Learn WYSIWYG first
We are in the digital
age, and cameras, even smartphones, have just become so clever, it is almost
as if the photographer is no longer needed. I’m sure there is an “app” for
all that, but for all the electro-trickery, it still can’t handle WYSIWYG.
So, exactly what is
WYSIWYG (pronounced “wizziwig”)? It is the acronym for “What You See Is What
You Get”! WYSIWYG works with photography. It just needs one thing – you have
to train your eye to see critically what is really there, through the
We all tend to
‘imagine’ what is in front of us, rather than ‘seeing’ what is really there.
Look at drawings of houses done by young children. Inevitably, there will be
more than two walls. Children ‘know’ that houses have more than two walls,
so draw houses accordingly. However, when you look at any house, from any
angle, you can only see a maximum of two walls at one time. Small children
do not use WYSIWYG.
do many photographers. Hands up all readers who have reviewed their images
from the memory card and been disappointed? All of you, if you are telling
the truth – and that includes me!
What was wrong with
those photos? Were there trees growing out of people’s heads, giving them
strange reindeer ‘antlers’? Did some have such harsh shadows across the
person’s face that you could not see the eyes, and in fact, the face looked
grotesque? Did some have the person so small in the picture that you cannot
tell who they are? Shall I continue, or since you have probably ticked the
box for “all of the above”, let’s not prolong the agony, but get down to
what we have to do to fix the problem.
The answer is very
simply WYSIWYG, but you have to train yourself to ‘really’ see. We all know
what we want to see in this once in a lifetime photo, but ignore the fact
that what we are seeing in the viewfinder is not actually what we want. It’s
the child and the house with three sides again.
You have to train
yourself to look critically at what is in the viewfinder before going
‘click’. This is actually harder than it seems. You have to scan the small
viewfinder to see if there are trees growing out of people’s heads. You have
to squint at the faces and see if shadows are ugly. You have to be prepared
to put the camera down and recompose the shot before clicking that shutter,
remembering at all times that what the camera ‘sees’ is not necessarily the
proportions you are seeing with the naked eye.
That may sound a little
weird, but it isn’t really. What the camera sees depends upon the lens you
are using. The “standard” (50-55 mm) lens gives a field of view coverage
approximately the same as the human eye, but the “wide angle” lenses (24 mm
and 28 mm, are the common ones) give a distorted viewpoint compared to that
seen by you. Likewise, the “long” lenses give a very narrow viewpoint
compared to what you see with your own eyes.
This is probably one of
the best arguments for the use of SLR cameras, because when you look through
the viewfinder, in most DSLR’s you are actually looking through the lens.
The compact cameras where you are not looking through the camera’s lens have
a compensation for this, but it is a poor substitute. Who remembers which
set of lines you are supposed to use as the edge of the shot when you are
taking it? Nobody.
99 percent of serious
photographers use SLR’s, and the main reason is WYSIWYG. Which brings me to
the next important item. The Preview Button. Do you actually know where it
is and how to use it? This is ‘real’ WYSIWYG. Did you realize that when you
look through the viewfinder, you are looking through the lens with the
aperture wide open? But your shot may be recorded at f16. The preview button
allows you to see at f16 exactly what will be on the final print. Use it!
What you see is really going to be what you get!
Depth of Field again
One of the easiest factors to control
with your picture taking is the Depth Of Field, usually written as DOF.
Mastery of DOF will return you much better photographs and raise your
pictures right out of the amateur snapper with a compact or camera-phone.
DOF refers to an optical characteristic
and depends solely on the ratio of the lens being used and the aperture
selected. Altering the shutter speed, has no effect on the Depth of Field.
DOF really refers to the zone of
“sharpness” (or being in acceptable focus) from foreground items to
background items in any photograph. This is different from what the eye
sees, as the eye can instantly focus on near and far objects, giving the
impression that everything in your field of vision is in sharp focus. The
camera, however, gives you a slice of time.
The first concept to remember is “1/3rd
forwards and 2/3rds back.” Again this is a law of optical physics, but means
that the DOF, from foreground to background in your photograph can be
measured, and from the focus point in the photo, extends towards you by one
third and extends away from the focus point by two thirds.
With older manual focus SLR’s, you will
even find a series of marks on the focusing ring of the lens to indicate the
Depth of Field that is possible with that lens.
You see, for each focal length of lens,
the DOF possible is altered by the Aperture. The rule here is simple – the
higher the Aperture number, the greater the DOF and the lower the Aperture
number, the shorter the DOF. In simple terms, for any given lens, you get
greater front to back sharpness with f22 and you get very short front to
back sharpness at f4.
Just remember the higher the Aperture
number, the greater the DOF; the smaller the Aperture number the smaller the
DOF; plus the longer the lens gives a shorter DOF, the shorter the lens, the
longer the DOF (just remember the ‘opposites’ – the longer gives shorter).
Now to apply this formula – when
shooting a landscape for example, where you want great detail from the
foreground, right the way through to the mountains five kilometers away,
then use a short lens (24 mm is ideal) set at f22 and focused on a point
about 2 km away.
On the other hand, when shooting a
portrait where you only want to have the eyes and mouth in sharp focus you
would use a longer lens (and here the 135 is ideal) and a smaller. Aperture
number of around f5.6 to f4 and focus directly on the eyes to give that
ultra short Depth of Field required.
These optical laws hold good for all
cameras, even digital. It may sound confusing at first, but just remember
for short depth of field you want the lens aperture numerically as low as
The other number you’ll see is focal
length. We typically use this number as short hand to indicate the angle of
view you’ll get when it’s attached to your camera. This gets a little
complicated when you talk about cameras with different sized sensors because
that can actually change the effective angle of view. Most entry-level and
even mid-level DSLRs ship with a “kit lens” with a focal range of 18-55mm.
That’s what’s called a “standard” zoom because it goes from wide angle up to
a short telephoto on the long end.
Other buying tips
It’s no exaggeration to say we could
write an article five times this size and not cover every aspect of digital
cameras. But with this information, you should at least have a handle on the
basics, which will let you narrow down your selection.
Don’t forget to consult professional
and user reviews on the web to get a better idea of what any camera can do
for you. By the way, the piece of glass at the front of your lens is the
most important part as far as the sharpness of your photos is concerned.
Cheap lenses are plastic and they do denature over time. Like all things in
life – you get what you pay for!
Getting the most out of your DSLR
I have always been
quite passionate about photography and in my early forays spent much time
looking at other photographer’s work. Not to slavishly copy, but to try and
see just “how” they managed to produce the final image.
My tutor was a notebook
and I jotted down all relevant details to assist me in getting good images
myself. With the instant gratification that DSLR gives you, it is now
possible for you to adjust and correct as you take the photos.
The first refers to the
placement of the image in the frame. This is where the ability to instantly
review images in digital photography is so good. Look at the image in the
viewer on the back of the camera and see if it can be improved by different
placement of the subject within the frame. Remember the ‘Rule of Thirds’
(place the main subject one third of the way in from either side and one
third of the way up or down from the top or bottom of the picture). This is
a tried and true rule of thumb and you can try it out so easily with digital
photography. It may feel ‘wrong’ initially not having the subject slap bang
in the middle of the frame, but try it and you will find you are getting
better, more pleasing pictures. Take notice of the talking heads on TV and
movies where the Rule of Thirds is also closely followed.
One of the items I
learned from my jottings in the notebook, and now one of my standard tips,
is “Walk several meters closer”, and by doing this you will find that you
can make the subject fill the frame (to even overflowing) and get rid of
horrible distracting backgrounds. Say to yourself, “Fill the Frame” as you
compose the shot.
While still on the
subject of the overall image, don’t forget to take each shot two ways – in
the landscape (horizontal) format and the second in the portrait (vertical)
format. Again it sounds strange to shoot a landscape in the vertical format,
but it gives the viewer a different emphasis, which can improve an otherwise
‘ordinary’ shot. You should also take more than two frames for each subject.
It is amazing just how many portraits can be spoiled by the subject closing
his or her eyes.
With most digitals
having reasonably good zoom lenses these days, experiment with different
zoom settings and distance from the subject. A ‘tele’ setting can give you a
very different photograph from the ‘wide’ setting taken closer to the
subject. This ability to experiment, at the time of shooting, is one of the
biggest plusses for digital photography.
You can also see the
difference in the backgrounds between shooting at f2.8 as opposed to f16.
The larger aperture (f2.8) gives a blurred background, which is exactly what
the ‘portrait’ mode does. Many of the tricky settings are just automatic
combining of different apertures/shutter speeds, and a general knowledge of
first photographic principles will always help your photography too.
In bright light, try
your camera’s Beach or Sunshine mode, or go to manual mode and choose a fast
shutter speed to control the amount of light that comes in.
Be careful if you place
your subject in front of a bright window or they will become a silhouette.
Try placing them off to the side of the window instead, or facing a natural
For better photographs
indoors, turn your flash off. Try to maximize the light by pulling back the
curtains, opening doors and turning on the incandescent lights in the room.
Sure, you will have slower shutter speeds and you may have to look at using
the tripod, or even just holding the camera firmly on a table, but you will
get more natural photographs.
getting the ‘decisive moment’ by partially depressing the shutter button
when taking candid shots. This means you are not waiting for the camera to
focus, before the shutter fires. Or simply set the focus manually.
No, compared to
camera-phones and compacts, your DSLR gives you many more opportunities to
be creative, but critically review your work after downloading to your