We all know that it's much easier to get a perfect photograph with a modern digital camera, and the smartphone camera is now as good as a digital top of the range device from around ten or so years ago. It is also common to include image quality improvement protocols within the software to ensure the pictures come out really well. Less control but better shots are a mixed blessing. How does the phone know that we want a photo to look a certain way? It makes a guess, and with research and continual feedback from the markets, that guess can be made as accurate as possible over time. There are particular things we do still need to know about photography if we want to truly use even the brightest of smart cameras, going beyond the point and shoot philosophy that we all begin with takes an element of understanding about the process of taking a photograph.
Here are the main pointers that still count as much today as they always did, and once applied to your photography, they will open a new branch of creativity for you.
Most phones have filters on their camera software, or allow users to download apps that apply them once installed. The ranges are unique to the brand of phone or app, but often they range in various types of image effect or colouration change. Getting used to the filters takes time and at first their results my not be to taste, but with the right image and the right mood, they all have a purpose for creative expression. Colours are perhaps the most common effects, and colour filters are a long standing tool in a photographer's kit.
A colour filter can be used with colour photos to bring out particular elements of a scene. A red filter can allow a sunset image to truly show off its different hues of orange, yellow, pink, and red, as those tones are given a boost by the extra layer to the lens. When used appropriately, blue can be used to boost the colours of a sky or a body of water, taking advantage of nature's palette when light levels are not at the highest is a job for these tools of the trade. Using sensible levels of colour filtration allows a photographer to capture the beautiful richness of what the eye can see.
When used in black and white photography, colour filters begin to make a lot more sense. Because of they grey scale world depicted by a black and white photo, the boosts to colour are represented by varying tones of grey. These can be used to a much greater extent without staining the original image with a film of inappropriate colouring. In a digital environment, apply the colour filter to the colour photo, and then apply greyscale to that image. In an optical environment, a black and white film would capture the levels of natural filtered light in a normal way. Applying a colour filter to a black and white image in reverse order would add colouration.
In black and white photography, a colour filter can achieve the following results: Red gives a dramatic hue to a blue sky, highlighting finer details in the clouds. It can also capture depth to detail in stone and wood. If there is a mist or fog, a red filter can reduce the haze created, and it can also reduce skin blemishes in portraiture. Orange and yellow filters can be used to boost clouds and sunset colours in black and white photography. They can be used to boost flowers against their foliage, and penetrate haze in landscape photos. Blue filters amplify fog and mist, and they also highlight skin textures. Green adds depth and texture to lush landscape photography in spring and summer. Remember- in digital photography, apply the colour filter first, and then make a greyscale image from that photo.
Doing something in a way that isn't usual means testing the waters. Camera faults can make a terrible photo, and when used without consideration, even the best smartphone can produce a bad image. There is another world to this specific though, and that's in the way clever photos can sometimes manipulate faults in order to achieve interesting shots. The most basic of faults are as follows.
Subject movement is when the object of focus moves during the photo, and their image is captured as a blur, as their light given off during the time of the opening and closing of the aperture was in more than one place. Having a slow shutter speed makes this more likely, and a smartphone may reduce this when light is low. Using a flash might help, but it is best to ensure the subject remains still. Getting a blur effect can also be interesting, especially with micro-movements in the eyes and mouth.
Camera shake is when the photographer shakes themselves, meaning the subject could be still but the whole image appears as a blur on either side of the true position. The amount of shake determines the severity of the blur, and some cameras have correction software for this but very severe blur cannot be corrected. It can be used to produce interesting effects especially if the camera is moved quickly from one side to another, during the shot.
Poor composition means that the general layout of the photo is bland or messy, meaning the subject is not given the best surroundings possible and the balance or line flow doesn't validate the scene. This can be used creatively, both as a tool for abstraction or a play on ideas. Knowing how to break the rules of composition to achieve a beneficial effect is an art that can be done well, or terribly.
Out of focus makes the image blurry and difficult to distinguish. The further out of focus the subject is, the harder it is to identify points and characteristics and eventually, a coloured blob is all that remains. Softening the focus is a way of decreasing the resolution of the subject but without losing the key elements which make it recognisable. Putting something out of focus can have interesting effects in the work of abstraction and colour play. Forcing something out of form with focus can make interesting results, but still requires an element of skill to achieve something that speaks out. Most digital cameras have programs that automatically focus the image on the most likely subject, but this can usually be altered. When objects of varying distance are in the shot, those which are not the subject will be out of focus. This makes them blurry and details are difficult to distinguish. It is possible to take two photographs of the same scene from one focus to another, and then merge them later with software. This way the details of a complete scene can be more easily captured.
When light falls directly on the lens from a source, an effect called flare is created. This washes out some or all of the image. A smartphone can apply a decrease in aperture to compensate, but only to some degree. This will also alter the amount of light captured from the subject. Using a smart-phone's in built flare reduction to our advantage can be a difficult job. Tilting the camera to and from the light in order to find the sweet spot can take a bit of time. Once found, some very pretty patterns of light and lush hues can be captured.
Over or under exposure is caused by allowing too much or too little light into the lens while taking the photo. Camera phones usually have software to make sure everything is right but it can usually be overridden. It's also possible to trick the phone into making mistakes in the settings by playing around and moving the lens from light to shade. Over exposure washes out colours and creates distortions or lack of shade. Highlights are lost to brightness. In under exposure, colours are dull and plain. Shade is lost and highlights become distorted. Detail resolution is generally very poor.
Lighting is a key factor in the determination of a good photograph. It can be used in any number of ways to create all sorts of interesting effects. Getting the lighting right means testing a few options and finding the one that suits the feel of the desired piece. As exposure makes a photo clear or dull, washed out or well defined, extra care in the precision of light application can further increase the photographic expression.
The flash of a camera phone or a typical digital camera is fixed to face directly at the subject. Direct flash can sometimes make front facing subjects appear flat, and contours can be lost to over exposure. Red-eye is caused when light bounces from the back of the eye and back at the camera. The distortions in wavelength from this interaction make the red colour. Most phones have software to counter-act red-eye but it is still possible with the correct angles. The flash can also sometimes cause the subject to blend into the background too much in the composition, if the camera is too far away for the subject to dominate the image.
Other light sources can be used to shine different directions than the traditional direct flash. A well positioned lamp or ray of sunshine can illuminate aspect of a scene that a flash would miss. Above and to the side light sources bring out the contours in the subject to a much better degree, and can give images a more three dimensional feel. By bouncing light from a wall and onto the back of the subject, its possible to back light the photograph without risking glare. This type of lighting can produce softer results but remains fresh and bright.
The shutter speed can be used to manipulate the amount of light taken in by the lens while taking the photo. Crisp and slight movements can be captured with high speeds, things such as movement in water or sport can be blurry unless a faster speed is used. When lower speeds are used, delicate movements are lost over to a more ghostly feel. If the subject is moving a lot then they will appear more blurry as the speed decreases, but it the subject is not moving much, or only in certain places, the mist of light created can have very interesting effects.
Long exposure photography can be taken to massive extremes, where entire lines of movement can be recorded in one image, for example with the movement of stars. It needs to be noted that the amount of light increases or decreases as the shutter speed is altered. The longer it is open, the more light gets in. This will affect exposure, and the effects of thtois need to be accounted for. Changing the aperture can help reduce the negative effects of this process.
When considering composition, the image requires the elements to be in harmony and flow. Finding the right angle to portray the lines and shades in a way that appeals to the eye, as well as capturing the subject in the best light, can be tough. When the image feels right, it's time to take it, and getting the trained eye for a decent photograph can take time. Each camera works slightly differently making it easy to become habitual for one but find when we change the model, we have to re-learn how to achieve the best results.
Close framed shots take an image that reduces background information in favour of one or two elements that are captured in great detail. Irrelevant detail only clutter the effect, so finding a plain background for the subject is essential in this style. Centre subject composition make a great still life image, placing the subject in the middle of the shot gives the maximum scope for background elements. Finding good lines and harmony is essential for the subject to be apparent in these shots. Loose framing uses elements and subjects in a scattering that form a flow and harmony between themselves in the shot. Nothing is necessarily the main subject, more as the elements are used to create an overall scene. Placing the subject one third along the side of an image give a traditional feel, and creates a postcard effect for the subject. Again, finding the right lines and shading to accompany the subject is important for it to stand out.
Composition can be used to greater extremes and can even become the subject of the photograph itself, making the image more art orientated than subjective or objective. Abstract or artistic photographs make use of shape and form, pattern and perspective, to make an image look interesting and enlightening. Giving deeper senses to an image takes skill, adding mood and sense to otherwise normal or drab places makes a good photograph.
Vast backgrounds of uniform patterns with a small subject placed traditionally one third across are a common use of composition to maximum effect. Lining shadows up with the angles of the photo frame is also a nice way of making sure light is used beneficially. Background and foreground patterns can be lined up to complement each other, and with the use of perspective, lines can be made to blend in at similar angles.
Portioning the image into sections by means of placing patterns, objects, or lines makes it an interesting way to show various feelings in the one shot. Making more by dividing the original frame gives us room to experiment with angles and perspectives, finding the exact line that flows around the image while keeping it divided can be interesting.
Backgrounds can serve as an interesting subject within a shot. If the angles, patterns, and lighting are correct, a background can compliment the subject, or become one itself. A good eye for flow and line is required in order to use a background as a tool for artistic composition. Keeping the background plain, for example taking a low angle shot using the sky as a background, make the subject stand out in a vivid way. Colours are enhanced when the background is one or two colours only. Using focus to make a subject in close up look good against a blurred background requires the shot to work with the distorted form in the out of focus area. Getting harmony of line and flow by using blurry definition can be challenge.
Composition of the foreground is also an essential element to producing good photography. Finding objects which compliment the shot is the key. It is possible to use lines, colour, and flow in the foreground to make a background subject stand out, or to enhance certain elements of a background. Placing the lines of the foreground object within the background so that they flow into one another is a matter of perspective and angle of view. Finding the right place where the natural angles and flow of the scene work in the best way will be a matter of trial and error. Focus can be used in interesting way to get different effects on the resolution of the lines in either back or foregrounds.
The subject of a photograph defines how best to create the image. It is up to us as photographers to choose how best to represent the subject. From a sunset on a distant horizon to a peanut, or an abstract notion depicted in symbols or a simple portrait of a family member, the texture, form, and lighting available will determine what we choose to do with the camera and the angle of view. Finding a balance is a key point, and knowing what we want before we look for the ideal position can be useful, but it is always worth keeping an open mind while we scan the area for good photography.
This has been a brief outline on the most important factors that make up the art of photography, allowing the smart software to take care of things is not an option once we understand the dynamics of the human side of this activity. Even though the new technology makes things much easier, this opens up photography to people of all skill levels and it gives even amateurs a decent chance of finding those professional shots that send people into a frenzy.
If this has wet your taste buds for photography, there is an option to study for free and earn a diploma in the subject. It's only a few hours per week, with live online webinars over around a month. The level of knowledge is high and after taking the course, a photographer's skill will be naturally sharpened and improved no matter where they start from.
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