Basic Photography Concepts

Over the many years of taking photographs, I have come across many different ways of taking pictures and what make up the best basic concepts. I want to make the pictures “snap” with color, clarity, and vibrancy. To be able to share these techniques to further the abilities of myself and others to reach new heights and ambitions is a top priority. This is in concert with the philosophy to build a network of support with people from all around the world.

The philosophies here at the site are:

  1. simplicity
  2. clear understanding
  3. uplifting communication

The principles are important in everyday life and business. I want to carry them on here on the site.

Techniques

Some very important techniques that can make or break a photo:

  • Focused photo with Shutter Speed/Aperture
  • White Balance
  • Noise reduction and ISO settings
  • Contrast
  • Subject selection
  • Framing
  • Histogram alignment (which is a combination of results from the above items)
  • Focused photo with auto/manual lens focus

Focused photo with Shutter Speed/Aperture

As a rule, the shutter speed should always be no less than double your focal length. If you are using an 18-70 mm lens, regardless of what your ISO or aperature setting is, the shutter speed should be no less than 1/36th through 1/140th. Any camera shake by holding the camera will disappear. The aperature change will only effect depth of focus, and this won’t really matter, especially if you don’t have a photo that’s in focus or has the action stopped.

If your creative choice is to create a blurry action photo, then reduce the shutter stop to your liking, maybe no more than half (1/18th through 1/70th). But these settings will drastically effect the “shake” of the picture especially when you are holing the camera by hand. In order to achieve “no shake” at lower shutter speeds, use a lens that has a shake/vibration reduction technology or use a monopod or tripod.

Adjust the aperature for the depth of focus. Adjust the ISO for lighting and stop action. And always remember that the shutter speed is critical to the focus and clarity of the photograph.

As an example … for a concert event, with my D300 and the 70-200 VR lens, I will put the camera on the following settings: manual, ISO 1600, Aperature: 2.8, Shutter: 1/320th, VR: on.

Because of different conditions … I am moving so fast, the subject is moving, the lighting is changing … these settings will generally produce great photos, even though the noise will be high, I’ll take care of that later. Any difference in settings might  be that I use the Aperature priority setting at 2.8, let the Shutter adjust automatically, knowing that if I get too much low light, I won’t get a clear photo. Another will be to be on Shutter priority at 1/320th knowing that under lower light conditions, it will be clear, but underexposed. Oh well, that’s OK. I’m not generally there for artistic settings like that. Just good clear, average light photographs.

White Balance

White balance is a concept about the color of light in a photograph. When you take a photograph in the sun, you want a white t-shirt to look white. When you take a photograph indoors with other light (not from the sun) you want the same t-shirt to look white. But because the camera cannot tell the difference (exactly) between the two light sources, like your eye can, it will appear differently.

Many new cameras come with an Auto White Balance setting. This will take care of mose occaisions and helps out the novice photographer. Hopefully, after reading this article, you will be more than a novice and capture this most important concept and be able to use it immediately. Along with the skill to capture a photo that’s in focus, this skill of choosing the right white balance setting is right up there at the top.

Noise reduction and ISO settings

This subject is probably the most technical, but it can effect the entire artistic process to its core.

Noise appears in a photo from using high ISO settings. Noise reduction is the skill to minimize the noise through correct technical settings, or post-production work. The settings above 800 ISO in new digital cameras produces spots, or a grainy appearance where there are dark areas of the photo. Most new digital cameras can be set above 800 ISO; but they also come with newer technology that helps to reduce the ISO. It’s important to point out that film cameras don’t have problems with grainy noise until going above 3200 ISO. The point of this segment is to discuss it so you know it exists. Knowing that it’s there and accounting for it at either pre-picture or post-production can help turn a lousy photo into a great one.

Your ISO setting is critical in different situations. It takes practice to know what setting to use, but I will give some easy pointers.

  1. Lower ISO settings (50-400) are less sensitive to light; this means more light is required to expose the photo, this is satisfied by being outdoors or being under very bright lights indoors.
    • Produces a better quality picture (low noise)
    • Best suited for low action and lot’s of light
    • Requires a higher aperture and shutter speed if stop action is required
  2. Higher ISO settings (800-3200+) are more sensitive to light; this means less light is required to expose the photo, this can occur indoors and in subdued events (weddings, sunsets, sunrise, etc) and other low light conditions.
    • Produces a lesser quality picture (high noise)
    • Best suited for high action shots and when low light conditions exist
    • May need a higher aperture and shutter speed if stop action is required but beware because you will reach the highest settings quickly

When choosing the order in which to choose the right settings, follow this list:

  1. What quality of photo do I want
  2. Do I need stop action
  3. Do I have enough light
  4. Do I want to create any artistic photo results

The reason for setting your camera in this order is to be best adapt for any situation quickly and systematically. You will have enough to have to choose artistically, get the technical down to fast decisions. Choose low ISO settings for the best quality photo, but only if you have enough light. If you don’t then start with the lowest ISO that can be accomodated with the shutter speed and aperture.

Contrast

Contrast is the stark difference from light to dark areas of the photo and how defined the lines are. When a photo has low-contrast, the lines seems to almost blur and overlap with a gray sheen. With a high-contrast photo, the lines are well defined and dark looks dark.

Subject selection

When choosing a subject, always, always, choose what interests you. But always try and make it look appealing, make the perspective appear different from any other, use a filter, change it up. The best strategy with subject selection is not the selection itself, but the way in which you present the subject. Do it in a way that noone else has done it.

Framing

A technique to the subject selection is Framing. It’s putting the subject in a natural frame. An example of this will be a barn through an opening in a grove of trees. The barn has probably been photographed many times, and doesn’t have much standing on it’s own, but when it’s framed inside the opening of the trees, it has a new view.

Histogram alignment

The histogram alignment is to make sure the color distribution is idea. This may come from a combination of settings described earlier. It may represent exactly what you wanted creatively. But in the end. You need to make sure you know what it is, what it means, and what you can do to make it work for you.

A histogram of light/color distribution did not appear on all cameras, but is always included. On the left side of the histogram is the amount of dark colors, on the right is the amount of light colors. A photo with a lot of dark will normally be on the lower end of the historgram, a photo with a lot of light colors will normally be on the upper end. If your subject appears to the natural eye to have a good distribution of color, you would expect the histogram to have an even distribution in the middle of the histogram.

This tool takes years of practice to master.

Focused photo with auto/manual lens focus

Whether you use manual or auto focus, it’s critical to have the photo clear by using the techniques above. A blurry photo will usually not work, unless some creative effect is intentionally made. This skill is actually very straight forward, I wanted to include it to note the difference from auto/manual lens focus and getting a clear focused photo using the shutter speed and aperture setting.

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