Skills in Photography – In the Beginning

I recently heard a tutor discussing the mistakes most beginners make when they pick up a camera for the first time. While I may disagree with the fact they are referred to as mistakes, the points are valid and well worth discussing.

So you have a new camera, you know where the viewfinder, auto setting and shutter release are located, Now you think you are a photographer.  The first and most fatal mistake is believing that you are better than you are because you have a top flight camera. Any one can take a picture, a photographer takes a work of art.

The next step in the learning process is to discover what the camera can do and find its limitations. most camera manufacturers go to great expense to generate a manual to tell you everything you need to know about the camera. That is the one you remove from the box and file away to the immortal words “I will look at that later”. try looking at it now, later never comes. Work through the book with the camera in your hands and try out what it is telling you. You may never use most of the functions but it is worth knowing they are available.

Once you have mastered the camera, repeat the process with the lens, every lens. It is not just about how to set auto focus and auto aperture, it is about how to switch into manual mode, it is about distance and depth of field. Once you put camera and lens together is is about exposures, apertures, shutter speed and ISO speeds. It is about camera shake and soft focus, monopods, tripods, and lamp posts.

Ok, so you have done the homework and know all about these things. But now you want to take pictures. of course every picture you take will be a wonderful work of art … wont it … ? No, it will not, and anyone who really believes it or tells you otherwise is a fool. There are common errors that will ruin your pictures and no amount of post processing will recover them.

So let us look at the most common problems.

Taking pictures into the sun. This is a problem for a number of reasons, firstly it can blind you. The camera is a magnifying lens and the sun can burn your retina in an instant and cause blindness. Definitely do not try and photograph the daytime sun and especially not with a zoom lens. This can also cause extensive damage to the camera. those indulging in photographing or watching the sun use an almost black filter. If you think the moon is beautiful, be aware that it is reflected sunlight and can cause the same, if lessened, problem.

Second problem with the sun is called ‘flare’, and you can get this any time the sun is in front of the lens even at an angle. If this is your habit then use a lens hood. It will not always stop the flare but will reduce the times it affects the picture.

A good rule, all of which rules should be used as a guide only, is to keep the sun behind the camera when taking pictures. Apart from the reasons stated, it also puts the light on the subject where it is required.

be aware that light areas will burn out and dark areas will be black depending if you expose for the light or dark parts of the picture. Auto exposure can not always compensate for the variation. This is a greater problem in full sun as the shadow areas are more defined.

It is actually better to take pictures on overcast days when the shadows are not so dark and the light areas not so bright. Also cloud serves to break up the plain blue sky. Interestingly the temperature of a blue sky is about 5000k a bright overcast day can be as much as 20,000k.

Try and avoid the high contrasts in pictures, if you can’t and you want the detail, use a tripod and take three identical pictures, one exposed for the highlights, one for the shadows and one for the mid-range. Do not move the camera. Then when you post process you can merge the three images into one. This is called a triple exposure.

Most of the other failings that beginners, and even some experts, fall foul of are in ‘seeing’ the picture and what is really there. So here we are on a photo shoot with the most stunning model you have ever seen. You have only a few minutes to take the pictures so you raise the camera, frame the face and press the shutter release. Having taken the 200 pictures because you forgot to lift your finger you go home to review the pictures. Every shot is a masterpiece except for the lamp post coming from their head or the fence post leaving their ear, or more likely the half face peering from behind the models head. And it is not just the portraits that suffer, landscapes are spoiled by the power lines and street signs that the powers that be always try to put in front of otherwise beautiful scenes.

Lastly, for this post at least, you will hear of the rule of thirds. This is a rule that was established long before photography was invented and was developed over many centuries. It is a rule that is governed by how the eye views a scene and is to do with aesthetics. The last time I tried to count them I discovered 23 variations on the basic rule and every one was valid. Interestingly even a centered image can comply to the rule of thirds. Add to this the Golden Spiral, the Golden Pyramid, and a few others, we come down to the fact that anything goes but with one important proviso, it must be aesthetically pleasing to the eye of the beholder, and that means you the photographer. You will never please everyone so your pictures MUST please yourself.




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