Thanks for joining. I’m Carlene Cox, one of GateHouse News & Interactive’s content team managers. Here is “Photography for Reporters.”
Our agenda for today. We’ll be going over our Five tips for good photography. Composition and strategy. Portrait photography. And for those of you who are working with better cameras, beginner tips for SLRs.
OK – we’ll start with volume. Maybe the best way to become a better photographer is to shoot a ton. Professional photographers often come away from a shoot with hundreds of photos – it’s not like the old days where you’d be wasting film on bad shots. Some of you might not even know what film looks like. So experiment using different angles, different depths of field. Get close, then get some shots with background. If you want to really focus on shooting, get your reporting and interviewing done first, then concentrate with just your camera.
Here’s a quick tip from Scott Heckel, award-winning photo journalist with the Canton Repository in Ohio. “ If a group picture is being taken, take as many frames as people there are in the group. Yup, people blink that often.”
Camera stabilization. Unwanted motion blur can ruin your shot, so you want your camera as still as possible. If you are in low light and are not shooting with a flash, try to anchor your camera somehow. Trust me, your hands are not as steady as you think. In low light, back yourself up against a wall and pull your camera in tight, resting your arms against your body. You can use objects in your environment – a fence, table, car hood. Whatever’s available. You can also get a cheap but functional monopod for $15.
Here’s a quote from Dominic Genetti, who’s a reporter but shoots a lot of photo and video for the Hannibal Courier-Post in Missouri. “ I know what some folks may think, ‘What's the point of a little camera on a big tri-pod?’ Well, yes, it looks odd, but your viewers and critics will thank you.”
Lighting. A lot of the time, the lighting will not be in your control. But if you can, plan to shoot in good conditions. Avoid indoor, fluorescent lighting if at all possible. It leads to yellow-y pictures. Direct, overhead sunlight is really harsh and can create bad shadows. Sunlight in the morning or late afternoon is more flattering.
Again, here’s Scott Heckel with some advice. “ If light is really bad, take a subject by a window and have the light coming at 90 or 45 degrees to them. Never place a window in the background unless you are looking for a silhouette effect.”
On to timing. Pick the right moment. You want to avoid obvious, cliché shots. So shoot after the official event, when people are interacting with each other. That said, everyone at the event will be expecting that staged shot – so sometimes it’s good just to shoot it, and make people happy. Staged shots have a time and a place – they make great “Seen on Scene” galleries. People enjoy looking at themselves on our websites, so if you’re at an event like a check passing and can bang out a “Seen on Scene” – do that. But then get some candid shots to go along with your story.
Conversation. If you’ve ever been on an assignment with a good professional photographer, you may have noticed that they tend to ask more questions than reporters. Chat with the people you’re shooting, do your reporting with the camera out of sight. Once they’re comfortable and at ease - and you’ve got your story - then break out the camera.
OK, so now we’re going to move on to composition and strategy. Here, we’ll be focusing on how to add layers to your shots, the rule of thirds, pointers on when to use a flash, and we’ll talk about moving around to get the best possible shots.
Adding layers to your photos. Some photos are going to be real tight on your subject, but others you may want to show some background to help tell the story. Paying attention to the layers in a shot – the foreground, middleground and background – can help give dimension to your photo and allow you to highlight some details in your shot. However, you should watch for distracting elements that will divert your audience’s attention.
Scott is really big on layers, and here’s what he had to say about foreground, middleground and background. “ Try to fill the frame and place as much information within that frame as possible. With each additional plane used, the picture becomes more dynamic.”
So here’s a a good example of using foreground, middleground and background.
And notice your subject doesn’t always have to be in the foreground. In this shot, the girl in front is out of focus.
You can apply this in every-day news situations as well to give context or location.
Rule of thirds – probably the best known and most basic rule of thumb for photographers. When you’re taking a photo, break your view into thirds both vertically and horizontally. You want to arrange points of interest at the intersection of those lines, or along the lines. If you’re shooting a close-up of someone, try to get their eyes in an intersection. If it’s a head to toe shot, align their body with one of the lines. If you’re shooting a landscape, position the horizon along one of the lines.
And here are some examples I stole from the Internet. You’ll notice that, in all of these, the subject is off-center.
The lone cowboy.
So you get the idea.
Using a flash. The best advice for using a flash? Don’t use it unless you have to. Using a flash in dark situations can result in washed-out shots with bad shadows. Try shooting without a flash first. If you must use a flash, shoot your subject away from a background, like walls or large objects. If you’re feeling experimental, try using your flash in the daylight. Using a flash even when your light is good can decrease shadows and result in brighter colors – photographers call this a “fill-in flash.”
Here’s an example of where a flash would have ruined a great picture. The shadows actually add to it here.
Same thing here. A harsh flash would have completely changed the tone and ruined the intimacy of this photo.
And here’s just another example. If you absolutely need to use a flash, you can create a fake diffuser to soften your flash – try putting an index card in front of your flash before you shoot. If you want to get real fancy, cut a square out of a plastic milk jug and put that in front. A diffuser will soften the flash without eliminating it completely.
Make sure you are moving around. This is probably the most important slide in the presentation. Shooting a scene from a different perspective can lead to more creative, engaging shots. Show your audience a different angle than what they’re used to. Get low to the ground and shoot up. Or try holding the camera above your head. Check your shots by reviewing them on your camera, to make sure you’re in focus.
So here, the photographer knelt down on the track to get this shot.
This looks like the photographer was actually laying on the ground.
You can also shoot straight down, like this very obvious example.
Also really important, this one. Get close. Do not be a stranger. A good rule of thumb is, take a photo, take a big step forward and shoot again – I guarantee most times you’ll go with the closer shot. It can be awkward. You are crowding up close to people you do not know and shoving a camera in their face. You can tell them, “I’m going to be getting in close here.” And be aware of your background. Sometimes you’ll want background to help tell the story, but sometimes you want your subject to dominate the frame.
Here is an example of boring moss
Getting closer can make even the most boring moss a work of art.
Here’s the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, as every single tourist has ever shot it – including the random man in kapris.
Closer in, we get better detail, better color.
OK, any questions so far?
Now we’ll talk a little about portraits. Hopefully most of the stuff you’re shooting is real, candid photojournalism – but you’ll probably be shooting some portraits here and there, too. When you’re shooting a portrait, be creative and plan before you get there. Don’t just show up without an idea of what you want. Use props if they make sense. Ask your subject for ideas. When you get there, make your subject comfortable through conversation. And just a suggestion to focus on the person’s eyes – you’ll capture more emotion that way.
And here are some examples. This one uses some creative lighting. Notice there’s no flash.
Sometimes the best portraits are the ones that are super close, tight around the face.
And I know we shoot a lot of sportraits. Here’s one using some cool lighting and a ball as a prop.
Don’t be afraid to coach your subjects. Get them talking, telling their story. They don’t necessarily have to look at the camera, and you can include some background to explain who this person is.
Any questions about portraits? OK, now we’re going to move into a little more advanced territory. For people shooting with just a little point-and-shoot, this stuff won’t really apply. It’s for those lucky enough to have a digital SLR.
These are just some basic strategies if you have access to a decent digital SLR camera and want to abandon the “automatic” settings. The best place to start is probably with the exposure triangle – these three components dictate how light interacts with your camera while you’re shooting. You’ve got aperture, which is the size of the opening in the lens. Shutter speed, which is how long the shutter remains open. And there’s ISO, which measures light sensitivity.
Aperture. This is the size of the opening in the lens when you take a picture. Aperture is measured in “F-stops’ which is why you hear photographers making bad jokes like “The F stops here.” Low-numbered F stops have wide apertures and let in more light. Higher-numbered F stops have narrower apertures and let in less light. So a wide aperture, like an f-2.8, will let in more light than a narrow aperture, like an f-16.
Aperture is going to affect your depth of field, or the amount of your shot that you want in focus. So here’s an example showing different aperture. On the left, the narrow aperture (an f-22) allows more depth of field, and more of the frame is in focus. On the right, the wide aperture (an f-2.8) allows less depth of field, and only a portion of the frame is in focus. If you’re shooting a landscape, you want a narrow aperture – because you want most of your shot in focus. If you’re really trying to spotlight your subject, you want a wide aperture – with your subject in sharp focus and the rest of the frame out of focus.
Shutter speed. This is the length of time your shutter is open when you’re taking a photo. It’s measured in seconds, or rather, fractions of seconds. Essentially, the shutter speed affects how you capture movement.
When adjusting your shutter speed, you need to ask yourself how you want your subject to look. If you want a clean, sharp image of something or someone in motion, you’ll want to use a high shutter speed. If you’re looking for a bit of motion blur, you’ll shoot a lower speed. In general, you’ll probably be at or around 1/250 th of a second. So on the left here, it’s a fast shutter speed (one-four-thousandths of a second) – so you get a nice, crisp shot. On the right, it’s a slower shutter speed (one-thirtieth of a second) – so you get motion blur.
And last we have ISO. Your ISO is how sensitive your camera is to light – in other words, how large or fine your grain will be. ISO is measured in speeds, 100, 200, etc. A low number indicates a low sensitivity and a fine grain. A high number indicates a high sensitivity and a larger grain.
When you’re shooting in normal light situations, you’ll want to use low ISO. A 200 ISO is pretty normal and should give you crisp shots in normal light. You’ll use high ISO when the light is poor and a flash is not appropriate or would result in bad photos. So, indoor sports, concerts, shooting at night. When shooting in low light, increasing ISO makes shots brighter. But you have to be careful, because high ISOs can also result in noisy or grainy shots. There are some extreme instances, with very challenging light situations – like, a police incident in a rural setting with no street lighting or a candlelight vigil – where you might need to sacrifice quality just to get an image, using a high ISO. So with this example, the light was decent to begin with. The shot on the left is an ISO 100, and it’s nice and crisp. The shot on the right is a bit brighter, but the quality has been sacrificed.
OK – so that was a lot to go over. Here are the three things I think are the most crucial takeaway’s from our presentation today. Move around. Take a ton of shots. And use the rule of thirds. Just doing these three things is going to improve your photography, and you can build on your skills from there.
And that’s all I had for today. Are there any questions?
AgendaFive tips for good photographyComposition and strategyPortrait photographyBeginner tips for SLR users
(1) VolumeThis isn’t filmExperiment with angles, depthPre-edit on cameraGet reporting done first
(1) Volume“If a group picture is being taken, take as manyframes as people there are in the group.Yup, people blink that often.”— Scott Heckel, Canton Repository
(2) StabilizationKeep your camera stillYour bodyObjects in your environmentCheap monopod
(2) Stabilization“I know what some folks may think, ‘Whats the pointof a little camera on a big tri-pod?’Well, yes, it looks odd, but your viewers and critics willthank you.”Dominic Genetti—Hannibal Courier-Post
(3) LightingPlan to shoot in good conditionsAvoid indoor lightsHarsh, direct light creates bad shadowsMorning, late afternoon light is flattering
(3) Lighting“If light is really bad, take a subject by a window and have thelight coming at 90 or 45 degrees to them.Never place a window in the background unless you arelooking for a silhouette effect.”— Scott Heckel, Canton Repository
(4) TimingAvoid the obviousCapture shots after the official eventStaged shots should be used for “Seen on Scene” galleriesCandid shots tell a better story(yuck)
(5) ConversationMake your subjects comfortableAsk questions, do reporting firstKeep the camera out of sightWhen at ease, break it out
Composition, strategyLayersRule of thirdsUsing a flashMoving around
LayersForeground, middleground, backgroundGives dimension to your photoDetails can tell the storyAvoid distracting elements
Layers“Try to fill the frame andplace as much informationwithin that frame aspossible.With each additional planeused, the picture becomesmore dynamic.”— Scott Heckel,Canton Repository