Thursday, June 4, 2009

The 2 Most Important Factors, Part 1

Taking a good photograph is not a reflection of what camera equipment you use. Many times people find out that I do not use a DSLR and are surprised. My decision to continue with a "point-and-shoot" digital camera (a term I do not particularly like as many upper end digital cameras have as many manual settings now as automatic ones) involves both the cost of the more expensive DSLRs and the weight toting more gear would bring to any photographic event. With that said, I believe there are 2 primary factors towards making a visually appealing photograph: light and composition.


It is so important for a photographer to learn the basic elements of photography. An understanding of the relationship of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO is the only way you will be able to make definite, concrete decisions on the correct exposure for a scene. And exposure is all about light. The photographer must know how to use the provided light at that particular moment in time. Further, knowing how your particular camera will render that scene based on the chosen aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, is fundamental. Every camera is slightly different. You must be able to make the correct choice for what your camera, and by default its lens, will or will not do.

In the following photograph, I wanted to capture the rays of light. By switching over to spot metering and choosing one of the brighter points in the scene, I knew I could achieve better contrast between the rays of light and the surrounding diffused light. Spot metering causes the camera to only see the light at a certain point in the picture. It also helped me to keep the detail of the oak tree and not plunge it into everlasting darkness.

Morning Sunlight In The Oak Hammock

Morning Sunlight In The Oak Hammock

In this next photograph, I faced a similar choice. I did not want to lose either the detail of the fading mountains or the green of the trees. But instead of using spot metering, I opted for a graduated neutral density filter. This type of filter is essentially dark on one half and clear on the other. It's purpose is to allow less light into one portion of the scene. In this case, I placed the darker portion over the background mountains, but my metering remained at average, the camera seeing all the light in the scene.

Amazing View, Top of Clingman's Dome, Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Amazing View, Top of Clingman's Dome, Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Darker scenes require more manual adjustments. You essentially have 3 choices. You can up your ISO. This makes your camera more sensitive to what light is available. You can choose a larger aperture. The larger the aperture, the more light allowed into the lens. Or you can use a slower shutter speed, thus extending the period of time the light can reach the camera. Each of these 3 methods has their place.

In this scene, the forest around me was relatively dark. I wanted to feature the bromeliad flower in the center of the scene, so I metered for the flower and not the surrounding forest. This caused the background portion of the image to darken and be less distracting. I also upped my ISO to allow more light to reach the scene and thus eliminate too long of a shutter speed for a hand-held photograph.

A Silent Place, Gatorland, Orlando, Florida

A Silent Place, Gatorland, Orlando, Florida

Having the correct exposure, just the right amount of light, in each image is something that comes as a result of learning to make the right choices when you are on the scene. The more you practice at it, the more time you spend thinking about what settings your camera needs, the easier and quicker it will become. It is a fact that in any sport you are only as good as you are dedicated to time spent in practice and to learning the rules of the game.

Next week, I will cover the 2nd key factor: composition.


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Suzanne Williams Photography
Florida, USA

Suzanne Williams is a native Floridian, wife, and mother, with a penchant for spelling anything, who happens to love photography.

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