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October 22, 2008
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As I have begun to receive an increasing amount of exposure on dA, it seems that more and more fellow deviants have been asking me for advice.  I would like to say that I am most honored that some of you respect my opinion well enough to ask me for my thoughts!  In lieu of this trend, I decided it was time to write an article expressing what I have learned about photography.  Mind you, I cannot claim to be any real authority on photography, but I have been around long enough to form my own thoughts and ideas on what makes a good photographer - I would like to share my musings with everyone in hopes that you, my fellow deviants, may learn something both helpful and useful!

1. Know the basics of photography

One of the most helpful things I can suggest to new, budding photographers is for them to take the time to learn how shutter speed, aperture, and ISO affect their photos.  When I got my hands on a DSLR for the first time, I knew embarrassingly little about these very important variables.  I had limited experience with digital (and film) photography and absolutely no professional training (other than a History of Photography class in college that was focused more on people and dates than on modern photographic techniques).

Shutter Speed

The shutter speed variable determines the amount of time light is let into the camera.  This has a direct impact on exposure.  If your photo is underexposed (dark), you can adjust the camera to a slower shutter speed that allows more light to reach the camera sensor.  Conversely, if your photo is overexposed (light), you can use a faster shutter speed to allow less light to reach the sensor.

Other than affecting exposure, shutter speed also affects how you capture a subject stylistically.  A quick shutter speed (i.e. 1/500th of a second) helps freeze action.  This is great for when you want a photo clear of motion blur.  Most sports photography is taken with a high shutter speed.  The quicker the movement you are trying to freeze, the higher the shutter speed you should use.  You may want a shutter speed of 1/1000th of a second if you are photographing a hummingbird, but only a shutter speed of 1/250 for a running dog.  I used the maximum shutter speed on my camera (1/4000th of a second) to take this:

Strawberry Splash II by trevg

These photos also demonstrate how a high shutter speed can freeze motion:

Fast Food by Photosbykev Hummingbird in Flight by nebarotype High Speed Balloon Popping 2 by kimlong

You can do some very creative things with a moderately slow shutter speed: freezing stationary and slow moving objects while letting quicker moving objects blur.  I hand held the camera (though I would normally try and use a tripod for this type of shot) and took this photo with a shutter speed of 1/6th of a second:

Still Moving by trevg

As you can see, the runners and the L train car in the background blurred as they moved during the 1/6th of a second shutter speed, but the buildings and trees and people who remained relatively still remain sharp.  Unfortunately, the long shutter speed overexposed the sky.

Long exposures are great for night photography.  If there is not enough light, you may need a longer shutter speed to achieve the correct exposure.  I had to use a long shutter speed and a tripod for these night shots:

Chicago Night by trevg :thumb67041415:

Photos of light trails, star trails, silky smooth running water (and sometimes lightning) are the result of long exposures, which can range from a couple seconds to hours.

Standing Still by trevg Star trails by kopfgeist79 T I D A L by trevg Lightning....... by Coryphaeus

Aperture

Like shutter speed, aperture (or f-stop) also affects how much light enters the camera.  Aperture is the hole through which light enters the camera.  A larger aperture lets more light hit the sensor – a smaller aperture allows less light into the camera.  If your photos are overexposed or underexposed, you can adjust the aperture value.  Aperture values can range from f/1.2 or lower (a large hole that allows more light into the camera) to f/46 or higher (a small hole that allows less light into the camera).

Aperture by sine-out

Aperture also affects another important composition factor, something called Depth of Field.  Using an aperture of f/1.8 has a narrow depth of field and an aperture of f/40 has a wide depth of field.  I will let the examples speak for themselves:

f/2.8 or less
P E A R L S O F D A W N by trevg :thumb80625470: :thumb85474275:

The subject is in focus but not much else beyond it remains sharp. This is very good for isolating key elements in a photo and for portrait work where you want a soft background (sometimes referred to as bokeh).

:thumb100358804: Blue by widjita

A higher aperture keeps more of the shot in focus as demonstrated by the pieces below:

W O N D E R by trevg S O L A C E by trevg Mountain Bridge by trevg

Depth of field is also affected by focal length and distance you are from your subject.

ISO

The final important value, ISO, doesn’t affect the amount of light that is let into the camera.  Instead, it adjusts how the sensitive the camera’s sensor is to light.  I typically use the lowest ISO possible while still being able to achieve the shot want.  A lower ISO (like 100 or 200) minimizes the amount of noise in a photo.  A high ISO (like 3200 or 6400) may introduce unwanted noise into your photos.  However, advances in CMOS sensors and noise reduction technology are allowing photographers to use high ISO settings while still retaining image quality.

Low ISOs are great for photographing still objects like landscapes or when trying to get longer exposures in bright lighting.  High ISOs are normally used in low light settings or when it is imperative to maintain a high shutter speed.  For those of you who remember 35mm cameras, ISO is like film speed! ;)

2. Know your equipment inside and out

When I first began shooting with a DSLR, I used an Olympus E-20N, a terribly obsolete camera when judged by today’s standards.  Its limited options, long start up time, and small buffer (I could take about three photos in succession before I had to wait for the camera to write to the memory card which would allow me to take additional photos – this definitely taught me the importance of timing) forced me to get more creative with my photography.

It is important to know the simple things: how long it takes for your camera to start, how long your batteries typically last, and other important issues (like which leg on your tripod is broken and falls off constantly).

3. Know the lingo

If someone says “Stop down,” “Try a faster lens,” “Use an ND filter,” you should know what they are referring to.  I’ve run into occasions where someone says something I don’t understand.  Terminology isn’t terribly important when making good photos, but helps if you talk to other photographers.

4. Know the rules and when to break them

There are some well accepted norms on which many photographers can agree including concepts like the “Rule of Thirds.”  Know when it is best to employ these techniques and when to avoid them.  I’d list more rules, but I never learned them :|

5. Get creative and experiment


This is the soul and spirit of photography.  A creative photographer looks at the world with an open eye, always searching for a new perspective.  Inspiration lurks in the ordinary, beauty hides down the road less traveled.  I believe that this is the most important aspect of photography.  Technicalities can be easily taught and absorbed but developing a good eye and timing takes practice.  Photography is catching the moment (also a club!); the ability to retain or create a feeling or concept and preserve memories.

Creative and thoughtful composition and framing can make or break a photo.  Try a lower angle to include the tops of buildings or trees or pan a little to crop out a trash can or light pole.  I do my best to address potential problems in the camera to avoid wasting time post-editing.

I feel that these are some of the more important aspects of photography.  However, my motto has been “There is always someone from whom you can learn, and there is always someone eagerly awaiting a chance for your tutorage.”  One person who has been a wonderful inspiration and fountain of information for me is kkart.  You should definitely explore his gallery and ask questions: he has always been a steadfast resource for me!

I have also been approached regarding other questions that don’t directly pertain to taking photographs like:

Which camera/lens to buy?

I recently was a groomsman in a wedding where the wedding couple had hired a professional photographer.  I shoot Canon while he was using Nikon.  We traded joking blows over brand choice throughout the night, but nothing serious…

The first question many people have when purchasing their first DSLR (translation: expensive) camera is which brand to buy.  Honestly, if you have enough money to spend, any brand will do what you want it to do.  However, if you have a limited budget, you should do some price checking and research on your own.  Maybe the options and price of the Nikon D40 suit your needs, or maybe you want some more room to maneuver and look into the Sony A350.  Maybe you want to get serious and splurge on a Canon 50D or maybe you’re concerned about operating in unfavourable weather conditions and opt for a Nikon D300.  Maybe you want to go full pro with a full size sensor.  The best way to determine what camera to buy is to figure out what you want to do first, and then find a camera that meets your needs and budget.

You also may want to consider using the brand your friends use, if only to borrow their lenses!

You will hear this line from most every photographer: the lens is more important than the camera.  (Of course, the photographer behind the lens is the most important!)  Investing in a good camera body is not necessarily a bad thing but investing in good lenses is never a bad thing.  Good glass offers superior clarity, durability (which can be heavier), and include extra features like Image Stabilization or Vibration Reduction which is ideal for lenses with longer focal lengths (or photographers like yours truly who can’t hold a camera steady to save their life).  Camera bodies often become obsolete within a few years while quality lenses remain useful for decades.  Buy what you need (wide angle, macro, telephoto) and keep an arsenal of lenses tailored to your style of shooting.

Another question that has been raised is the importance of post-editing.  Very rarely do I take something straight from the camera without editing.  Here is an example:

Seal The Deal by trevg

Post-editing can consist of some simple curves and crops to full blown HDR with Tone Mapping, saturation adjustments, and artistic filters.  All I can say here is that knowing how to post-edit (and when to use it) is a benefit.  Make it work for you and find your style.

I hope you find that the information provided in this article is helpful and accurate.  The more I wrote, the more I felt that what I had already covered was inadequate.  I have only begun to learn the more elegant ins and outs of photography and what it means to be a good photographer.  The beauty of photography is that there is always something new to learn, something new by which to be inspired, something new that opens your eyes again to see a whole new world.  I wish you the best of luck as you all continue on your own personal photographic journey!

I would like to close by showcasing some of my favourites that have offered me much inspiration!

Dubrovnik IX by Jez92 Please let me sleep a bit by BlastOButter Seitti by juhku On the dry by ivancoric New York City by stareater qsio. . . by ivecus Tasmanian Forest by CainPascoe Natural Refractions by Alliec Cogs by Jez92 Mothers Day by Nate-Zeman BROMO INDONESIA 2 by hendradarma28 Living by kaheksa focus-HDR3 by exxx2005 :thumb93081621: -friends- by Trifoto At the Horseshoe bend by photon-hunter Crooked River Gorge 2 by austinboothphoto appel cote ruelle... by El-Rafo cameron A-class by LEONARDOdarwinCI
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:iconjyb-photography:
JYB-Photography Featured By Owner Jun 16, 2011  Professional Photographer
Thank you very much or sharing this. As a new photographer I know this will help a lot.
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:iconchocolatey-fountain:
chocolatey-fountain Featured By Owner Dec 29, 2010  Hobbyist Writer
As a humble photographer who is still taking crappy pictures with a digital camera (^^;), thanks for this extremely useful article! I had no idea what f-stop was, or that shutter speed affects the amount of light let in, or what the hell ISO was, only that you need a high ISO for fireworks. It was an amazing article, and was almost perfected with the use of amazing photographs as examples! I'm going to try and get a professional camera, and try out some of these features. Thanks so much! :D
Reply
:icontrevg:
trevg Featured By Owner Dec 31, 2010  Professional Photographer
I am glad that you found this to be so useful! I wish you the best in your photographic endeavors!
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:iconlikairu:
Likairu Featured By Owner Nov 15, 2008   Photographer
i love this article! (: Thank you for writing it!!
Reply
:iconsassyasslilbich:
SassyAssLilBich Featured By Owner Nov 8, 2008
I am still a beginner, so this was a great read for me. It also introduced me to your work ... so, I will be watching for more articles and deviations from now on :D
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:iconniji-kitsune:
Niji-Kitsune Featured By Owner Nov 7, 2008   Photographer
Wow thanks! as a pretty crap photographer (i only use a humble little digital camera) this is realy helpful! and great pictures to go a long with it tanks! :+fav:!!!
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:iconosagelady:
osagelady Featured By Owner Nov 5, 2008  Hobbyist General Artist
Awesome information! I'll truly be able to use this, even though I don't use a DSLR.

Absolutely fantastic features as well!!!
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:iconblackphnx:
blackphnx Featured By Owner Oct 27, 2008  Professional Photographer
informative post. thank you.
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:iconsexycaddy:
sexycaddy Featured By Owner Oct 27, 2008
Thank you for the very informative and helpful post. I have only an Olympus Stylus 830, but it has many settings and the aperture, iso, etc can be changed. I carry it with me everywhere, always looking for that very special shot. I enjoy doing a lot of macro work, I seem to have a knack for insect photography and things of that sort.
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:iconphotolust:
PhotoLust Featured By Owner Oct 25, 2008
This news article has been featured in *PhotoLust's Educational News Articles and Journal Entries list and the October 08 journal.
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