Memories—at the Touch of a Button!
You rush to the local photo shop to pick up those great pictures you took on your last vacation. But what a disappointment they are! Some of the pictures are dark, others are washed out or out of focus. ‘It’s the camera!’ you say in frustration. But is it really the camera? Or is it the photographer?
YOUR wedding, breathtaking places you have visited, friends who have moved away, grandparents and other relatives, your child’s first steps—all these memories can be captured on film at the touch of a button. How disappointing it is, though, when your pictures come out poorly—or don’t come out at all! No, a new camera is probably not the answer. The key to success is mastering the basic principles of photography.
How Does a Camera Work?
Simply speaking, a camera is a light-tight box with an “eye,” a lens, through which light enters and is focused to form an image on film. The surface of the film consists of light-sensitive chemicals that must receive an adequate amount of light to be properly exposed. Too much light and your pictures seem washed out. Too little and your pictures are too dark.
When you take your picture, the shutter of the camera opens for a fraction of a second, allowing an image to form on your film. So one way of controlling film exposure is to regulate how long that shutter stays open. In normal daylight the average photo can be taken at a shutter speed of 1/125 second. Many cameras have a range of shutter speeds, but generally speaking you should use as fast a shutter speed as the light level permits. The longer the shutter is open, the more likely your picture is to be blurred by camera movement. In critical situations this can be prevented by mounting the camera on a tripod and releasing the shutter by a cable or the camera’s timer.
Another way to control film exposure is to adjust the size of the lens aperture (also called f-stop). This can be compared to having your eye wide open, half closed, or squinting. It controls the amount of light that enters. Many lenses have a dial with various settings, or f-stops, you can select from. The larger the aperture, the more light that enters and the greater the exposure of the film. To confuse matters for the beginner, f-stop numbers are the reverse of the aperture size. For example, f-2.8 is a large opening; f-32 is a tiny opening. Many cameras now come with such features as automatic exposure control and built-in light meters that tell you exactly where to set the adjustments. Indeed, on some fully automatic cameras, all the adjustments are made for you. Such cameras may even focus for you!
Which Film to Choose?
As with cameras, there is an ever-changing variety of films available. A color negative film is used to make color prints. These are easy to pass around and relatively cheap to copy or enlarge. Another advantage is that because of its great latitude, or exposure range, even a poorly exposed negative will produce an acceptable print. Color-reversal films are used to produce color transparencies, or slides. To enjoy these, though, you will also have to purchase a projector and a screen. Slides are less forgiving and demand more precision in exposure. However, you can get good prints from them.
Films differ as to their speed (sensitivity to light) and are rated by ISO or ASA numbers.a Some are as low as ISO 25 and others as high as ISO 3200. A good general-purpose film would be ISO 100 Daylight, as this medium-speed film works well for normal shots taken in daylight. A faster ISO 400 film works well in low light situations, such as early evening, overcast days, and indoors. However, as a general rule, the slower the film, the sharper the detail it yields. Fast film tends to show grain on enlargements.
If your camera has a film-speed selector, it is very important to set it to the correct ISO or ASA number. Now comes the crucial point:
How to Make a Good Photograph
Most beginners take snapshots. They point and shoot. A seasoned photographer takes a little time and forethought and makes a picture. He composes it. Placing your subject or point of interest properly is called composition. No, lining up your subject dead center is not necessarily the best way. Notice how, in the example given here (page 26), a subject may become much more interesting when it is moved slightly away from center—say about one third of the distance from the top or side of the photograph. This is called applying the rule of thirds.
It is also important to isolate the subject from the background. A cluttered, or busy, background can distract the viewer’s attention from the subject. Is there a light-colored wall or some other neutral background that could be used in posing people? If an ideal background cannot be found, adjust the aperture to a wider opening (a smaller f-stop number). This will put your subject in focus, but it will blur the background.—See example, page 24.
To ensure good exposure, you can also bracket your shots. This means that if you take your photo at f-8 and 1/125 second, you can also shoot at f-5.6 and f-11 at the same speed. In this way, you allow for latitude in the lighting conditions. On the other hand, if maximum depth of field is desired, then bracket by increasing or decreasing the shutter speed (1/60, 1/125, and 1/250 second) while leaving the f-stop constant.
Lighting is also important. If there happens to be a bright background or strong light behind your subject (snow, sunny sea, or beach), this can confuse your camera and cause underexposure. The solution? Step nearer to the subject, and take an accurate light reading. Then step back to your original position, and shoot your picture at the chosen settings. Experienced photographers often use an electronic flash in daylight as fill-in lighting that removes the shadows created by bright backlight or heavy shade.
A bright, high sun projecting down on the subject (or directly behind) may produce harsh shadows under a person’s eyes, nose, and chin. If so, place your subject in the shade or use fill-in flash. You can even angle the sun directly behind or to the side of your subject to produce a halo effect as the sun highlights the person’s hair, as long as the sun does not shine directly into your lens.
Electronic flash has its limitations, since many flash units are effective only for about 30 feet [10 m] maximum. Therefore, trying to take a flash picture of a theater stage (as at a Christian convention) or of a city skyline does no more than run down your battery. Direct flash tends to create shadows or highlight facial blemishes. Solution? Try covering your flash (not lens) with a tissue or handkerchief to eliminate hot spots, or bounce the flash from a white ceiling. This will also require exposure compensation. You can place your subject against a darker background to cut down shadows.
The red-eye effect is another quirk of flash photography, especially with cameras that have a built-in flash. If you cannot separate your camera from your flash unit (such as by a mounting bracket), then have the subject look first at a bright light so that the eyes will not be dilated when you take the picture. Or have the subject avoid looking directly into the lens.
A good portrait does more than reproduce a person’s facial features. It can give insight into the individual’s personality and character. To produce such fine pictures, you must master the mechanics of photography. This way you can concentrate on your subject, not on your equipment.
First, get your subject to relax. Use a telephoto lens so you can get a close-up shot without moving that intimidating camera in close. Appropriate music is relaxing. Talking is also another way to help your subject forget the camera and achieve a natural expression. Use questions to draw him out and evoke the emotions you want to capture. In photographing children, make it a game or tell a story. Let them be spontaneous and playful. Props may also help your subject relax. So pose a musician with his instrument or a worker with his tools.
A group photograph doesn’t necessarily mean arranging everyone into a neat row. Give them a prop—a chair or two—and arrange them around it, perhaps forming a triangular composition. It isn’t necessary for everyone to smile at the camera. Now look carefully at the scene before you press the button. Are clothes and hair well arranged? Are there distracting background elements? Is the camera angle the most flattering? (A camera placed a little lower than the face can shorten a long nose or de-emphasize a receding hairline.) Now go ahead and take a number of shots, and when they are developed, choose the best.
With a little effort—and practice—your camera can bring you much pleasure and help you preserve cherished memories, memories captured at the deft touch of your camera button!
a ISO is the abbreviation for International Standards Organization; ASA, for American Standards Association. In parts of Europe, DIN (Deutsche Industrie Norm) is also used. A film listed as ISO 100/21 is ASA 100, or 21 DIN.
[Box on page 26]
Some Ways to Avoid Disappointing Pictures
1. Read and follow camera instructions carefully.
2. Make sure film-speed setting is correct.
3. Make sure the lens and the flash are not covered by your fingers or the lens cap.
4. Compose and crop your picture by changing your position or using a zoom lens.
5. Hold the camera steady, and press the release button.
[Pictures on page 24]
A wider aperture (lower f-stop) isolates the flower from its background; the smaller aperture keeps subject and background in focus
[Pictures on page 25]
Fill-in flash compensates for the dark shadows in the top photo
[Picture on page 26]
By applying one method, “the rule of thirds,” the point of interest is kept away from the middle of the photo