Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Improve Your Photography - Part 7, Composition

Composition basics

Now that you know how light works, now you can apply basic compositional techniques to
work with light. We are adding more elements to photography to give it more structure and
also give it more impact. It is important to note that you can add certain compositional basics
to together in an image to give it more impact.

Rule of thirds

Used by Artists for hundreds of years, the ‘Rule of Thirds’ rule are imaginary lines drawn
dividing the image into thirds both horizontally and vertically. You place important elements
of your composition where these lines intersect. As well as using the intersections you can
arrange areas into bands occupying a third, or place things along the imaginary lines. Good
places to put points of interest are; third of the way up, third of the way in from the left etc.
You will note that if you divide an image into three, the ratio will be 0.33 this is one of the
Fibonacci numbers as well as the fact that the second third, 0.66 is also very close to the
golden number. So the rule of third is also linked to the divine numbers.
Using the Rule of Thirds helps produce nicely balanced, easy on the eye pictures. Also, as you have
to position things relative to the edges of the frame it helps get rid of ' tiny subject surrounded by
vast empty space' syndrome.
One last thing about the Rule of Thirds- Once you have got the hang of the Rule of Thirds you
will very quickly want to break it! This is fine. These 'rules' are best used as guidelines and if you
can create a better image by bending or ignoring rules then shoot away.

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Drop the “Cross hairs” Syndrome

Many new photographers use what I call the “Cross hairs” syndrome when photographing.
They think they are looking at their subject through the sight of a rifle and try their best to bisect
the subject right through the middle of the frame! This is one sure way to ruin an image. Place your
subject to the left, right, top or bottom, to get a better feel to your composition. (Portraits may be an
exception and are discussed further along)

Leading lines

An image can be a nice looking picture, but without using an object in the foreground to give
depth, it will remain just that; a nice image. Great images tell stories and a leading line is a way to
tell a story with a photo. Diagonal lines leading towards your subject (especially if it is small) are
an excellent way to draw a viewer into the image. (The rule of thirds comes into effect here as

Even horizons

The heading says it all. A good image has even horizons. Skew horizons can make what may have
been a great image look decidedly ordinary.

Subject placement (Subject looking out of frame etc)

If taking portraits or head and shoulder photos of animals, it is a good idea to frame the
subject to the one side of the frame with them looking out of the image into the empty space.
Another example is for a driving motorcar. Place the car in the frame so that the car is driving into
open space. This gives the image balance.

Balancing foreground and background

As with leading lines, foreground interest is very important to balance out an image. By
placing a subject in the foreground of a landscape image, you help draw the viewer into the image
and give it depth.

Landscape and portrait mode

Photographers often forget that you can turn the camera sideways and photograph in another
format. The horizontal format is called landscape and the vertical format is called Portrait mode. As
the names indicate, Portrait mode is best used for portraits. I find this mode great to emphasize
scale and leading lines into pictures.

Changing angle

By changing your angle at which you look at a subject, you can create a completely different
point of view. This is a powerful way of altering your composition and can affect the image
greatly. By simply walking closer, kneeling down or moving side wards you can alter the
background, the angle and shape you view your subject. I use this compositional tool greatly when
approaching a new subject.

Frame filling/Impact

You have heard it before and you will hear it again- Fill the frame. This gives the image
impact and keeps the viewers attention. Other compositional basics also pertain to this section, i.e.
leading lines and foreground interest. A picture may have a small subject, but by using foreground
interest, you are using the whole frame and thereby filling it. For action, sport and portraits, a
subject that fills the frame makes a very high impact image.

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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Improve Your Photography - Part 6, Composition

Definition- The combining of distinct part or elements to form a whole; the manner
in which such parts are combined or related.

Composition is a very individual choice and has been the subject of debate for many
hundreds of years. When photography was first as in its infancy, it looked to the history of
the arts for inspiration in composition. There they found the rules that had been used for
many years before photography. Using these classic rules, photography developed its own
style and technique, but the basis rules of composition remain and are still widely used today

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With regards composition, one of the great street photographers, Henri Cartier-Bresson,
wrote in his book:

“A photographer can bring coincidence of line simply by moving his head a fraction of a
millimeter. He can modify perspectives by a slight bending of the knees. By placing the
camera closer to or farther from the subject, he draws a detail…
and you’ll observe that, if the shutter was released at the decisive moment you have
instinctively fixed a geometric pattern without which the photograph would have been both
formless and lifeless.”
Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1908-2004. The Decisive Moment- 1952

The Fibonacci sequence and the Golden numbers

Leonardo of Pisa (Fibonacci) is considered the “greatest European mathematician of the
middle ages. He was responsible for many mathematical contributions. However, his greatest
contribution came from working out a puzzle about rabbits.
It was:
How Many Pairs of Rabbits Are Created by One Pair in One Year
A certain man had one pair of rabbits together in a certain enclosed place, and one wishes to know
how many are created from the pair in one year when it is the nature of them in a single month to
bear another pair, and in the second month those born to bear also.

He then went on to solve and explained the solution:

Because the above written pair in the first month bore, you will double it; there will be two pairs in one month.
One of these, namely the first, bears in the second month, and thus there are in the second month 3 pairs;
of these in one month two are pregnant and in the third month 2 pairs of rabbits are born, and thus there
are 5 pairs in the month; ...there will be 144 pairs in this [the tenth] month; to these are added again the 89 pairs
that are born in the eleventh month; there will be 233 pairs in this month. To these are still added the 144 pairs
that are born in the last month; there will be 377 pairs, and this many pairs are produced from the abovewritten
pair in the mentioned place at the end of the one year. You can indeed see in the margin how we operated, namely
that we added the first number to the second, namely the 1 to the 2, and the second to the third, and the third to the
fourth and the fourth to the fifth, and thus one after another until we added the tenth to the eleventh, namely
the 144 to the 233, and we had the above written sum of rabbits, namely 377, and thus you can in order find it
for an unending number of months.

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From this we get the number sequence of:

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987…

Basics of Fibonacci sequence: Add the last two numbers to get the next.

The Golden Number

There is a ratio in nature that repeats itself. This number is referred to as the golden number,
golden mean or divine number.
It is a number runs to infinity and is called PHI- 1.618…
The inverse number is phi - 0.618…
At least since the Renaissance, many artists and architects have proportioned their works to
approximate the golden ratio; especially in the form of the golden rectangle, in which the ratio
of the longer side to the shorter is the golden ratio, believing this proportion to be aesthetically
pleasing. Mathematicians have studied the golden ratio because of its unique and interesting

The golden number repeats itself in nature over and over again. IN the curl of a sheep’s horns, the
human body, flowers, petals, trees, almost all nature has the proportions of the golden mean in their
make up.
The relationship between the golden number and the Fibonacci sequence is that if you divide the
each number by its neighbour, you get to the result of PHI, or the golden number:
Fibonacci sequence: …13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377…
144 / 89 = 1.6179775…
89 / 144 = 0.6180556…
So it is seen that the Fibonacci sequence has a strong link to the golden mean. Along with the
golden number, we also see the Fibonacci numbers repeated in nature very often. These are not an
absolute, but the numbers are often repeated on flower petals, antlers on deer, leaves from a whorl
Our eyes, from the day we are born, see the Fibonacci sequence and the golden mean in every day
subjects. These compositions are ingrained in our minds and we thus accept them as pleasing to the
eye. They form natural compositions and are our ingrained reference when we look at a picture,
look at art or take a picture.
"There is a close association in mathematics between beauty and truth"

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Improve Your Photography - Part 5, Light

We live in a diverse and continually changing environment. By using photography, we are able to capture these changing moments in time and record them as images. However, it is the manner in which we capture the images that determines the reaction to the final image.
We can define photography as “painting with light”. I prefer a different expression, “capturing
light”. Photography is a mixture of science and art. We use our minds to frame a picture, and that is the art part of photography; capturing the image on film/digital sensor, is the science part. By being able to see light, we are able to concentrate on composition, and once we master
composition, we head into more creative realms. It is these principles that I want to teach in these notes: To view and capture a scene; with emphasis on light, angles and composition.

Original definition: The method of recording the image of an object through the action of light,
on light sensitive material

The actual phonetics are derived from Greek words:
photos = Light
grahphein = to draw

This term was first used in the 1830’s when the first photographs were produced. Today, due to the different types photography that has evolved, the definition has evolved into many different forms.

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Light in photography- colour and quality of light

On earth there is one major source of light, the Sun. As the sun rises each day, it moves from being on the horizon, to right above us and then down onto the horizon again. This rising and setting affects the quality and colour of the light that reaches us. At dawn and dusk the oblique angle of light produces very warm colours of red and gold. This is due to the blue and green colours of sunlight being filtered out by the band of atmospheric dust that lies just above the Earths surface. (You could say that pollution has helped create warmer colours for photographers in the cities) Red and yellow rays are thus predominant during early mornings and late afternoons.
During midday hours, the sun shines directly down onto the Earths surface. There is little
atmospheric dust to filter out the suns rays and hence the colour of the light is more normal. Of
course, there are exceptions to the rule. Overcast days produce good, soft light in the middle of the day allowing for good photography throughout the day!

Of more importance though, is that it will show you how everyday subjects can change in their
appearance due to one factor- Light.

Due to the Earths movement around the sun, we experience seasons. During summer months, the sun rises and sets at a very perpendicular angle. This causes the light to be of good quality, but becomes very strong and harsh early on in the day. During the winter months, the sun rises at a more oblique angle to the earth and shines light at a low angle for longer periods. The quality of the light lasts longer in winter as it does in summer. The quality and colour of light are the foremost indicators of how you are going to go about your photography. They set the stage for you, your camera and the images that you create. Of high importance, is that by looking at Light, It will show you how everyday subjects can change in their appearance due to that one factor.

Types of light- Front lighting, Side lighting, Back-lighting

The angle at which light strikes a subject can have a dramatic effect on what we see. Front lighting is described when you see a subject with the light shining from the front. (You are
between the sun and the subject) Front lighting shows very little shadow and thus very little
depth; images are very representative and two-dimensional. This is the way we were all
taught to take a picture. “Look into the sun when you are having your picture taken” was the
cry I always used to hear from my mom!

Side lighting is when the sun is shining at right angles to the subject. It shows great detail and
texture in the subject as well as bringing out a third dimension in the image.

Back lighting is when the light is shining from behind the subject. (The subject is between you and the sun) Almost always a silhouette, backlighting is very effective for subjects with a
recognisable shape. Subjects with fur or hair often have a ring or halo of light around them,
creating stunning effects. This is probably the most difficult of the three lighting techniques
to master, but can be the most rewarding!

Mood and atmosphere

Other climatic factors can contribute to create mood and atmosphere. Cloudy, overcast skies
can create a feeling of doom. Likewise, dust in golden light can create a very peaceful and
ethereal scene. These elements can be very powerful in adding emotion, mood and
atmosphere into an image.

Diffused light

Cloudy skies are often a blessing in disguise for capturing images. You can photograph
during the midday hours, shadows are reduced and colour saturation is very nice. Clouds act
as a big filter and diffuse light so that it falls very evenly. This type of light is very good for
taking portrait shots of all sorts of creatures.
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Monday, March 16, 2009

Improve Your Photography - Part 4, Intro

Pixels and how they see light

Definition- Pixel- A contraction of the term picture element, a pixel in a camera is a light
sensitive electrical unit that captures light as it falls on it. A pixel can only capture one colour of
light; hence, digital cameras have pixels that capture red, green and blue, surrounding each other.
This allows an image to be captured correctly. A pixel on a computer screen is not light
sensitive- it is a square of light that shines a single colour as part of a whole image. A megapixel
is Equal to one million Pixels

Image size- The image size that cameras advertise often run into the millions. I.e. A 6 million
megapixel camera. This is a huge number and is determined by a simple multiplication of sides
of the sensor.

By multiplying the two sides of the sensor, we get to the figure of 6, 049 080 pixels- or 6,05
million megaPixels.

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Digital zoom vs. Optical zoom

Digital cameras often advertise a zoom on a camera as being 15, or even 20 times in length.
It is even advertised on digital video cameras as going up to over 100x zoom! This is very much a
marketing ploy on the optical Zoom.

Optical zoom is just what it says it is: the camera uses the optics of the zoom on the camera to
zoom into the image and compose the image. The sensor reads the light as it falls through the lens
and uses the lenses magnification powers’ to create its image. This means it is relying on the clarity
and quality of the lens to make its image.

Digital zoom uses the power of the sensor to create its image. Once the power of the lens has been
used up, i.e. it’s at full magnification; the camera then zooms in on the sensor to make the image
larger in the frame.
Much like cropping into an image on a computer screen, the camera is cropping into the sensor and
magnifying what is in the middle. This then produces your zoom effect. As you might have
noticed, there is one inherent flaw with this method- there is a proportionally greater loss in image
quality the more you use the digital zoom. This produces images that may not match other prints
where the digital zoom was not used.

Settings on a camera

• Auto mode is good for taking images in every day snappy mode.
• P mode is better as it gives you more control. You choose when the flash goes up, thus
allowing you more creative control
• A, S, M Modes are used for more control by the user. If you are comfortable using these
modes, then by all means use them.
• Exposure compensation (+/- button) is an easy way of altering your exposure.
o If an image looks too dark on the LCD, then dial in some add (+) exposure
o If an image is too light, then dial in some (-) into your exposure
• Focus mode. Make sure you know how to focus on a subject and then hold the focus while
you re-compose your image
• Burst mode- know where your burst mode is for action and sports
• Vari modes- these are in camera settings with the running man, mountain, flower etc. They
are an excellent way of allowing the camera to make the decisions for you regarding your
choice of photography.

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Monday, March 9, 2009

Improve Your Photography - Part 3, Intro

Limitations of digital cameras

The limitations of a digital are the same as those of any camera. Of the electromagnetic spectrum, we as humans can only see a tiny portion. This is called the visible light spectrum. See below.

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There is light on either side of the light spectrum; our eyes just cannot see it.
The difference in light intensity between dark black to brilliant white is 14 times intensity. Each of these intensities is called ‘stops’. Our eyes can easily absorb the difference of light between each of these 14 stops. Thus, on a sunny day, our eyes can see detail of a sunlit park as well as in the shadow under the tree.

A camera on the other hand, has serious limitations with regards to what it can record at any given time. See below.

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A camera can at any one time only record:

Black and white film - 9 stops
Colour print film - 7 stops
Slide film - 5 stops
Digital - 5 stops

This shows obvious restrictions to cameras. High contrast scenes cannot be recorded properly and the camera will either give very white, blown out areas, or dark black areas in high contrast scenes. Sometimes this can be used to the advantage of the user and can help with their creative ability.

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Improve Your Photography - Part 2, Intro

Introduction to Digital cameras
A short history on digital cameras

In the 1980’s, with video cameras becoming more and more popular with consumers around
the world, there were thoughts of attempting the same thing with still cameras. Only a few companies actively pursued these notions. Two of them were notably, Sony and Kodak.

Kodak had begun research into digital cameras from as early as 1975, when they produced the first digital camera in a laboratory. This camera, designed by Steve Sasson, was about the size of a large microwave.

Kodak dedicated their research towards still cameras and, coupled with a Nikon F3 camera, they produced the first digital camera with a 1.3 megapixel (mp) sensor. Once the world heard of this, there was a large scramble amongst companies to get their R+D divisions into looking into digital imaging. The race had begun, and it was an unusual camera maker that made the first commercial digital camera. The Apple computer company, in 1994, produced the first consumer digital camera. It looked somewhat like a pair of binoculars and took tiny images for computer screen use only. But it was the start and Kodak and Sony soon followed suit with their own cameras in the same year. After a few years of bad design and computing logistical nightmares, all major camera companies were actively involved in the digital imaging research.

I believe that Nikon made the first major breakthrough in pro digital imaging. In 1999, just in
time for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Nikon released the D1 camera. It was a Professionally built camera, with a 2.1mp sensor and a buffer that allowed it to take 4 frames a second for about 18 frames. A major advancement in showing the world that digital was ready for the fast moving sports and journalism world. The response was immediate: At the Olympics the following year, almost 80% of the cameras used by the Sports photographers, were Nikon D1’s. After this point, companies and public realised that digital cameras were here to stay and were a part of our lives.

In the film world, a specific camera was generally replaced every 7 years or so. In the digital arena, some camera makers were turning over new models of the same camera every 14 months! More recently, camera companies are touting ‘Intelligent pixels’. This is very true that all pixels are not the same and if a pixel in one camera can capture a ray of light better than another pixel, in another camera, you are going to get a better image. Hence, more marketing has now gone into this part of the market- where companies are selling image quality rather than quantity. It reflects the true nature of the market though, as people want good images, and not large files of bad quality.

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The advantages of digital over film

There are many immediate advantages that digital has over film.
They are:
o A LCD screen to instantly review your images. For novices, this is great to check up
on composition, whilst for the enthusiast and professional, it is an excellent tool to
review exposure on.
o EXIF data on image. All the camera settings at the time of shooting the image are
automatically tagged onto your image. This allows you to see what date, time and
exposures you shot your image at.
o Print only the prints you want. This is a cost saving exercise par non.
o Shoot as many images that you like with the option to delete bad images. Another
cost saver and also an opportunity for people to experiment more with photography.
o Edit your own pictures. This feature has turned many casual photographers into
Photoshop experts! Users, can with very simple software, edit, manipulate, add
borders, text and make cards for all manners of use.
o Memory cards have more capacity for images than film. Now cameras can hold
hundreds of images on one memory card, making travelling a lot easier.
o Memory cards can be reformatted to allow continual use.
o Different file formats can be selected for various uses. An image format in camera can be used for e-mail quality images and another for print quality images.
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