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Photography By The Alphabet, Part 1—A To E
Over the course of the next five Outdoor Photographer Tips of the Week, I take you on an alphabetical journey to provide a magnitude of photographic instruction as I explore numerous photo concepts from A to Z. Try to guess what I’ll write about for each letter. While every letter of the alphabet isn’t covered, many key photo topics will be explored based on the letter with which they start. Enjoy the journey down the alphabetical trail to garner photo knowledge and wisdom.
A is for Aperture: The aperture controls the amount of light that paints the sensor. As the opening of the aperture gets smaller, less light can be absorbed. This in turn necessitates a slower shutter speed to attain a proper exposure. If the ambient light is low, a tripod is necessary to stabilize the camera and lens to render a sharp subject. Examples of more open apertures are ƒ/2.8, ƒ/4 and ƒ/5.6. Examples of stopped down apertures are ƒ/16, ƒ/22 and ƒ/32. In between apertures are ƒ/8 and ƒ/11. The aperture also controls depth of field. The more stopped the aperture, the greater the depth of field. This translates to foreground to background sharpness. Conversely, the more open the lens, the more depth of field is lessened, which translates to a single plane rendered in focus. If you want foreground to background sharpness, use a small aperture. Depth of field is also impacted by the focal length of the lens. The wider the lens, the easier it is to acquire foreground to background sharpness.
B is for Bracket: In tough lighting situations, the meter can be fooled. This results in highlights that show no detail or shadows that block up. Often, a compromise must be made to sacrifice shadow detail for the sake of not blowing out the highlights. If you bracket, you’ll wind up with a series of exposures where one reveals shadow detail, the next reveals better mid tones and the last reveals highlight detail. Optimize the one that’s the best compromise. The alternative is to run the bracketed series through HDR software and let the computer find the best parts of each exposure. I recommend the following bracketed series for all situations where the exposure is difficult: minus 2 stops / minus 1 stop / on the meter reading / plus 1 stop / plus 2 stops. In extreme conditions, the series may need to be expanded.
C is for Composition: Good composition is important to the success of an image. The good news is composition can be taught. While it’s often said that successful photographers have a great eye for composition, what’s to say that when they started, their eye wasn’t trained? Use the rule of thirds to place important elements. Imagine a tic tac toe overlay inside your viewfinder. The lines intersect at the points of the rule of thirds. Where the lines intersect is where key subjects should be placed. Leave room for subjects to move or look. Don’t place them close to the edge of the frame relative to the direction in which they move or glance. Try to build triangles with multiple subjects so the eye flows around the photo. Use leading lines to direct the viewer’s eye to the primary element. Take a class, read a book and continue to read the OP weekly tips to learn more rules of good composition. A bonus C word is CROP. If you missed the Composition at the time of capture, Crop the image when it’s optimized.
D is for Delete: (see Edit just below.) Adopt my “Place Holder” concept. If an image you capture isn’t better than one you already have, consider deleting it. Always try to “one up” the file you know you have in your folders. The one that lives there is the Place Holder. Make it a goal to capture the same subject in better light or performing something more dramatic. You may want to keep your second or third best, but past that point, you’ll more than likely never show the lesser images. If it’s your first capture of a given subject, it’s your best. When you revisit the area or make more images of the same subject, get rid of the ones that now play second fiddle. Think about what you already photographed. For instance, if you go to your favorite national park and the light is horrible, because you previously visited it under great conditions, you’re not going to return with better images compared to the place holders you currently have. Refrain from pressing the shutter if all you’re going to do is hit the delete button.
E is for Edit: Directly above segues into one of my key business tag lines: Edit Before Pressing The Shutter. If you already have good files of a given subject, and you revisit it and the light stinks, Edit Before Pressing The Shutter! Edit also relates to what I do when I get back from a shoot. I do what I call a Blast Through Edit. I immediately discard the softly focused, poorly cropped, poorly exposed, eyes closed, etc., unmistakable throwaways. If I notice any killer pics, I assign them four stars. For this Blast Through, I do the obvious for only the best and worst. The reason is that I’m still too emotionally attached to the photos. If I try to rank them into a more fine-tuned hierarchy, my sentiments, challenges to get the image, etc., get in the way because I’m still attached to them. With this in mind, I separate myself for a period of time and revisit each folder a month or so later, at which point I’m more objective.
Visit www.russburdenphotography.com for information about his nature photography tours and safari to Tanzania.