But first, a “fable”
about the importance of
having an expensive,
high-end camera. . . .
Author Jack London reportedly
complimented San Francisco photo-
grapher Arnold Genthe on his images:
“You must have a wonderful camera. It
must be the best camera in the world.
You must show me your camera.quot;
Genthe’s response: “I have read
your books, Jack, and I think they are
important works of art. You must have
a wonderful typewriter.quot;
Here are some ideas on
how to use your camera:
#1 Take your camera with
you wherever you go.
#2 Take advantage of the
benefits of digital cameras. . . .
The Hall of Deleted Images has unlimited vacancies. (The
hall, inhabited by out-of-focus, silhouetted, half-headed, and
otherwise poorly photographed guests, was featured in an old
HP digital camera ad that emphasized what is perhaps the
greatest advantage of digital over film photography:
consequence-free shutter tripping.)
Your camera probably has a feature called “burst mode” or
“continuous mode”. (You may find it as an option on your
“drive” menu.) It allows your camera to shoot several frames
with one press of the shutter. (You may be able to take a set
number of frames each time, or you may be able to take
photos as long as you press down the shutter—at least until
your memory card is full.) With this feature selected, you
should always have at least one group shot with no one’s eyes
In certain cases, you may be able to use your digital camera
and computer to imitate primitive flip-book animation by
including a sequence of two or more continuous shots in a
slide show. The two photos below, for example, would spice
things up a bit as the student’s gaze shifts directly to the
viewer. (To add movement to your slideshow—zooming in and
out, panning across the photo—you can download Microsoft
Photostory for free. It’s really easy to use and adds a lot to
So never go
out your camera,
and remember the
concluding text of
the HP com-
“Shoot fearlessly. Delete easily. Everything is possible.”
#3 Frame your
photographs as you
press the shutter. . . .
If you’re taking people pictures and you want to
find a suitable background that is not distracting and
that also serves to frame your subjects, you don’t
have to look very far: windows and doorframes
provide effective and natural backdrops.
This works best when there is no interior source of
light behind your subject. If there is a window on the
back wall, for example, it would be better to move
yourself to a position where
it is no longer visible. That’s
it—simple, but effective. A
smaller window or a
narrower doorframe allows
It’s not often
that you’ll find a
window with the
as your photo, but
with a photo
editing program you can clone the
edges of the window frame and move
them to where you want them, as I did
in this photo of two students.
#4 Direct the viewer’s
attention where you want
it to go. . . .
One way to focus attention on what is important is to adjust the
photo’s exposure (i.e., the length of time the shutter stays open).
Usually, your camera can automatically determine the proper
exposure, but sometimes the camera can be fooled, and sometimes a
more effective photo can result in not using the automatic setting. The
camera can be fooled, for example, if your subject is surrounded by
bright light. Taking an indoor snapshot of a person in front of a window
usually results in a silhouette , since the camera attaches as much
significance to the light outside of the window as it does to the light
falling upon your subject’s face. Sometimes you have to let your
camera know which amount of light it should pay attention to.
Most cameras have different metering options. The easiest setting
(besides “automatic”) is “spot metering”. In the same way that you can
set your focus on one point in your viewfinder, spot metering allows
you to set the exposure according to the specific amount of light falling
upon your subject. In some situations, spot metering can result
in a much more dramatic photo.
These photos are from the Jinsha Museum in Sichuan. If
you had a 3,000 year old gold disc, you’d probably put it on a
pedestal too, maybe even a revolving one, and that’s what they
did at Jinsha. These two photos are slightly edited, but with
the same tools, and with more time spent on the top one.
Basically, the only difference is
in the exposure setting: automatic
vs. spot metering. Of course if you
want to emphasize the security
around the disc, you’ll want to use
the top one. If, however, you want
to focus your viewer’s attention
upon the gold disc itself, the lower
one is certainly more effective.
Selecting spot metering does not always result
in such a drastic difference, but in this situation
the amount of light focussed upon the disc was so
much greater than the light in the rest of the room
that properly exposing the room resulted in a
greatly over-exposed disc. The exposure time for
the #1 was one-third of a second. For #2, 1/100th
of a second. This photo
comes from #2. A
much more straight-
forward way to
focus your viewer’s
attention where you
want it is to crop
As you can see here, even less
than glamourous subjects can
benefit from dramatic lighting.
Don’t try this with a film camera!
Don’t try this with a film National Geographic magazine
camera! National Geo- photographers shoot “up to a
graphic magazine thousand rolls of film per assign-
ment”. The ten to twenty photos
photographers featured in an article may be
shoot “up to a thousand the best out of up to 36000
rolls of film per assignment”. possibilities. That’s a youof film.
With a digital camera
The ten to twenty photos as snap-happy as a NG photo-
featured in an article may be grapher virtually cost-free—
especially if you use rechargeable batteries.
the best out to fill up to memory card and run down your batteries is to
One fun way of up your
36000 options. video camera, panning means following a moving
try panning. With a
subject. In photography, panning means pushing the shutter while you follow
That’s a lot of film, but
a moving subject with your camera. The (ideal) result will be that your
with a is in sharpcamera, you moving along with the camera, and the
subject digital focus, since it is can
be as snap-happy as a NG is conveniently blurred. You often see
unimportant, non-moving background
these kinds of shots in magazines, and it’s pretty much impossible to get this
photographer, You have to do it on purpose, and even then, you may
result by accident. virtually
cost-free. several shots (i.e., 36000) to get it right.
have to take
One way to fill up your memory card and run down
your batteries is to try panning. With a video camera,
panning means following a moving subject. In
photography, panning means pushing the shutter
while you follow a moving subject with your camera.
The (ideal) result will be that your moving subject is in
sharp focus, since it is moving with the camera, and
the unimportant, non-moving background is blurred.
You often see these kinds of images in magazines,
and it’s pretty much impossible to get this result by
accident—you have to do it on purpose, and even
then, you may have to take several shots (i.e., 36000)
to get it right.
To do this: first of all, find a place where you have someone or something
going past you repeatedly—at about the same speed and distance each
time. The subject should be moving across your field of vision,. The effect is
most pronounced when, for example, you are at the base of a “T” and the
subject moves across the top stroke.
The second step is to adjust your shutter speed. If you use the automatic
setting, there will probably be little blurring, because the shutter speed will be
too fast. You can slow the shutter down in two ways. If you have a “night
scene” setting, you can try that. Your camera will automatically set a slower
shutter speed. That setting may not be the best : a more versatile method, if
you have the option, is to use the TV setting (aka, shutter-speed priority).
This allows you to manually set the shutter speed. (And this is why you don’t
want to try this with a film camera. First, it takes a while to get it right, and
second, even if you do get it right, you don’t know that you have it right until
you get the prints back.) To take the photo, choose the position where you
actually want the subject to be in the photo, and then start tracking the
subject well before it reaches that point. As you pan across, press the
shutter when the subject reaches your predetermined spot, and then follow
through as the subject recedes into the distance. The only movement should
be in the direction the subject is moving. This is important to keep the
subject in sharp focus.
The example on the previous slide is a detail from a
photo of my daughter on the day she discovered
waterslides. I probably took thirty or so less successful
shots, cutting off her head or feet, or ending up with a
blurry face, but this one worked. The example here was,
I admit, a complete fluke. I had ridden past this tricycle
and wanted to take a shot, but the grandfather was
pedalling his tricycle a lot quicker than I thought he was—
I had just finished lowering the shutter speed and they
were right there—I only had
time for one attempt.
FYI, the shutter speed on
the waterslide photo was
1/160, and the other was at
1/30th of a second.
Give it a try when the op-
portunity presents itself, but
don’t try it with a film camera.