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photo:basics

basics of creating a good photograph

This largely depends on the PURPOSE of the photograph:

  • commercial photography:
    • the photograph MUST attract the target audience's attention and HOLD it long enough to give the viewer the desired message such as the illusion that buying a product will give the purchaser the portrayed experience.
    • research shows that the following factors are important:
      • must be a genuine moment rather than a posed artificial scene
      • there should be interactions and relations between compositional elements and the main subject
      • it should convey emotion
      • a well developed caption is critical to prolonging interest
      • it should tell a story
      • even better if it offers a rare perspective
      • viewers tend to look first at a person's face
      • viewers are more likely to engage longer if they perceive it was created by a professional - technical quality is an important factor
  • paparazzi / news / event photography:
    • here the content is king - how the picture is taken, the picture quality, the aesthetic aspects, all tend to be a distant secondary factor.
  • documentary and scientific photography:
    • again content is king - but now, picture quality with accurate rendition of the subject through appropriate focusing, lighting and exposure become important.
    • a subset of this is passport photos - see www.usvisanews.com/uscisphoto/guide.pdf on guidelines.
  • the family snaps:
    • again, the content is king, especially if it is spontaneous, although generally, the photo is usually needed to be flattering and show sufficient detail.
  • the portrait:
    • here, a portrayal of a person's features, ideally, both physical and personality/interests, are key, again usually the person prefers to be portrayed in a flattering view, making posture, lighting, choice of props, etc important.
  • “art” photography:
    • generally, this falls into a few groups:
      • eye-candy photo:
      • mood photo:
        • the key here is to portray the desired mood or emotion through appropriate use of medium, lighting, contrast, colour, subject, environment and expression.
      • the provocative photo:
        • the key here is to send a clear message to the viewer, to open their eyes to the desired viewpoint whether it be political, cultural, or otherwise
        • to be successful, it must attract a viewer's attention and usually needs to create some anxiety in the viewer, perhaps by juxtaposition of contradictory elements, or in your face portrayal of subjects that most viewer's would usually prefer to avoid.

Technical quality:

  • the key factors in a photograph that allows one to make reasonable size enlargements with good detail are:
    • for a good tutorial on basics of photography, see http://www.xs4all.nl/~wiskerke/artikelen/basic1.htm 
    • previsualisation:
      • spending time to think about how you want an image to look which then will determine your choice of camera, lens, medium, composition, lighting, filters, shutter speed, aperture, ISO,  etc.
      • often we find a scene that would be great but at a different time of day such as sunrise or sunset, and in this situation, you need to understand where the sun will be at those times of day and how it will light the scene - here a compass will help you as well as an understanding of astronomy as the sun will rise and set from a slightly different position each day.
    • appropriate medium:
      • if you want to make a 20“x30” enlargement with superb detail, you are not going to use a point and shoot digital, and you probably won't be able to use a 8-10 megapixel digital (although you can get away with these) or a 35mm film camera but you could choose a medium format film camera or a high end 17-22 megapixel digital, or if you are really a photo-“petrol-head” you might use large format film for the highest enlargement quality.
      • if all you want to do is make 8“x12” prints then an 6-8 megapixel digital or a 35mm film camera will be fine.
      • if you want to shoot high dynamic range scenes where you want detail in the shadows as well as the highlights, you would choose B&W film for its extended abilities to capture dynamic range or a digital camera with large photosites or bracket exposures and combine them, or use gradient filters. 
      • if you want narrow DOF to blur out the background, consider a medium format camera or at least use a wide aperture lens or a tilt-shift lens
      • if you want a large DOF to keep everything sharp, consider a smaller format camera or at least a small aperture, but not too small that diffraction effects will lose sharpness, or consider a tilt-shift lens to change the focal plane.
    • choosing a focal length to use for a subject:
      •  where you can adjust camera position to maintain a constant magnification, the total DOF will be constant but the following will change:
        • the shorter focal length lens will have less front depth of field and more rear depth of field at the same effective f-stop but the same total DOF.
        • the perspective changes as the background becomes more magnified as you increase the focal length and closer objects become less distorted by fore-shortening effects.
        • distant background points will be rendered more blurry in proportion to the focal length chosen as their image circles = focal length x magnification / f-stop, this is part of the reason why longer focal length lenses at wide apertures are used for portraits to ensure distracting backgrounds are adequately blurred - in addition the quality of this blurring becomes important “bokeh” and this is dependent on the lens design, in particular, the construction of the iris, hence the new Olympus lenses have circular irises to give better bokeh.
        • for action photos with a moving subject coming towards you, a longer focal length at the same image magnification actually makes focusing easier as the lens will not need to move through as much of its focus range and thus auto-focus should be quicker.
      • where you cannot adjust camera position, you need also to consider which focal length will give you the appropriate image magnification for your subject and thus field of view.
    • accurate focus:
    • control of subject movement:
      • at times, for dynamic effect, we may want subject motion to be visible, such as with panning an action scene, using a long exposure to show a flowing stream, or just to blur out distracting elements of a scene such as crowds.
      • it is much easier to blur a photo in PS than it is to increase its sharpness and detail - aim for as sharp as possible in the key subject region.
      • thus for most images, we want the subject to appear as sharp as possible, and this not only requires accurate focus but control of subject and camera movement: 
        • camera shake:
          • using an adequately short exposure duration to “stop” any camera movement, or,
          • use a sturdy tripod, or,
          • some new digital cameras have “image stabilising” devices, or,
          • brace your camera to minimise camera movement,
          • use electronic flash with short flash duration
          • NB. for high magnification work such as macro or telephoto, or large mirrors, you may need to lock the mirror up to minimise camera vibrations.
        • subject movement:
          • using an adequately short exposure duration to “stop” any subject movement, or,
          • use electronic flash with short flash duration, or,
          • pan the camera with the direction of subject movement
      • using a flash to “stop” the action and avoid blurring due to movement :
        • ensure ambient lighting does not significantly contribute by ensuring your exposure is at least 3 stops under-exposed for ambient light levels - adjust this by changing shutter speed up to the shortest for flash sync for your camera (usually 1/180th sec for digital SLRs)
        • check the flash duration:
          • full output from many flash units results in flash duration of about 1/150th to 1/200th sec - probably not short enough to stop action
          • the Metz 50MZ-5 flash durations are:
            • 1/200th at full GN50m; 1/500th at half; 1/1000th at 1/4; 1/2000th at 1/8th; down to 1/20,000th sec at 1/256 at GN 3m
          • thus, you may need to increase ISO, shorten flash-subject distance &/or open the aperture to achieve really short exposures
          • let's imagine we wish to use f/5.6 at 400ISO at 3m from subject with the Metz 50MZ-5 using a 50mm lens setting, the effective GN at 400ISO is 100m on full, but GN needed at 400ISO is 5.6x3m = 16.8m, and thus the flash would need to fire at 16.8/100 = 0.168 = 1/6th power which would give a flash duration of 1/1500th sec.
          • moral is: buy the most powerful flash you can so you can get to really short flash exposures.
    • accurate exposure:
      • your new camera has wizbang 10 million point 3D auto-exposure, so I can just put it in “Auto Program Exposure” mode and I will always get well exposed pics, right? WRONG!
      • not only is using brainless auto-exposure like saying you piloted a Boeing 737 and all you did was press the autopilot button, but it often doesn't  give you the best exposure settings you need.
      • for a start, the camera is not going to know just how you want a subject rendered, you may want skin tones under-exposed for mood, or a little over-exposed for a high-key effect, furthermore, as the camera uses a “reflection” type of light meter it can be fooled such as:
        • a light background or a bright light will tend to result in an under-exposed subject & vice versa
      • personally, I almost NEVER use “Auto Program Exposure” mode as for a start, the exposure may not be what I want, but even worse, I don't have control over deciding on depth of field, subject motion and image noise, all of which are critical elements in the final outcome.
      • sure you can “bracket” your exposures by taking 3 photos all with different exposures but this will take up space on your memory card, potentially use up more time taking/saving the images that you might miss the best shot, and worse, end up with the best expression on the wrong exposure. 
      • sure you can check the histogram on your digital, but this applies to your whole image, and if your subject is a small component then you may not be getting the information you need as it is flooded by the remainder of the image.
      • do yourself a favour and start to think about what you are trying to achieve and consider buying yourself an incident light meter to better understand light (preferably one that can measure flash light as well).
      • if your camera has a spot-meter then try using this.
      • try to shoot in digital camera RAW files mode to give yourself the best options of adjusting exposure after the image is taken.
  • for the advanced photographers, other technical issues are:
    • lighting control - see lighting basics
    • contrast control  
      • depends on scene contrast, lighting, lens filters, film used, developer used, push-pull developing or digital sensor dynamic range and  digital post-processing
      • in general it is easier to increase contrast in PS than to decrease it
    • grain/noise control - depends on film used, developer used, push-pull developing or digital ISO noise
    • sensor dust control - dust on the sensor will degrade every photo

Composition:

  • there are 2 main aspects to a photograph:
    • visual form or design arranged using composition and perspective
      • shapes
      • lines
      • texture
      • color
      • light can be used creatively to define each of the above
      • how do secondary elements or subjects compliment the prime subject - if they detract, then generally they should be excluded
    • content or meaning
      • what is the prime subject and what emotion or meaning do you wish to portray?
  • most great photos convey an emotion to the viewer
    • if a scene creates an emotion in you, you have a good starting chance to capture that emotion in your image as hopefully this will spark your creativity, and then its up to your technical and creative aptitude to make the image work.
    • it is much harder to create something from a circumstance that doesn't do much for you, not impossible, but much harder, and often you need to be in a conducive frame of mind for this to occur.
  • The idea is to keep the viewer's eye involved with a composition by providing an interesting design. That can be done any number of ways, perhaps by offering the eye a circular route, a long graceful curve, or perhaps a back and forth attraction of two or more well balanced elements.
  • to attract an eye, composition should have:
    • an entry point such as the bottom left of an S-curve
    • an exit point 
    • elements that attract the eye - the subject
      • a well developed centre of interest contains:
        • the strongest colors and if possible, complementary colours
        • a strong shift in contrast (light-dark), and keep contrast subdued elsewhere
        • should take up a reasonable proportion of the image
        • consider a “rest area” near the subject to make it less busy
    • balance between the elements
  • simplicity:
  • lines:
    • look for lines in your image and then work out how best to place them
    • implied lines and geometric forms can hold the picture together
    • horizontal lines denotes repose, calm, tranquillity
    • diagonal lines are dynamic, suggesting force, energy and motion, especially if flowing from left to right
    • curves such as the graceful female form are generally very pleasing to the eye, and denote beauty, charm
    • S-curves such as rivers, snakes, etc thus place them for maximum effect so they lead the eye to the subject.
    • a successful leading line will take the viewer to the subject and usually start in the lower left but not in the corner exactly
    • avoid leaning your lines outwards, leaning inwards is better
    • avoid straight lines unless they are short
    • avoid X-forms
    • avoid subject straight on, try for some diagonal lines
  • balance:
    • look for balance of your subjects by creating geometric shapes or patterns that link them such as triangles
    • good balance of shapes, areas of light and dark are important for a pleasing, natural effect
    • often great images have elements that repeat throughout the image such as a series of triangular shapes or compositions. However, sometimes it is better to vary forms, so if there are round trees, avoid round clouds.
    • adding a secondary centre of interest for balance can work well and help keep the viewer's eyes alternating between the two, but it is important to ensure it does not compete with the primary subject
    • group you subjects of importance together and avoid scattering them around which would make them compete for attention.
    • avoid grouping elements in even numbers, if there is a pair, then use different sizes or positions for each.
    • equal or classical balance makes for dignity and repose but can be static and unimaginative
    • informal balance such as offsetting a large subject by a smaller secondary subject tends to be more dynamic and eye-catching
    • purposely making an image unbalanced can create tension and other emotions such as isolation, loneliness.
    • use of complementary colours such as red-green, orange-blue.
    • the rule of thirds helps create balance:
      • in general, subjects or horizons do not look good in the centre, but are better when a third from the edge of the frame.
      • avoid breaking your image into equal parts
    • balance of positive and negative space
    • balance of subject and background (see Gestalt theory figure ground
      • choosing a tight perspective with subject occupying most of the image creates intimacy
      • choosing a wide perspective with background dominating creates isolation and loneliness moods.
  • create an illusion of depth:
  • framing:
    • consider using foreground elements to frame and focus attention on the subject
    • select your framing so that your subject faces into the image, not out of it.
    • avoid diagonal lines or S-curves originating exactly at a corner of the frame unless it is an abstract
    • make sure lines that should be horizontal are horizontal.
  • avoid mergers:
    • border mergers - cutting subjects at the edge of the image such as the top of their head or their feet.
    • near mergers - secondary subjects placed too close to the primary subject can distract and cause imbalance
    • background mergers - always avoid background shapes merging with the subject such as trees growing out of the subject's head.

 

Black & White Photography:

  • a B&W photo is not just a colour photo without the colour.
  • B&W photography allows one to concentrate on texture and form whilst ignoring the colour components which may otherwise detract.
  • thus a good B&W photograph is often one which has good contrast, whilst highlighting the subject's texture and form through appropriate camera angle, perspective, contrast control and lighting.
  • B&W in itself can evoke certain moods such as eloquence, romanticism or harsh realism.
  • B&W often allows patterns to become more evident, and situations that may appear a bit flat & boring in colour such as an overcast day, can be made to look great in B&W by forcing the viewer to concentrate on the patterns, texture & form.
  • B&W often makes skin tones more flattering by minimising the impact of blemishes, uneven colouring
  • by using coloured filters, one can render an object either lighter or darker and thereby alter the contrast of the photo, fortunately, in digital photography, this can be manipulated by adjusting the relative contribution of each of the colour channels instead of being forced to work with the one chosen by the optical filter you have chosen.

Using colour:

photo/basics.txt · Last modified: 2019/04/06 22:38 by gary1