Technology has come a long way in photography.
Lightweight, 35 mm automatic camera have taken much of the guess work out of
photography and have made picture taking almost as easy as pointing and
shooting. Despite advances in technology, the most important piece of equipment
can’t be purchased. The piece of equipment is in your mind. Anyone can take
picture, but it takes considerable more thought and skill to make a picture. The
keys to any good photos are composition and lighting.
Composition is key
Composition is merely the arrangement of
elements in a photo to create a well balanced and interesting picture. Effective
composition can enhance the photo and message you intend to send, and is
critical for high quality photos. Good composition means the pictorial elements
have been organized and presented in such a way that the photographer’s main
idea is effectively communicated to the viewer. To achieve good composition, you
must have clearly in mind what message, idea, feeling, or mood you want your
photo to convey. This usually means the photo will be about something, and an
object or group of objects will stand out as the reason for the picture. One
feature will usually appear especially important, significant, or interesting.
Such a feature or element is called the photo’s center of interest.
Rule of thirds
One composition technique to emphasis the center of interest is the rule of
thirds. Mentally divide your picture area into thirds, both vertically and
horizontally, as sort of an exaggerated tic-tac-toe grid. Use these lines as
reference for placement of horizons or other main features. Any of the four
points at which the imaginary lines intersect has been found to be a natural
spot for emphasizing the dominant subject. Placing elements at these spaces
can add tension and drama to your photos. Likewise, when positioning the
horizon in your finder, you’ll want to avoid placing it directly in the
center, dividing the frame in half. By placing the horizon line in the upper
or lower third of the frame, you can create additional compositional
interest. Also remember to keep the horizon line square. A tilted horizon
will quickly wreck a photo.
Movement into frame
The direction in which a subject faces or moves creates a space expectation
for the viewer whose eye is drawn toward the movement. You should provide
space within the frame for your subject to look into or move into. If you
don’t provide space for the movement, the viewer’s eye tends to move out of
the frame. For example, a jumping dog needs to have a place inside the
picture to land, or it will appear to be jumping out of the picture. A good
general guideline to remember, is that if there is action in a picture it
should lead into the picture, not out of the picture.
The angle at which you shoot a picture affects the message you communicate.
When a picture is shot from a normal eye position with the camera parallel
to the ground, it is called an eye level shot. Eye levels shots appear most
natural because they reflect how we view the world.
A picture taken from a position lower than your subject is
called a low angle shot. Low angle shots emphasize height. Conversely, a
high angle shot is taken from a position higher than your subject, and tends
to emphasize the smallness of objects.
Another compositional technique is leading lines. There are lines and shapes
all around us. As photographers, we can use them to lead our viewer’s eyes
into certain areas of a photo. As the lines converge on a point, the
viewers’ eyes will follow that point. By placing the subject on or near that
conversion point, you’ll be leading your viewers to the subject. Those lines
can also add drama and interest to photos. Before you shoot, take a moment
to notice the lines in the scene you are about to photograph. Then try to
incorporate them into your photos. By becoming visually aware, you’ll be
able to strengthen your photos with lines.
Framing is an additional technique that will help your photos sparkle. By
framing the scene with some foreground material you’ll add depth,
dimensions, and perspective to scenes For example, you could use part of a
tree to frame one side of your main subject. There are many other items that
serve as an interesting frame—just experiment.
Horizontal vs. Vertical
Since human eyes are horizontally positioned, so
is the orientation of our vision, even when we look at tall buildings and trees.
Horizontal compositions, therefore, are literally easier on the eyes than
vertical views. It's natural, then, that the 35mm (135) film format features an
image size measuring 36mm from left to right and 24mm from top to bottom, which
is consistent with the view seen through a camera view finder. Horizontal
composition emphasizes panoramic expanse. Vertical composition can also create
some interesting photos. Vertical composition emphasizes height, and can more
effectively capture tall sites such as waterfalls and skyscrapers. An idea to
try in vertical composition is to fill the foreground with the face or figure of
a person standing in front of a site.
Composition and lighting are the keys to good
photographs. There are several different lighting techniques.
The perfect diffused light can be found on a foggy or overcast day. The
light is soft, leaves no shadows, and gives additional color saturation.
The second major type of lighting is cross lighting, or side lighting, which
occurs when the light source is at a 75-90 degree angle to the subject.
Lighting from the side creates, which naturally occurs during the morning
hours just after sunrise and in the evening just before sunset, creates
The final type of lighting is called backlighting, which occurs when the
light source comes from behind, or nearly behind the subject. A silhouette
is a prime example of backlighting. Backlighting provides warm tones and
increased color saturation, but is tricky because you are shooting almost
directly into the light source.
Finding the right film
There are two basic 35mm(135) film formats
commonly used in color photography: color negative and color is usually labeled
“color” and is ideal for color prints. Reversal film, called “chrome” is ideal
for creating images to be used in publication printing. The other consideration
for selecting film is choosing a film speed. The higher the ISO (International
Standard Organization) rating, the faster the speed. For best results, consider
using 400 for color negative film and ISO 100 for color reversal film.
Keep batteries ready
Replace batteries with batteries of the same
type and brand. Mixing different batteries may cause problems, including
safety hazards. Batteries are available in manganese, alkaline, lithium,
NiCd, NiMH, and other types. Refer to the camera manual to find out what
type of replacement batteries should be used.
Avoid touching electrode contacts of
batteries. If you touch them, use a handkerchief or tissue paper to wipe off
oil or moisture.
Do not stock up on batteries. Batteries
become depleted over time and may not provide needed power after not being
used for awhile.
Focus is critical
Whether you have an automatic or manual focus
camera, it’s very important that you grip your camera tightly and hold very
still. Hold the camera steady in one hand, and support it in the palm of your
other hand with your elbow poised against your body for additional support.
Standing with one foot slightly ahead of the other may help you keep your
balance by distributing your body weight more evenly.
Practice makes perfect
The best way to improve your photography skills
is to practice, practice, practice. Study photos in magazines and brochures, and
try to determine what type of light was used and what composition techniques
make those photos interesting. Then try to mimic the technique and effect.
Practice using different lighting, composition, positions, and angles. Sometimes
it can be surprising what works...and you won’t know until you try different
techniques and ideas. Soon you’ll find what works best for you and gives the
sort of pictures you like.
Try to observe the following guidelines, which
can help you to improve your photographic skills and the quality of your
Pre-visualize the image you want to obtain.
Have your central idea in mind as you think about how you want the final
print to appear. Questions to consider: Are the important details included
in your frame? Are distracting details excluded? Are the more significant
details emphasized? If you answer no to any of these questions, try changing
your angle, position, or using another technique.
Move your camera in as close as possible to
your subject. This will increase the size of the subject in relation to
other objects in the picture, and also eliminate unnecessary details from
Whenever possible, use or create a natural
background for your subject. If the background has too many unnecessary or
confusing elements, try a high angle shot against the ground, or low angle
shot against the sky.
Whenever possible, emphasize the contrast
between the subject and background. If your subject is brightly lit, try to
shoot it against a dark background. If your subject is dark, try to shoot it
against a light background, such as the sky. With a colorful subject, try to
find a background of a contrasting hue or saturation.
Apply the rule of thirds as a guideline or
starting point for composing your photos. Remember, these are just
guidelines— there are no absolute rules in photography. If you think you can
get your message across in another fashion, don’t hesitate to move beyond
these guidelines. Finally, practice using the guidelines and techniques
discussed here and incorporating your own ideas, and watch your photos
Solutions to some common
Problem: Subject too far away.
Solution: Move in closer to the subject.
Problem: Poor lighting,
Solution: Shoot photos early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Use
slide lighting. Avoid 12 noon overhead sun.
Problem: All photos are
taken at eye level.
Solution: Vary the camera angle of your shot. Sit down, kneel, lay on your
stomach, climb a tree, stand on a truck, ladder, or other equipment.
Problem: Camera not
Solution: Practice. Use your camera regularly, Read the instructions.
Problem: Subject files
filled with poor slides.
Solution: Get a big wastebasket and use it. Don’t keep bad shots that you’ll
Problem: Subject out of
focus because of camera movement.
Solution: Hold very still and concentrate on a clear picture. Try using a
Problem: Mystery spots,
dirty looking slides.
Solution: Clean your lens, keep it that way.
Problem: No central theme
Solution: Concentrate on one central element to illustrate your subject.
Every photo doesn’t need a farmer, barn, field, and the practice in the same
Problem: Improper storage
Solution: Use clear plastic file folders, not the box the slides came in to
store slides. Will stay in good condition and be easily found.
SCS Information Brief, Instant Solutions to 10 Common
SCS Slide Show, The Art of Seeing Introduction to Photography, A Self Directing
Approach, Second Edition, by Marvin Rosen, 1982.
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