Sunday, January 9, 2011

Photography 101!!

As what I would call a "Semi-Professional" photographer (Yes I do sell an occasional photograph) The question I get asked most often is "What kind of camera do you use"! I am torn on what my response should be, since I am of the strong belief that the camera is NOT what makes the shot, there is so much more involved than that!!

So I will list what I think are the most important elements of a good photograph!

1. Subject - This is the most important element, before you can take a good photograph, you must have something to shoot!

2. Composition - I try to frame the subject as best I can, look beyond the subject and watch the background for interfering elements and minimize those when I can. In landscapes I generally try to get something interesting in the foreground to add depth to the shot. Composition can be somewhat corrected after the fact with good cropping and some special effects in post processing - More on that in a minute.

Now to the mechanics - not always a requirement but it does help! Quite frankly the above two items are far more important which I will show you in a minute.


1. Sharpness (Focus) - Make sure your primary subject or focal point of the picture is sharp and crisp.

2. Exposure - With adjustable cameras there are three factors which control exposure and selecting the primary adjustment factor for the proper exposure can be critical.

  1. ISO - If your camera has the ability to adjust the "speed" of the film or camera sensor, you can adjust the amount of light required to make a proper exposure by selecting the proper ISO. A low ISO (100) requires more light and is best selected for bright daylight type photography. There are several technical advantages to a lo ISO. Clearer pictures with less "Noise" or sensor contamination in the dark areas. High ISO 800 and above, allows you to take pictures in darker areas but you sacrifice some details and can add "noise"!
  2. F-Stop or Aperture - This is the size of the Iris (Think about your eye Bright light = small iris). The smaller the F-stop or aperture the less light that gets to the sensor or film, but you get sharper pictures generally and a much larger "depth of field" or area in focus.
  3. Shutter Speed - Think "Blink". The faster the shutter speed the better the camera will stop action or freeze motion, even something as simple as a little wind moving a flower a tiny bit will yield better results with a faster shutter speed.
The proper combination of the above three things are all required to get the proper exposure, if you set your camera on automatic it takes care of all that for you, but your picture may suffer the consequences. If the camera selects a high ISO, you will get noise in the darker areas. If your camera picks a slow shutter speed your picture may have movement blur. If your camera selects a large F-Stop - Some of your subject may be out of focus, or at least it may have moved from you primary subject matter.

Quite frankly I shoot on automatic a bunch. However, I am looking at what the camera is choosing and may adjust accordingly.

Example - I want a large depth of field (area in focus) so I see the camera has selected a large aperture. I may change this to a smaller aperture and decrease the shutter speed accordingly to compensate for the smaller iris or aperture.

SO - NOW that you are totally confused let me prove how unimportant some of these things are.

The following photos were all taken with an Apple I-Phone. They have no control of focus, F-Stop, ISO, Shutter speed. It just takes good subject matter, steady hand holding and good composition.

The above photos were all grabbed from the internet, using a "Photographs taken with an I-Phone" search, so if they are yours congratulations and I hope their use here causes no offense, they are great shots!

So you see subject matter and composition make these photographs, the photographer had NO Control over anything else!!

The last item I will touch on briefly is what is now referred to as "Post Processing". In the old days it meant taking your film to a lab to be processed and you could select a good one to be enlarged, cropped and even color corrected. In the new digital world, most serious amateurs and of course profession photographers all "adjust" their photos on their computer using some sore of photo editing software. It can be the savior of bad photographs and it can make a good photograph a great photograph.

Learning to use a photo editing program can be critical to advancing from the "snapshot" phase to even the serious amateur category. Way too much to even begin to discuss here, but a few of the programs which people use are: Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Elements. All fantastic programs, there are also many free or nearly free programs which will do some of what you will need.

So - What kind of camera do I use? Well I chose Olympus cameras for several reasons. I think they make some of the best lenses in the world, certainly the best for the money! I prefer the smaller sensor size of Olympus for a couple reasons. When Olympus chose to go to the smaller sensor 4/3 format. It required them to re-design all of their lenses for digital photography. (Re-design means utilizing the latest technology to create the new lenses, rather than relying on lenses from the old film days, they had to design specifically for the new electronic digital world) I felt this was a good thing. The smaller sensor means you get smaller (Physical size) lenses than in the old full frame equivalent. Example - in the old days a "normal lens was considered a 50 mm lens (Pretty much the same angle of view that your eye sees is what that is based on. With the 4/3rds format a normal lens with the same angle of view as your eye is a 25 mm lens. On the other hand one of my primary lenses is a 50-200 zoom, in the old full frame sensor this would be equivalent to a 100mm to 400mm zoom lens. And is physically at least half the size, less weight, more compact easier to hand hold that long telephoto and it is sharp as a tack. All of the pictures in my preceeding thread at the Indian Pow-Wow were taken with that lens and the addition of a 1.4 tele-converter which increases the focal length from 50-200 to 70-280, but you lose 1 F-stop in light (an additional piece of glass between the lens and the sensor has a cost, but you get a "longer" lens with more reach!

So there - That is why I chose Olympus and I am very happy with my system. Oh there are other very good systems out there, in the film days I shot Nikon, Pentax and Mamiya exclusively. When I went to digital I did my homework and chose what I felt was one of the best and still feel that way. I will put the quality of my shots up with any of the other premier brands...even the I-Phone!!

So you see the type of camera is not nearly as important as most people think. Any of the current model higher end "Point & Shoot" cameras will at least surpass an I-Phone and you can see above what can be done with that!

So grab a camera and go shoot - you have to take a picture to get a good one!

Capt Jim

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