Tools and Techniques for Creative Photography

  • Published on

  • View

  • Download


a bookby Neil CreekTOOLS ANDTECHNIQUESFOR CREATIVE PHOTOGRAPHYWelcome to the second book in the Photo Nuts series, Photo Nuts and Shots, Tools and Techniques for Creative Photography. This book follows on from Photo Nuts and Bolts which explained the workings of the camera, how to control it and what that understanding means for improving your photos.Photo Nuts and Shots continues the learning process in photography, building on your knowledge of the camera, and turning its attention to helping you become a better photographer. This doesnt just mean knowing how to expose or compose, but also how to think.This book is best viewed in full screen mode using Acrobat Reader. Press Ctrl+L (PC), Cmd+L (MAC).High Dynamic Range image created from a series of photos at different exposure settings Remarkable Rocks, Kangaroo Island, South Australia. note from Darren Rowse Editor of Digital Photography School I have lost count of the positive emails of thanks that Ive received from readers of Neils first dPS eBook Photo Nuts and Bolts.Its a book that teaches new and emerging photographers the basics of how a camera works and it has helped thousands of dPS readers gain more control over their digital cameras.Understanding how cameras work is important, but it doesnt guarantee youll use it to its full potential any more than knowing the theory of how violins work will get you a place in the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.The ability to shoot the wonderful images that your camera has the potential to take comes as you practise and experiment with different techniques, develop skills and find your own style as a photographer.Photo Nuts and Shots extends beyond the theory presented in Photo Nuts and Bolts and propels photographers forward into the wonderful and creative world of becoming a photographer.About the author Neil graduated from Monash University in 1996 with a Bachelor of Arts degree.He enjoys science and art, especially so when the two meet. At age 16 he built an 8 inch reflecting telescope from scratch to further his love for astronomy and from which came an interest in optics.Digital photography has been a passion since 2004, combined with Neils enthusiasm for learning and teaching. He has been writing his photography blog for five years and has been a staff writer at Digital Photography School for three. In 2008 Neil took the plunge and decided to become a full-time photographer. Recently he has been running a series of portrait photography classes.Neil loves to capture the beauty in the world, and share it, as well as what he has learned while doing and copyright Written by: Neil Creekwww.neilcreek.comPublisher: Darren Design/Layout: Naomi cover model: Celina www.fablesinfashion.comVersion 1.0.1 Copyright 2011 Neil CreekAll photos and illustrations by the author unless otherwise noted.All rights reserved.No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical or otherwise without prior written consent from the publisher, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in a review. You may store the pdf on your computer and backups. You may print one copy of this book for your own personal use.Disclaimer: The information contained in this book is based on the authors experience, knowledge and opinions. The author and publisher will not be held liable for the use or misuse of the information in this book. and acknowledgmentsWriting this book has been a new and challenging experience for me, the contents being entirely new for the book, as opposed to being built on blog posts as was Bolts. I have learned much about photography, writing and myself through the more than 30,000 words that follow. Finding the inspiration and motivation to write has been a constant struggle, one shared by my very patient and supportive wife Naomi. Her continual encouragement and sometimes necessarily less than gentle pushing made this book possible. In addition to the support she gave me through writing, she is also completely responsible for the layout, and has turned my plain word-processed document into the gorgeous book you are reading. It is with much love and gratitude that I thank Naomi for her pivotal role.Thank you to Darren Rowse of the Digital Photography School, with whom I have been working now for a number of years. Though my commitment to the dPS blog has had to take a back seat while I wrote this book, his confidence in me has never wavered. That he approved my suggestion of a series of books before the first was published says much about his commitment to supporting my work.Finally, thanks to you, the reader, for buying the book. I hope you find it interesting, educational and inspirational. I trust you will also enjoy the rest of the series going forward, and if you have not yet read the first book, Photo Nuts and Bolts, you may consider doing so if you enjoy this sequel.What you will learn Being a good photographer requires a diverse range of skills: the ability to understand and control exposure, an understanding of light and its qualities, how to compose an image and making sure your image is as sharp as you need it to be. Beyond the technical skills, however, photography is also a way of thinking. Its about understanding and appreciating art, as well as creating your own. Its about feeling a mood, capturing it, and conveying it to your audience and even telling a story with the frame.It is my goal with Photo Nuts and Shots to introduce you to some of the most important skills and concepts behind good photography, make the complexities as simple and clear as possible, and set you on the right path to expanding your own abilities. This book doesnt get into many specifics or minutia, but gives you the intellectual and creative tools to be able to work out the details yourself.With an understanding of the camera you will become a better photographer, and hopefully enrich your appreciation and enjoyment of the craft.The next logical step after learning to take better photos is knowing how to process the results, to create the best possible looking photos, and present them in the best way for your chosen media. The third book in the series Photo Nuts and Post will cover these topics, so look out for it in the coming months.Your mileage may varyAs a creative art medium, there is no right way to do photography. The camera is merely a tool, and the huge variety of tools and controls available to photographers on their cameras and in software are there only to give us more creative freedom. Just because tools are available to us, like metering modes and ISO settings, does not mean we have to use them in the same way that any other photographer does. Each photographer will have their own unique approach to photography, and so long as the result is what they want, no approach is better than another.That isnt to say that you dont need to know how to control your camera, or the software that you use to create your images. A capable photographer knows how the tools work, and how to use them to create the image they want.Naturally, I must write this book from my perspective and based on my experience. I have my ways of taking photos, getting the correct exposure, ensuring my image is focused how I want it to be, setting the scene and telling a story. The techniques I talk about here work for me, but I am always learning and expanding my understanding of photography. Ill certainly do things differently ten years from now, though how I do things now works for me now.When you read this book, keep in mind that it is written from one perspective. You may disagree with some of what I say, and instead develop your own way of doing things. However, I believe that by explaining my methods I will be able to help you become a better photographer and take better photos the way that works for you. Intro ........................................................2A note from Darren Rowse About the author Credits and copyright...........................3Thanks and acknowledgments What you will learn Your mileage may vary .........................4How to learn photography ...................6Photo Nuts and Bolts Gaining confidence Learning is a feedback loop ..........7Using the histogram ......................8How to see ..........................................11Photo appreciation ......................12Artistic intention ..........................14Learn the rules and then break them ..................................15Emotions .....................................16Motivation ....................................17The quality of light ..............................19Brightness ...................................20Position .......................................21Size ..............................................22Colour ..........................................23Surface qualities ..........................25Reflection ....................................26Refraction and projection ............27Restriction ...................................28Time .............................................29Flare .............................................31Composition techniques ....................36Leading the eye ...........................37Rule of thirds ...............................38Lines ............................................39Framing .......................................40Multiple planes of interest ...........41Isolating the subject ....................42Positioning yourself .....................44Content ........................................47Action ..........................................50Breaking the rules .......................53Gotchas .......................................54Getting the sharpest photos possible ...............................................56Image focus .................................57Movement during exposure ........61Practical exposure..............................67The exposure triangle, again .......68The learning process ...................69Stay aware of the light .................72Be aware of surface qualities ......73Creative decisions .......................75Going manual ..............................77Pushing the limits ........................78Know what to sacrifice ................79Dynamic range and clipping ........80On-location thought process ............82Assess the light ...........................83How long do you have ................84Check your camera .....................85Planned or spontaneous? ...........86The right gear ..............................88Get your exposure right ...............89Position yourself ..........................90Timing the shot ............................91Creativity .............................................92Meaning and message .......................93Intention vs interpretation ............94What do you want to say?...........95How do you say it? ......................96What not to do ............................98Some additional thoughts ...........99Light and mood .................................100Telling the story .........................101The emotion of light ..................102Building a lighting scheme ........104Natural light ...............................106Waiting for the light ...................109Conclusion ................................110Stay in touch with dPS .....................111How to learn photographyPhotography is a fun, creative and accessible hobby, but there can be a steep learning curve. I believe that anyone can become a good photographer, but there are few that can be great. The only thing you need to become a good photographer is commitment. The commitment to learn how your camera works, to practise often, to examine your photos and see how you can improve them, and the commitment to stay with the hobby when it seems you arent getting better.One serious mistake I see many new photographers making is to compare themselves and their photos to other, more experienced photographers, and feel inadequate. Every great photographer was once a beginner, who fumbled with their first camera and made exactly the same mistakes all new photographers make. Do not forget that photography isnt just about taking jaw-dropping photos, its also about capturing memories and emotions. Its about sharing your experiences with others and your future self.Do not get hung up on the worth of a photo. If it means something important to you, then it is a worthy photo. Beautiful photos may have no particular meaning to you, so they can be worth less than a very personal photo which isnt necessarily as beautiful. Take photos for fun, take photos because they mean something to you. If you can do this, then youll never become discouraged by comparing your work to that of others.Photo Nuts and BoltsThis would be a good time to recommend that you read the first book in the PhotoNuts series (if youhavent already), also available from the Digital Photography School. Bolts explains in detail how the camera works, and how the various settings affect your photo. The book you are reading now, Photo Nuts and Shots, is a comprehensive guide to improving your photography through technique and attitude, and this all assumes and builds upon a thorough knowledge of the camera and how it works. If you would like to purchase a copy of Photo Nuts and Bolts you can find it at that you have learned the foundations of photography, you can apply them!Gaining confidenceAs I alluded to above, the biggest obstacle to becoming a better photographer is confidence. Given that there is a serious commitment to improve ones photographic skills, the only thing standing in your way is your own opinion of what you can achieve. This is true at all levels of photography. Many accomplished natural light photographers dont have the confidence to work with artificial lighting, and landscape photographers may lack the confidence to work with people.Unless you can overcome your lack of confidence to tackle a skill, you will be unable to improve. This can be a difficult thing for people who have a shy or reserved personality. The best way to build your confidence is to spend a lot of time practising, and looking at the results. Anyone should be able to improve their skill with practice, especially if you are able to learn from reading this book, and the improvement in your results should help you to build confidence.It can help to participate in online photographic communities, such as the Digital Photography School forum, Flickr Groups, or others. Post your photos and you may get feedback. Comment on others photos, and see how other photographers achieved their results. Online communities are generally very supportive and will happily answer all questions. You can also get encouragement and guidance which will help you build confidence.Sometimes online communities organise meetings, where local members get together to socialise and take photos. These are a great opportunity to get more practice, ask lots of questions and see how other photographers work. Take these opportunities as often as you can.Learning is a feedback loopAt first, learning photography can be overwhelming, and the pay-offs are slow while you dont know why things work or dont. However, as you get more time and experience, things start to make sense. One by one, you begin to see the interconnections, and you can move forward and start to tackle some of the more difficult things. Once unfathomable mysteries begin to come clear and your confidence and experience grow.You will see clearly that the learning experience is a positive feedback loop. You will take some photos, see what you like and dont like, realise what factors contributed to making a good or bad photo, and keep that in mind the next time you take photos. This happens every time you take photos and study the results.Do not despair with initial failures. Every failure is a lesson learned. Enjoy the process knowing that as long as you stick at it and strive to improve you will get better. And remember, you never ever stop learning.Following are some useful feedback tools that can help accelerate the feedback loop learning process.How to learn photography7 histogram is a very useful graphical tool that can tell you a great deal about a photograph at a glance. Most cameras have an option to display a histogram of photographs they have taken, either by pressing a button to display more information or by default after each image taken.The histogram is a graph, showing a relative count of the number of pixels on the vertical axis against the brightness value of the pixels on the horizontal axis. It is important to note that the brightness values on the horizontal axis are possible values that can be recorded by the chip. The column on the farthest right of the histogram counts the number of pixels in the photograph which have been recorded as white, or the brightest value that the sensor can record. The left most column counts the number of pixels in the photo which are black, and did not register any light recorded by the sensor.If, for example, the brightest pixel in the image is recorded by the sensor as only 50% brightness, then all of the columns in the histogram to the right of the centre will have a zero value. This would usually be interpreted as an underexposed image.Reading and understanding the histogram can be tricky, but is a valuable skill to learn. The following are a couple of great resources online, which explain how to read a histogram, and how it relates to the photo.How to Read Image Histograms at Epic Edits Camera Histograms, Tones & Colour at Cambridge in ColourHow to learn photography8Using the histogramA high key exposure shows a histogram with pixels at all brightness values and a large peak to the right.A second photo shows a large spike of dark brightness values and an even spread of other brightnesses.Right: The view of the info screen on the back of a Canon 5D MkII, including the histogram at top right. important piece of information you can learn about your photo from the histogram is whether parts of the photo are clipped. When a large number of pixels are pushed up either end of the histogram, and the graph begins or ends with a steep cliff, then it is likely that the histogram of the actual real world scene its variety of brightness levels exceeds that which your camera has recorded. As a result, bright, but not white, objects in a photo may be captured as white pixels. This can often be seen in highlights in a scene, such as in sunlit clouds. Detail is thus lost in the clipped highlights, or shadows if the clipping occurs at the dark end of the histogram.If you see and recognise clipping in the histogram of your photo, then you can try to do something about it. Rather than allow bright areas of your photo to go white and lose detail, you can choose to compensate the exposure by under-exposing. This can sometimes result in a subject which is too dark. In these circumstances you have to decide what is important to the photo, seeing the subject in sufficiently bright light or capturing good highlight or shadow details.There are other options for dealing with clipped pixels in your photo which we will come back to in a future chapter.Refer to it oftenWhen first learning how to control your exposure, the histogram will provide very helpful instant feedback. If your camera has the option, set it to display the histogram beside each photo you take. Look at the histogram for every photo, and learn to see how histograms for different photos look. You will soon learn to tell if your photo is over- or under-exposed, or clipped better than you could just by looking at the thumbnail.What you learn about the histogram on the camera will also pay off when you come to process your photos, as the histogram is a key tool in this as well. We will discuss processing your photos in detail in the next book in the Photo Nuts series.How to learn photography9Correctly exposed for the foreground, much of the sky is blown out, and the histogram shows many pixels pushed up the far right: clipping.Under-exposing slightly brings all of the sky pixels into the histogram, preserving detail, and only slightly underexposing the foreground.EXIF DataWhen you take a digital photo, an enormous amount of information is captured and stored with it in the image file.EXIF, an acronym meaning Exchangeable image file format,is a specification almost universally used by camera manufacturers for storing multiple fields of information about the camera and its state when a photo is taken. Much of this information is of little interest to the typical photographer; however, all of the crucial camera settings, such as aperture, shutter speed and ISO, are preserved. When learning how to take control of your cameras settings, it is vitally important to see the effect the use of different settings has on the resulting image. After every photo shoot, you should look through all of your images in a viewer or editor to access this crucial image EXIF data. Whenever you see an image which has failed, for example it may be too blurry, over-exposed, with a poor colour cast, or too noisy, look at the cameras settings for that photo. You should look for clues as to why the image didnt work, and keep them in mind the next time you take photos in a similar situation. Likewise, if a photo has turned out particularly well, the settings will help you understand how that was achieved. Every time you look at a photo and recognise how the settings helped to create it, youll improve your photography knowledge a little bit more. Doing this in a variety of shooting locations will be even more valuable as you see how the different conditions affect the photos and the settings you must choose.How to learn photography10The EXIF data shown via Adobe Lightroom.How to see So far we have started this book talking about technique, but there is a lot more to photography than knowing what to do. Just as important as knowing how to shoot is knowing how to think. A few chapters in this book take a more philosophical approach, and help you to learn more about a photographers frame of mind and way of thinking. This is the difference between taking photos and making photos.Everyone knows the power and impact that a great photo can have. Anyone can see a photo and say Wow thats amazing. You need to learn to know why the photo is amazing, and how to make yours more like it. Some photographers call this skill as knowing how to see.Every art form has its own depths and complexities that can take a lifetime to learn. The best art has many layers of meaning and complexity, and an expert can see, understand and appreciate what has gone into the creation of that art. Not all art appreciators are good at art, but the best artists also need to be art appreciators. By understanding these levels of complexity, and how to achieve them, they are better able to create great art themselves. This is true of photography, and it is what is meant by learning how to see. To become a better photographer, one should also become a better photography appreciator.Earlier in the book, I encouraged photographers to participate in photography communities to build their confidence. A further benefit to engaging in these communities is being exposed to the work of many other photographers. As you spend more time looking at others work, you will see many photos that you like, many more that dont appeal to you, and some that stand out from the others as outstanding works of art.Over time you will develop a better understanding of what it is you like in photos. It is important to remember that there are many different tastes in photography, and no one type of photography is better than another. It will also become obvious that some photos are better examples of a particular kind of photography than others. It is the differences between these photos that you need to understand.Look at as many photos as possible, from a wide range of photographers. Even skimming quickly through a folio is a great learning exercise. When you see a photo that you love, stop and examine it more closely. Think about what effect the photo first had on you, and look more closely to try to work out why the photo had that impact, and how the photographer achieved it. Perhaps it was the composition, the subject, the lighting, other factors, or more likely, a combination of all of these. The more great photos you see, and look more deeply into, the better you will understand how photographers achieve the impact their work has on you, and the better you will be able to re-create the same impact in your photos.You should be able to articulate what it is you like about a photo and why you like it. If you cannot How to see12Photo appreciationdo this, then you will struggle to include these elements in your own photos. As an exercise, pick out three of your favourite photos that you have found online, and write in list form what specifically you like and dislike about the photos and why. Going beyond photography communities, make an effort to see more photos from the great photographers. Go to galleries and exhibitions, watch television documentaries and buy books featuring the collected works of great photographers.In addition to looking at the works of great photographers, getting inside their heads can be very rewarding. Television documentaries in particular are a fantastic way to learn more about influential photographers, the context of their work, and even their thought process behind the creation of their works.What you are trying to achieve here is to see and understand the creative process, and internalise it, so that it becomes a part of your thinking whenever you take a photograph yourself. This will help grow your confidence and improve your photos.Images in a Flickr gallery. Above: Digital Photography School forum.Attending gallery shows allows you to see current and classic photographic works in person. atop Mount Hotham, Victoria. Photography is different from many other arts in that a lot of what photographers do is capture that which already exists. This is not to say that complexity and meaning are not added by the photographer; quite the contrary. However, rather than creating all of the meaning in our photos from our minds, we need to learn how to see meaning in the world, and decide how that will affect the final photo.The photographers attitude and intention can dramatically affect how the resulting photo will be seen. Given a particular subject, say a girl sitting under a tree, a photographer can make different photos that say very different things. The photo may show a peaceful afternoon enjoying the outdoors, or it may show a cold and abandoned girl looking for shelter. A close-up on the face may show a beautiful portrait, or focusing on an ant crawling over her foot can make a statement about nature, or insignificance. The message the photographer wants to convey is far more important to the final photo than the subject.Artistic intentionHow to see14Many photos can be made from the same scene, depending on the photographers intention.All photography students are taught the rules of photography, and countless tutorials on the web emphasise their importance. The rule of thirds, appropriate use of depth of field, keeping horizons level, not shooting into the sun, using a tripod in low light and many other commandments are often preached as the final word in good photography. In fact we will be discussing many of these rules later in this book.It is very important, however, that every photographer knows and fully understands these basic rules, so that they may be aware when to break them. Photographic compositions generally shouldnt be haphazard collections of objects, placed in the frame wherever they happen to be visible from a random location. Care and thought should be put into each composition, and the rules of composition that photographers are familiar with are very helpful to create balanced, harmonious, compelling images.Only when you understand the rules of composition, why they work and what effect they have on the final image is it appropriate for you to choose to ignore them for a better photo. Breaking the rules should be a deliberate choice to achieve a specific aim. Well come back to this topic once we have covered the rules of photography in a later chapter. How to see15Learn the rules and then break themThis photo breaks many rules: Tilted horizon, subject not on the thirds line, the light is below the subjects eyes, there was significant camera movement (the subject was frozen by flash); yet the photo still works.Often, the best photos are those which have a powerful emotional impact. Being the visual creatures that we are, we can easily see and understand the emotion of a scene, especially those with people in them. It is important to be aware of that as a photographer, and how emotion affects your images.The quality of the light, colour, perspective, composition, and most obviously the people in your photos all impact on their emotional strength and context. Dont ignore your own emotional state either. What you are feeling, naturally affects the photo you are taking, and you can make sure the emotional impact of your photo is maximised if you are aware of why you are emotional and how you can show that in the photo.How to see16EmotionsFriends and strangers who know I am a photographer sometimes ask me questions about photography, and how to take better photos. Almost always these are how, what or where questions. Before you can answer any of those, first you must answer:Why?This simple question can take many forms, and the answers can be complicated, but taking photos without knowing the why leaves you adrift, and your photos will suffer. In this section I will address what I see as some of the most important whys of photography. This is only my personal experience but it is gained from years of photography and a lifetime of asking why.Why take photos?This is the big, broad, philosophical question, and the most easily ignored. I believe, however, it is the most important one to answer. Many budding photographers pick up a camera, and start shooting things that look cool: sunsets, babies, animals, landscapes. This is all great, and much can be learned with this scattered approach, but you can only go so far before the motivation starts to run dry and you lose the initial excitement of taking photos.The best photographers are motivated to take photos by specific reasons. There can be more than one motivating reason, and they can change over time, but the important thing is to be aware of it. Lets say your motivation, as is one of mine, is to show the beauty of nature. If this is a goal you have in mind How to see17Motivationwhen youre taking photos, it will help you to find more compelling shots. What is it about nature that amazes you? How does that amazement show itself to the eye? How can you capture that in the camera? How do you convey the emotion you feel to the people who will eventually see your photo? When is the best time to get that shot? Where should you be when you take the photo?Understanding the broad, motivating why naturally leads you to the other questions that help you get the great shots you want. But remember, there is not only one why. There will be many and they will change over time.Why this shot?Every time you trigger the shutter, you are making a creative decision. But shooting like a machine gun, clicking at every opportunity in the hopes of getting a good frame from amongst the junk will end up a frustrating experience. You wont get the best possible photos this way; these require thought and decision.When I was first playing around with a camera and learning about taking pictures, I was using an old second-hand film SLR. I was a kid on an allowance, and my father gave me some advice that sticks in my mind to this day: Every time you want to take a photo, imagine Im behind you, tapping you on the shoulder and asking: Is it worth a dollar?.Despite the fact that film and processing costs are irrelevant in the era of the digital camera, the advice is still very appropriate. Is the photo youre about to take good enough that you would be willing to pay for it? If not, why are you taking it? Not every photo has to be worthy of printing and framing, there are other good reasons for taking photos: for practice, to experiment with an idea, to test the exposure, continuous shooting to ensure you get the shot, to risk the mundane for a chance at the excellent. Every photo, however, should have a reason, and if you are aware of the reason you will take better photos.Why this equipment?If you are fortunate enough to have a variety of photographic equipment available to you, such as lenses, light sources, a tripod, etc., then you have a lot of flexibility when creating your images. Many photographers will have a specific kind of photo in mind for each piece of equipment; or conversely, for each kind of situation they will know exactly what gear it needs.Stopping to ask yourself why will make you think about the image more and possibly open your mind to alternatives. Sure that portrait looks great with the telephoto lens, but after youve taken it that way, why not get up close with a wide- angle for a different feel? Yes the low light means you need a tripod, but why not also take a photo with the camera deliberately in motion to create a more dynamic image?Why these settings?The meter suggests shutter and aperture settings for a good exposure, but why not try something different? Why not push the exposure way up the bright end and get a high key photo, for that dramatic stark look? Why not change the auto white balance from daylight to tungsten to get a dramatic cool blue image?Understanding why certain settings work and what kind of images they produce will mean that you will learn about light and taking photos much faster, and youll always be open to creative deviations from the normal.Why should others care?You may love that sunset shot, but why would anyone else? If youre shooting for an audience, and not just for your own pleasure, it helps a great deal to understand their tastes and interests. This is critical in professional photography, but even if you are just taking photos to show your family, understanding their feelings will make their enjoyment of your work that much greater. Remember how Aunt Jane loves daffodils, dont pass up a chance to shoot them. Uncle Joe always hates having his photo taken, but everyone else wants a treasured memory of his birthday.Some photographers, possibly the most noble, use their work as a tool for social change. Nowhere else is an understanding of why more important. Why is the subjects plight important? Why should everyone know whats happening? Why hasnt the issue been given better coverage? Why is it worth risking your life to get the message out? Only when you understand the why How to see18of suffering or injustice can you ask the other questions of how to capture the message in the image and where and when to be to get it.Why arent you asking why more?A simple exercise you can do to improve your photos, before you even pick up the camera, is start playing the game of why that you probably last played when you were three. Ask yourself a why question about your photography and imagine the answer, then ask why of the answer, and why of that answer, and so on. Pretty soon youll get down to the very core of the question, and by understanding the big whys, you can take better pictures.The sun sets beneath a pier at Meningie, South AustraliaThe quality of lightLight is everything in photography. Without light, there is no image, and everything we do in taking a photo is ultimately about getting the right kind of light to go to the right places to create the image. Understanding how light works in photography is critical to getting good photos.Understanding light can be a difficult thing. We are all intimately familiar with light, and the emotions it can make us feel. We all know a sunny day, the golden light of sunset, the warm glow of a single sunbeam streaming through a window, the cold harsh light of street lamps or that magical moment when the sun breaks through heavy storm clouds. Knowing how to recreate that light or the emotion it evokes isnt something that comes easily, however. Creating or controlling light to give exactly the emotion they want is something that even experienced photographers can struggle with.The first thing you must understand is the basic qualities of light and how they affect the scene.When describing the light in a photo or the environment, we need to take note of the various qualities of the light. Light is light, but depending on a number of factors how it appears to illuminate a subject can change dramatically. All of these qualities apply to natural and artificial light alike. You will probably have less control over the qualities of the natural light you have available, but understanding them is still important to creating the image you want.The brightness, or strength, of the light is an obvious quality of the light, and the overall brightness in a scene is the key factor in determining the exposure. Two main factors determine the brightness of the light: the absolute brightness of the light source, and its distance from the subject. As a subject is moved further away from the light, or as the light is moved, the brightness of the light on the subject drops off quickly. The rate of the dimming is based on the inverse square law, which states that as the distance to the light source is doubled, the brightness is quartered. It is important to be aware of this, as small movements of the light source or subject can have a dramatic effect on the photo.Things get a bit more complicated when the light is diffused, which we will discuss in more detail shortly. But when something comes between the light source and the subject, such as a diffusion umbrella, or the light bouncing off a wall, the brightness of that light source is decreased. This doesnt complicate the estimation of the brightness of the light source, however, because the diffusion material itself is now considered to be the light source. A white wall may not be creating the light, but from the perspective of a photographic subject the light is indeed coming from that wall, and the inverse square law applies to the distance to the wall, not to the sun illuminating it.The same thing applies to light passing through a murky environment, such as fog, water or indeed the Earths atmosphere at sunset. The particles act as a diffuser and extinguish the light to some extent. The particles scatter and reflect the light, becoming the light source themselves from the perspective of the subject.The quality of light20BrightnessThis difficult, high contrast photo, shot directly into the bright setting sun, was achieved by manually blending three exposure bracketed images Lakes Entrance, Victoria.Where the light source is relative to the subject determines the angle at which that light hits the subject. This angle can have a dramatic effect on the resulting image, as Alfred Hitchcock knew very well. Lighting his actors from below gave them a very sinister appearance. The mood and emotional content of a photo is heavily influenced by the positioning of the subject relative to the light.Just as the position of the light affects the mood of the photo, so does it affect its shape. In typical photographs, we are unable to see three-dimensional depth, as the same image is presented to both eyes. The brain is able to work out the three-dimensional shape of an object, however, by looking at where and how the shadows fall on the object. The shallower the angle of the light source relative to a feature, the longer the shadow of that feature will be, and the more apparent its three-dimensional shape will be. Front lighting, originating near the camera, reveals few shadows and the subject will appear to be flat, with less textural detail.PositionLights in different positions can also act as part of a team of lights doing different jobs in a photo. Effect lights can be positioned behind the subject, overhead, directly to the side, or anywhere else that they fulfil a specific function.Shallow angled light on the face exaggerates the three-dimensionality of the models features. Left: Putting the sun directly behind creates a dramatic silhouette, but flattens the subject.The quality of light21The size of the light source, or more accurately the apparent size of the light source to the subject, also has a big effect on how the photo will look. Simply, the larger the apparent light source, the softer the shadows that fall on the subject will be. When referring to apparent size, this means how big the light source appears to the subject, or to be technical, the range of angles from where light is illuminating the subject. If the light is coming only from one very small place, then the shadows will be sharp edged and dark. This is called hard light. A larger light source, however, illuminates the subject from a wider range of angles. This means that more of the light can wrap around the edges of features which cast shadows, filling in the shadows to a certain extent, and spreading the boundary of the shadow over a larger area. This is called soft light.Hard light is seen as more dramatic and contrasty. It exaggerates surface textures more and has smaller, brighter highlights on reflective surfaces. Soft light fills in shadows, smoothing out texture and spreading the reflected highlights over a wider area, and reducing their intensity. Soft lighting is especially favoured in portrait photography, particularly fashion photography, for its ability to hide wrinkles and show a softer, smoother appearance for skin.SizeA large light source produces very soft shadows, most apparent under the nose and on the neck.A small light source has the reverse effect, creating crisp high contrast shadows, again most visible from the nose and on the neck.The quality of light22Light that the human eye can see is made up of the full spectrum of the rainbow, from red to violet, and any mixture of these. White light, of course, is the equal mixture of all colours, although as we discussed in the White Balance chapter of Photo Nuts and Bolts the human eye can see a number of different whites, from cool to warm.Colour is important in your photography for a few reasons, chief among these being the emotional impact of colour on your subject, and more technically how the colour of the light source affects the colours of your subject.A following chapter will discuss the emotional messages of your photography in greater detail, but when considering the colour of the light in your photo it is important to be aware that colour can dramatically change the emotional context of the photo. Bluer photos appear cooler, emotionally negative and more desolate, while yellower colours are more warm, happy and intimate. This applies not only to the colour of the source of the light in your photo, but in the overall tone of the colours, which can be controlled in the post-processing of your photo.From the perspective of the viewer, the colour of the light source and the colour of the subject are the same. Unless the subject is expected to be a particular colour, such as a yellow banana, an object lit by a coloured light will simply appear to be that colour. This is important to keep in mind when colour accuracy is important, such as photographing artwork, food or clothing.On the flip side, using coloured light sources for effect can allow you to deliberately change the The quality of light23Colourappearance of the subject, so as to make a white dress appear red, or a blue flower look purple. There is a limit to how far you can go when changing a subjects colour with coloured light sources. As a coloured object reflects a narrow range of coloured light, some unexpected results can occur. For example, red and green are opposites on the colour wheel, and as such do not reflect each other well. Illuminating a green leaf with a red light will cause the leaf to look very dark or even black. No such problem will be encountered when lighting a white subject, however.Even if you are using only white light to illuminate your scene, coloured light can result, depending upon from what the light is reflected. White light reflected from a coloured surface will pick up that colour when reflected.Take a photo of a tomato sitting on a white bench and you will see a red glow underneath the tomato where the reflected red light illuminates the bench. This can be a problem when a large portion of your light is being reflected from a coloured surface. Bouncing a flash off a coloured surface will make the flash light take on that colour.A composite of close-up photos of bubbles in water, their motion frozen by a flash, modified with red, green and blue coloured gels respectively.The quality of light24The sun sets on anglers at high tide, near Scarborough, Queensland. The dramatic colours of sunset are enhanced in post-processing.As weve just implied, the surface qualities of a subject can affect its appearance in the photo, and affect other subjects in the photo. Aside from shifting the colour of the light reflected from an object, its surface qualities also change how the object looks to our eyes in the resulting image.Specularity is the reflective quality or shininess of a surface, and is often the most significant surface quality you need to be aware of when creating the scene and its lighting. All we are concerned about with an objects specularity is how it reflects the light sources illuminating it. The shinier an object is, the smaller the reflection of the light source or specular highlight, but the brighter it will be. In this case, think of a polished billiard ball. Conversely, the less shiny an object, the larger the reflection of the light source, and the dimmer it will appear. A basketball is a good example of an object with a low specularity.The light source itself has an effect on the appearance of the specular highlight. The smaller the apparent size of the light source, the smaller and brighter the specular highlight. The reverse is also true. If you want to minimise the size of the highlight, make the object look shinier, or make it seem like the subject is outdoors, use a smaller light source. If you want to de-emphasise the specular highlights, make the object look more matte and reduce the contrast of the specular highlight in the photo; a larger light source will help.We all have expectations of how an object should look, and the specular highlight is a large part of that. Lighting a subject so that the specular highlight is visible can make it look more real, and by controlling its position and The quality of light25Surface qualitiesappearance, we can make useful creative decisions. The surface texture or roughness also influences how the light interacts with the object, and thus how it appears in the photo. The rougher the texture, the more shadows the object will cast upon itself, and the darker it will appear when illuminated from an angle. A rough surface, however, will also scatter light more evenly, and have a less specular appearance. If the light source is from near the camera the shadows will become invisible and the surface will appear brighter, but less rough. Bark or sandpaper are examples of a rough surface.The reverse is also true, with smoother surfaces appearing brighter if they are not very shiny, but from the right angle they will appear to reflect the light source much more brightly. Finally, the shape of the surface will affect the specular highlight. The more curved the surface, the smaller the specular highlight. A curved surface will also make the specular highlight visible from a larger proportion of the points of view the object is viewed from. The reverse is true, all the way to a flat surface, which will have a very large specular highlight, but that highlight can only be seen from a much smaller range of angles. This is due to the nature of reflections.A shiny smooth tomato has a small, brighter highlight.Surface qualities can vary dramatically.The furry matte surface of a kiwi fruit creates a large specular highlight.Every surface that isnt emitting light will reflect it. Different surfaces will reflect light differently, depending on their surface qualities as we have already discussed. A photographer can take advantage of reflected light, not just the light reflecting from objects in the scene, but also by specifically reflecting light into the scene from other objects.Strangely enough, such objects are called reflectors and are used often by photographers to redirect light into parts of the scene they want to illuminate better. Commonly a reflector will be used to reflect some of the key light into the shadows it creates, thus showing detail in otherwise dark areas. Some reflectors have a coloured surface in order to change the colour of the light they reflect, as discussed in the Colour section on page 23.Complex groups of reflectors of different size and surfaces might be used to control the light on a subject very carefully. This can often eliminate the need for additional light sources, and is a great way to increase your shooting options when your budget is limited, or artificial lighting isnt practical.Reflecting diffused light deliberately is only one aspect of reflection in photography. Reflections can be a bane or a boon, and they are sometimes easy to miss. A reflection in a window may accidentally reveal the photographer, or some other unwanted element in a photo. Highly reflective surfaces can confuse the cameras exposure meter, especially if a bright light source is reflected into the lens. Photographing a highly reflective subject can be very challenging, The quality of light26Reflectionas not only may the camera and photographer be seen in its surface, but such objects appear to take on the brightness and colour of objects near them. Care must be taken to control what the object can see so that the reflections from that object do not become objectionable, or confuse the appearance of the object.Creative photos including reflections are familiar to everyone. A mountain range reflected in a placid lake, an upside-down portrait of an individual peering into a pond and an old church steeple reflected in the glass windows of a modern skyscraper are among the kind of creative reflection photos we commonly see. Keeping an eye open for the creative opportunities that reflections can offer will sometimes result in an amazing photo.Right: Tannin-filled water and a still morning combine to create a remarkable mirror image on Gordon River, Tasmania, famous for the effect.Below: A model lies on shiny woodboards, giving her a reflection which anchors her in white space.Of lesser importance than reflection, the refraction and projection of light are something to be aware of in photography. Refraction occurs whenever light passes through a transparent medium, which bends the light in some way. Most familiar is light passing through water, such as a glass of water creating patterns of light on a tabletop, the stems of flowers in a vase appearing to break when passing through the water, and the formation of hundreds of tiny lenses when raindrops collect on a window. Projection is the result of light passing through a coloured translucent material, or a natural pinhole camera, and then being reflected off a surface. A familiar example of this would be the patterns of light on the floor of a church caused by sunlight streaming through a stained glass window. Less familiar is the effect during a solar eclipse when sunlight passing through the leaves of a tree, for example, projects thousands of tiny crescent suns on the ground.Both refraction and projection can be artificially created or controlled by the photographer for creative effect, as the following examples demonstrate.Refraction and projectionLeft: Light streams through stained glass windows, projecting coloured patterns onto the walls of the hallway. Right: Light shines through a glass ornament, projecting coloured light onto a white surface.A street performer gazes through a crystal ball, creating an inverted image of herself.The quality of light27Just as important as making sure your subject is illuminated is controlling where that illumination can reach. We have already discussed that the three-dimensional nature of a subject is shown by the pattern of light and shadow across that subject. If that light indiscriminately illuminates the subject, three-dimensionality can be difficult to see. A photographer can sculpt the light by careful positioning and controlling of the light sources, but also restricting where that light falls.Restricting light is simply a matter of creating shadows. Any time an object comes between a light source and a subject, a shadow is cast on the subject. By using various light restricting devices, we can have even greater control of the shadows to affect a change in the appearance of the photo.Flags, snoots, grids and cookies are some of the tools used to restrict the light. A flag is simply a dark piece of card or fabric that is used to block some light. A snoot is a long tube that is fitted over an artificial light to limit the light source to creating a small pool of light. A grid is similar to a snoot, but restricts the light even further. A cookie is a kind of flag that has various holes cut into it to create a pattern of light, either ambiguous or a specific design, to be projected on the subject.Natural light restricting tools, essentially anything which casts a shadow, can be used in the same way. Light foliage creates a dappled pattern of light. Venetian blinds create dramatic horizontal bars of alternating light and dark. Fences can create a variety of shadow patterns that can have a variety of creative and emotional effects in a photo.RestrictionThe quality of light28Above: Trees create a natural block for the light, putting the model in beautiful soft light, while the background in full sun becomes over-exposed and indistinct.Right: Flash light is tightly restricted to fall only on the models face, and not the background or elsewhere, drawing the eye.When you think of controlling time in a photograph, you think of changing the shutter speed. Sometimes, however, the time that a light is illuminating a subject and the time that the shutter is open arent the same. On these occasions, you have to think a little more carefully about the timing of your exposure. Two typical examples of this are when mixing ambient light with flash, and when you are shooting a moving light source.When using a flash to help illuminate a photo, whether its a small pop up flash on a compact camera or a giant studio strobe on a light stand, shutter speed has no bearing on how much the flash will expose the scene. This is because flash units emit their light over a very, very short period of time, typically hundredths to thousandths of a second. If you want the ambient light that is the light which is already available in the scene before you add the flash illumination to contribute to the exposure, then you need to control that light level with the shutter speed. To control the effect of the high speed light source on the scene, the aperture must be adjusted.By combining part ambient and part flash illumination, you are essentially making two exposures at the same time: the one illuminated by the flash, and the much longer one illuminated by the ambient light. The resulting effect may be one you have seen before: a frozen nearby subject, which appears to be partly see-through, and a blurry background. This happens when there was camera or subject movement during the exposure. The flash freezes the subject and records it in an instant, but throughout the rest of the exposure, ambient light The quality of light29Timeis being recorded, and unless the camera and the subject are kept still, there will be some parts of the foreground subject which will be double exposed.This can be used to creative effect, and can result in some remarkable results.Time is not just a factor with artificial strobe lighting, there are some cases when you may see light sources that work in the same or a similar way when shooting with available light.Lightning works very much like strobe lighting, due to its very short duration. The shutter speed will not have any effect on the exposure of the lightning, and changing it will only affect the exposure of other elements in the scene. Adjust the exposure of the lighting with the aperture and the foreground with the shutter speed.A flash freezes a boy jumping on the beach, while the long duration exposure records the last light of the setting sun behind.A long exposure captures a trail of fire and a flash freezes the motion of the fire-twirling girl.Fireworks are slightly different, as they last longer; however, they move. This means that during an exposure, the light from a particular sparkle from a firework moves across the sensor. Changing the shutter speed will have no effect on how bright the spark will appear in the photo, only the length of the trail it makes as it moves through the exposure. Again, adjusting the aperture will affect the exposure of the fireworks, and the shutter speed will affect the foreground.Any other light source that moves during an exposure works the same way, such as tail lights on a car, an artificial light in shot while the camera moves, a glow stick being waved around and so on. Its important to remember that while the shutter speed has no effect on the exposure of a short duration light burst, or a moving light source, which we must then control via aperture, the aperture also affects the elements of the scene illuminated by ambient light. If you take photos of fireworks, and stop down your lens to control their brightness, you will need to compensate for the narrow apertures effect on the rest of the scene by using a longer shutter speed.Once you know about the qualities of light, then you can start to control them to create a mood and get your message across. Well discuss these ideas in later chapters.The light itself can cause problems in your photography that you may have to overcome. The quality of light30Fireworks leave trails through a long exposure.Above: A long exposure while driving causes the street light to streak as the car moves. Left: A camera on a tripod can capture long exposures, such as this 30-second night sky photo.In a perfect world, every photon of light entering your lens will be formed into a perfect image on the sensor, and contribute to the image. Unfortunately, unwanted light can enter the lens, or the light you want to capture can be deviated from where you want it to be after it has entered the lens. The term used to describe these problems is lens flare. Lens flare manifests itself in different ways, from different causes, but primarily results in either reduced contrast, image artefacts, or both. Most lens flares and the artefacts they generate are most obvious when there is a very bright light source near a large dark area. This provides a contrast against which the artefacts will be more visible. Some examples illustrate the effect.Bright light in shotWhen there is a bright light source in the shot, a bright glow will usually appear around the light source, and other points or shapes of light, sometimes of varying colour, as well as rays or spikes emanating from the light source may be seen. The glow is what we would already be familiar The quality of light31Flarewith from looking at bright lights with our own eyes. The image artefacts, however, are caused by the bright light source bouncing off the various optical surfaces the lenses within the body of the lens. The more optical surfaces there are, the more potential reflections there will be. As a result more complicated lenses, such as telephoto zooms, will often show more complicated lens flare patterns.The patterns of image artefacts will always form in a line across the image. This line connects the position of the light source in the shot and through the centre of the frame. As such, you can sometimes hide some lens flare artefacts by putting the light source in the centre of the frame, although this is usually undesirable for composition reasons. Also keep in mind that multiple bright light sources will likely create multiple lines of lens flare effects.Bright light out of shot If the bright light source is just outside the edge of the frame, lens flare can still occur, but it may take on quite a different appearance. Often a streak or line of light will point into the frame, next to where the light source is. This can create a complicated pattern of light, which is caused by a combination of internal reflections and diffraction. The geometric shapes that form in a line across the frame when the light is in the shot are often absent, or much less obvious. The intensity of this kind of flare depends greatly on how far out of frame the light source is, as well as the brightness of the light source.Spots in the shot from dust Sometimes you will see geometric shapes in the photo that arent on the straight line that passes through the light source and the centre of the frame. In these cases, what you are seeing is dust or foreign objects on the surface of the lens which are being illuminated by the light source. These spots reflect and scatter light into the lens and, especially where there is a contrasting background, can appear in the photo. This problem is often more apparent on photos taken with very wide-angle lenses, such as fisheyes.General low contrast shooting into the lightA more subtle and insidious form of lens flare is the general loss of contrast caused by unwanted light being scattered around the interior of the lens. This problem always accompanies a bright light in or near the frame, but when compared with the more visible lens flaring artefacts may be overlooked. Even if the bright light is well out of the frame, particularly with telephoto lenses, the scattered light falling on the lens but not forming part of the image can significantly reduce the contrast in the photo. This reduced contrast is fairly even across the whole frame, making it difficult to see through the viewfinder, or on the rear screen, especially when trying to see your photo in bright lighting conditions. Often a photographer may not notice the problem until they view the photo on their computer screen.Bright diffuse source leaking into nearby sections When you are shooting a large, diffuse, bright light source, with nearby objects with far lower exposure value, the light source can spill over on to other areas of the photo. This is especially so when you are exposing for the darker parts of the scene and is commonly the case when shooting against a window. The whole image may not necessarily be affected as described above, but the contrast of the image near the light source can be significantly reduced.The quality of light32A lens hood eliminates flare.Interior barrel illuminated on fisheyesCircular fisheye lenses, those whose images do not completely fill the frame, can be affected in another way when stray light enters the lens. The black part of the frame in a photo taken with this kind of lens is actually the interior of the lens. Usually this is too dark to see, but when there is a very bright light source in the frame, the interior walls of the lens can be illuminated enough such that they actually become visible in the photo. This is exactly the thing that happens with all lenses in these situations, but the field of view of circular fisheye lenses allows you to actually see the problem. Fisheye lenses are also often regarded as being particularly susceptible to lens flare, due both to the fact that their huge fields of view make keeping a bright light source out of the frame difficult, and also that the extreme optics required to form an image from such a wide field of view are more prone to the kind of flaws that generate internal reflections.What to do about flareLens designNot all lenses are created equal, although lens design technology is constantly improving. Modern lenses use many technologies and techniques to combat internal reflections and lens flaring. Internal baffles, light absorbing materials, anti-reflective coatings, special optical glass materials and other methods make modern lenses far less prone to flaring than their predecessors. Having said that, some of these features are absent in cheaper lenses to keep their cost down. When choosing a lens, be sure to read reviews or ask advice about how well each lens performs when shooting into bright light sources.HoodAn essential piece of equipment to reduce flare is a lens hood. Many lenses come with hoods as standard, and if you are going to be shooting on a sunny day, or in high contrast lighting situations, you should use it. Some photographers, including myself, would advise you to always use a lens hood anyway to help protect the lens from bumps and scratches, as well as lens flare. A lens hood may not always be provided with your lens. In a pinch, one can be made easily enough with some dark card, or even electrical tape. There are also websites which have downloadable lens hood templates for a huge variety of lenses.Finally, very wide-angle lenses have problems with lens hoods becoming visible in the shot. For this reason, hoods for wide-angle lenses are often short and provide minimal shading of bright light. Fisheye lenses may not be able to use a hood at all. This is another reason why wide-angle shooters must be particularly careful with lens flare.The quality of light33A lens hood will exclude stray light and reduce lens flare.FiltersEvery optical surface that light has to pass through before it gets to the sensor is a potential place where it can be reflected or scattered. An optical surface is any change from one medium to another, such as from air to glass, glass to glass or between two different kinds of optical glass. Each lens or filter has at least two surfaces, the front and back. Putting a filter on your lens adds two optical surfaces to the light path and has the potential to create artefacts and reduce contrast. The quality of the filter can make a big difference to how serious the problems it adds are. High quality filters, with good optical glass, surface coatings and finely polished surfaces will have a minimal negative impact on image quality.One other thing to consider with filters is that there is also an additional two surfaces for dust and dirt to accumulate, plus a filter will prevent you from getting access to the front of the lens to clean it, unless you remove the filter. All photographers should be meticulous with caring for and cleaning their lenses. Photographers using filters must be especially so.Zoom lenses, especially telephotos, are also more prone to having dust and dirt sucked into the interior of the lens. This is because the action of zooming a lens changes the pressure of the air inside it, causing the air to flow into or out of the lens body. Telephoto lenses move longer distances and thus exchange more air. When air is sucked into the lens, dust may be carried with it. Unfortunately, the only way to safely clean the inside of your lens is to have it professionally serviced. Keeping your lens exterior clean, as well as cleaning your camera bag interior, will reduce the chance of dirt or dust being sucked into the body of the lens.Shooting angleThe most obvious, but least desirable way to control lens flare is simply to shoot without a bright light source in or near the frame. This isnt really a desirable way to control flare, as you will miss many photo opportunities if you shoot this way. However, a little bit of thought and awareness can potentially reduce flare, simply by changing your point of view.First, make sure that you arent unintentionally including a bright light in your shot, such as a street lamp on a dark night. If you have the option of changing your point of view of a subject, such as shooting a portrait on a sunny day, move yourself or your subject enough so that the sun is away from the frame, or better yet, move the subject into the shade. Sometimes you can occlude or block a bright light with objects in the scene. Putting a tree between yourself and the sun is a great way to shade your lens. Some very cool and dramatic portraits can be made if the sun is directly behind the head of a portrait subject, which will both shade your lens and produce a dramatic halo effect in your subjects hair.If you cant remove or block a bright light from within your shot, take a couple of photos with slightly different compositions and see where the flare artefacts fall. It would be unfortunate for a bright blue hexagon to cover the face of a portrait subject.Finally, try a different lens or focal length on a zoom lens. If you have the opportunity to move closer or further away from your subject, a different lens, particularly a prime focus lens, may reduce the appearance of lens flare and artefacts.ProcessingIf all else fails, and you are unable to avoid visible or distracting lens flare, or reduced image contrast in your photo, you still have options when processing your photos. We will look at processing in great detail in the next book in the Photo Nuts series, but here are a couple of tips to help you out right away. As always, shooting in RAW will give you much more latitude when processing your photos. Low contrast issues can often be dramatically improved, or completely fixed, simply by tweaking the contrast and The quality of light34Clean lensAs mentioned above, it is very important to make sure that your lens is kept clean at all times. Day-to-day use and handling of a lens will introduce dirt, dust, finger grease and other foreign material to the surface of the lens. Every photographers camera bag should have a high quality lens cloth or two, and both the front and rear external surfaces of your lenses should be cleaned regularly.exposure setting in processing software. Check the histogram, and ensure that the darkest pixels are near the black end. If not, then the photo is not as contrasty as it could be. Changing the black point in the photo will help this greatly, but only if it results in the artistic improvement of the image.Removing lens flare artefacts or visible dirt from the photo is trickier, but many editing and processing tools allow for editing small regions of photos, and may be able to completely remove the problem. This is not so easy, however, when an artefact is on a detailed or important part of a photo, such as a face. It is always better to try to eliminate the problem in camera than it is afterwards in processing.Using flare creativelySo far Ive only talked about lens flare as being a problem to try to avoid, but there are plenty of creative opportunities to be found when shooting with lens flare. Lens flares can look very dramatic, cinematic and theatrical, and may add a sense of Hollywood glamour to a photo. Glaring sun in your shot can remind the viewer of a hot summers day, or a trip to the beach. The loss of contrast when shooting into the sun, especially at sunset with its orange glow, can give the whole photo a soft warm look that evokes feelings of a hot summer evening. Dont be afraid to experiment with the creative applications of lens flare. Youll be much better at getting the outcome you want when you know how to control lens flare, so use the techniques described above not just to eliminate lens flare, but to sculpt and craft it for your artistic needs.The quality of light35Composition techniquesComposition is the choice and assembly of the various elements in a photograph, and how they are placed relative to each other and the frame. Composition is a key factor in expressing the message, emotion and story-telling of the photograph. Small changes in composition can have a significant effect on the appearance of the resulting image, and thought should always be given to composition, if possible. Good composition can seem a little bit like magic sometimes, but it can be learned. Technical, psychological, narrative and other techniques all contribute to the composition of an image.Over the years, photographers have learned many rules of thumb that help them to create compositions to convey the message they want. This topic is worthy of a book in itself, and there are many such books as well as countless online tutorials on the various rules. A book on becoming a better photographer wouldnt be complete without looking at composition, but for each of the rules discussed here, you will find more detailed resources elsewhere. It is important to say up front that these rules are only guidelines. For every example of why a rule is a good idea, there are examples of great photos that break those rules. What makes a good photo is also very subjective. We discussed earlier in How to see that you should know the rules in order to know when to break them. The following list will be a valuable starting point to learning good composition.We cant directly tell those who are looking at our photos what are the important parts of the photo, or what order they should look at things. We can take advantage of human psychology, however, and through composition techniques guide their gaze through the photo, knowing as we do how the eye subconsciously explores a scene.Most composition techniques are about using this leading of the eye to show the photo, and thus tell the story in the way that we want to as photographers.Leading the eyeComposition techniques37Left: The shoreline draws the eye towards the distant mountains.Above: Dramatic perspective leads the eye to the centre of the image.Right: A winding country road leads the viewer through the photo.The most often quoted rule of composition, the rule of thirds, divides the frame into three equal rows and columns, with two pairs of parallel lines, forming nine squares. Where the lines intersect creates four points of interest. It is said that the eye naturally comes to these lines of thirds in a photo, and just as naturally are drawn to the intersections.Placing objects in the photo on or even just near any of these lines creates a more pleasing composition than putting them elsewhere; moreover, the eye is drawn to the intersection points, and putting important features on or near these points gives them a more prominent place in the photo.Rule of thirdsComposition techniques38The guide above shows how the various features in the photo on the left align with the lines and intersections of the third lines.Right: The horizon lies on the bottom one-third, and even though the lighthouse is beyond the right third line, it is near enough to look good in the photo.The easiest and most effective way to lead the eye through a photo is to use lines. Essentially you are giving the eye a great big sign saying Look this way!. Lines are a very powerful tool in composition, as we cant help but follow them with our eyes. This can be a problem if we arent careful, as the viewers eye can be led right out of the picture, rather than deeper into it.HorizontalHorizontal lines, the most common of these being the actual horizon, lead the eye from left to right. These lines make an image feel wider and more expansive. If an object intersects this line, such as a farmhouse against the horizon, the eye will follow the line and stop at the object. We are all familiar with seeing the horizon, and we encounter it when outdoors in wide open spaces. This familiar, relaxed and friendly emotion can be captured with a photo showing the horizon.Composition techniques39LinesVerticalForests, buildings, fences and so forth are examples of vertical lines we may often shoot. Vertical lines lead the eye up and down the image, and give a sense of height, majesty and power. They can be used to represent impressive or oppressive artificial structures, or friendly, welcoming forests. When horizontal and vertical lines meet, such as a palm tree and the distant ocean, the eye is powerfully drawn to that point. This is a great place to put the main focus of your composition.DiagonalLines that cut across the composition diagonally add a dynamic element to a composition. Zig-zags of multiple diagonal lines are energetic, leading the eye back and forth across an image. Anything that intersects or appears on these lines immediately jumps out and calls attention to itself.PerspectiveThe lines that the eye finds most irresistible to follow are those formed by perspective, as parallel lines in the real world recede from the eye, and appear to converge in the photo. Looking down a railway track or long road draws the viewer deeply into the photo. Even more subtle lines, such as those down a street crowded with buildings or an avenue of trees, lead the eye towards the vanishing point, where the lines of perspective would meet.How to position the subject in the shot, also referred to as framing, is an important part of composition, and we talk about that elsewhere in this chapter. However, there is another way to frame your subject: within elements of the composition itself. You can use objects in the environment as elements in the photo to frame the subject. Shooting through an avenue of trees, an open window, overhanging vegetation, a hole in a rock outcropping or many other objects can have the effect of surrounding your subject in a kind of frame.Framing your subject within the photo sends a strong message to the viewer of what is important in the photo. Framing also gives a feeling of closeness or intimacy, and depending on the type of framing and the context, can even give the photograph a voyeuristic or candid feeling.FramingComposition techniques40Left: The interior of a washing machine make an unusual frame.Above: The elevator doors frame the glamorous woman.Right: Twin palms frame the sunset and passing boat.A visually complex scene can be confusing to look at with so much competing for the attention of the viewer. A bit of thought about the composition and camera settings, however, can help a great deal. It can be useful to visually define a number of planes of interest. You should be familiar with the concept of foreground, mid-ground and background. Try to separate complex scenes into distinct planes, and then direct the eye to those which are most important through composition and depth of field.Multiple planes of interestComposition techniques41Far left: Scrub in the foreground, water and reflections in the mid-ground, and a shed on a spit in the background define the planes of this photo.Left: The two girls stand apart from each other, and further again from the background.Above: A grand vista decreases in scale as the eye moves from majestic mountains, to a green forest, and in front, sheep grazing.A more subtle technique than lines is to isolate the part of the photo you wish to draw attention to from anything else in the frame. Using of a variety of compositional techniques will ensure that the viewer will know exactly what it is you want them to see, and you can lead their eye right there.Depth of fieldAn easy and effective method to draw attention to your subject is to make it the only thing in the frame in focus. As we explored in Photo Nuts and Bolts, the depth of field (or DOF) of a photo is controlled by adjusting the aperture. A narrow depth of field will result in objects in the photos which are approximately the same distance from your lens as your focusing point being in focus. Be aware that many things can be the same distance from your camera, so they will also be in focus. This may not be what you wish the eye to be drawn to, so position yourself or your subject so that only your subject remains in focus.Use of DOF for leading the eye is a very pleasing and attractive method. The out-of-focus areas of an image become nice and Composition techniques42Isolating the subjectsoft, and the transition to the focused parts of the images is smooth and gradual. This technique is especially effective if your subject is already isolated in the scene, and a significant distance from the background. A single flower, for example, can be shown against a completely indistinct background. A narrow depth of field is also useful if you are forced to shoot against a busy or distracting background. If you have no other choice you may be able to salvage a great photo from an overly complex or unattractive background.A lamb stands apart from the flock, isolated by the depth of field.Narrow depth of field softens the background allowing the babys face to be the focus.A very narrow DOF draws the eye specifically to the birds head and eyes.Colour separationPlanning or good fortune can present you with an opportunity to make your subject stand out through the use of colour. Photos with many colours can look busy, distracting and very energetic. By simplifying the composition to only include a few colours, there is less happening for the eye to take in. Relative levels of brightness also work in the same way.If your subject is mostly of a contrasting colour or brightness from the rest of the composition, it will stand out, and immediately attract the viewers attention. Look for opportunities to compose your image to take advantage of colour and brightness contrasts.Composition techniques43Negative spaceAlso known in the design world as white space, negative space is parts of your composition which have been deliberately left empty, and without detail. This can include expanses of sky, featureless cement, blurred background, or any low detail texture or area. Cramming a photograph with content can result in it looking cluttered or too busy, and it is difficult to work out what the main subject of the photo is.By considering how much negative space you surround your main subject with, you can not only draw attention to it, but you can also add to its meaning. Surrounding a person with a lot of negative space will make them seem smaller and less significant. When used in a landscape, you can create a sense of expansiveness and openness. Negative space, while showing nothing, has a very powerful effect on what is actually shown due to context and position.A pelican swims across a river at sunset, the negative space drawing attention to the silhouette.The significant use of negative space combined with the bold colours and strong geometric shapes result in a powerful minimalist image.A bold red shoe stands out against the grey background. The rug was desaturated in post-processing.How you position your subject within the frame is important, and so is how you position yourself relative to your subject. Most photos are taken from eye level, in front of the subject, at a distance sufficient to fill the frame. Stepping away from this default position can have a powerful effect on the resulting photo. Never be satisfied with taking a photo from the position you were when you thought of it. Always consider how moving yourself may improve the photo.Get closerLegendary war photographer Robert Capa said, If your picture isnt good enough, youre not close enough. While this isnt necessarily always true, it is more often than you might expect. Getting closer to your subject, by zooming your lens, or moving physically closer can dramatically change your composition. Getting closer draws more attention to your subject, eliminates other distractions in the frame, and can completely transform its appearance.When we imagine objects, we see them as a whole in our minds eye, like a childrens picture book. A photograph which is so close to the subject that it fills the frame, often excluding features that we might expect to see, catches the viewers attention and can challenge their perception of the subject.Positioning yourselfLeft: Getting in so close to the model gives a sense of intimacy. Above: By zooming in to just the hand, distracting elements are eliminated, and the story-telling power of the photo is improved. Composition techniques44Field of viewThe field of view of the lens used when taking a photo can have a significant effect on the final photograph. Apart from making the subject bigger or smaller in the frame, the focal length affects the interaction of the subject with its environment. Wide-angle lenses show more around the subject, and can give a context, whereas telephoto lenses restrict what can be seen around the subject.Additionally, due to the effect of foreshortening the focal length can change how the subject looks. Assuming that the subject is the same size in the frame, using a telephoto lens compresses the perspective of the image. This makes objects in the background of the photo appear closer to the subject, and it also makes the subject itself seem flatter. Conversely, a wide-angle lens will make nearby objects appear further from the subject, and can distort the subjects appearance.This wide-angle distortion is most obvious in portrait photographs, and with extra-wide-angle lenses. Because the camera is so close to the subject (necessary in order to keep the subject the same size in the frame) the relative distance between their features is greater. Parts of the subject that are closer to the camera look much bigger than those a little further away. The result is huge noses and heads, and tiny hands and feet. This technique can be used for comical effect, but it also has the potential to be unflattering.With non-human subjects, awareness of the foreshortening effect can let you convey a message or emotion by taking advantage of it. A photo up close of a small flower in an industrial context with a very wide-angle lens will make the flower seem smaller and overwhelmed by the buildings towering over it.Composition techniques45Point of viewI have alluded to it previously, but changing the point of view of the camera changes the emotional impact of the camera, for a few reasons. We are used to seeing the world from eye-level, so when we see a photo taken from a very low or very high point of view it seems unfamiliar and we are more drawn into the photo.Point of view can have an emotional impact, since the viewer puts themselves in the position of the camera when viewing the photo. A picture of an adult from a childs perspective can make the adult feel more important or authoritative, and the viewer more helpless or vulnerable. Looking down on someone from a higher point of view makes the subject seem smaller and less powerful, putting them in the vulnerable position.One of the reasons for this emotional impact, apart from the memories the point of view may elicit, is a result of distortions. As mentioned above, parts of the photo which are closer appear bigger, while those further away are smaller. You can take advantage of this in your composition to draw extra attention to and exaggerate parts of your subject.A direct down position provides an unusual view of the model.A fish-eye lens has a huge field of view and shows a large open space around the subject.A telephoto lens minimises background elements, showing little around the subject.Composition techniques46Believe it or not, this tree was only 15cm tall a natural bonsai growing stunted from a salt flat. To get this photo, I lay on the ground and pressed my cheek into the dirt, making the tree appear full scale.What appears in your photo and how it is organised naturally has a big effect on your composition. Choosing what to show, how much and the structure it takes in the photo are important to what you are communicating. Sometimes you have the luxury of being able to control the content of your photo, by moving the subject around, but often this is not the case. You may have to act fast, or the subject may be impossible to move. Nonetheless you can still have a lot of control over the subjects organisation in the frame by positioning yourself to advantage, changing the focal length of the lens and framing carefully to include or exclude various elements.KISSThe adage Keep It Simple Stupid applies well to your composition. When considering what you want to appear in your photo, ask yourself is it necessary?. If an element in the composition doesnt add to the story you want to tell, it is a distraction, and the photo would be better off without it. The logical extension of the KISS philosophy is an artistic style called minimalism. In minimalism, a photographer tries to eliminate everything possible from the image until only the simplest, most basic elements remain. In this way, the emphasis on the subject is exaggerated, and the meaning conveyed is distilled down to its essence.Composition techniques47ContentGroupingOur minds prefer order to chaos, structure to formlessness. If you have multiple elements in your composition, rather than allowing them to be scattered randomly, your photo will have a more powerful composition if the elements are grouped. The viewer will be better able to comprehend three groups of rocks, rather than a scattering of rocks throughout the scene. When in groups, the eye can move from group to group, resting comfortably between them. If the elements are scattered, then the eye easily becomes lost.Grouping can be particularly effective with group photos of people. Rather than have everyone stand in rows, try clustering smaller groups of people a little bit closer to each other. A very familiar example of this technique is DaVincis painting The Last Supper. DaVinci grouped the twelve apostles into threes, clustering them and showing the viewer four distinct groups to look at, and thus drawing particular attention to the lone Jesus in the middle.Groups of three are particularly useful in composition, as they seem to be more compelling than other groups. In general, odd numbers of things in photos look more interesting than even numbers. This is the so-called odd rule. It does seem odd as to why it works, but it really does seem to. It may be due to the fact that even numbers are more symmetrical, and thus not as interesting as odd numbers. Three in particular is very effective, as five or seven objects of the same kind in a photo can get a bit cluttered. This rule of threes is an unlikely trick that works more than it seems it should.Some slight clustering of people in a group photo makes it much more visually interesting than if they were bunched together as one.BalanceThe rule of thirds tells us something useful about how to position objects in our composition, but it isnt the whole story. When you have more than one significant object in your composition, how they are positioned relative to each other is important. I am talking about the balance of the image. Every element in a photo has a visual weight. The weight is how significant the object is in the photo, and can depend on its brightness, colour, complexity or emotional content.Different elements of different visual weights should be placed in the composition so that they are balanced. A photo which has three large trees on the horizon, all on the right side of the image, will appear unbalanced and too heavy on the right. The best way Composition techniques48to position the different elements is to imagine them on a see-saw, and seeing an imaginary balance point between them. Try to place this balance point where you want the composition centred, and the eye will feel most comfortable there, with the composition balanced around it.SymmetryWhen the elements of a photo are of different sizes, and placed at different distances from the balance point, this is referred to as informal balance. When the balance point is centred in the photo, and th e elements on either side have the same weight and are at the same distance, this is formal balance or symmetry.I have said previously that symmetry isnt as interesting as asymmetry, which is one reason why the rule of thirds is so powerful. Sometimes, however, a symmetrical image can be very visually striking, especially when your subject is artificial, rather than part of nature. Symmetry can easily draw the eye to the centre of the photo, and the repetition of the content on either side of the mid-line creates a kind of pattern, which can be visually compelling.The stark symmetry of the room is powerful and draws extra attention to the lone figure.The dark bush to the right balances the large cliffs opposite. Old and new balance visually and conceptually.RepetitionWhen an object or a theme appears in a photo several times, this repetition can establish a rhythm within the composition. Rhythm can be very effective at conveying emotion or action, and even in a sedate composition a regular repetition of elements can create a kind of visual harmony. When combined with other compositional elements, such as a receding perspective or grouping, such repetition can make for a visually striking image.PatternTaking repetition to the extreme, patterns fill most or all of the photo with a texture or colour that becomes the subject itself. Patterns are very visually compelling, but dont communicate as much information as a more varied photo. By definition a pattern is recurring, and the eye sees it as something that could possibly be repeated infinitely, giving a powerful sense of scale. Patterns, however, by their nature are far more abstract and have mostly only a visual impact their story-telling potential is limited.Composition techniques49When a subject is in motion, or we want our photo to look like it is, we need to think about how this affects the composition. Even though a photograph is a still image, when it appears that the subject is in motion, viewers are more comfortable with an image when the composition doesnt interfere with that perceived motion.Room to moveA moving object in the real world needs space to move into, and when we can see that there isnt enough space it gets our attention, and not necessarily for a good reason. A photograph that shows a moving subject that appears to be moving out of the frame can create some of this same discomfort. A picture of a child running, close to the edge of the frame, seems more awkward or Composition techniques50ActionThis contradicts the previous composition rule, proving that they arent set in stone. If a moving subject leaves a trail of some kind behind it, such as footprints in the sand, or a wake in the water, you can leverage the power of lines in your composition. Place the moving subject somewhere towards the edge of the frame with the path of where it has been behind it. Doing so not only Where youve beenstrongly draws the eye to the main subject, through the use of the line of the path, but it also tells a story, showing the viewer where the subject has been. You can convey the feeling of a long journey, high speed and what the movement of the subject was like. Depending on the shape of the trail, it could show a straight, smooth, high speed movement, or it could show a rambling, slow motion.The wake left by the kite surfer tells a story of speed and movement.The bird has plenty of room to move into, with its obvious forward movement.uncomfortable, as if she may be about to run into a tree just out of the frame.Additionally, the eye of the viewer follows the action when looking at the photo. By placing an object in apparent motion such that it seems that it will soon move out of the picture, the eye will also soon move out of the picture in the same way. Composition techniques51Balancing various factors is key to a successful photo. In this example, I am close enough to fill the frame with the action and wide enough to show the context.Eye linesIf you have a person or animal in the photo, and the viewer can clearly see where they are looking, you will direct the viewers attention there as well. Eye lines are a very powerful technique to lead the viewers eye in a photo. It is a part of our nature as social beings to look where someone else is looking, and the more people that are looking, the harder it is to resist. By understanding this, you can use it in your photos to get viewers to look where you want them to.Similarly, the emotional impact of eye lines can be very powerful. A model looking up and out of the frame might seem like a daydreamer, looking down they are sad, to the side theyre aloof and looking directly at the camera they are confident. Slight variations of expression and eye lines can dramatically change the emotional content of the photo, so experiment with getting your model to look in different directions and see the effect it has.Composition techniques52Looking into the photoThe direction your subject looks or faces in your composition also has a significant effect on both where the viewers eye is led and the emotional content of the photo. Similar to the eye lines discussed previously, the direction the subjects head or body is turned to changes the photo. Typically in a portrait photo you want the subject to be looking or turned in towards the centre of the photo assuming they are composed off the centre line, such as you would when using the rule of thirds.This is considered more pleasing to the eye as it gives the subject room to look into, and is more open and friendly. By contrast, if the subject is looking out of the frame, this can make them seem disconnected, remote and has a more negative feeling. Positioning the subject so that they face the camera directly is very confronting.Looking in feels natural, friendly, open, accessible. Out feels distant, detached, aloof.We talked about breaking the rules in the chapter where we discussed learning how to see. Now that you understand some of the basic ideas of composition, and once you know how to make them work in your photography, you will see there are often creative opportunities that are best expressed by leaving these rules behind. There are many rules, and not every photo can obey every one. Creative composition requires a careful and thoughtful balancing of composition techniques to best tell your story. Here are some examples of photos that break some or many of the rules of composition, but still manage to succeed.Composition techniques53Breaking the rulesA tilted horizon adds energy to the dynamic photo.Taking a portrait in landscape orientation can add drama. The dead centre composition adds visual impact and message to this photo.While youre thinking about your photos composition, dont forget to keep an eye open for problems as well. You may have a perfectly composed picture of a beach sunset, but not notice the rubbish in the foreground until you get home. Taking a few seconds to be aware of whats in your photo when you take it could save you hours in post-processing correcting the problem. Following are some common mistakes and problems that photographers may encounter in their compositions.Rubbish in the scene, a random person walking through the background of your shot, an unsightly splash of bird poop, parsley in your models teeth or any other number of little imperfections can spoil a great Composition techniques54Gotchasphoto. Make sure you take at least a quick glance over the scene before you trigger the shutter for any such visual distractions. If you spot something like this, remove the distraction, or re-compose so that its not visible.Misused linesLines are such powerful compositional elements because they draw the viewers eye very easily. This can be as much a problem as it is a tool if the lines intersect in ways you dont want, or with elements you want to draw attention away from. A clear line that intersects with a persons face or neck can look like it is separating the head from the body. Having a light pole or tree coming out of your subject is also very unappealing. Strong lines or even high contrast linear boundaries between two objects can take the eye away from the main subject. Lines near the edge of the frame will lead the eye out of the photo, so try to leave a bit of room between the edge of a photo and a tree or pole.Vertical or horizontal lines also draw attention to pictures taken on a tilt.Hand rails in this photo ruin an otherwise good shot. This photo may have worked if the umbrella shaft was anywhere but over her eye.The power line across this shot powerfully draws the eye away from the intended subject.Unsightly elementsTilted horizonUnless you are deliberately tilting your camera for artistic or dramatic effect, try to keep the horizon straight. A slightly tilted horizon will make the viewer feel uncomfortable while looking at your image. They will feel like they need to tilt their head, or that the photo is just wrong somehow. A tilted horizon becomes especially obvious when there are horizontal or vertical lines in the image. This is especially true at the side of the frame, where the edges of the photo can be compared with the angles of lines in the photo.Composition techniques55Hotspots in the backgroundEven though you may try to keep the background indistinct and out of focus by controlling depth of field, the background can still distract if there are glaringly obvious elements that distract. The light from a window or a street lamp behind the subject will be a bright hotspot and may draw the eye towards it. The same is true for bright colours or dramatic colour contrasts. Street signs are a constant frustration for photographers for this reason, especially caution or warning signs which are designed for high visibility.Poking in and chopping offDont get so distracted by your subject that you accidentally include partial elements of other objects. A stray hand or leg sticking onto the photo is very obvious when looking at the photo later. Keep an eye on the edge of the frame for anything that may be intruding into the shot.On the flip side of this, dont unnecessarily cut off elements in your photo, even if they arent the main subject. Half a face in the background of your photo is almost as unsettling as cutting your subjects face in half. The same is true for objects other than people, though not as dramatically.A pair of hands intrudes upon a nice portrait.A wider focal length would have avoided the chopped-off hand and foot.A street lamp behind is very distracting.A tilted horizon makes the viewer feel off balance, but can be fixed relatively easily in post.Getting the sharpest photos possibleImage sharpness is usually a highly desired quality of a photo. Aside from artistic reasons, photographers want at least part of their shots to be in sharp focus. An otherwise awesome photo can be ruined if the focus isnt good enough. The factors involved in getting a sharp image, however, are numerous and can be complex.First of all, its important to say that sharp, focused images arent all-important. Sometimes an image can be blurred to powerful artistic effect. Sometimes an image is so important or amazing that a lack of sharpness isnt enough to diminish it. Often the creative use of depth of field to selectively throw certain parts of the image out of focus is desirable. If you want to have control over the sharpness of your image it is important to understand the issues involved.There are two main components to determining the sharpness of an image: how effectively the light is focused, and if there is any movement during the exposure.When a lens focuses an image, light rays are converged onto the cameras sensor (or film). How accurately these rays are brought together at that point determines the focus of the image. Different lenses of different designs and quality perform this task to different levels of accuracy; however, there is no such thing as a perfect lens. The very nature of physics prevents images being formed perfectly. A point of light can only ever be focused to a small disc. If that disc of focused light is smaller than a photo site on your cameras sensor, then as far as your camera is concerned, the image is perfectly focused.Getting the sharpest photos possible57Image focusThe lensThere are various factors that determine how effectively a lens can bring an image into focus. Different lenses use varying numbers of elements in their design, of various shapes and materials. The purpose is to improve the accuracy with which the light is focused. More expensive lenses typically use better quality optical materials (commonly referred to by photographers as glass), use more sophisticated designs, and produce sharper images. Less excellent lenses may suffer from a variety of problems or artefacts, including chromatic aberration smearing of colours, coma the varying accuracy of focus across the image plane, and other issues. These problems become more pronounced at the edges of the image, where the light must be bent further in order to be focused. For this reason, it is often suggested that all but the best lenses will provide sharper images when the aperture is stopped down to some degree. This prevents light from passing through the edges of the lens, where the faults become more evident.Prime-focus lenses, those with a fixed focal length, as opposed to zoom lenses, which can change their focal length, are less prone to optical aberrations. Zoom lenses achieve their variable focal length by using a larger number of optical elements in their construction. With increasing optical complexity, typically, more aberrations are introduced. Prime lenses do not have this problem, and a prime lens will outperform a zoom lens for sharpness at the same focal length.Studio lighting provides an ideal sharpness scenario, with plenty of well-controlled, high speed light and small apertures.A comparison crop of the centre and corner of the same photo shows edge softness and chromatic abberation. Photo taken at f5.8 with a 80-400mm lens. 200% crops shown.The apertureAs discussed above, the aperture is important for controlling the sharpness of the image. Stopping down the aperture will exclude the light passing through the edges of the lens where the distortions are more significant. This will help with problems such as chromatic aberration, image softness and other issues you may encounter in cheaper lenses.Aperture is also important for controlling the depth of field, as discussed in Photo Nuts and Bolts. As the aperture is closed, the depth of field increases, and greater portions of the image remain in focus. You may recall this being related to the pinhole camera effect discussed in book one.There is a limit, however, to how far the aperture can be closed. Due to the nature of optics, closing the aperture too far will result in a phenomenon known as diffraction. Getting the sharpest photos possible58Diffraction comes about as a result of the dual wave/particle nature of light and occurs when light passes through a very narrow opening. This has the effect of smearing the light and decreasing the focus of the image.Most lenses are not of a high enough quality for this to be an issue, as other optical errors in most lenses will be greater than that caused by diffraction. Higher quality optics may be described as diffraction limited. Diffraction is usually only an issue at apertures greater than f22.The most important use of the aperture in photography, of course, is to control the depth of field in the photo. We discussed the basic concepts behind this in book one.As the aperture is closed from left to right (f2.8, f8, f22), the DOF increases and greater portions of the photo are in focus, or closer to being in focus. Only a few petals of the flower on the left are in focus, whereas several surrounding leaves are in focus on the right.Depth of fieldControlling the depth of field of a photograph is both an artistic and practical decision. Taking a sharp photo isnt always about ensuring that the whole image is in focus, as much as its being sure the correct part of the image is in focus. Some styles of photography prefer a narrow depth of field, with only small parts of the image being in focus, such as portrait photography. Landscape photography often requires a very broad depth of field, from a flower in the foreground to the mountains in the distance.The narrower your depth of field (as a consequence of a wider aperture), the more critical focusing becomes, and the easier it is to miss focus. It can be easy to accidentally focus on the nose, rather than the eyes. It is here that your control of the cameras autofocus is important.Getting the sharpest photos possible59If getting your subject in sharp focus is more important than having an artistically narrow depth of field, then its a good idea to close your aperture to increase the chances of achieving correct focus. Be aware, however, that doing so will decrease the light that gets to the sensor, requiring a longer exposure time or increased ISO sensitivity, as described by the exposure triangle.The focus point for the photo on the left, taken at f2.8, was the nose. This put the eyes out of focus. On the right, the eyes were the focus target, giving a more pleasing image with the eyes in focus.The photo on the left was set to f2.8 to isolate the subject from the background. This shallow DOF meant only one of the subjects eyes was in focus. Closing the aperture to f8 allowed the whole of the subjects face to be in focus, while keeping the background sufficiently blurry.Hyperfocal distanceThe hyperfocal distance is a point at which you can focus the camera to achieve the greatest possible depth of field. This distance is calculated from a formula which takes into account the focal length of the lens, the aperture setting, the size of your sensor and the assumed acceptable sharpness of the image in an 8x12 print seen at a normal viewing distance.It sounds complicated and subjective, and to a certain extent it is, but knowing the hyperfocal distance is still very helpful if you want to maximise the depth of field, which is usually the case for landscape or architectural photography. Getting the sharpest photos possible60 If you own a smart phone or other portable computing device, there are lots of utilities that you can buy and download which will let you plug in the appropriate values and instantly calculate not just the hyperfocal distance, but also the near limit of focus. So how do you find the hyperfocal distance for your shot? A photographer cant be expected to memorise a formula and do the calculations in their head in the field. Fortunately, there are a few options: A very general rule of thumb that can help get closer to the hyperfocal distance is to find an object which is about one-third of the way into the portion of the scene you want to be in focus. Focus on that object and youll be reasonably close to the hyperfocal distance. There are some handy hyperfocal calculators and charts that you can find online and print out for your camera which you can refer to in the field referencing your focal length and aperture to determine the distance you should focus your lens.On-lens DOF indicatorAnother useful tool for helping understand what your depth of field is can be found on the barrel of some lenses. Your lens may have a scale on the barrel (sometimes visible through a window) that shows the focal distance. As you turn the focus ring, the distances pass by a mark indicating the current focus. Some lenses have a scale either side of the focus point indicator. These numbers show the depth of field at different apertures, and correspond to the distance scale above them. The numbers on either side that correspond to your aperture setting show the range of distances that will be within the depth of field.As we discussed in book one: It may seem like your camera is capturing an instant in time, but in reality its capturing a duration of time equal to your shutter speed. This becomes critical to the image sharpness when there is movement during the exposure. This movement can be of the subject referred to as motion blur, or of the camera itself referred to as camera shake.Camera movementAny motion of or within the camera that causes the focused image to shift across the sensor during the exposure will cause smearing of the image. This appears as an apparent lack of focus, even though the image may be perfectly focused, as parts of the image already recorded by the sensor are overwritten by neighbouring parts of the image.One distinguishing feature of camera shake, when compared with motion blur, is that it affects the whole image. When a subject moves, only the moving parts appear blurred, but if the camera moves, the whole sensor moves relative to the subject. It is usually desirable to prevent this from happening.Getting the sharpest photos possible61Movement during exposureIn the majority of cases, camera shake is due to the photographer hand-holding the camera during a longer exposure. This is a very unstable platform for the camera. The best solution to this problem is to take the camera out of the hands of the photographer, and put it on a tripod or similar mount.Tripod useA tripod ideally provides a stable platform upon which to mount your camera, so that you can take photos without movement during the exposure; however, there are some issues to be aware of. Not all tripods are equally stable. Cheaper, lighter tripods will also be less stable. Heavier, more solidly built tripods are generally more stable. An expensive but effective compromise between weight and sturdiness is carbon tripods.Tripods can wobble and shake themselves. The higher a tripod is extended, the greater the risk of the camera moving. This is due to the principle of leverage. The further away the heavy weight of the camera is from the fixed points, at the leg, the easier it is for it to move. This becomes an issue when there is a lot of wind, or when you are triggering the shutter with your finger. These sources of movement can still cause the tripod to shake while the shutter is open.There are a number of things you can do to minimise the movement of your tripod. Only extend the legs, and especially the centre post, when necessary. Plant the tripod legs on firm ground if possible. Use a remote or cable release to prevent movement from touching the camera. If you dont have a remote release, then put the camera on timer mode, to give vibrations from touching the camera time to die down. Some tripods have a hook under the centre post from which you can hang something heavy, such as your camera bag. This weighs down the tripod and lowers the centre of gravity, greatly aiding stability.Shooting from a rocking boat can be a challenge if there is not enough light for a very fast shutter speed.Shooting stanceA tripod is a camera platform, but when youre not using one, the photographer becomes the platform. As beings of flesh and blood, we cannot be as stable as a tripod, but there are things we can do to help. Your stance when taking photos can have a big effect on the stability of the camera. Below are a few examples of stances that can help you make yourself as stable a platform as possible. Getting the sharpest photos possible62StandingFeet shoulder-width apart, elbows down, weight on one leg. This is the least stable stance. SittingPutting one leg out broadens your base line and lets you lean your elbow. Low centre of gravity. LeaningMore stable than standing, lean into an object, pressing the camera against it if possible. Kneeling or crouchingNearly as stable as sitting, but you can react faster and move. Note elbow resting on knee. LyingLooks a bit silly, but you put one foot on the ground in front to stop rolling forward. Brace wrist on ground under gently, but firmly against your face. This adds a third point of contact between your body and the camera, reducing the movement of the camera relative to your body. Tuck your elbows down against your body, rather than leaving them up in the air. This reduces the risk of anyone or anything bumping them, and also makes the grip more stable. Camera gripEven the way you hold your camera can impact upon the sharpness of the image, especially if you are shooting at very slow shutter speeds. Its often easy to spot someone who is new to shooting with a DSLR by looking at their grip. Compact cameras are held with a hand at each end; the best grip for a small, light object like that. SLRs with their large lenses on front are much more front-heavy, and gripping one like a compact camera wont support the weight very well, and increases the risk of camera shake.Hold your DSLR with the right hand on the grip where the shutter is located, and your left hand cradling the lens. Not only does this better support the weight of the camera, it also means your left hand is ready to adjust the zoom ring if present and the focus ring if focusing manually. Beyond this, you can further improve the stability of your grip, particularly in low light. Pull the Another potentially helpful tip is to twist the camera slightly in your hands. While holding the camera, apply a slight rotational force with each hand, in opposite directions. The force neednt be very strong, just enough to feel the camera firmly pressed against your hands. This eliminates any looseness of your grip, and makes it even more stable.Finally, time your shooting with your breathing. Take a breath in, release it, then once your lungs are empty, shoot off a quick burst of photos. I prefer to shoot on the end of a breath out, as I find holding a breath can make me more likely to shake slightly with the extra tension.Getting the sharpest photos possible63Individually, all these techniques add a little bit of stability, and when you are shooting extremely slow shutter speeds, from 1/50th of a second to as long as one second, increase the odds that youll get an image relatively free of camera shake.Landscape orientation, front. Portrait orientation, front.Landscape orientation, side. Portrait orientation, side.Mirror slapOne other key source of movement within the camera is the movement of the mirror when the shutter is triggered. The mirror is relatively small and light, but it must move very rapidly out of the way of the sensor when a photo is taken. In the majority of cases, the vibrations it causes are minimal, but when shooting at the limits of photography, such as for macro or night photography, it can become an issue. Many DSLRs have a feature called mirror lockup. This feature moves the mirror out of the way of the light path a longer time before the shutter opens, to give time for the vibrations caused by mirror movement to cease. Combining mirror lockup with a remote release and sturdy tripod will virtually guarantee no camera movement.action and energy, or rendering moving water or trees into an ethereal fluffy blur.If you want to eliminate motion blur from your photo, however, the only way without using artificial light is to use a shutter speed short enough to freeze the motion. The shutter speed you will require to freeze movement is dependent Many subjects move, even slightly: trees or flowers in the wind, water and ripples, animals and, of course, people. Using a slow shutter speed can capture the effect of this movement, by exposing the photo while the subject moves, causing a smearing or motion blur in the resulting image. This is often used for creative effect to show motion, on the apparent speed of your subject across the frame. A distant plane will move more slowly across the frame than a nearby car.Determining the best shutter speed is mostly a matter of guesswork. A high speed of around 1/200sec or 1/400sec is a good place to start, and will acceptably freeze all but the fastest moving subjects.Its important to note that not all subjects move at just one speed. For example, a runner is moving both of their legs; however, if their right foot is on the ground during the exposure, it will be still, whereas the left foot will be moving fast. The foot also moves faster than the lower leg, which moves faster than the upper leg, which moves faster than the body. You may find that the shutter speed required to keep a runners face focused may still result in a blurred foot. You may need to shorten your shutter speeds further to completely freeze the action.Flash illuminationAn excellent way to freeze movement is to use strobe or flash lighting. Most camera flashes, of all sizes, use very short duration bursts of light to illuminate the subject. This is very effective at freezing movement and getting a sharp image. Furthermore, you are often able to increase the light a flash puts out, allowing you to close your aperture, adding the benefits discussed above to further increase image sharpness.It is important to be aware that not all flashes have the same flash duration, and this duration changes as the power of the flash changes. Check your flash manual for information on flash duration, but be aware that this feature is often undocumented, and you may be required to do some experimentation.Getting the sharpest photos possible64A relatively slow shutter speed in low light causes the drummers hands to become a blur.Subject movementGetting the sharpest photos possible65A longer shutter speed allows for the exposure of the city buildings behind, while a multiple flash set-up freezes the model mid leap. The photographer needs to be careful with this kind of set-up that the background lights dont end up showing through the model.Camera shake and motion blur can actually work against each other to create a partially sharp image. If you find yourself forced to photograph a moving subject at a slower shutter speed than you would like, you can track the camera as you take the photo. Following the subject in a smooth motion as you shoot can result in a photo where the Techniques to get a sharp imageHere is a summary of tips and suggestions for maximising image sharpness in your photos, based on what has been discussed in this chapter. Use a sturdy tripod, and only extend the legs and post as high as necessary If your tripod has a centre hook, hang your bag from it If you need to be mobile, or are using a heavy lens, consider using a monopod Establish a firm grip on the camera and use a stable stance If possible lean against a solid object like a tree or building Shoot in continuous mode; and take several photos, you can then pick the sharpest If you have sufficient light, increase your shutter speed to help freeze movement If you have the light and dont have an artistic reason to shoot with a wide aperture, stop it down When shooting with a tripod, use a remote release or the timer function to trigger the shutter If you have flash lighting available, it will help greatly to freeze motion and use a higher aperture Understand and utilise the hyperfocal distance Practise panning with moving subjects to have the best chance of getting sharp photos of them If you have little light but need to freeze action, dont be afraid to increase the ISO a lot Learn how to use the autofocus, and select AF pointssubject is largely sharp, while the background is blurred. By tracking the movement, you keep the parts of the image that you are interested in over the same parts of the sensor during the exposure, while other parts move, due to you panning the camera. This can result in some very dramatic, action-packed photos.Getting the sharpest photos possible66Tracking the subject will blur the background, but keep the subject sharp. The result powerfully conveys a sense of movement.Tracking the subjectPractical exposureExposure is the cornerstone of practical photography, and every successful photographer needs to understand how to control it in order to make the photos they want with the message they want to convey. We discussed the basic concepts of exposure in great detail in Photo Nuts and Bolts, and how the various elements of the camera control the exposure. Understanding how the camera controls exposure is one thing, but understanding the right exposure settings for a particular photo is completely different.Something thats important to state right up front is that there actually is no correct exposure for a particular photo. Your exposure meter will spit out three values to expose your photo which it thinks will correctly expose the photo, but those settings arent necessarily the right ones for you to choose for creative purposes. The photographer should always make a considered decision about the exposure settings for every photo, to get the creatively correct exposure, even if this means deliberately choosing to keep the camera on auto exposure.The term creatively correct exposure simply means the exposure settings that the photographer chooses to convey the message they want. We covered briefly the creative reasons for choosing different exposure settings in Photo Nuts and Bolts, but this would be a good time for a short reminder of the exposure triangle and its implications.All exposure decisions come down to setting the values of only three variables in your camera: the shutter speed, the aperture and the ISO. These three values are called the exposure triangle, and each of the values can be adjusted independently to control the exposure and for creative effect. Adjusting the shutter speed affects the time that the sensor is exposed to light. Any movement in the image or of the camera while the shutter is open will result in that part of the image or the whole image respectively being blurred. Adjusting the aperture affects the size of the hole, or iris, through which light passes before being collected by the sensor. The aperture controls the depth of field, or the size of the zone in the scene which is in focus. A narrow aperture increases the depth of field, and more of the scene will be in focus, whereas a wide aperture decreases the depth of field and less of the scene will be in focus.Practical exposure68The exposure triangle, again Adjusting the ISO is increasing the amplification or the signal gain of the light collected by the sensor, essentially acting as a kind of volume control for the light. The natural background random electronic variations in the sensor are also amplified and become visible in the image as noise, which looks roughly similar to grain in film cameras.All of the above settings, and how the camera actually controls them, are discussed in detail in Photo Nuts and Bolts, and I highly recommend reading and becoming familiar with the relevant chapters before continuing on. An understanding of the mechanics of the camera and exposure helps greatly when taking control of creative exposure.When you take a photo, the cameras exposure meter measures the light in the scene, and chooses values for each of these three variables which will provide what it thinks is a correct exposure. In most situations, this will result in a photo with reasonable exposure and the best level of detail being visible. A good photographer, however, needs to understand how to adjust the exposure when the cameras exposure meter gets it wrong, or when the creative quality of the photo can be improved by choosing different settings.In this chapter we will be looking at how to make these decisions, and discussing various issues involved and strategies for choosing the best creatively correct exposure settings for your photos. Reminding you of the introduction to this book, these are methods and techniques that work for me. You may use other ways to find the creatively correct exposure that works for you.The exposure meter was overridden to over-expose the photo for a light and bright feel.Understanding exposure can feel very intimidating. The whole process of the cameras exposure meter determining the right settings can seem like magic, and for a new photographer wanting to take control, its difficult to know where to begin. The first and most important thing to understand is that its okay to use auto or program mode. Modern cameras are pretty good at working out good guesses for the settings of the exposure, so youll usually get good results in auto. Ill often use auto mode when the light and conditions are changing quickly, so theres no shame in letting the camera do the work. While youre shooting in auto mode, you can still be learning about exposure. Set your cameras display to show the settings chosen, and preferably also display the histogram with each photo. Regularly check the screen while shooting to see the settings the meter chose, and the distribution of light in the photo shown in the histogram. Hopefully after a while of doing this, youll start to get a feel for the effect different light levels have on the cameras settings. Remember that each stop is a doubling or halving of the light level, and most cameras can change settings in one-third stop increments. The learning processOne of the most dramatic things new photographers realise is the huge difference in light levels in the world we see. When the sun goes behind a cloud, or as the sun sets and the sky fades into night, our eyes adjust to let us see everything clearly. The camera can do the same thing, but looking at the settings will make you realise how dramatic the change in light levels actually is. A cloud passing in front of the sun is enough to cause the light on your subject to drop to perhaps one-sixteenth the brightness, or four stops. A four-stop change in light levels is enough to significantly change your cameras settings, to the point where one of the settings could cause a problem, such as a too slow shutter speed that increases the chance of motion blur and camera shake.Difference between full auto and program modeFull auto on most DSLRs lets the camera take control of everything: all settings, flash, preventing you from shooting in RAW mode and essentially gives you no control. Program mode only controls the values of the exposure triangle automatically, you can change everything else.Regularly checking your photos on the cameras screen will give you instant feedback on your work, allowing you to adapt and adjust as circumstances change.Practical exposure69How to meterPractical exposure70right no matter what metering mode I use, and Im comfortable with checking the screen and dialling in compensation (see page 71) if it gets it wrong. I may be missing out on the benefits of a useful camera tool, but honestly, I dont feel like I have a problem that needs that help.So what metering mode should you use? Thats up to you. Try shooting with different modes, and see if the exposure looks how you expect it to. I think you can divide the metering modes into two main styles: let the camera take control and let the photographer take control. When using evaluative, centre weighted and for Nikon users, matrix modes, the camera makes an assessment from across the whole frame. However, when shooting with partial and spot metering modes, the centre of the frame takes precedence, which means the photographer has more control over the exposure. Even, and especially, if you are using the cameras auto mode, you need to understand how to meter; that is, the act of takingan exposure meter reading. In fact, every time you take a photo in any mode other than manual, you are using the exposure meter. Knowing how it works, however, lets you take control.As discussed in detail in Photo Nuts and Bolts, DSLRs offer the photographer a number of different metering modes, which use different methods to measure the light in the scene and calculate exposure values.I have a confession to make. I dont understand metering modes. I understand how they work, and what theyre supposed to do, but I havent really worked out which mode is best to use and when, and I dont check to see what mode Im using very often. The exposure meter does a pretty good job of getting the exposure By taking your meter reading from the centre of the frame, you are telling the camera what is most important to correctly expose. If I had to choose one metering mode to use forever after, it would be spot metering. That way I have the most control over the result.So how do you actually get the camera to take a meter reading? It happens as part of the sequence of events when you press the shutter. You are already familiar with focusing, as discussed in the previous chapter. The half-press of the shutter which activates the autofocus also performs the meter reading simultaneously.If you are using a metering mode that emphasises the centre of the frame, then be aware that what you are focusing on is also what you are metering for the camera to calculate the exposure.A high contrast scene can confuse the exposure meter. Spot metering can help. When exposing for the subject, the background may blow out but the subject is more important.Starting to take controlThe first step you can take to having greater control over your cameras exposure is a very simple one, its called exposure compensation. While the cameras exposure meter can be very good, there are times when it can be confused, and take photos which may look over- or under-exposed to you. This is often the case with high contrast scenes, when shooting very dark or very light subjects, or when your subject is small within the frame and differently lit than the background.Practical exposure71Most cameras will allow a compensation of about +/- two stops, for a four-stop range this is enough compensation for most problems. Its important to remember that you are still shooting on auto mode, and the cameras exposure meter will still choose the settings it calculates are right for the scene, but it will simply apply the selected compensation to its chosen settings before the photo is taken. This means that as the light or subject changes, you need to constantly check your photos on the screen to ensure that the exposure compensation is still appropriate. Forgetting to change the compensation as the situation changes can result in many incorrectly exposed photos. Be sure to avoid this beginners mistake.If you regularly check the photos you are taking on the cameras screen, you will easily be able to see if there is an exposure problem. The first step to correcting the exposure is to use exposure compensation. All digital SLR cameras and most high-end compact cameras will have this feature. You will find how to change the exposure compensation in your cameras manual. Using exposure compensation is very simple: if the photo looks too dark, increase the compensation, if it looks too bright, decrease the compensation. Once you have compensated the exposure, take the photo again and see how it looks. If it still needs some tweaking, change the setting again until it looks right.Getting the feel for exposureAfter youve been shooting for a while, keeping a close eye on the settings of each photo, and getting the hang of exposure compensation, hopefully youll start to develop a feel for exposure. You should start to be able to guess ballpark values for the exposure settings, and you might be able to correctly estimate how much exposure compensation a photo needs. This way you will eventually visualise exposure to a degree in your mind.This is a very valuable skill to have. A photographer with even a basic grasp of exposure levels will be faster with exposure compensation, will have a better idea of when to go to manual exposure and what settings to try first, will recognise when something has gone wrong and have a better idea of how to fix it, and will be more aware of when the current settings could potentially have unwanted negative effects on the photo.The more time you spend getting familiar with exposure settings and the general light levels in the scene, the better you will become at mastering exposure control.Getting a feel for exposure is very helpful, and so is an awareness of changing light levels. When shooting, its easy to become a victim of tunnel vision, focusing on the subject, getting the best angles and shots. Its important not to forget to stay aware of your surroundings and what is happening with the light. Light changes all the time, especially natural light. Clouds in the sky, the shadows from trees, even the ground and nearby walls can affect the light on your subject. Artificial light can be even more complicated as you move from one location to another, with different light sources, brightnesses, position and colour.Be aware of what light you are working with as soon as you get to a location. Have a quick look around and assess the light. Work out where the light is coming from, its qualities, and how it will affect your photo. Also remain vigilant for changes to the light, and keep checking your photos on the back of the camera. You dont want to be caught shooting with the wrong settings.Practical exposure72Stay aware of the lightAbove: A Christmas lights display can change so rapidly it can be a challenge to keep up. Left: The strength and quality of light changes rapidly before and after sunset.Not only is the light you are working with important in determining the correct exposure, but so are the surface qualities of the subject, especially its tone. Every object reflects a different amount of light, and to correctly expose it you need to be aware of how bright the object is. Naturally, a snowdrift will look much brighter than a nearby patch of grass under the same light.If you are using the cameras exposure meter to help you choose the best settings, you need to be aware that it is partly blind. We human beings are smart, and have learned a lot about how to see the world. We know snow is white, charcoal is black, and skin tones can vary through almost that entire range. We understand context. The camera, however, has no idea what it is looking at. The exposure meter can only measure the absolute brightness value of the subject it is seeing. It doesnt know if it is looking at snow, charcoal or anything else.To calculate exposure, the camera is designed to expect that the metering target is an average brightness, or medium grey. Given the cameras assumption that your subject is always medium grey, it calculates the exposure for the shot based on the light level it measures and that assumption. When you are metering from a bright object, the camera assumes its grey, and thus brings the exposure down so that the white in your shot becomes grey. The reverse is true when metering from a black object: the camera tries to correctly expose it as if it was grey and thus brings up the exposure.Practical exposure73Be aware of surface qualitiesYou may have experienced this before yourself when shooting a scene in the snow. A person standing in the middle becomes completely silhouetted, or when shooting a black cat on a bright pavement, the ground becomes badly over-exposed and the cat seems to float in light.This is exactly when exposure compensation is a useful tool to correct the exposure. You recognise that the subject you want to shoot is brighter or darker than middle grey, set the exposure compensation to correct for that, then meter the subject as normal and take your shot. The more you do this, the better idea you will have about how much different subjects need to be compensated. The reverse is true for mostly bright white scenes. Exposure compensation can help.Metering off a predominantly black subject can over-expose the photo.Another method to help get the correct exposure for very bright or dark subjects is to find and meter something in the scene that is medium grey. There are a couple of caveats for this technique, however. Firstly you need to make sure that the medium grey object you are metering is in the same light as your subject, or the reading wont be accurate when applied to your chosen subject. Secondly, since focus and meter readings are taken at the same time, youll want to make sure that the meter subject and the actual subject are the same distance from the camera, or you may end up with an out-of-focus subject.Practical exposure74Most foliage is approximately medium-grey in brightness and can be used as an effective metering target. If a spot meter was taken from the water, it may result in an under-exposed image Russell Falls, Tasmania.We mentioned at the beginning of this chapter that you are trying to find the creatively correct exposure. But what does that mean exactly? We discussed at length in Photo Nuts and Bolts and briefly recapped at the start of this chapter how the camera controls the exposure, and the effect these controls have on the character of the resulting photo. If you have forgotten, now is a great time to remind yourself by reading the relevant chapters again.When were shooting in full auto mode, even when taking more control through exposure compensation, we arent having any direct control over what settings the camera chooses. Typically the camera will choose settings to maximise the sharpness and clarity of the photo. It will try to find a balance between aperture, shutter speed, and on some cameras ISO in order to increase the depth of field and freeze motion. This method of setting the exposure isnt always best for the artistic expression of the photographer. The following two examples show different scenes with the same brightness but different exposure settings balanced to maintain exposure. Strictly, priority modes are also auto modes, as the camera is determining the exposure, but most photographers will only use the term auto to refer to full auto or program mode.Practical exposure75Creative decisionsAbove right: In aperture priority mode, as the aperture is opened, the DOF increases, and the shutter speed is changed to compensate.Right: In shutter priority, as the shutter speed slows for effect here, the aperture closes to keep the exposure constant. Note: To avoid clipping as seen in the third picture, a filter or HDR process would be necessary. Far right: A long exposure time was chosen to achieve foamy white water.How do you take this kind of control over the camera, but still keep the flexibility offered by the auto mode? The answer is by using priority exposure modes. These two exposure modes both use the cameras exposure meter to determine the exposure, but you fix either the aperture or the shutter speed, leaving the auto exposure to set the other value to compensate and maintain the correct exposure. Practical exposure76When you wish to have control over the depth of field in your photo, choose aperture priority and set the value you want. When you wish to freeze or blur motion, choose shutter priority and set the value you want. Dont forget to check the photos often, and change the priority setting should the conditions, or your creative message change.Sometimes, you may wish to deliberately under-expose or over-expose your photo for creative effect. These styles of photos are often referred to as low key and high key photos respectively. You can achieve this effect through exposure compensation, or for more flexibility, by going to full manual control.Right: A light and bright high key photo that feels fresh and cheerful.A low key photo with a moody, fashionable feel.The Canon 5D MkII exposure mode dial.The thought of going to full manual exposure control can be intimidating. Leaving behind the assistance of auto mode means working out exposure for yourself. The good news is that the light meter is still there to help you. When in full manual, a half press on the shutter still meters the scene, but the settings arent changed. Rather, the exposure meter display in the viewfinder and on the LCD screen indicates if the camera thinks the current settings will take an over-, under- or correctly exposed image. The stick under the exposure meter will move left or right under the scale to indicate the exposure. To the left of centre is an under- exposed photo, and vice versa. If the stick is at either end and flashing, then the exposure is more than two stops away from what the light meter has measured as a correct exposure.By reading the exposure meter, you can get a good idea of whether your current manually chosen settings are likely to produce a correctly exposed photo. This should be reassuring for those still afraid to try manual.Why would you shoot with manual anyway, when auto mode plus exposure compensation already does a great job most of the time? Manual exposure is the best choice when you are in an environment where the light is controlled and invariable. Automatic exposure settings can cause variation in exposure settings, even when the light and subject stay mostly the same, especially if you use spot metering mode and arent accurate with what you meter from. If you are in a controlled environment, then setting the exposure manually can save you a lot of worry and processing later on, and result in Practical exposure77Going manualconsistently exposed photos. Even in environments where the lighting changes, but in a predictable way, manual exposure will let you stay in control of the exposure settings, while keeping a predictable and consistent look to your photos.There are many other circumstances where manual exposure control is valuable, such as studio shooting, using artificial or strobe lighting, when you want full creative control, in extreme lighting conditions and others where close control of the exposure is important.Though the shutter was open for 30 seconds, the exposure time of the lightning was a fraction of a second. The actual exposure was thus controlled only with the aperture setting, f8 in this case.Light is the limiting factor when choosing your exposure. Rarely is too much light a problem, a lack of light is what technically ruins more photos than anything else. When you dont have enough light you start to run into problems with each of the points on the exposure triangle.Slow shutter speeds leave you prone to motion blur and camera shake, wide apertures narrow the depth of field and make accurate focusing more challenging, high ISO settings result in offensive noise levels, loss of detail and possible colour shifts. None of these are problems you want to encounter willingly, but unless you can add more light to the scene, youre going to have to deal with them.Once you start losing light beyond the ideal level that youd like, you have quite a bit of wiggle room before things become drastic. Modern cameras have good sensitivity in low light, and by carefully choosing which of the settings is most important to the kind of photo you are shooting, you can make do with a lot less light than is ideal, and still take great photos.Practical exposure78Pushing the limitsLeft: 1/15sec, f2.8, ISO1600Centre top: 1/13sec, f2.8, ISO6400Centre bottom: 4sec, f11, ISO320Above: 1/200sec, f2.8, ISO6400The kind of photo you are shooting will determine whats most important to sacrifice in the interest of capturing more light. If your subject is fast moving, then preserving shutter speed is important. If there is a lot of detail you need to capture from the foreground to the background, keeping a wide depth of field means keeping a small aperture.Fortunately, modern digital cameras perform very well at increased ISO settings. Depending on the age and model of your camera, you can take photos at ISO settings of 400-1600 without much noise becoming visible. This is a two- to eight-stop improvement that keeps you shooting a long time through fading light without changing the other settings. Shooting in RAW and processing with good software can have the effect of filtering ISO noise very effectively, making photos look like they were taken at two or three stops lower ISO. This gives you even more latitude with low light. With three to seven stops of extra light sensitivity available with a good camera and software, photographers can now take sharp clear photos with less light than ever before.Once youve pushed the ISO as far as youre comfortable doing, being aware of the noise levels generated by your particular camera, then you have to make sacrifices. Depending on the type of photo youre taking and which settings are the most important to you creatively, you will adjust your aperture or shutter speed. The exact point at which you make adjustments and to which settings is a decision you must make based on the situation and your personal preference. My advice would be to deliberately practise shooting in difficult lighting conditions, with different settings, and see the results.Know what to sacrificeTry shooting in a dim bar or cafe while out with friends and experiment with different settings. See what happens when you increase the ISO, slow down the shutter, open up the aperture, or any combination of the three. With this kind of practice, you will see how slow you can set the shutter before peoples movement blurs in the photo too much, as well as your own movement while holding the camera. You will see how much more difficult it is to get your subject in focus with a wide aperture, and if you make sure to check your photos closely by zooming in to 100% on the screen afterwards, you will see the noise effect that high ISO settings have on the photo. From repeating this exercise often and in different environments while also checking the photos at full size on your computer, with the settings visible, you will develop an understanding of the limits of your camera and your skill at using it.Practical exposure791/40sec, f2.0, ISO800The dynamic range of a camera is the range of brightness values that a camera can capture, while still retaining detail. For example, a photograph exposed for the shadow side of a tree against a bright cloudy sky will completely over-expose the sky. Even the darker parts of the clouds will expose so brightly on the sensor that they will likely be recorded as pure white. As a result, all or most of the pixels depicting the clouds in the scene will be recorded as white, and thus not show any detail. This is called clipping. All of the pixels that are pure white in the photo are clipped. The same can happen for dark areas in a photo exposed for a bright subject. Shadows can be clipped and not show any detail.So what can you do when part of your photo will be clipped if you correctly expose your subject? Unfortunately, your options are somewhat limited, but there are some techniques that can help, and they are very diverse: Shift your exposure by a stop towards the direction of the clipping. So in the case of over-exposed clouds, under-expose your intended subject by a stop. The intention here is to capture more detail in the highlights at the expense of the darker values of the photo. Then in processing, selectively increase the brightness values of the mid-range and darker pixels in the photo. This is most effective if you shoot RAW. The idea is that you cant recover detail from clipped pixels, but you can tweak the brightness of the mid-tones.Practical exposure80Dynamic range and clipping Use a graduated neutral density filter. This piece of camera equipment is a filter that has a clear portion, a neutral coloured portion which is tinted to reduce the light which passes through to the camera and a gradient between the two. The gradient may be soft or hard-edged, and the tinted portion may be slight or strong, for example -1, -2, -4 or more stops. It is attached to the front of your camera in a mount which allows you to rotate the filter to align the transition. This is usually used for darkening the sky in landscape photos, and will compress the brightness values allowing you to capture more detail in the highlights and shadows. The same effect can be achieved to some degree in post-processing of RAW files.Sunset over Lakes Entrance. A digital graded neutral density filter, applied during post-processing. Add more light to the darker parts of the photo. If you have a person standing in shade against a bright sky, using a reflector or flash to illuminate the person will increase their brightness. This will allow you to expose for a brighter subject, and hopefully capture more detail in the highlights. The fill flash option on many cameras achieves this effect, but beware, on-camera flash light can be unflattering. Consider using a reflector even a large piece of white card will help or use off-camera lighting. Take a sequence of photos, each with different exposure settings to suit different parts of the scene, and then merge them so that the correctly exposed pixels from each photo are used. This process is known as High Dynamic Range or HDR photography, and is becoming more widely used with many software solutions available to photographers. Accept that you will lose detail in part of the image. For portrait photos, the most important part of the photo is the subjects face. As long as the face is correctly exposed, you can usually get away with blown highlights or lost shadow details. A wide dynamic range isnt essential for beautiful photos, so learn the self-confidence to know when it doesnt matter.Left: An off-camera flash, behind and to the left of camera provides the key light, filling the shadow of the sun behind and to the right of the model.Right: In this HDR photo of the Melbourne city skyline, the boats in darkness in the foreground are visible without the citys lights being over-exposed.Practical exposure81On-location thought processThe thought process behind taking a photo can begin well before you even place the camera in your hand. For some carefully planned photos, planning can begin months ahead, as you scout for locations, pick the best season, prepare for special events. This chapter, however, will concentrate on the thought process for the day of a shoot.How you plan your shoot will depend on whether you have a particular photo in mind when you arrive on location or not. You may be on a driving trip and stop at a beautiful beach with many photographic opportunities, or you may be at a birthday party, knowing the kind of photos you want to take. There are, however, some things that you will need to know, no matter the kind of shoot. This chapter summarises an effective thought process, based on my own experience.The most critical influence on every photo shoot is the light you have to work with. Unless you are shooting under conditions you control, and you are providing all of the light for your photos, you will need to assess what light is available to you.Look around and see what light sources there are. On a beach at midday, the only light source will be the sun, but at a trade show there may be dozens of different kinds of lights. Take note of the direction of the light, its colour, its intensity and how hard or soft the shadows are it casts. Is the light likely to change throughout your shoot? Will there be a chance that there are light sources within your photos? If so, you may need to change position in order to avoid lens flare. Will you be moving about during the shoot, or will your subject? If so, how will this affect the light you have to work with?Take a couple of meter readings, by looking through the viewfinder and half pressing the shutter. The display will give you an idea of what settings youll be shooting with, and may determine what gear youll need to choose.If you are working with a single, bright light source, such as the sun, make sure you know where it falls. The angle of the light makes a big difference to the clarity and definition of your subject. Shooting with the light over your shoulder means a fully lit subject, but with limited definition, due to shadows being less visible from that angle. Shooting into the light will likely result in a highly contrasty image, with areas of the photo likely to be over- or under-exposed. On-location thought process83Assess the lightAbandoned mine stack taken at sunset Moonta, South Australia.Once you have a good idea of the light you are working with, its important to take into account the time you have available. Time is always going to be a limiting factor, whether its how long the light lasts, when an event finishes, the attention span of child subjects or your own energy levels. Knowing how much time you have to shoot is important, so that you can plan and prioritise the photos.On-location thought process84How long do you have?You should always do a check of your camera and equipment before you walk out the door to make sure you have freshly charged batteries and sufficient memory cards, but on location there are other important checks to make sure you arent making any silly mistakes that could cost you photos. Check you have a fresh battery in the camera, and your spare is within reach. Make sure you have enough memory cards for the shoot, and that the card in the camera has been formatted after your last shoot (after making sure youve copied those photos off first!). Check that you havent left the camera set to a high ISO from a low light shoot the night before. You dont want unnecessarily noisy photos. Put the camera into autofocus, lest you miss an unexpected opportunity on your first shot. Check that any settings you commonly change are back to their default settings, or set appropriately for your current shoot.On-location thought process85Check your cameraCheck all of your camera equipment before leaving the house. I once missed a personal shoot opportunity due to leaving all of my memory cards at home.The thought process can vary somewhat depending on whether the shoot has been planned or is spontaneous. If you are at a shoot for a particular reason, to get particular photos, then your plan will differ from those shoots where you find yourself with a spontaneous photographic opportunity.Planned shootWhen photographing a planned shoot, there are usually specific goals in mind. Photos need to be taken of a specific event, or subject, and planning is geared towards achieving these shots. Often, there is more than one specific image required for the shoot. Sometimes there are no specific images needed, but coverage over a period of time is the goal.Critical shotsAlmost certainly, whatever the plan, some images are more important than others. Some examples: A birthday party: blowing out the candles on the cake, a family group shot, opening of the gifts A sporting event: the teams star in action, the critical goal, a spectacular playOn-location thought process86Planned or spontaneous? A wedding: exchanging the rings, kissing the bride, family photos, speeches at the reception, the first dance A portrait session: a nice head/shoulders photo, full length, a natural smileObviously, the high priority photos change depending on the kind of shoot. Sometimes they will happen at a specific time and you can be ready for them. On other shoots, you never know when the critical shot could happen so you always have to be ready.The key is to know what your most important shots are, and do whatever you can to be ready for them. If you have the luxury of being able to control the timing of your shoot, make sure that you put a high priority on getting the important shots. Otherwise, make sure that you are always ready to capture the fleeting important moment, and only get other shots if you are certain that you wont miss your high-priority moment.Mental shot listSo in preparation for your shoot, determine early what your high priority shots are, and do what you need to get them, then assemble a mental shot list of other photos you want to get, and arrange them by priority and practicality.What do I mean by practicality? Some photos have to happen at certain times, regardless of their importance. The sun will only set at a certain time, a celebrity guest will only be on stage at a convention at a certain time, the restored steam train will only pass by twice a day. Prioritise time-sensitive shots over others when shooting at the critical time, and factor this into your mental schedule for the shoot. Sometimes you find yourself with an unplanned photo opportunity, so you have to make the most of it. Your frame of mind will be a little different from that of a planned shoot.Do a visual surveyOften, a spontaneous photo opportunity doesnt last for long, so you need to be alert and aware of what is around you so that you dont miss any great shots. Once youve assessed the light, as discussed above, do a quick visual survey of your location. This will let you understand the On-location thought processcontext of your location, hopefully reveal to you any outstanding photo opportunities, and make sure you dont overlook a great photo chance.If youre outside at a scenic location, look far and wide for interesting landscape vistas, but dont forget to turn around, and look down. Behind you might be a beautiful tree or some interesting geology. At your feet may be delicate flowers or fascinating natural textures. Perhaps youre walking through the city and you discover a colourful street protest or festival. Do your quick visual survey to ascertain what interesting photos you might be able to see there, and especially those which best describe the scene.Look all around you before you start shooting to be aware of any photo opportunities 360 degree HDR panorama of the Alfred Nicholas Gardens, Victoria.Mental shot listJust like you would with a planned shoot, once youve done your visual survey, try to organise your photo ideas into a shot list. Prioritise those images which you think would have the greatest visual impact while keeping in mind time-critical opportunities that may present themselves, such as the finale to a juggling act at a street festival.Spontaneous shootNow you start working through your mental shot list, and its time to start taking photos. Before the first shot, make sure you are using the right equipment for the photo. If you have a selection of equipment on hand, such as different lenses, a tripod or filters, you need to decide whats best for the shot.If you only have one set-up on hand, then this is simple: shoot with what you have. If you have choices, however, you need to decide if you have time to make many changes. To start with, its best to get your camera set up with the equipment that will be most appropriate for the majority of shots you plan to take. This way, you can be ready for most photos, and only change when the need arises. If you think you will need to do a gear change in order to get any critical shots, make sure you give yourself enough time to make the change before the time arrives.The right gearOn-location thought process88Youve got the right gear and youre ready to take the shot. Now its time to get your exposure right, and your earlier assessment of the light will help you work out how youll do that. Consider what method youll use to expose your photos. If youre in an environment where the light is constant and the subject doesnt move much, youd probably be best manually setting the exposure. If the light is changing and the subject moves around a lot, shutter priority may work best. If you need to control the depth of field, but the light is variable, try aperture priority. If the light varies dramatically, you may be best going with program mode, and watching the screen closely to dial in exposure compensation as needed. Program mode can also be helpful in fast moving shoots where you have to react quickly to get photos in changing light, and you dont have time to be constantly changing the manual exposure settings.On-location thought process89Get your exposure rightBeware of changing lightAs you shoot, be aware that the light can change significantly. As daylight fades, or you move from room to room while covering an indoor event, your exposure settings may need adjusting. Keep aware of these changes, and dont forget to check the screen regularly to ensure your photos are correctly exposed.The light at sunset can quickly change, so be ready to change your cameras exposure settings for best creative effect.Many photos require a great location to ensure you get the best shot possible. While youre working through your mental shot list, look around you to make sure that you are in the best place for the photo, and have easy access to other places you need to get to for future photos. Thinking ahead is important if your critical shots need you to be at a certain place. If youre shooting a birthday party, find out when the cake will be brought out, and where it On-location thought process90Position yourselfwill be placed, so that you can be there, ready to get the candle photo. If youre covering a race, for example, get to the winners podium as soon the race finishes to get the best view.Securing the right vantage point for the boat shed made this photo, with the cute mushrooms growing from the tree.Sometimes the difference between mediocre and spectacular can be a fraction of a second. Knowing when to actually press the shutter is an important skill which takes time to learn. Rarely is the best time to take a photo the moment you are ready to. So how do you know when to press the shutter?A good photographer is aware of their surroundings, and their subject, and knows there is often a rhythm to life. Expressive and impressive moments come and go, and observation, practice and patience can help you to be ready for them. The rhythms of your subject can differ significantly, depending on what you are shooting, and can be fractions of a second apart, or over many months. Prediction is a very useful tool when timing your shot. Often certain actions will follow others in a reliable way. If you see a cause, be ready to shoot the effect. A joke may precede a laugh, a crouch foretells a jump, a swell becomes a crashing wave and rain always falls before the appearance of a rainbow.Prediction is especially helpful when considering the complexities of human behaviour. Spend a lot of time observing people and becoming familiar with body language. Learn what kind of conversation will elicit a smile, see how a shift in balance will predict a new pose, and watch for environmental changes that affect a behavioural change.On-location thought process91Timing the shotFor example:A martial arts display is fast-paced and action packed. It can look like a blur of moving limbs and leaps, but a keen eye will see a rhythm. Watch how the participants shift their weight, take their steps and make their swings. Sometimes people feel uncomfortable having their photo taken, and your opportunities for relaxed, natural shots are fleeting. Reading body language and of course having good communication skills can help you get a feel for when you will be able to catch the rare moments when your subject forgets about the camera.Animal behaviour can be quite alien to us, with unfamiliar patterns. However, animals are often more predictable than humans and, with patience, their unique ways of life can be better understood, making the challenge of timing your shots easier.Nature herself has rhythms and predictable behaviour, from the regular crash of waves against an ocean cliff to the annual cycle of life that is the seasons. The more familiar you become with your chosen subject, the better you will understand its behaviour and the better you will be able to shoot it. Many photographers know the vigil of waiting for the light.This once in a lifetime shot took only a few trial runs and a handful of attempts to get exactly right. Careful timing combined with fantastic luck to ensure everyone but the guy on the bottom was in the air at the right place at the same time.Creativity Creativity in photography is an intensely subjective thing. To what degree should we be creative in our photos? Is it up to us to create art? How do we impress upon others what the message in our photography is? Is it even up to us as photographers to determine the message, or is that solely up to those who see our work? Is creativity something that can be described, measured and spelled out in a list, or must we develop a sense of creativity on our own? Whose place is it to tell you how to be a creative photographer?Throughout this book Ive tried to be as broad and general as possible to make sure the advice I have given is objective and useful to many people. The following chapters on creativity in photography, however, must necessarily be far more subjective. What follows are my opinions and thoughts on the subject. They are far from objective or comprehensive, nor are they necessarily something that apply to you and your work. I do feel, though, that creativity is very important in my photography, and I hope that sharing with you my thoughts on the matter may help you to form your own opinions and think about your photography in a more creative way.So please remember when reading these chapters, these are my own opinions and may not apply to you, no matter how objective the wording may sound.Meaning and messageWriting this chapter, Ive had to think about something that Ive often done without much thought. I feel the best photos are those with a message or meaning. If a photo says something, or makes you feel something, then it becomes a more powerful and memorable photo. But what does it mean to have a message or a meaning? Isnt that the same thing?Meaning and message are both subjective, and they can differ from photographer to photographer and viewer to viewer. I would define the two terms like this:A message is a particular idea or concept that the photographer wishes to convey, or the subject interprets from the photo. A message might be Look after our planet, This is how the subject lives or The city at night is dangerous. Messages can be political, commercial, emotional, personal or any other kind of concept. Usually the intention is to convey the message the photographer wants, but sometimes it may be missed by the viewer, or they see a different message. Storytelling in a photo is a powerful way to convey a message, and may make it easier to understand and have greater impact.Meaning is far more personal and subjective. Most, if not all, photos can be imbued with a kind of meaning, either by the photographer or the viewer. The meaning one gets from a photo will vary more from person to person than an explicit message. A photo may have meaning for one person but nothing for another. Few photos are taken which have no meaning for anyone, as that is usually the motive for taking a photo in the first place.What you intend for your photo and what the subject interprets can be two different things! The following table may help explain:Meaning and message94Intention versus interpretationThis table shows the photographers intentions versus the viewers interpretation. At the top left is a great situation when the photographers intention for a photo and the viewers interpretation match. They saw what the photographer intended them to. Sometimes, though, the interpretation can be different from what the photographer intended. Perhaps the viewer was able to see something in the photo on a deeper level, or from a different perspective. This can be a valuable learning experience if the photographer can talk to the viewer. Find out what they saw in the photo and why, see if you can see it as well, and what you can do to encourage diverse interpretations of your photos in the future, or how you might be able to intentionally elicit that kind of interpretation.To the top right, the photographers intention was missed by the viewer entirely, and they werent able to get anything from the meaning or the message of the photo. Youll need to try something else to get the message across, to this viewer at least.At the bottom left the photographer didnt intend a particular meaning or message for the photo, but they got lucky, and the viewer found one for themselves. In this case, have a closer look at your photo. Work out what it was that the viewer saw. Did you miss something when you were shooting? How can you be more aware of the potential for your photographs to communicate in the future?Finally the bottom right of the table is a bit of a pointless result. The photographer had no intention in creating the photo, and the viewer got nothing from it either. A photo like this is probably a waste of time.Thinking about the meaning and message in your photos will help you become more aware of the impact of your photos, help improve them. To do this, you have to be aware of your own motives. We talked in an earlier chapter about the why of photography. Try to keep this in mind when taking photos. Why are you shooting this scene? What is the meaning of the photo to you, what meaning do you want it to have for your viewers? Is there a message in the photo, what message do you want to communicate?IntentionYesViewer correctly interprets well done. Incorrectly interprets oops, but still works for the viewer, work to improve.Oops, they didnt get it. Try something else.NoLucky oops! The viewer got more out of the photo than you intended. What did they see? What did you miss?You intended nothing, viewer sees nothing, why bother?Yes NoInterpretationThinking about the meaning or message you want for your photo when you are just learning how to use your camera can be intimidating. Not every photo has to have a deeper meaning than it looks cool to me. Taking photos to satisfy yourself is very rewarding, and there is no need for any photos to have any kind of meaning to anyone other than yourself. Most of the photos you take will probably have more meaning to you than anyone else.If you want to take your photography to a different level, and have meaning for others, then you need to think about what that meaning will be, or if there is a message you want heard. Thinking this way may feel pretentious, and may even come across as such to others, but never forget this is a very subjective thing you are trying to do. What may look pretentious to one person may be a work of art to another. Developing a sense of self-confidence is important whenever you create art and thats a valid way of looking at creating photos with a meaning or message. If you are confident that the creative process you are engaged in is worthwhile, in the pursuit of art, then you should ignore anyone who accuses you of pretension. Confident art is more likely to be successful anyway, in my opinion. Dont forget that art is very subjective.The best and most sincere way to create art is to draw upon the things that have meaning to you. When looking for meaning in your photography, photograph things that make you feel. Everyone looks at the world through a window then, tints it with their own perceptions and opinions, but if you force yourself to become aware of these, you can draw upon them and project them into your work. No one will accuse you of not having an opinion if Meaning and message95What do you want to say?you can be honest and use your biases and perspectives to create meaningful images.Do you think that the world has forgotten the beauty of untouched nature? Show it to them. Is politics creating a rift in your community? Capture it. Have you got an idea of a way to look at something familiar that is new and interesting? Develop the idea.I feel there are few things more satisfying in life than in the pursuit of creative ideas and expressions, and that is one of the most important motivators in my efforts to improve my photography. The elation you feel when you are able to create an image that matches the vision you had is matched only by a positive response to the image by those you respect.A carefully conceived photo can tell a story all by itself.Having a fantastic creative idea is one thing, but how do you turn that idea into a photo? There is no one answer to that question, as the range of creative ideas is unlimited. However, there are things you can do to become better at realising your visions. PracticeMost importantly, like everything else in life, creating art is a skill that improves with practice. Get out and take lots and lots of photos to develop your creative ability. Just like practice will help you get an intuitive feel for exposure, so will it help you develop your sense of creativity and improve your ability to realise it in a photo. In this process you should do lots of experiments to try out ideas and techniques. Many, if not most of these will end up being failures of one kind or another, but with each experiment you will learn a little more about how it all works.Meaning and message96How do you say it?VarietyDont limit yourself to just one idea either. You may be captivated by the idea of creatively photographing, say, letterboxes in your neighbourhood, but dont pursue just that idea. Have a few ideas or projects going at once, and you will see a more rapid improvement in your creative skills. Over time you will get a better sense of what ideas and techniques work better for you, and which ones give you more enjoyment. Focus then on those which are more successful, and hopefully youll be creating truly unique and interesting photos!CollaborateAnother great way to get the creative juices flowing is to collaborate with other creative people. This can include, but isnt limited to, other photographers. Work together on realising an artistic vision and freely share and discuss ideas. Two or more people working together can generate a positive creative feedback loop, with ideas bouncing back and forth, giving amazing results that would have been far more difficult working alone.Go onlineAs I mentioned toward the start of the book, there are a huge number of active and helpful online photo communities and many of them have regular projects or themes that you can participate in. These projects are specifically created to get you thinking creatively, and can help you out when youre stuck for ideas. Even better, when the project concludes, you are usually able to see the submissions from all the other photographers who participated. You can see how lots of other people interpreted and executed the project, which can inspire you to think in new ways. These communities all encourage interaction as well, so you can ask questions and share ideas with many like-minded photographers.Meaning and message97I found this in a quiet spot in a little creek one day while walking. Its nice what little examples of beauty you can find when you keep your eyes open.In all honesty, there are no donts when it comes to art, so it would be presumptuous of me to tell you what not to do. However, I have learned a few lessons over the years and Ill share some thoughts here that you might find useful.Dont give up too easilyGood things dont come easily, especially if theyre new or original. If you cant get the image that you wanted to create, or your photos arent turning out as well as you thought they would, dont despair. The road to artistic success is a challenging one, and you will have many failures along the way. If you abandon your ideas before theyve had the chance to be realised, you are doing yourself a disservice.Meaning and messageWhat not to doDont become obsessedThe reverse of the previous piece of advice. If you find yourself banging your head against a brick wall and you cant make an idea work after trying for a long time it may be best to let it go. Look at things from a different perspective, try different techniques and brainstorm with friends, but if youre still not getting anywhere, move on. You cant always make an idea work.Beware of the obviousIf youre trying to get a message across, dont assume your audience are idiots and spell it out for them. Subtlety and understatement can make the impact of your message greater, contrary to expectations. Obvious cliches are boring, predictable and possibly insulting.Beware of the obscureAgain, the reverse of the previous advice, you want to make sure you dont bury your message behind layers of obfuscation and ambiguity. Attempting to be clever with your work by making the message hidden or difficult to find runs the risk of the viewer either being frustrated or missing the point entirely.360 degree HDR panorama Dinner Plain, Victoria.Humans seek meaningIt is in the nature of human beings to seek out pattern and meaning, even where there may not necessarily be one. Keep this in mind when creating your photo. You will often be misinterpreted or sometimes others may find offence when none was intended. Because of the great eagerness of the brain to see patterns and meaning, a little can achieve a lot, and the appreciation of a photo can be greatly enhanced by giving the viewer the meaning they desire.Be expressiveIn acting, being expressive is very important in getting the message across to the audience. The same is true of photography. Its a very ambiguous concept, but thinking be expressive to yourself while shooting can help guide you to take photos that engage the viewer. Meaning and message99Some additional thoughtsConveying emotionEverything we do in life and in art has an emotional context and impact. Be aware of your own emotional state when shooting, and if it helps the photo try to let it be seen. Be aware of the emotional context or state of your subject, and make sure you dont dilute it in your photo. Documentary versus artPhotography is inherently a form of communication, whatever you are shooting. A loose and mostly artificial distinction you could draw is the difference between documentary type photography and artistic photography. Documentary photography seeks to capture the world as it is, and preserve a copy of reality. Artistic photography emphasises the message of the photo rather than its specific content. At the far end of the documentary scale might be real estate or scientific photography. At the far end of the artistic scale may be pure abstract or minimalist photos. While it is important to be aware of the distinction, and understand to which end of the scale your own intentions for your work lean, it is by no means an either/or proposition. There is art in the driest of scientific subjects, and even abstract photography is a filtered and distorted slice of reality as captured by the impassionate mechanical camera.I have seen forensic photography of the 1930s analysed by photographers for its innate artistic merit, and one of the very first photography books published was an almanac of perfectly and uniformly presented flowers and plants, intended as a typology but which was still breathtakingly beautiful.One of my favourite models, Annie, is about as expressive as they come, and she has many faces. How many times have you seen her in this book?Light and moodI had originally planned to cover these as two separate topics, but they are so interdependent that it made more sense to blend the topics into one. Nothing affects the mood of a photo more than how it is lit, and understanding how to light a photo is the best way to affect the resulting mood. Of course, lighting isnt the only factor in determining mood. The content, artistic intention, composition and other factors are all important. These topics have already been covered in the book, and some of what we will talk about here has already been inferred. Naturally, we will also need to refer back to previous chapters for context and some explanation.Now that you understand a bit more about the meaning and message of your photo, its time to get down to the practical exercise of creating it. In addition to the aforementioned aspects, especially composition, lighting is critical for getting the message across. You may be thinking, Havent we covered this in the chapter on lighting? What we discussed there was the nuts and bolts of light. How its qualities affect the look of the photo. Now that we understand that, we have to apply it and put it into practice to create a photo.This is often the part where new photographers, especially, have difficulty. You may know what you want the photo to say, and you might understand the technicalities of using light, but where the heck do you actually put the subject or the lights? Rather than simply putting lights anywhere and hoping for the best, understanding and planning will be far more effective and faster to get the result you want.Lets assume you have an idea for a great photo, with an interesting message or story to tell. Through your understanding of creative photography and composition, youve already started to put the photo together in your mind, but so far you only know whats going to be in it, and how the elements will be composed in the result. Now you have to work out the lighting to best convey the message. The lights most important effect, aside from simply allowing you to see the subject, is the emotional Light and moodTelling the storycontext and weight it gives to the subject and the photo as a whole, or in other words the mood. You either have a mood that you want to evoke in the viewer with your photo, or the subject itself is the expression of a mood, and you need to ensure that its captured in its most powerful form. The lighting you choose for your photo depends on the mood you want to evoke.Just a point I should make: I will be talking a lot about creating light here, and this is easiest to understand and control if you are using only artificial light. That way you can add only the light you need, and exactly control how it appears. Many photographers dont have access to a lot of lighting equipment, so they may feel that they are being forgotten here. That is not the case. It is easier to understand the effect of a light if you consider it one easily controlled source at a time, but all of the same principles apply with natural light. If you understand how to build an artificial lighting scheme even if you dont have the equipment to do it yourself you will have a better understanding of how to work with natural light.Additionally, there is a lot you can do to control the light if you only have natural light to work with, such as positioning your subject and reflecting or shading the light. If you have access to some artificial light sources then your options increase even more. So please read and understand the following pages, even if you have limited lighting equipment.The lighting used sets a sombre, slightly harsh mood which adds to the story of the visuals.Dramatic over the top lighting can be appropriate for an over the top subject.The light here tells the story, both by setting the mood, and literally with the rainbow.101Before you can construct an emotive lighting scheme, you have to know the emotional impact of light. We are all affected emotionally by light, even if we arent consciously aware of it. Get into the habit of looking at the light around you, and how it makes you feel. Remember emotional situations and recall the light at that moment and how it affected your mood. Watch lots of television and movies, and see how the directors evoke emotions through the lighting they choose.It is hard to pin down exactly how a photo makes you feel a certain way, and it is usually a complex collection of factors, but lighting is a major part of it. There are some general rules of thumb which can help you start to get a hold on these factors, however.For example: Brighter is happier or more reassuring Darker is brooding or more dramatic Warmer colours are more friendly and cheerful Cooler colours are more sad and isolating Soft, even light is comforting Hard, contrasty light is harsh and dramaticThe emotion of light Lighting that recreates natural situations can convey the same emotional impact Bright, even light is open and revealing, and can put the viewer at ease Dark, shadowy lighting is closed and concealing, and can imply a hidden threat Lighting a face from above the eyes can be flattering and friendly Lighting a face from below the eyes can look scary and unattractive High contrast light exaggerates shadows, but flattens highlights Low contrast light reduces texture and flattens 3D shape, but reveals surface appearanceLight and mood102Here are some examples of moodily lit scenes. See if you can work out what it is about the lighting that conveys the mood the photo makes you feel. Understanding the connection between light and mood is something that is hard to teach, but once you are made aware of it, and look for it in your daily life, it is something that is easy to learn. I leave this for you to practise.Light and mood103Now that you are familiar with the emotional power of light, and what kind of lighting evokes what kind of mood, it is time to combine this knowledge with what you already know about the qualities of light. Recalling the chapter on light earlier in the book, you learned how to control the appearance of light by modifying it, for example diffusing the light to increase its apparent size and thus softening the shadows.You now have all of the tools you need to construct a scheme to illuminate your photo to create the mood you want. By modifying the light, you can have complete control over the appearance of the composition. What you are doing when setting up a shots lighting is essentially painting the scene with light in your imagination. Looking at the composition before you, you can imagine what the scene would look like if you placed a light in a certain position, diffused it, and pointed it at a particular spot. Add, adjust or restrict additional light sources in your mind until you are satisfied that the result is what you are after.Light and moodBuilding a lighting schemeNaturally this is a skill that takes a long time to learn, and it is a very interactive process. Create your light, take a photo, see how it looks and adjust the lighting scheme if you see any room for improvement. An important thing to remember about building a light scheme is that small changes particularly in the position of your lights can have a dramatic result on the final image. Make small adjustments to the light and see how it affects the scene before going any further. Complex schemes can be particularly difficult to arrange, so its a good idea to work with one light at a time, get it right, then add another.There are a huge number of resources online to help you learn how to light. The previously mentioned Strobist community is especially helpful on this topic. Often photos shared by this community will be accompanied by lighting diagrams, which show what kind of lights were used, where they were placed, and how they were modified.The topic of building lighting schemes is a very deep and potentially complex one, worthy of several books as there already are on the market. The aim of Photo Nuts and Shots is to get you started on the right foot, and equip you with the creative and intellectual tools to start your own learning experience with lighting. The Digital Photography School forum is an excellent place to continue your lighting learning, where you can ask questions and share your creations.104 and moodThis shot was taken in an underground carpark. Only three small off-camera flash units were used to create the lighting scheme. One to illuminate the wall behind, and a pair of diffused flashes top and bottom for a soft illumination of the face.105How does this apply when you dont have any lighting equipment? There are many levels of control you can exert over the light you have available to you, from the completely passive to completely contrived artificial lighting schemes. Even using only the light you have already in a scene, without making any effort to control or modify it, you can have a great deal of control over how it illuminates your subject, and the resulting effect of the mood of the photo.Where you place your subject and yourself relative to the light can change the look dramatically. Will you put the light over your shoulder so it fully illuminates the subject front on? Will you walk around your subject and turn them to you so that the light appears to be coming from a forty-five degree angle, or even directly from the side? If you shoot directly into the light, your subject may become silhouetted or the background may be over-exposed and completely burnt out, removing potentially distracting details.Natural lightIf you have a sunny day available to you, you can choose to shoot in direct sunlight, which can be harsh and create very high contrast shadows. You may be able to move your subject into the shade, which will result in a far more even illumination as the sunlight scattered from surrounding objects becomes the main source of light. Look around, and you may see brightly lit surfaces which can act as a second light source, to add some fill to the shadows on your subject, showing more detail in those areas.Light and mood360 degree panorama of The Church of the Good Shepherd, New Zealand. Right: Backlit, natural light portrait.106The choices you make about position, even in a completely ambient-lit scene, give you a huge degree of control. This control can be extended even further with small investments in additional equipment. One of the first upgrades I recommend for photographers is to buy a collapsible reflector. This inexpensive device is simply a steel loop with diffusion fabric stretched over it and with a reversible cover that has four different surfaces: white, silver, gold and black. With a reflector, you can make use of the ambient light, and reflect it back on your subject, to act as a second light source. The white and silver surfaces reflect the light back at different intensities. The gold surface adds a warm tone to the light, which can be nice for portraits. The black surface can be used to prevent light being reflected on the subject if you are in a very bright diffusely lit environment. This can bring back a tonal range, and emphasise the three-dimensional quality of your subject. On top of this, the diffusion material mounted to the rim can be used to take harsh direct sun or spotlight and make it much softer and more even. It can even be held in front of a flash to make it a soft light source.Light and moodWith just this simple equipment upgrade, you have a lot more creative freedom for creating a lighting scheme, using only the ambient light in the environment. The creative possibilities increase even more when you add an artificial light source to the mix. Many cameras have a flash built into the camera. This can be useful when there is simply not enough light to take a photo, and you have no other choice. However, in any other circumstance, I would not recommend using an on-camera flash as the primary source of light. Even as a fill light, on-camera flash needs to be carefully controlled, or it can become a dominant effect in the photo. There are other problems it can introduce, such as red eye, and a colour imbalance between the ambient light and the light produced by the fill flash. Despite these potential issues, on-camera flash can be useful. Just be sure you understand how to properly control its effect on the photo, and when it is the right light to use.A hand-held diffuser turns contrasty midday sun into soft, even, diffuse light for this flower photo. Overcast days provide the best outdoor light for portraits.Putting the light behind the model can reveal much, here showing her curves and creating an otherworldly feel.107My advice for photographers wanting to invest in lighting equipment would be to buy a small speedlight (a small battery powered flash unit, with a hot shoe for mounting on the camera), and get the equipment necessary to allow you to fire it off the camera. There are a number of solutions for triggering a camera flash remotely, such as sync cables, infra-red and radio wireless transmitters. You should do a lot of research on this topic to make sure you understand the benefits of the different solutions and the capabilities of different flash units before you buy. If you rush your purchase, you may end up paying for more features than you need, money which could have been spent on a light stand or light-modifying umbrella. The Strobist website, and Digital Photography School forums are both excellent resources for researching your purchase.Adding just one off-camera speedlight to your equipment allows a huge number of creative lighting options. This light can be used to fill in the shadows from an ambient primary light, such as the sun. You can use it as an effect light to spice up an ambient lit photo, perhaps by adding a back light or drawing attention to a particular part of the photo. You can use a speedlight as the primary light in the photo, and have the ambient light provide the fill. Naturally a speedlight can be used as the only light, giving either a dramatic photo with deep shadows or, with the addition of a reflector, provide its own fill as well.Light and moodAgain, the topic of combining off-camera flash and ambient light is a very complex one, worthy of books on the subject. In brief, however, you will find your creative lighting options increase dramatically and your ability to convey an emotion and tell a story will likewise increase when you learn how to take advantage of them.Right: A single off-camera flash on the ground, pointed back at the models, gives them a rim light, and dramatically illuminates the falling rain. Below: A collapsible reflector held at the models chest provides a fill light. The reflector can be seen reflected in her eyes.108, especially if you are a nature or landscape photographer, you will find yourself in a situation where you have no control over the light whatsoever. You cant move a mountain to get a better angle of light and that kangaroo isnt going to take direction. So what options do you have to get better light on your subject when you cant control the light or the subject? There is only one solution: time and patience.To get the best light on some subjects, you need to give yourself the opportunity to shoot them often, at different times of day and in different weather conditions. Nature photography in particular is an exercise in patience and perseverance. Many of the most famous landscape photos werent taken the first time the photographer saw the scene. Many hours, days or sometimes even years of visiting, waiting and not shooting elapse before Waiting for the lightthe shutter is pressed at that one magic moment where the light is just right for the shot and the subject. This kind of photography can be very frustrating, but it can also be very relaxing and meditative. Photographers who are forced to wait for the light get to appreciate the art on a whole different level, being in touch with their subject in a way that few ever do. Thanks to them, we get to see the world at its most beautiful, without all of the tedious waiting.Light and moodEarly morning panorama of The Church of the Good Shepherd, New Zealand. Left: Sunset on Mount Hotham, Victoria. 109Ive spent this entire book talking about how to be a better photographer, but really, the most important thing is being a happy photographer. If you dont enjoy the process of creating photographs, then youre better off looking for another interest. All of the techniques, ideas and methods Ive discussed here have been about trying to help you become better at photography, but please dont forget that photography is fun!Dont get too caught up in capturing a photo, getting the settings and lighting just right, so that you miss the moment youre actually trying to shoot. You need to be able to be aware of the environment around you. You need to feel and enjoy the moment and that will help you capture the emotion and result in a better photo.Remember also, that you are in the moment of the photo. You are experiencing what you are capturing in the first person. Many people may look at the photo you take and imagine what it was like to be there, but you were the one who was there. Dont experience your photography through the tunnel vision of the viewfinder, experience what you capture to the full, and you will be enriched by the hobby on levels that you may never be able to capture in a photo but which you will carry with you as cherished memories for the rest of your life.ConclusionPhotography has the potential to take you to amazing places, witness spectacular sights and meet incredible people. It is a pursuit that expands the mind and the heart, and opens your eyes to a bigger world. Keep your eyes open, always look around you and take a playful, curious attitude towards the hobby and your life. Explore new locations and ideas and you will broaden your photographic horizons, take the best possible photos and, ultimately, enrich your life.ConclusionRight: I used my mobile phone screen to write my appreciation for Comet McNaught.110 Share the love Thanks for buying a copy of dPSs latestphotography resource. I trust that youve found it helpful in becoming a better photographer.Tell a FriendIf youve enjoyed this resource wed love for you to share news of it with a friend. Not only do we think theyll thank you for helping them improve their photography but it helps to keep growing the dPS community with every sale of the book.Please pass on news of this ebook by:Emailing a FriendShare this link with your friends who you think might appreciate learning how to improve their photography: Want more? How to Keep Improving Your PhotographyOf course there is a lot more to learn about photography and Id like to personally invite you to continue to journey with us as we explore the topic on the Digital Photography School site.There are three main ways that Id like to invite you to do this:1. Subscribe to our Weekly NewsletterEach Thursday I email a free newsletter to over a quarter of a million of our readers. It contains links to the latest tutorials on the site, key discussions in our forums, reviews, great resources and equipment for photographers and shows off some great photography.To get this free weekly newsletter sign up here: 2. Become a Forum MemberOver 130,000 of the readers at dPS have joined our free forum/community area. In this section of the site members share what theyre learning, post their best photos, ask and answer questions and have a lot of fun with their camera. There are areas for all kinds of photography, including the share your shots forum where readers are encouraged to submit their Photo Nuts inspired photography.Wed love for you to join us simply visit our forum area and look for the join now link.3. Follow us on Twitter or FacebookMany of our readers also choose to interact with dPS on social media sites Twitter and Facebook. Become our friend on these sites for updates from the site as they happen! snapping! Darren RowseTweet about itSign UpConnect with Neil Neil is active online and is happy to answer any photography questions you may have. You can connect with him up1: Tweet About it4:


View more >