by Harry Flashman
Tips with Digitals
Everyone now has a digital camera, point and shoot, bridge or SLR, and the
following tips will help you get the most out of your expensive investment.
Of course you should remember that point and shoot varieties have
limitations and SLR’s have advantages, whether digital or otherwise! The two
types of cameras have their different capabilities, and you must stick
within the parameters.
The first tip is one that I give at least once a year. “Walk several meters
closer!” More good shots are ruined by having the subject as small dots in
some huge background. Make the subject the hero. If the subject(s) is/are
people, then use the telephoto setting and still walk in closer. Fill the
frame with the subject and you do not need to worry about the backgrounds.
Ever! And remember when taking pictures of a group, get them to really
cuddle up together, and don’t be afraid to get them to angle their heads in
towards the center. The happy giggling faces will make a good photo. Do not
take pictures of people standing in a row like soldiers on parade.
Another easy way to better photos is to use filters to warm up the scene, or
polarize and add some intense color to the photo. “But my point and shoot
digital doesn’t take filters,” I hear you say. Sure, but the lens is
physically so small, it is easy to place something before it. Various
colored sunglasses can both polarize and add warmth to the shot. You may
want to put the camera on a tripod, while you hold the sunglasses directly
over the lens. You do not need a one meter high tripod for this either.
There are small ‘mini’ tripods you can use, which retail for around B. 200
and do the job admirably.
When taking portraits outdoors, turn the flash on as well. The camera will
have set itself to expose the brightest part of the scene, so the flash then
brightens up the foreground subject.
Another trick to outdoors portraiture is to take some shots with the sun
behind the subject to ‘rim light’ the hair with the halo effect. With the
sun behind the subject, you also stop the screwed up eyes from the sun’s
glare, which is never very photogenic.
One setting that most digital cameras possess is a ‘macro’ mode. Use this to
discover new and exciting details in your garden. The macro mode is usually
depicted as a flower in your on-screen menu. Remember that to get the best
macro shots, look carefully at which part of the subject will be in focus.
The depth of field in macro is very shallow, so note where the camera magic
eye is indicating the focus point is, relative to the subject, before slowly
pressing the shutter release.
Another very simple tip, but one that seems to be forgotten is the placement
of the horizon line, which should be one third down from the top of the LCD
screen, or one third up from the bottom of the screen. The horizon line (as
the name suggests) should also be horizontal!
Another tip is to buy another memory card. The advantage of having two cards
is you never end up with a full card and another great shot to be taken, and
have to stand there and try and delete previous images. Buy the biggest
capacity card you can afford.
You should also explore your camera’s capabilities by yourself. After all,
you are not wasting expensive film, are you? Try different settings and see
what the end result can be, but remember what the settings were if you want
to repeat the effect!
It should be remembered that you bought this new camera because it had
plenty of megapixels, and unless you run the camera at its highest
resolution, all the expense of the additional megapixel capability has been
wasted. You got a 10 megapixel camera, rather than an old 2 megapixel for
that reason! Put the camera on the highest setting and leave it there.
Finally, with no film to consume, shoot lots! But not 20 of the same pose.
Despite the fact that today’s digital cameras are full of electronic
‘all-everything’ automatic controls, there is even more satisfaction to be
had by taking the mode selector off ‘auto’ and placing it on another mode.
Now, even though the super cameras can seemingly do everything, no camera
knows exactly what is in your mind, which has driven you to want to take any
You see, when you leave it all to the camera, it will give you a nice
average shot, with average exposure and average focus. It is only after you
take control that you will get the photos you imagine. You can also get
photos that you did not imagine, but will be very different from the
‘automatic mode’ pictures.
Improving your photography is really not all that difficult, and you don’t
even need to go to school. There are many world class famous photographers
who never had a lesson in their lives. But they did read, and they did
experiment, and they did learn from their own work.
There are really only two main variables, and after you understand them and
what they do to your photograph it becomes very simple.
The first thing to remember is that the correct exposure is merely a
function of how large is the opening of the lens and how much time the
shutter is left open to let the light into the camera. That’s almost it -
that is photography in a nutshell. No gimmicks or fancy numbers - a straight
out relationship - how open and for how long - this is known as the
Now I will presume, for the sake of this exercise that you have an SLR and
use it in the automatic mode. Let’s go straight to the “mode” menu and
select “A” or “Aperture Priority”. In this mode it means that you can choose
the aperture yourself, and the camera will work out the shutter speed that
corresponds to the correct exposure. Simple.
Now select “A” and then look at the lens barrel and you will see the
Aperture numbers, generally between 2.8 and 22. To give you a subject with
sharp focus in the foreground and a gently blurred background, you need to
select an aperture around f2.8 to f4. Hey! It was that simple. To get those
“professional” portrait shots, with the model’s face clear and the
background all wishy washy, just use the A mode and select an Aperture
around f4 to f 2.8.
Now, if on the other hand you want everything to be nice and sharp, all the
way from the front to the back, like in a landscape picture, then again
select A and set the lens barrel aperture on f16 to f22. The camera will
again do the rest for you. Again - it’s that easy!
Flushed with creative success, let’s carry on. The next mode to try is the
“S” setting. In this one, you set the shutter speed and the camera
automatically selects the correct aperture to suit. Take a look at the
shutter speed dial or indicator and you will see a series of numbers that
represent fractions of a second.
First, let’s “stop the action” by using a fast shutter speed. For most
action shots, select S and set the shutter speed on around 1/500th to
1/1000th and you will get a shot where you have stopped the runner in mid
stride, or the car half way through the corner or the person bungee jumping.
Yes, it’s that easy.
So this week you have learned that to get a good portrait shot use the A
mode and set the aperture on f4 to f2.8 and forget about the rest of the
technical stuff. Just compose a nice photograph and go from there. (Do
remember to walk in close however!) To get a great landscape shot, again use
the A mode and set the aperture at f16 to f22.
Finally, to stop the action, choose the S mode and around 1/500th of a
second and you won’t get blurry action shots ever again.
Certainly there are other aspects to good photography, but master the A and
S modes first and you will produce better pictures.
Professional portraits at home
Portraiture is a very lucrative branch of photography. Get good at getting
flattering portraits and you could even give up your day job. Whilst the
professional studios have banks of diffused flash heads and rolls of
background paper, you can get great portraits at home, with the minimal
amount of equipment.
So this week let’s look at a few studio style tricks we might be able to
adapt for the weekend photographer who does not have banks of studio lights
and other such paraphernalia of the pro photographer.
To start with, let’s get the techno bits out of the way. You should choose a
lens of around 100 mm focal length (135 mm is my preferred “portrait” lens)
or set your zoom to around that focal length. If you are using a wide angle
lens (anything numerically less than 50 mm), no matter what you do, the end
result will be disappointing. That is of course unless you like making
people look distorted with big noses!
The second important technical bit is to set your lens aperture to around f
5.6. At that aperture you will get the face in focus and the background will
gently melt away - provided that you focus on the eyes!
Perhaps a word or two about focus here as it is very important in portraits.
I like to use a split image focus screen and focus on the lower eyelid. This
makes sure that the eyes will be exactly in focus. However, if you are using
Autofocus (AF), then again you should make sure you focus on the eyes and
use the ‘focus lock’ so you will not lose it.
Next item is the general pose itself. Please, please, please do not have
your subject sitting rigidly directly face on to the camera. This is not a
passport/visa run photograph. It is to be a flattering portrait. Sit the
subject in a chair some distance away from a neutral background, and turn
the chair 45 degrees to the camera. Now when you want to take the shot you
get the subject to turn their head slowly towards you and take the shot that
way. You can also get a shot with them looking away from you. Nobody said
the sitter has to actually look at the camera.
Now let’s get down to the most important part - the lighting. We need to do
two things with our lighting. Firstly light the face and secondly light the
hair. Now the average weekend photographer does not have studio lights and
probably has an on-camera flash to work with. Not to worry, we can get over
all this! The answer is a mirror and a large piece of black velvet.
Take the black velvet first. You will need a piece around 2 meters square
and the idea is to place the velvet close to one side of the subject, but
not actually in the photograph. You get as close as possible and the black
will absorb much of the light and allow no reflection of light back onto
that side of the subject’s face. Hang the velvet over a clothes drying stand
or similar to make life easy for yourself.
Now the mirror. This device will give you the power of having a second light
source for no cost! Now since you are firing light into the subject from the
top of your camera, you position the mirror at about 30-45 degrees tilted
downwards, placed behind and to the side of the subject, pointing basically
at the sitters ear. The side you choose is the side opposite the black
velvet. Again, you must make sure that the mirror is not in the viewfinder.
What you now have is a primary light source (the on-camera flash), a
secondary light source lighting the hair and adding to the light on one side
of the face, and a light absorber to give a gradation of light across the
subject’s face. Take a look at the portrait this week. Note principal light,
hair light and the model at 45 degrees to the camera.
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