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." Genthe’s response: “I have read your books, Jack, and I think they are important works of art. You must have a wonderful typewriter."
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 closed. 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 your presentation.) So never go anywhere without your camera, and remember the concluding text of the HP commercial: “ 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 serve as effective and natural backdrops when you take photos of people. 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. Of course a smaller window or a narrow doorframe allows for close-ups. It ’ s not often that you ’ ll find a window that is the same proportions as your photo, but with a photo editing program you can clone the edges of the window frame to appear where you want them, as I did in the top photo of the 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. I f 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 1 same tools, and with more time actually spent on #1. Basically, the only difference is in the exposure setting: auto- 2 matic 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, 1/100 th of a second. Photo #3 comes from #2. A much more straightforward way to focus your viewer’s attention where you want it is to crop off unnecessary elements of the photo. As you can see in photo #4, even less than glamourous subjects benefit from dramatic lighting. 3 4
Don’t try this with a film camera! National Geographic magazine photographers shoot “up to a thousand rolls of film per assign- ment”. The ten to twenty photos featured in an article may be the best out of up to 36000 possibilities. That’s a lot of film. With a digital camera you can be as snap-happy as a NG photo- grapher virtually cost-free— especially if you use rechargeable batteries. One fun 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 subject is in sharp focus, since it is moving along with the camera, and the unimportant, non-moving background is conveniently blurred. You often see these kinds of shots 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. Don’t try this with a film camera! National Geographic magazine photographers shoot “up to a thousand rolls of film per assignment”. The ten to twenty photos featured in an article may be the best out of up to 36000 options. That’s a lot of film, but with a digital camera, you can be as snap-happy as a NG photographer virtually cost-free. 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 head 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 1/30. So give it a try when the opportunity presents itself, but don’t try it with a film camera.