Taking Better Photographs

The basics of photography as well as some advanced techniques

Photography, like any other art form, can be as simple or as complex as the artist him/herself. So let's start with the basics. Before you load the film in your new camera, make sure that you have read and that you understand the instruction manual. Open the back of your camera, set the film in the empty chamber opposite the take up reel, lay the film flat, and be sure the film magazine stays in place. Pull out just enough film to line up with the autoload marker. If your camera is an older model and doesn't have autowind, place the film's edge in the autowinder and shut the case. If your camera has the autowind feature, it will automatically go to the first frame. If not, press the shutter release button and advance the film manually to the first frame.


Film Speed or ISO rates show how much light the film needs for proper exposure. For example, the lower the ISO number is, the more light there needs to be. Generally speaking, ISOs 100 and 200 are good for outdoor photography requiring no flash. ISO 400 is good for both outdoor and lowlight photography that requires a flash. Anything above ISO 400 is used for high speed or evening photography.


Exposure is the amount of light allowed to reach the film when the shutter is released. This is accomplished through the combination of shutter speed and lens aperture. If too much light reaches the film, it will be overexposed and the picture will look light and washed out. If too little, it will be underexposed and the picture will be dark and muddy. Point-and-shoot cameras set the exposure automatically, but many of the higher end models allow you to set the exposure manually, which allows more artistic control.


The shutter speed controls how long light will hit the film. The shutter speeds on most cameras run from several seconds to just fractions of a second. These fractions usually appear as whole numbers on the LCD panel or control dial. Each fraction either doubles or halves the amount of light reaching the film.


The second way to control exposure is the aperture or lens opening. The opening is set by an iris-shaped set of blades in the lens called the diaphragm. Aperture sizes are identified by a series of numbers located on the lens called f-stops. The higher the number is, the smaller the opening. The lower the number is, the larger the opening. Proper exposure is created by a combination of both shutter speed and aperture.


The difference between a snapshot and a great photo is the subjects you choose, the way you arrange them in the frame, and the light in which you photograph them. The first thing you should do is eliminate the distractions in the viewfinder. Too many photographers don't pay attention to what is in the viewfinder; thus, objects or people in the background can ruin many great photographs.


It is human nature to photograph everything at eye level, but that can make boring and predictable pictures. Choose different angles such as high viewpoints, from the top looking down. The more angles you use to photograph a subject, the better your chances of getting a great photo.


Again, placing the subject directly in the middle of the frame can make boring and predictable photographs. Try placing the subject to the right or left of the frame. Have the subject farther in the background or up close. Use your creativity and freedom.


It is easy to look at the subject so intently that we overlook the light illuminating it. But light is what we record on film. Light that shines over your shoulder and illuminates the front of your subject is called frontlighting. Frontlighting is good when you want to show strong color, shape, and details, but it tends to make the subject look flat. Light that rakes the side of your subject is called sidelighting. Sidelighting makes your colors vibrant and shows strong depth and dimension. Light coming from behind and slightly above the subject is called backlighting. Strong backlighting can create a luminescent glow in subjects such as leaves and hair. The light of the midday sun is called toplighting. Toplighting creates harsh shadows that are the least appealing to subjects. Avoid taking photos in the midday sun. Photos taken very early or late in the day, or when the sky is overcast, create a softer, more subtle shadow that creates a diffused effect.


Again, most point-and-shoot cameras have a flash that fires automatically and thus eliminates the need to worry about lighting. Higher end models usually have a flash boot where you can place an external flash.


A manual flash unit sends out the same amount of flash every time. That means you must adjust your f-stop and aperture to the correct exposure. Luckily there are scales on the back of these units that help you adjust to the proper exposure based on how far away the subject is. Automatic flash units are equipped with sensors to read how much flash is needed and then can adjust the settings automatically. So if you set the camera to automatic mode, all the work is done for you. All you have to do is concentrate on the subject at hand.

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