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Photography 101 Series of Free information About Your Camera and Photography
Click on the photo above to read the article on ISO.
Photography 101: Understanding ISO
Back in the days when film photography predominated, film was manufactured with various sensitivities to light and measured with a standard called “ASA” or “American Standards Association”.
Film sensitivity is refereed to as “film speed” and the methods of determining a film’s speed have evolved over the history of photography. The most familiar standard to any film user in the 70s – 80s was ASA or ANSI which traces its roots back to the 1940s.
The current International Standard for measuring the speed of color negative film is ISO or the International Standard. Gaining film speed has always been a trade off. To create faster films, manufactures have had to make the grains of photosensitive elements larger, thus faster films result in grainier negatives.
In digital photography ISO measures the sensitivity of the image sensor. The same principles apply as in film photography – the lower the number the less sensitive your camera is to light and the finer the “grain”. Higher ISO settings are generally used in darker situations to get faster shutter speeds.
Life is short. Air travel, hotels, car rentals, meals, park entrance fees etc are expensive. So why waste time with cheap junk?
You’ve traveled half way around the world to stand in front of one of the world’s wonders and you pull out some hopelessly out of date camera, hand hold it, snap off a few quick shots with the bus load of Chinese tourists to your right and another bus load of senior citizens to your left.
Enough. Time to cash in some of those stock options, that inheritance check from dear old Uncle Jim or that winning lottery ticket and get yourself a really kick ass landscape photography kit.
Let’s start with a great tripod. I love the Vanguard tripods with their fantastic lifetime guarantee. The beefy carbon fiber models with the wide feet will provide a steady base for what’s to come next.
An easy to use and firm connection between the tripod and camera is important to quickly set up and compose your shot as well as not move at all when taking multiple shots for later stitching.
The incredible new Canon 24mm Tilt Shift lens provides tack sharp landscape images, edge to edge thanks to its over-sized front lens element. The shifting capabilities allows one take multiple images without moving the camera body for zero distortion.
The shift feature is also great for architectural subjects and the tilt effects are great for throwing the plane of focus across your subject for back to front focus or to purposely throw your foreground and background out of focus for miniature effects.
We top this landscape photography kit off with a monster of a camera. The Canon EOS 5DS R Digital SLR with Low-Pass Filter Effect Cancellation, sporting an mind-blowing 50.6 megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor. Think of the post production cropping ability with this camera, and still end up with a huge file.
I recently ran across this comment on a discussion thread about black and white photography in the days of digital cameras “these days all you have to do is hit a button”.
Sorry, folks but if all you are doing to create a black and white photograph is clicking a button, you doing it wrong. Unless you spend time with your image, massaging out all that it can be, you are simply creating a snapshot.
Black and white photography has such a potential for drama, excitement and storytelling among the highlights, shadows and mid-tones. There are so many elements at your disposal to tweak out greatness for what might be otherwise ho hum.
Contrast, exposure, tonal range, vignetting, filters for red, green, blue, dodging and burning and vignettes to name a few. Losing the color information is just the start even before the color is lost the image can be controlled and developed using the color information.
Pushing the “convert to black and white” button in software is the modern day equivalent of sending black and white film off to Fotomat, which then sends back an envelope of dull photographs all processed the same. Why? Because the equipment is all calibrated to produce a mid-tone for white skin. The result is dull prints that provoke no emotion or excitement.
There is no reason not to approach black and white digital photography with all the seriousness and intent shown in the past by the great photographers and their darkroom team such as demonstrated in this marked up photograph of James Dean. Notice how much thought, care, technique and strategy went in to the creating the final image.
Deep, thick fog is an exciting weather event to photograph. Fog reduces contrast, mutes colors, eliminates backgrounds and puts everything in a mysterious, atmospheric, even lighting.
When we live on Mount Desert Island Maine next to Acadia National Park, fog was an almost daily fact of life. You’d get reports from friends about one side of the island being fogged in while the other side was sunny. Often people on summer vacation would travel along a road that is right next to Somes Sound or the ocean daily not even realizing that it had an incredible ocean view on sunny days.
Something like 68% of the days on Mount Desert Island are foggy at least part of the day which kind of wrecks havoc on vegetable gardens and solar panels. It also created a rain forest type moisture which mosses and lichens love.
Here in the Upper Valley region of New Hampshire and Vermont we have some great foggy mornings, usually in the fall and along the valley floor especially the closer one gets to the Connecticut River. Lebanon, NH seems to be particularly foggy as it sits low the valley.
For a photographer who is up early in the morning and prepared to get out and capture the wonderful foggy landscape, it’s a great time to be photographing. The autumn leaves are turning and although the colors are much more muted than in bright sun, the effect of the fog and the colored leaves can be amazing.
Fog consists of visible cloud water droplets or ice crystals suspended in the air at or near the Earth’s surface. Fog can be considered a type of low-lying cloud and is heavily influenced by nearby bodies of water, topography, and wind conditions.
For the photographer, the further back one gets to the subject, the more it tends to disappear. Lighting conditions are typically wonderfully diffused although the over all light level might be low and require wide open apertures or a tripod. Be ready the night before to get out and capture the fog early in the morning before it “burns off” when
No one really likes lugging around a tripod. But a tripod can open up a whole new world of photography. Like a magicians trick a tripod can be used to create a lot of magic in your photography. Here are the top reasons to use a tripod.
Sharper photographs. A tripod provides a stable platform for taking photographs. No more motion blur, no more unsteady coffee hands. I took the photograph below with an inexpensive 70-300mm zoom lens of a barn cupola
and it is tack sharp because I used a tripod. I wouldn’t have been able to hand hold the camera stable enough at f16 to take this image. Certainly not with the amount of coffee I had that morning!
Tripods slow you down and allow for careful composition. For the beginning photographer, a tripod is the surest way to slow down and really look around at the subject you are trying to photograph. Carefully choosing to spot to open your tripod causes one to look first with their eyes before putting the camera to their eye. Once in place the composition can be finely tuned before the shutter is released. This works in the field as well as in the studio.
Tripods allow for slow shutterspeeds. Tripods not only allow one to get images at shutterspeeds too slow for hand holding such as less than 1/125th of a second but they allow for extremely slow shutterspeeds to blur moving objects such as water.
A shutter speed of 1 second or more can produce beautiful blurred water in waterfalls, rapids or tides. Something you can’t do without a tripod.
Tripods allow for better video. No one likes shaky video and nothing says “professional” more then steady video capture. Stock photography sites won’t even accept any video that has the slightest shake to it, so video needs to be shot on a tripod.
Summary of Why You Need A Tripod for Better Photography
Tripods slow you down, help you compose, allow you to use lower ISO, smaller aperture, slower shutter speeds and shoot in less light than you can hand held. Tripods also allow for “magic tricks” such as blurring motion.
Often the suggestion to improve one’s photography is “fill the frame”. Fill the frame advice is often stated as “Get close. Then get closer.” The idea being that you want the subject to dominate the image while minimizing background distractions.
Of course filling the frame doesn’t work for all photographs or necessarily make an photograph more meaningful or powerful, because zooming in removes the context of the image.
For example in photojournalism and street photographers often work with semi-wide lens like a 35 mm for the express purpose of being able to include some of the background around the subject to give it context. You see what is going on when you see more of the story or more of the environment.
Fill the frame advice for beginner photographers helps to avoid disasters such as this:
Here the photographer needs a nice big push towards their subject so the bird, flower, squirrel or in this case a hot air balloon isn’t the size of a fly in the final photograph.
You can see some interesting concept in the making – the matching of the flag with the flag hot air balloon but the execution fails with the center composition, horizontal framing and the vast blank and boring blue sky. Had the photographer turned their camera to the vertical position and zoomed in, they might have captured something interesting.
But fill the frame is only one of approaching composition. Composition is the distribution of space and the arrangement of objects within the frame.
Better Photography Through the Use of White Space
Another major composition choice is NOT TO FILL THE FRAME. When appropriate, not filling the frame or giving the subject some breathing room or white space, makes the composition of the photograph more powerful by allowing to the subject to be seen in context.
You can think of it as allowing space for text or a magazine article, although be sure that the “white space” areas are not too boring. Vast area of stark blue sky is not that appealing. In landscapes you’ll need some great clouds to keep the non-main subject areas interesting. In studio work you can introduce great back ground texture to keep the white space interesting to the viewer.
Let’s look at some example. For vast landscapes on of my favorite compositions, borrowed from western art painters, is to present the main subject at the bottom third or fourth of the frame and allow the sky to loam large.
In Storm Coming to the Old Farm, I wanted to capture the relationship between the fast approaching thunderstorm and the Canterbury Shaker Village farm houses. By giving the storm clouds more than two thirds of the space, the farm buildings look small and vulnerable to Mother Nature’s approaching fury.
White Space Works Horizontally or Vertically
This black and white photograph of an old historic barn in Ely, Vermont uses the same concepts but in the horizontal. The white clouds in the background are given plenty of space and contrasts nicely with the old worn wood of the barn.
In “Forsaken Dreams” an old abandoned cottage on Prince Edward Island is placed in the bottom of the frame and texture is introduced in the sky above. The “white space” allows the viewer places to rest as they take in the scene.
This composition, placing the old wooden cabin in the center of the frame with mostly blank snow below and a white sky above givings the image a bold graphic feeling. White space contributes to the feeling of remoteness and isolation as winter covers the landscape perhaps invoking the ideas of cabin fever or the bliss of getting away from society.
In this photograph of a classic red New England barn, the subject is placed in the upper right, eliminating most of the sky, which is white from the storm while allowing a good portion of the image to show the snow on the ground. Here one can imagine themselves in the scene and how difficult it might be to approach the barn through a deep field of snow.
Add White Space to Your Bag of Tricks
So by all means, explore your subjects from a variety of means and methods. Zoom in, fill the frame when the idea is to display an uncluttered look at the subject such as a bee on a flower, but when the situation calls for telling more of the story, step back and allow the viewer to explore the environment and context around your subject.
Basically fine art photography is defined by photography produced for aesthetic reasons rather than for as a commercial project.
concerned with beauty or the appreciation of beauty.
“the pictures give great aesthetic pleasure”
a set of principles underlying and guiding the work of a particular artist or artistic movement.
“the Cubist aesthetic”
concerned with or engaged in commerce.
“a commercial agreement”
synonyms: trade, trading, business, private enterprise, mercantile, sales
“a vessel built for commercial purposes”
making or intended to make a profit.
synonyms: profit-oriented, money-oriented, materialistic, mercenary
“a commercial society”
Of course there isn’t always a clear line between fine art and commercial art or photography. Once can appreciate great photography created for commercial purposes or use art created as a fine art project in an ad campaign or on a product.
But the term “fine art” refers the the original intent of the artist. Fine art photography’s client is the artist themselves and the viewers. No assignment or constraints are given by a third party.
In commercial projects a client give the photographer directions and guidelines for the project. These may be extensive or vague but the photographer clearly is bringing about the vision of the employee, not solely their own vision as it would be in fine art photography.
Is that really the only difference between fine art photography and commercial photography? Yes, basically the intent of the photographer. Working for themselves vs. others.
Fine art photography can be sold of course but that doesn’t change whose vision is behind the work. Fine art photography serves to share with the world the unique vision of the artist. Commercial photography exists to sell products.
Another element often assigned to fine art is the level of craftsmanship although when compared to the quality of commercial photography say in the world of fashion, this really is a rather mute point. But if you were to compare an Ebay snapshot created to sell some old leather books, then the craftsmanship levels do add into the equation. But craftsmanship alone does not determine fine art from commercial work, it is the intent and purpose of the work.