Sunday, February 8, 2009

Take Better Photographs in Three Easy Steps

Really, just three steps. Not as trivial as they may sound, they are:

1 - Take your camera
2 - Take pictures
3 - Learn from your good and bad pictures

Order is important here. If you don't do step 1, then you can't do step 2. Likewise step 3 depends on step 2. It is that simple. Well okay, not really. Let's take a closer look using "depth of field" as an example.

The first step may be obvious, but how often have you said to yourself, "Look at that. I wish I had my camera." Or the old standby, "That would make a great picture." No camera means no picture. So don't leave home without it. After all, you aren't slogging around a monster like the view camera in the illustration. Most modern digital SLR setups weigh less than 2 1/2 pounds.

Next, take pictures. Lots of them. I've got a 4GB card for my Nikon D100 and even at the highest resolution it will hold over 1,200 images. There is no additional cost if you shoot 1,000 frames or only just 100. Push that shutter release. Okay, taking 1,000 pictures doesn't mean they are all going to be good ones.

Before you go out to shoot, read. I guess this should really be step 0. Okay, so I'm a computer geek and we learned to count from zero not one. Anyway, get a good book on digital photography that uses your type of camera, either SLR or point-and-shoot. However, just reading won't make you a better photographer, you have to get out and take pictures. You can't skip step 2. This is not any different than learning to drive or cook. You have to do it to learn it. Reading alone is not enough.

Don't be too ambitious. Take it in small doses. For example read about depth of field. This is term for how much of what the camera sees will be in focus. Do this simple experiment; look across the room and hold a finger about six inches in front of your nose. Focus on your finger and the room gets fuzzy. Now focus on the wall on the other side of room and your finger gets fuzzy. This is depth of field. SLR cameras use the f-stop to control depth of field. The higher the f-stop number the greater the depth of field. This means that it is possible to take a picture where both your finger and the wall are in focus.

Got it? Good, now go take pictures that use depth of field. If you have an SLR put it into "aperture priority" mode so you can control the f-stop. Take close ups with a blurry background. Shoot some wide view landscapes with big depth of field where everything is in focus. Experiment.

Now for step 3 go back and look at the pictures on your computer. Don't just delete the ones that aren't what you expected. Study them. Did you get the effect you wanted or not? What worked for you and what didn't? Remember that your SLR will record the shutter speed, ISO setting, and (drum roll please) the f-stop in what is called the EXIF data for each image. This means you can easily see what you did, or the camera did for you, and will have learned how to create a specific depth of field look.

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