Wednesday, August 10, 2011

3 Shoot Basics

The idea to give a mini tutorial "flew upon my head" as my 5 year old says, when several people commented on my photography and said "if I had a big camera like you, I could take good pictures!"
This always makes me laugh because while it's true that my SLR is a very nice camera, it is also quite capable of taking crappy pictures (don't ask me how I know) and by comparison, the smallest of cameras can take good pictures.
Yes, I said it... even a point and shoot can take great photos.

You don't believe me? Well, to prove this bold claim, I will only use my iphone photos in this post... and I'm not even going to bring up technical terms like "aperture," "shutter" or "ISO." Fair enough?
{Note: my iphone camera had a terrible lag as soon as I turned on the flash. Apparently, when it is set to "on" or "auto" it has a mini panic attack every time I try to take a picture- do we need the flash? Yes? No? OK *click!* So if you hate shutter lag on your iphone camera, turn the flash off. Oops, I haven't even started and I already used a technical term! Sorry, it won't happen again.} Let's begin!

3 Point & Shoot Basics:

1. Lighting: this is arguably the most important element of photography, in fact the word "Photography" literally means Light writing. Without light, you have absolutely no photo.
I'm going to focus on two important elements of lighting: quality & direction.

When we talk about the quality of light we often use terms like hard or direct light and soft or diffused light.

Hard light comes from a single source. The sun is a very good example of a hard light. The light from an in-camera flash is another good example.

(left: notice the direct light from the sun has caused sharp contrast between light and shadow).

(above: not the best example of soft lighting
but you get the picture)
Soft light is very diffused. Cloudy days are a common example of this type of light. Open shade is another example. This form of light will illuminate objects very evenly, and produce very soft subtle shadows, or sometimes no shadows at all.

Think about the quality of your lighting as you prepare to take your photo. Ask yourself if the lighting helps or hurts your photograph and change your location if you need to. Sometimes this can be as simple as turning around!

As you practice seeing the qualities of light, also notice the direction of the light. 
There are three general lighting directions:
Front Lighting, Side Lighting and Back Lighting. Each one has a distinct effect on your subject, let's look at a few examples:

Front Lighting.

Front lighting is when the front of your subject is illuminated. In-camera flash is a good example of front lighting. While this may be useful at times, it is more often a way to turn an interesting scene into a flat snapshot.

Side Lighting
This type of lighting is ideal for portraits and for emphasizing the texture of an object.


  •  For this lighting, the sun is in front of you, which often shows off the subject in a dramatic and unusual way. This is one of the more challenging types of light to photograph, but it also can produce  some very interesting images.
2. Composition
Composition is the placement of your subject in the picture. Think about whether you want your composition to be vertical or horizontal, whether you want the subject to be centered or off to one side. Go with what the image suggests. People are vertical creatures so try to shoot them vertically unless you have a good reason not to and be careful not to chop off hands or feet, especially when it comes to full body shots. 
(don't chop off limbs- they are very important!)
Two important elements of composition are Angle and Framing: 

The angle that a photo is taken at tells a lot about the photographer’s perspective on the scene. 
Think about different scenes at different eye levels.  For instance, what does a field of flowers look like from a bird’s perspective or a crowd of people from a child’s perspective?
Shoot many different angles of each scene (low, high and eye level).

Framing is the technique of drawing attention to your subject by blocking other parts of the image. The simplest way to do this is to move close to your subject so they fill the frame.
Most photographers have a built in zoom in the form of their legs!
Before you take the photo, think about how you will frame the image.... ask yourself if you need to take a step back or a step forward to tell the whole story. 

Showing me his treasure: a Cicada shell.

3.Setting:  Think about the background before you take the picture. The setting should support and compliment the main subject. Uncluttered backgrounds are good for portraits and isolated objects. Isolating the subject can be very difficult with a point and shoot because it lacks any control over the aperture (oops! the "a" word, sorry) but you can always control the amount of clutter in the background so choose a blank wall, a shady spot or a place where the background supports the subject.
As I played around with my iphone camera, I became familiar with it's strengths and weaknesses. 
One of it's greatest strengths is landscape photography! Why? Because of that very same aperture issue. When I take a landscape, I actually want everything in focus from the foreground to the background (deep depth of field)... I'm happy to see the sky, mist, clouds and trees! 

So to summarize: Lighting, Composition & Setting are all key ingredients for a good photo, but if you really want to make art, and you're tired of landscapes, buy an SLR :)


  1. thanks Abi! i need this kind of thing...

  2. yep most people get the slr and think its time to start a photography business... i started a photography business with a point n shoot to help me save for a slr... now i got my slr and i am ready to ROCK it! lol