less blurry picture.

Technique (Exposure)- The Sunny f16 Rule

You woke up, got out of bed, and wiped a comb across your head. Then danced outside into the sun and took out your camera and had some fun. Took a look at your image and what a site! Something that looked, well, totally white? Oh, my gosh, what a fright! I wish I could, I wish I might, be able to take a better photo tonight.
I've had these thoughts a lot when I first began photography. However, they did not come out in a rhyme. More like zxbhg! Who in the heck ever set up f stops so a higher number meant a smaller opening ought to be shot! With a camera, of course.
However, after reading a great deal of photography material and learning a few tricks, I actually began to get images that were, well, pretty good. At least they did not look totally black or white. I've mentioned one or two of these "tricks" previously, like using your hand to figure how to get a proper exposure. Another trick of the trade is the "Sunny f16 Rule." I'll call it Rule 16 for short.
Rule 16 basically states that if your subject is in bright sunlight its proper exposure is 1/your film speed (ISO or ASA) at f16. Thus, if your subject is in bright light and your digital camera's ISO is set at 200, your exposure is 1/200 second at f16. Your camera does not have 1/200 second? Choose the closest shutter speed, in this case 1/250 second. This exposure will be very close. There are a couple of caveats (isn't there always at least one caveat with rules). The first- the subject has to be about a square foot in size or larger. It doesn't work with closeups. The second- this general rule is for a subject that is neutral in color (close to 18% gray). Well, all of the world is not 18% gray (Praise the Lord!). What do you do? Well, what did you learn to do earlier when a subject is either lighter or darker than neutral? You open up or stop down, respectively, to give the subject proper exposure.

One other thing needs to be taken into account. Very white subjects, say a white bird, will tend to wash out. For example, you will not see feather detail because the bird will be too white. In this case, it is a good idea to stop down about 1/2 a stop to keep that detail in the bird.

Now you can use additional information you learned earlier to decide what equivalent exposure you wish to use for your subject. Need a faster shutter speed to stop the subject? Well, you can use f11 at 1/500 second, f8 at 1/1000 second, etc. Need more depth of field? Use f22 at 1/125 second, f32 at 1/60 second, etc. We'll learn later why it is not always good to use too small and aperature (to high an f stop number).

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Composition- Lines and Angles

You've probably seen a picture of a winding path or road leading to a distant house. The photographer, if the elements were right, put mountains or hills in the background with a "V" just behind the house. Your eye follows the path to the house without you even realizing it. As your eye quickly surveys the scene it seems to eventually return to the house. This is the power of leading lines.
The winding path is called a leading line because it leads you to the house. So are the lines of the edge of the mountains (each side of the V) because your eye will follow these lines back to the house.
On a more artistic note (don't get me wrong, use of lines to lead the persons eye to the main subject can be artistic) lines and angles can be repeated in a picture to form a pattern. Ever see an image of trees with their shadows parallel which lead toward the trees at an angle (the picture was taken in the morning or evening to utilize the best light). Well, this type of image uses both repeating lines and angles. The repeating lines are not only the shadows that align along the ground but also the parallel trees. In addition, the angles formed by the shadows and trees meeting are also parallel and repeating. Note that the photographer has usually chosen a group of trees that are nearly parallel and equal distances apart. These types of stands form the parallel lines and angles that are evenly spaced.
There are other creative, individualistic uses of lines and angles to make a picture look interesting. Take a good, long look at this picture and decide what you see. Look at it a number of ways and try to see if it has different subjects. Then I'll tell you what I see.

I see several things in this photo. One is the classical answer- tree roots and their reflection in the water. I also see a small fish that is nearly all mouth (right side of subject) being swallowed by a larger creature. In addition, the "small fish" could serve as a mouth for the larger creature. Read all about it! The tree monster of the Tennessee River revealed in a photo! Did you spot anything that I did not?

Take a look at the inside of this hot air balloon.

You likely see some thin, black lines leading to the center. Now, take a look at one color. Do you see how it curves toward the center? All of the colors are doing so. If you looked at it from a distance, this is what you would see:

Did you see this pattern initially? Once you know the technical side of photography, you have to learn how to "see" to turn yourself from a good photographer to a great one. You do this by looking at subjects in different ways to discover what is really interesting about them. Now look at a very small version of the balloon (like you were standing way back from it):

I imagine you did not see this pattern when you first looked at the bigger picture!

Just as an aside, to repeat an earlier subject, what do you think of the colors of the balloon? Now look at it in black and white.

The lighter color still makes the same pattern, but the other patterns are lost. In addition, the image just lacks that blast of color! The black and white version seems lackluster.