In our Photography Classes we have all sorts of questions asked by students, some of the questions asked by one student can benefit the entire class. As a photography learning platform, we constantly think of better ways to help everyone in achieving their goal in their photography learning journey, and that should not exclude our worldwide online learners.
Over the years we have been working very hard to compile a very long list of the most useful photography questions and answers inspired by our students, from our experience, and some carefully chosen photography books. In the beginning we were excited as we were preparing the posts under the working title, ‘Basic Photography Tips’, but then we felt why should we limit the online learning platform, so we decided to include Intermediate and Advanced Photography tips as well to benefit everyone. Now, before we all get too excited and explode, let’s begin the online photography learning journey in our weekly Photography Tips.
All digital cameras have a light meter built into them that reads the light level in a scene and assesses the combination of shutter speed and aperture required to get the “right” result. Provided nothing in the scene is very light or very dark, a camera’s internal meter works wonderfully.
Problems may arise, however, when there are bright lights that create highlights or reflections, or the sun is in the scene. At the other end of the brightness scale, dark shadows or low light may also p a challenge. In situations such as these, the meter can be fooled. If you include too much bright snow from the scene, for example, the meter may determine that the whole scene is bright; consequently it tries to underexpose, and the result is too dark. Conversely, take a photograph in a shady wood and the camera tries to overexpose because this time there is not enough light.
Camera designers have been ingenious in finding techniques to deal with these issues. They have provided metering modes, a solution where the camera doesn’t measure light equally from across the scene. The different modes are described in the jargon buster.
However, it is an advantage with a digital camera to record a photo and look at the LCD screen to see if the result is too light or too dark. Take the picture again using the exposure compensation button: If it is too dark on screen, increase the exposure (go to the plus (+) side); if it’s too light, decrease exposure (move to the minus (-) side).
Center-weighted mode – the meter sensor takes most of the reading from the center of a scene.
Spot metering mode – takes a reading from a small area: You choose the part that is a mid-tone, take an exposure, and apply the exposure lock control to use this value for the whole scene. With practice, this is very accurate.
Matrix metering – sometimes called evaluative, multi, or electro-selective pattern(ESP), this is much harder to fool and is the most reliable method in a great majority of situations. The viewfinder is divided into a number of different segments and the meter sensor reads light from each one (the more segments it has, the less likely it is to be fooled). The readings are compared with combinations programmed into the camera’s memory. Most scenes can be accurately evaluated, apart from impossibly bright highlights or the proverbial black cat in a coal cellar.
Digital images are recorded and stored in different forms known as file formats that have evolved because the images can It be used for different purposes. takes a lot of memory to store data, so some formats compress the images in order to fit more pictures on a memory card or in your computer. Cameras can often record using more than one file format. Despite which formats your camera uses, you can usually convert to any of the others described here when working with an image-processing program in the computer.
The RAW format is usually found only on digital SLR’s and more advanced compact digital cameras RAW files are large-they include all the data from the sensor and consequently take up a lot of space on your camera’s memory card and on your computer’s hard drive. In addition, these files are proprietary to camera manufacturers (and, in fact, to each model they produce- except for a RAW format called DNG). That means the specifications for RAW files recorded using a Canon camera are different than those recorded by a Nikon, all of which are different than those recorded by a Sony, Olympus, or cameras from other companies. You need a software program known as a RAW converter to read these files on your computer. However, once that is done, you can convert them to TIFFs or JPEGs for display or, to make prints.
JPEG is a universally readable image-file format that can display up to 16.7 million colors, the number needed for photo-realistic pictures. You can usually set the camera to a number of different resolutions for JPEG. This format uses “lossy” compression, which means that data is discarded every time you open and re-save a file. To get around this, download JPEGs into your computer and open as a duplicate when using your image-processing program; that way, you can go back to the original image if anything goes wrong.
TIFFs also handle 16.7 million colors, and do so without the data loss found in JPEGs (but TIFFs consequently take up a lot more memory). Not all cameras use TIFF for recording, and in practice you see little, if any, the difference between large, low-compression (fine quality) JPEG files and TIFF files (but you can fit six or seven times more JPEGs on a memory card).
DNG is a universal RAW format (meaning non- proprietary) introduced by Adobe (who supplies a free, regularly updated converter for all RAW formats as a download). Most major camera manufacturers still prefer their own versions of RAW, but DNG is an excellent option, especially if you use multiple cameras. Since it is a RAW format, no data is lost in conversion, and it functions seamlessly with all Adobe imaging products while still allowing you to embed the original RAW file, so that is not lost to you either.
You probably never need to know what the abbreviations stand for, but to impress your friends here they are!
The sun, source of natural light and of life itself, is a potent photographic image, stirring feelings and memories that lie below the level of consciousness. Although its sheer energy and intensity make it difficult to handle, its presence never fails to give vitality to landscapes or seascapes, and its hues varying from white to blood red may decide the whole balance and mood of a color photograph.
Taken directly, in the middle of the day, the sun will burn out a picture, and causing flare or halation. But there are many ways of avoiding this, some of them illustrated here. By photographing the sun when it is rising or setting, obscured by cloud or haze, shining through translucent materials or half-hidden by foreground objects, accurate exposures can be calculated, especially if half-filters, polarizing or neutral-density filters are used. A reading from a weak sun should be taken about 25º off-center. Remember, however, that the light intensity changes rapidly at dawn or sunset. So recheck constantly and vary exposures by one stop either side. Use of a long lens and the inclusion of a distant object, particularly one with a sympathetic shape, will help to show the sun at a suitable size. Unless you are prepared to leave the body of the picture to reproduce as a complete silhouette, it is usually necessary to allow the sun to burn out a little.
Although the sun is the ultimate source of natural illumination, the sky, in its infinite variety of atmospheric moods, is the great mediating influence in all outdoor photographs. Purely as a background, its colors, varying from blood red to the palest shades of blue, can determine whether the atmosphere of a picture is calm or turbulent nous or happy. Depending on whether it is clear or overcast, the sky constantly alters the hues of the world below. And as a subject in its own right, it offers a marvelous range of material as cumulus clouds form and re-form in sculptural shapes, or as cirrus clouds create delicate patterns of light and shade, tone and hue.
The best cloud effects are found at times of change and transition – autumn and spring, at dawn or at dusk, before or after storms – often when most people are still in bed or huddled around fires. In mountainous country, thermals give added interest as wind currents push clouds up and over the peaks. When traveling you should look out for landscape features or buildings that will record well against the sky which can bring alive even the least interesting countryside or dullest stretch of water.
In photographing the sky, either as a substantial part of the background or as the main subject, exposure is often a problem, especially if foreground detail is to be included. A bright sky may need up to four stops less exposure than the land it illuminates. If exposure is calculated for the sky alone the foreground will block up into dense shadow with silhouetted features. Exposure for the foreground, on the other hand, will show the sky as a flat, featureless area of white. Averaging the two-meter readings does not always solve the problem, although an adjustment of the angle of view will help. A better solution is to watch out for reflective surfaces a road, wall, or stretch of water-that will act as a link between sky and ground, reducing the contrast. Partial filters can be used to filter the light from only half the scene and a polarizing filter will darken the sky and increase cloud contrast without creating a color cast.
Autofocus systems are at the heart of the majority of modern cameras. Autofocus solves many problems, and not only for the visually impaired: the best systems can focus more quickly and accurately than even the most experienced combinations of eye and hand. Some autofocus systems can work even where there is no light to see by.
The foundational autofocus system turns the focusing mechanism until focus is found, then alerts the photographer usually with a focus confirmation signal such as a beep or light. In the majority of systems, the shutter is blocked until focus is achieved. One-shot autofocus is obviously most suitable for static subjects, but it can be useful for quick action when you can anticipate the position of your subject you focus just before it reaches the point. The focus point can be held or memorized by the camera, which enables you to use the technique of focusing on one spot, then recomposing the framing for the shot. This method offers a quick way to focus but can introduce errors. If you have the time, manual focusing may produce sharper results.
In order to handle moving subjects, servo systems continually track and adjust focus until just before the of exposure. This can save a lot of work when watching a mobile subject through the lens. The best of modern systems can adjust quickly enough to keep a moving car or person in focus as it approaches the camera far better than the eye can. However, this slows frame rates for sequential shots as the camera is having continually to adjust focus as well as take the shots. Another problem with servo focusing is that if someone passes between lens and subject, the camera will try to focus on that person. With servo autofocusing you cannot hold a focus and adjust the composition, so you must rely on the focusing points offered by the camera; some models give you 45 points to choose from.
WORKING IN THE DARK
Autofocus systems in SLRs and the majority of digital cameras work best in good light with subjects with clear margins and markings; their efficiency falls very rapidly in dim light and low-contrast situations. Some cameras project light patterns into dark situations (from the body or accessory flash) to aid focusing. However, the flashes of light can alert your subjects that you are focusing on them. Other autofocus systems such as those in film using compacts can work in the dark because they send out beams of infrared light to rangefind.
PROS AND CONS
Helpful for those with vision defects, rapid response possible, can track moving objects, can be more accurate than manual focusing.
Tendency to keep focusing spot on the subject rather than frame correctly, may be inaccurate or focus on unintended parts of the subject.
FOR MANY PHOTOGRAPHERS, the idea of walking up to a stranger and asking if they’d pose for a few portraits is totally alien. But once you pluck up the courage to actually do it, you’ll find that most folk are flattered and intrigued. The images you end up with are also likely to be the most memorable; interacting with locals offers an insight into lives and cultures that could so easily be missed-you may even make new friends!
Successful travel portraiture largely hinges on treating your subjects with kindness and respect. Local people aren’t tourist attractions in their country any more than you are in yours how would you feel if someone thrust a camera in your face as you walked to the shops or started shooting candids of you from across the street. If you see a person you think would make a good subject, ask permission. You don’t have to get involved in lengthy discussion or need to speak the language if you point at your camera and say, “Photo? most people will understand. If they decline, say, “Okay, no problem,” and walk away. Some people feel uncomfortable about it; others may object on religious or cultural grounds. By asking permission, you can establish this before anyone gets upset and you’re left feeling embarrassed. If your subject is happy to be photographed, instead of grabbing a few snaps then scuttling away, take control. The quality of light is crucial. If your subject is in full sun, you won’t produce pleasing images. If they have dark skin, contrast is likely to be an issue, too. The solution is to find soft light, and the best place for that is in the shade, so have a quick look around and ask your subject if they’d mind moving. Most folks are incredibly cooperative.
Although you don’t want to take up too much of your subject’s time, try to avoid the urge to rush. Take a few shots, check them on the preview screen to make sure everything is okay focusing, exposure, composition, light show them to your subject to break the ice, then take some more and keep going until you’ve got a winning shot. At the same time, don’t mess about: have everything before you ask to make the most of your time with them. Your subject may be nervous, but if you chat to them as you’re shooting, they’ll soon lighten up and you’ll capture more natural expressions. Even smiling and saying happy to them may do the trick if they’re looking miserable though avoid the temptation to always take smiley portraits as more serious expressions tend to be more powerful. Make sure you focus on the subject’s eyes as they need to be sharp (zoom in to the image on the preview screen to check) and if the background is cluttered, use a wide aperture of f/4 or wider to throw it out of focus.
It can be tempting to take conventional headshots, and this approach can certainly work well with people who have faces full of character, but the environment they’re in can also add interest, so don’t be afraid to step back or switch to a wider focal length to include it. Better still, take a range of shots, both tight and wide, if you can.
Focal lengths from 80-200mm are ideal as you can fill the frame from a comfortable distance and throw the background out of focus at wide apertures. The foreshortening of perspective flatters facial features, too especially around the80mm to 135mm range. A 35-50mm standard lens is also perfect for travel portraits, especially those in low light, as it’s lightweight, sharp and has a fast maximum aperture. With DSLRs using APS-C sensors, the effective focal length is around 75mm. For environmental portraits, use a standard or wide-angle zoom to include your subject’s surroundings. If you do want to capture some candid portraits without the subject knowing, ditch the long lens as it’s too intrusive and opt for a wide-angle. Get low to the ground and use the LCD monitor or a right-angle finder to photograph the scene. A wide-angle lens is more discreet as you don’t have to point it directly at your subject, plus it means you can capture any atmosphere in the scene, too
Whether or not you reward your subject for their cooperation will depend mainly on them. In touristy areas of many countries, payment will be expected and that fact will be made obvious before you start shooting. But that’s not always the case, so don’t automatically offer money, and if payment is expected, keep the sum sensible the equivalent of $0.50 to $1 is usually sufficient. Bear in mind, westerners are much more savvy about money than those in the east, and you may even find they approach you for photographs to make money.
Once home, you may wonder, ‘Okay, I’ve got all these great portraits, but what on earth am I going to do with them?’ Well, for a start, you could make a few prints and post them to your subjects as a thank you’. Few people in the developing world have email or internet access, but it’s easy to send prints by ‘snail mail and that gesture will be massively appreciated. Like we said before, you could also enter the images into competitions, post them on image-sharing websites, maybe create a Blurb book of travel portraits, or post them on your website and blog if you have one. Good travel portraits can be highly saleable through picture libraries, but most libraries will only accept people shots with a signed model release from your subjects, and expecting a stranger to sign a contract that they probably don’t understand, moments after meeting them, is rather a big ask.
The ISO rating is a term used in film-based photography to denote the film’s sensitivity to light: The higher the number, the less light needed to get the correct exposure. Even though no film is used in digital cameras, and therefore the underlying mechanisms for determining sensitivity are vastly different, the same terminology has been adopted because people are familiar with the concept. The same ISO numbers are used in digital as in film – 100, 200, 400, 800, and so on. As with a film camera, you can use the ISO setting on your digital camera to make it react with more or less sensitivity to light. But, unlike film, where you have to shoot the whole roll at the same setting, you can adjust the controls from one shot to the next with digital to suit different lighting conditions.
In low-light conditions or to capture fast-moving action, set the ISO to a higher number (400 or more). On bright, sunny days or in snow, set a lower number (200 or less). If you want to be sure of capturing every bit of t detail, use the lowest ISO setting for conditions. You can also adjust the brightness or darkness of the picture by using the camera’s exposure compensation button.
In good light, use an ISO setting as low as possible (e.g. ISO 100 to insure optimal image quality.
Your eyes adjust to low light, but cameras need a bit of help. Set the ISO to a higher speed if you don’t mind shots that can look grainy, thanks to noise. However, I usually try to keep a low ISO and use a tripod, or at least hold the camera against a wall or on the back of a bench-anything to reduce camera shake at low shutter speed.
Many cameras offer both a viewfinder and an LCD, but some only have one or the other and it can be quite daunting for a beginner in photography to decide which one is better suited for you. Viewfinders can be either optical or electronic (known as “EVF”). A viewfinder only works when you hold your eye up to it. Most people use the LCD when possible because it seems so natural to do. And some cameras do not even have viewfinders. Why would you want to buy or use a viewfinder rather than an LCD? There are some distinct advantages to both. Knowing the possibilities of a viewfinder can help you pick and use your camera better.
Use the Viewfinder in Bright Light
LCDs can be hard to see in bright light, especially when there are bright subjects that you are photographing. Because an optical or electronic viewfinder limits extraneous light and your head blocks more light, both allow you to see the subject better for framing in those conditions. It also more sturdy as you are required to gentling press the viewfinder against your brow-bone(not your greasy nose!).
Use the LCD InsideThe LCD is ideal for shooting indoors. It has a consistent brightness, even if the light is low, which makes it easier to use than a viewfinder in those conditions. Of course, it is also much bigger to view, but because you have to hold the camera away from you in order to see it, it also means that it is not the most sturdy way of shooting, especially when slow shutter speed is being used.
Use the Viewfinder for Moving SubjectsMovement can be hard to follow with an LCD held away from your face. This is where a viewfinder comes in handy You have to have the camera up to your eyes to use a viewfinder. This makes it easier to follow movement (the camera simply follows your gaze and distracting movement around the camera and LCD is blocked from view and not seen. Optical viewfinders are especially good for action.
Use the LCD for Close Shooting
Shooting from an extremely low or high angle sometimes can be uncomfortable viewing through the viewfinder. Using the LCD can be helpful, some cameras offer a flip LCD screen which makes it very easy and convenient when shooting in such awkward position.
SET UP YOUR LCD FOR OPTIMUM USE
The LCD on a digital camera is a wonderful invention. It gives you an accurate view of your subject so that you see exactly what you are going to in your photograph. But in order to get the most from your LCD, you need to use the camera’s menus to make some choices about how it works. You want to be sure it is helping you, not holding you back Here are some tips in setting up your camera for the best use of your LCD.
After you take the picture, the actual image shows up on most LCDs. This image review gives you a quick look at what your photo looks like. For example, you can quickly look to see that it is sharp and that your subject’s eyes are open. You know immediately if you need to make changes to your photography.
Set Review Time
On most cameras you can set review time between about 2 and IO seconds in the camera or setup menus. Short times are not of much value because you really cannot evaluate much of what is in the picture. Try 8 to 10 seconds. Once you have seen enough, press the shutter release lightly and the review goes away. If the time is too short, simply press your playback button for a longer view.
Most digital cameras today automatically rotate a vertical picture so that it shows up vertically in the LCD when you hold the camera horizontally. Unfortunately, a vertical picture does not fill the horizontal space and uses the inefficiently. You can get the most from your LCD and get the largest picture possible if you set the camera so that it does not auto- rotate vertical pictures. The Auto Rotate setting is usually in the playback or setup menus.
Camera Sleep Time (Auto Power Down)
A frustrating thing for digital photographers is to try to take a picture and find that your camera has gone to sleep. Most digital cameras have the auto power down time set too early. This option is usually in the setup menu and a good setting would be 2 to 4 minutes for most people. You can set this time longer but then you could be using your battery more than you want to.
If you are looking to buy a new camera, especially for the first-timers, this is often a mind bothering question, “how many megapixels do I need in a camera?” Well, don’t worry in this post we promise you will feel more confident in your purchase.
A pixel is a single element of brightness that makes up a digital picture, and a megapixel (MP) is equivalent to one million pixels. We have already discussed (previous post) that a photosite on a sensor has become an equivalent term of pixel, even though they are not technically the same thing. But even camera manufacturers refer to the resolution of a sensor in terms of pixel quantity; so we will in this discussion as well.
When digital cameras first appeared, they often contained sensors that had fewer than 100,000 pixels and generally produced jagged images that looked as if they were made of blocks. We have now progressed to the point where even the most basic cameras (including those in mobile phones) have at least 5-6 million pixels, and that number is rising. The size of an image file (in megabytes, (MB) is related to the number of pixels used to record it: More pixels means bigger image files. In theory, more pixels also means sharper pictures; but squashing more and more of these photosites onto the same tiny sensor does not improve the picture quality and brings other problems such as increased noise.
To decide how many megapixels you need, think about how you are going to use the images. If you simply want to email them to friends or display your pictures on your computer monitor or a website, then you don’t need a particularly large file size or high-resolution (high pixel count) images: A file compressed to a size of 1MB or less is completely adequate. If you are posting your photos on Instagram, Facebook and other social media and mainly viewing on mobile phone screen size, you guess it right, you won’t need more than 1 MB. However, if you want images that can serve for making good-quality, standard- sized prints, you will want larger files that must be saved at higher resolutions. And for even bigger prints, as large 12x 16 inches (A3: 305 x 405 mm), you will want even larger files recorded with at least an 8MP sensor or higher. You can always make files smaller without losing picture quality using image-processing software; but you have to interpolate to make files bigger, and that can lead to loss of image quality.
Also bear in mind the RAM and storage capacity of your computer, because large, high-resolution files car be slow to download and process while taking of up a lot memory. It is worth saving images on DVD to store and back them up.
If you think you may want to make large prints, then set the highest resolution on your camera as this captures the fine detail you will need. For snapshots, use medium JPEG or even small JPEG.
For more basic photography tips look out for our next post.
Look at any picture in the magazine with a magnifying glass and you will see a mosaic of tiny colored dots arranged in a pattern. These are the building blocks of the image that our eyes merge into a picture. With the digital image, the “blocks” are pixels-tiny colored squares that make a continuous picture when they are packed together. You can see pixels in a digital picture when you magnify the image to a large size on your computer screen. Notice that each pixel has both color and brightness. Generally, more pixels means finer recorded detail and the ability to make larger prints.
Strictly speaking, pixels refer to the building blocks that make up a picture-but people often use the term when they mean the photosites on a sensor, too. Each site produces information for one pixel-but the final image is created by the camera software. When you buy a camera, check the camera’s specifications in its manual to find how many “effective” pixels it contains (usually given in mega or millions-pixels: MP). This is very close to the number of photosites on the sensor and is referred to as the sensor’s resolution. Most people buying a digital camera assume (mistakenly) that more is best. Image quality will depend on a number of factors other than quantity of pixels: It is also related to the size of the photosites and how closely they are packed together, the processing used by the camera, and the optics in front of the sensor.
Pixels- image building blocks
To your eye, the pixels that make up the image of the street of Havana are smoothed out when there are enough of them (top)- but as you enlarge it (bottom), the image breaks up into blocks of color.
Whether you own a film camera and a digital camera, they both essentially are light-tight boxes. There is a lens at one end that gathers the light and focuses it on a sensitive surface at the other end, thereby reproducing an image. In the past, film provided the sensitive material, and today in a digital camera, the sensitive surface is a sensor, most commonly a CCD or CMOS type, that has millions of tiny photosites arranged on it in a regular pattern known as the sensor array. All cameras have some way of controlling the amount of light coming in, either through a hole (the iris) that can be set to different sizes (the aperture), or by exposing the sensor for a specified period of time controlled by the shutter speed.
On the sensor, each photosite in the array is, in effect, tiny light meter that produces an electrical signal. The strength of the signal depends on the amount of light falling on the site. This makes it sensitive to brightness. To introduce color sensitivity, each site is covered with a red, green, or blue filter and thus responds to just one of the primary colors. In most digital cameras, these colored filters are arranged in what is called a Bayer pattern, which has two green-sensitive filters to every red or blue sensor (our eyes are most sensitive to green).
The electrical impulses from each photosite are digitized and processed by the camera to give a brightness and appropriate color that appears on screen as a “pixel”. The pixels make up the image file, which is written into the camera’s memory.
To get the clearest, most faithful color image on the screen, the camera software takes information from neighboring pixels and processes that, too. This is known as interpolation (see jargon buster). Things are not quite as simple as one photosite being equivalent to one pixel- although in better cameras the number of photosites and the number of pixels produced are roughly the same.
• Aperture – the hole in the lens through which the light passes, traditionally measured as a scale of f/numbers. (The bigger the number, the smaller the aperture.)
• Exposure – getting the right amount of light onto the sensor. Exposure is controlled by the speed of the shutter and the size of the lens aperture.
• Interpolation – the clever guesswork performed by the camera software for creating extra pixels by taking the brightness and color values from adjacent sensor cells.
• Photosite – an individual light-sensitive cell on the sensor.
Pixel–a single block of information from which a digital image is made.
• Sensor array – the collection of light-sensitive cells that generates the pixel. The sensor array is sensitive to variations in color and brightness.