HOW TO TAKE THIS CLASS:
YOUR SEMESTER IN THREE EASY STEPS
Between the first “aha moment” — the recognition of a potential image — and the final click of the shutter, photography happens in three stages:
These are not in reality separate stages, of course. When you first notice a potential shot, you begin to think of a suitable composition. Should it be horizontal? Vertical? Should the visual center (the main subject, center of interest) be in the center? To the center right or lower left or upper right?
At the same time you notice a potential image, you also begin to notice existing lighting conditions. If the sun is high in the sky, should you wait for a cloud? If it is low in the sky, how should you position yourself relative to your subject? With the sun directly behind you, hitting the subject head-on? With the sun to your left or right, hitting from the side? And in using your light meter, exactly what light should you measure? The brightest area? The darkest? Those decisions also affect composition.
And as you think of composition and lighting, you also think of where you should focus the camera. If you are taking a portrait, this isn’t an issue; it’s the face. However, sometimes you have choices to make about what needs to be sharp and what can be fuzzy. (Later, you will be able to control what parts of the image are out of focus, and how out of focus they are. ) The point is that each element affects the other two: in reality, it’s one seamless (but complex) process, not three separate ones.
ASSIGNMENTS – Q1/Q3
Most of the time, you are interested in just one person or object – the main reason for taking the photograph. Sometimes we call that the center of interest. However, it’s easy to forget that you are responsible for the entire rectangle (what we call the “frame”). It’s your job to arrange that frame in such a way that people (viewers) first notice what you want them to notice, without other objects competing for their attention or getting in the way. Some general guidelines:
- Avoid placing the most important area (center of interest) exactly in the center of your image.
- Vary the shooting angle.
- Use vertical composition every so often.
- Take several shots of each image and make slight changes to the composition of each one.
- Place objects close to the camera (in the foreground) to create a sense of depth or to frame the subject.
- Take responsibility for the entire rectangle, not just the one object or person that interests you.
- Make use of your background; make it work for you.
LIGHT / EXPOSURE
A photograph records light reflected off surfaces. It’s really all about light. Most of the time, however, we don’t notice the subtle qualities of light. We don’t notice how small changes in angle (time of day), diffusion (clouds / no clouds) can totally alter the final image. The next two assignments ask you to plan your images around lighting conditions — which is what every photographer has to do.
- Double check that your light meter setting (ISO) matches the film in the camera.
- When the light changes or when you move to a new place, take a new light meter reading.
- Just say no: if the light meter tells you that no image can be exposed without dropping the shutter speed below 1/125 second, don’t waste your film (or use a tripod).
- Sometimes your light meter lies to you. Even if the needle or the dot is in the middle, your reading may be off because of a bright light or the sky in the background.
You have a subject, you’ve decided on the ideal composition and lighting conditions, and now you just need to put the camera up to your face and press the shutter release. But wait! There’s one more aspect of the shot to consider. What is going to be in focus (sharp) and what is going to be out of focus (fuzzy)? And for the fuzzy objects, how fuzzy do you want them to appear? Some of these issues need to wait until later in the semester, but for now you need to decide what to focus on.
- Shutter speeds of 1/125 and below can result in camera shake (fuzzy pictures).
- Every so often, try some shots with out-of-focus objects in the foreground or background.
- Portraits often benefit from out-of-focus / fuzzy backgrounds, just to help draw attention to the subject’s face.
- Some shots, especially sports shots, benefit from deliberately-blurred balls or bats or legs – whatever is moving the fastest.
- Landscape images (either urban or natural) often benefit from the sharpest details with the maximum depth of field.
ASSIGNMENTS – Q2 or Q4
Composition is the art of getting the viewer to notice what you noticed when you took the picture. Actually, there’s more. It’s the art of getting the viewer to feel and think what you felt and thought when you took the picture. That’s hard. Composition also means directing attention towards your center of interest and away from things that might compete with the center of interest. Below are a couple of assignments that ask you to make use of just a few tools from the (mental) composition toolbox that every photographer carries.
LIGHT / EXPOSURE
INFO YOU WILL NEED AT SOME POINT IN THE SEMESTER: