Taking your first photo
Your first basic camera could have a reasonably wide angle, a zoom capability of 5 to 12, a big 3″ screen, and a flash.
Most cameras these days have many more features than you will ever use, but still glance through the menu to get a feel for your new camera, and select “intelligent auto” so all you have to do for your first pictures are:
- While the battery is charging fit a memory card if the camera does not have internal memory.
- Fit the battery (if not already in the camera!), turn on the camera and check the indicated charge of the battery (should be 100%).
- Select a fully automatic setting like “intelligent auto”.
- Point the camera at a subject and adjust the zoom to your liking.
- Preferably ensure your subject is all in the light, or all in the shade (not patchy lighting).
- Press the firing button half-down and wait to see the camera is focussed.
- Press the firing button fully down to take the picture (in poor light conditions the flash may automatically operate).
- Check your photo on the camera screen.
Photoing Different Subjects and Events
Family pictures at home and at family occasions usually involve people or animals moving. Even when you ask for a formal picture it is virtually impossible to get everyone (and the animals) dead still for your perfect photo. This means that you should take such photos at a relatively high speed (eg 1/200th second or more) consistent with the light and the camera aperture opening, or with the flash.
Speed and aperture can be set manually (certainly with all expensive cameras), but you do not need to do this. Your “Intelligent Auto” setting may be able to recognise movement and adjust the camera accordingly, or you can find the “Sports” setting, and that will automatically give you the best camera setting for moving subjects.
Portraits of people can be of an individual or a group, and can be classed as formal or casual. When taking a portrait of an individual you should focus on their eyes. If the photo is for formal purposes, like passports or business records, the subject can have a slight smile, and the background should be neutral; for slightly less formal pictures the background can be more interesting like bushes, but in any case not distracting. Most cameras have a special setting for “portraits”.
When taking informal photos it is often best to catch the subjects unawares to give a more natural look; however you will probably need to take several shots of the situation to get just one that everyone agrees is a “good shot”. Of course some people are good actors and can pose to make the photo look natural.
It is always important to be aware of the lighting – a topic which can take a book on its own. Unless you are looking for special effects, it is best to have the subject evenly lit if possible, ie all in the light, or all in shadow. This often means that when taking photos outside, better results are obtained when the sun is not shining and there is a more subdued, even light.
There are several points to watch when taking groups. For example be aware that people in the foreground are going to appear larger than people at the rear of the photo, also it may be difficult to get everyone in focus unless you choose your widest angle.
The accepted ideal semi-formal “artistic” photograph of an individual has the subject off-centre facing the larger space (can be looking into space or at the camera); unless there is an imperative reason to have a symmetrical or centered image, don’t put the main subject of your picture in the middle. See the examples below:
It is not the intention here to describe what is required of a professional wedding photographer. The following comments are hints for the new and inexperienced photographer. The photographs you take at weddings will be according to the requirements of the couple or wedding director. But do take plenty more at every opportunity you see for an interesting or unusual setting (provided you delete the ones that do not appeal or are out of focus). Wedding photos normally consist of a combination of traditional informal photos, and as many informal photos of the participants and guests as possible. As an amateur you would normally be expected to simply supply the couple with a disk containing all your original photo files, so that they can process them as they wish. Although you may also like to give the couple a book of selected prints. If you feel confident enough, you may wish to edit them first according to the hints given here.
Photographs of Still Objects and Landscapes
Different techniques are applicable to “still subjects” other than portraits of people, such as houses and buildings, and landscapes. Generally you will have more time to set your camera and adjust the zoom to just how you want to compose your picture.
Points to watch:
Horizon is horizontal, vertical lines in the centre of the frame are vertical.
Although the main feature of the photo may be the landscape or other “background”, try to include something interesting in the foreground (without it dominating). An alternative is not have too much foreground.
If you don’t have “automatic” or “landscape” selected on your camera, in order to get as much of the picture as possible in focus, use “wide” or “multi-segment” focussing and light metering settings, and use a medium/high f number (f8 – f11) consistent with a reasonable speed of shot (more than 1/60).
Photos of buildings with moving traffic of course need settings more like “sports” if the traffic is not to turn out blurry (unless you want the traffic to be blurry to show the movement).
Sporting events usually involve movement, and distance from spectators – often extreme in both cases. So your camera needs to have a long zoom (20 to 50 times), and a fast shutter (1/500 seconds to 1/4000 seconds). Or a special telephoto lens for an interchangeable lens camera.
The simple solution is to set “Sports” on your camera.
Problems which still might arise include:
Long zoom (even with a still subject) means difficulty in holding the camera steady – make sure your camera has “image stabilization” or similar to help. If possible, use a tripod for long distance shots. The tripod should be sturdy, and have a fitting for your camera to move easily but securely vertically and horizontally – a “video head” on your tripod is useful for action shots as it allows quick changes of direction both horizontally and vertically.
A moving target means it may be difficult for you to follow the action, and for the camera to maintain focus – keep your elbows pressed against your body for stability, and if you are not using your camera’s “Sports” setting, set the focus to “continuous”.
In order to ensure the subject does not move out of your frame because of its fast movement, do not have the zoom too tight around the subject.
With the camera aperture being open for such a short time, a bright day or bright light is needed, or the picture will be too dark. (Or with an automatic setting like “Sports” or “Intelligent Auto”, the camera ISO compensation may be so high that the picture is unacceptably grainy.)
What is ISO? ISO (International Standards Organisation) is the measurement of how sensitive a digital camera’s sensor is to light. The speed or light-sensitivity of a digital camera’s sensor is rated in ISO numbers — the lower the number, the slower the response to light, but the better the opportunity to process the information into a good quality photo. Higher sensitivity means lower quality of picture, especially beyond a value of ISO 800. Higher ISO numbers indicate a higher sensitivity to light, meaning you do obtain a photo in a darker situation, but the result is a poorer quality picture (less fine detail, more blurry, more unwanted specks).
In traditional (film) photography ASA was the indication of how sensitive a film was to light. – 100, 200, 400, 800 etc – the higher the number the faster the film, similar to ISO.
See the previous section for Sporting Events. The main difference with wildlife of course is the unpredictability, so be ready with your zoom to open it wide when the animal comes charging at you! On the other hand you need patience, maybe waiting for hours, even weeks or months, if you are wanting to see a particular animal, or a particular behaviour. However it is always exciting when that special moment does occur.
All that has been said about sports and wildlife applies to birds (especially small birds), but to an even greater degree.
Wading birds (in the water) and penguins (on the land or ice) are easier to photograph because of their slow movement and you can get often get quite close; but small birds, and any bird in flight, take a lot of practice (and a lot of failed photos) to get right. One option is to hold the camera button down to take repetitive photos while you follow the subject, and hope that one of them might turn out brilliantly.
It can be useful to practise photographing birds at bird parks, or anywhere where the birds are used to seeing people, and not so easily frightened.
On your camera you may find the setting “Drive” under which are several options such as “Single Shot” and “Continuous Shooting”, together with “Focus Fixed at First Shot” (faster shooting) and “Focus Changes Continuously” (slower rapid shooting). “Continuous Shooting” is the one to choose if you want to hold the firing button down while the camera continues to take rapid shots while you follow the bird or other moving object.
Some compact cameras may not have the Drive setting specifically, but when you select “Sports”, the camera is almost certainly setting the equivalent of a continuous drive option so that you can take a series of rapid shots by holding down the firing button. And some cameras will always allow you take continual shots by holding down the firing button, regardless of your settings.
Finally, remember to have the zoom set a little wider open than you would have for a “close-up”, to make it easier to follow movement and keep the object in your frame.
Macro Photography – Detailed Close-Ups
There are 2 kinds of close-up:
(a) shots taken of a small part of a larger object (eg a window of a building, or the head only of a person) often using the telescopic facility of the zoom, possible with any camera;
(b) photographs of very small objects (eg insects) where the subject more or less fills the frame and shows great detail, giving the impression in the final photo that the object is larger than life. This is “Macro Photography” and for best results requires a special camera, or more specifically a special lens.
There are a small number of compact cameras which claim to be able to take “macro photos”, and because available cameras change so rapidly it is better for anyone with an interest in this aspect of photography to discuss the options with their local camera provider.
For close subjects – use flash. There may be a setting in your camera such as “Night Portrait” which you can use. In such cases with a compact camera the flash may automatically fire. Sometimes it may be necessary for you to prepare the flash manually.
For landscapes – use a tripod (and for other subjects too far away for the flash to be effective, typically more than 5-10 metres).
Using a tripod for night pictures (with enough light to focus automatically): Set up the tripod in a firm, stable position. Fit the camera securely to the tripod. Set the camera mode to “Intelligent Auto” or equivalent and take the photo. However I use the following method.
Night photo using a low ISO for better quality picture:
With the camera on a sturdy tripod, turn on the camera, and set the camera to P Mode. Select an ISO of between 100 and 400 (needs a longer time to absorb the light, but gives a better quality image). Set focus area and metering mode to “Wide” or “Multi Segment”. Set the Drive Mode to 2 seconds delay (allows time for the tripod to settle after you take your hands away). Compose the scene. Press the firing button half way and hold until focussing is established. Fully press the firing button and release, (ie a quick firm press without holding on), and take your hands away from the camera and tripod.
After 2 seconds the camera aperture opens, and typically remains open for several seconds to absorb the small amount of light available before closing. The camera may then take several seconds to process the information before you can check your photo.
Transferring Photo Files to Your Computer
You can use the instructions and software that come with the camera if you wish. I usually ignore the software and simply treat the camera as an external drive as follows:
Make sure the battery is well charged and connect the camera to the computer with the usually provided USB cable.
Switch on the camera.
Go to “My Computer” on your PC.
Along with your list of hard drives and DVD drives, you should see listed “Your Camera” (it may even show the detailed name of your camera).
You now treat your camera simply as another drive with folders and files just like the other hard drives on your computer.
So open the camera drive (double-click or Right click and select “Open”) and look through the folders you see to find your image files – probably of type jpg or jpeg.
Select the image files (control A), right click and “COPY”.
Open a folder on the hard drive where you want to store your photos.
“PASTE” your image files into the computer folder.
Alternative method of transfer: with both folders open on your screen, drag and drop your image files from your camera to COPY them to your PC folder.
It is suggested you do not “MOVE” the files from your camera – or delete them from your camera until you have checked they are securely in your computer folder!
Go to “Safely Remove Hardware” on your computer and click your camera designation; when the response comes “Safely Remove Camera” or equivalent, turn the camera off and disconnect the USB cable.
To quickly view your images on your computer, go to the list of files where you saved them, right click on the first one and select “Preview”. You will get a full screen view of that image, and then you can select the arrows to go through all the files in that folder.
Editing Your Photos
Why go to all the trouble of editing your photos?
(a) Because we seldom take a perfect image, and we would like to improve it mainly for our own satisfaction before others see it, or
(b) There may be specific requirements for printing, or by the intended recipients of your photo.
Only some basic issues will be discussed here, noting that some of them could possibly have been resolved by taking more care with the original photo shoot!
You will have heard of Photoshop. It is a comprehensive Photo editing program, and it is very expensive. There are other products at one tenth the price or a little more, and even free editors. There is also a basic version of Photoshop available called “Photoshop Elements”. I use “Paint Shop Pro” which has most of the attributes of Photoshop, is much cheaper, and is fairly easy to learn how to use. One of the many alternatives is Cyberlink PhotoDirector 3.0 which I got free.
The following small number of editing suggestions are under two headings – “Corrections” which deal with aspects of a photo which are generally thought to be unacceptable problems, and “Improvements” which are suggestions you may wish to ignore!
How to Correct Serious Problems with a Photograph
Slightly blurry photograph – apply “Sharpening”.
Very blurry photograph – if the main subject of the photograph is already very blurry, or still blurry after sharpening, delete the image.
Horizon not horizontal – apply “Straightening” to get the horizon exactly horizontal. Do not keep applying “Straightening” until you get it right, but each time you don’t get it right apply “Undo”, and keep trying until you do get it right. Straightening can of course be applied to any photograph (without a horizon) that you feel needs straightening.
Substantial loss of detail – this can be caused in 3 ways, and only small corrections can be made without ruining the photo completely:
(a) White-out – parts of the photo are so light that there is a loss of detail. Use the selection tool with a big “Feather” (eg 40) to draw round and select the area of near white-out. Select “Smart Photo Fix” or “Highlight/MidTone/Shadow”, and reduce “Highlights”. Apply a little “Contrast” and “Saturation”.
(b) Dark patches – parts of the photo are so dark that there is a loss of detail. Use the selection tool with a big “Feather” (eg 40) to draw round and select the dark area. Select “Smart Photo Fix” or “Highlight/MidTone/Shadow”, and increase “Shadow” slightly (be careful because this action adds “noise”. Apply a little “Contrast”.
(c) Noise – parts of the photo show lots of noise (eg specks in dark areas, or in other uniformly coloured areas like the sky. Apply “One-step Noise Removal” or other similar tool. This can make the image too blurry.
In all 3 cases above, you must judge if your corrections have made the image satisfactory or not. If not, do not not use this photo.
Other Suggestions for Improving the Quality of a Photograph
Brightness and Contrast – if your photo seems a little too dark, or a little too light, it can be adjusted with the “Brightness and Contrast” tool. If the photo looks a little flat, the contrast can be increased with the same tool.
Depth of Colour – If your photo lacks the strength of colour of the original scene (or if you like a colouring even stronger than the original), increase the saturation by means of a tool like “Hue and Saturation”.
Perspective – this subject is too complex to discuss here, because the way the lines of a building (or any other subject) appear to converge or diverge, depend on both the position of the camera relative to the object, and the angle of the camera itself.
You can test this yourself with a wide angle set on your camera – stand in front of a vertical rectangular object like a wall or a large photograph, then tilt your camera slightly upwards and downwards and you will see the rectangular shape change its perspective accordingly.
However if you have a relatively straightforward photo of a building or photo on a wall which is not perfectly rectangular like you would prefer it to be, use the tool “Perspective Correction”. As mentioned previously, do not keep applying the corrections one after the other until you get it right, but each time you don’t get get it right apply “Undo”, and try again until you do get it right.
Cropping – cropping is one of the most powerful yet simple tools capable of improving a photograph. However it does rely on your experience and “your eye for a good photo”.
What is Cropping?
Cropping a photo is taking away material from one or more edges of the image. Of course this reduces the size of the image, so cropping has to be carried out with care. To crop a picture we normally use the “Crop Tool”. This tool can be set to a rectangular shape which you specify or adjust to extract or crop the “best” arrangement from your picture.
There are 2 main reasons why you may wish to crop a photo:
(a) you may often wish to crop a photo to take away some unwanted peripheral material, or simply to improve the artistic balance of the photo, and/or give more emphasis to a particular part of the photo.
(b) the aspect ratio of the camera’s images is different from the expected print size, or different from the required ratio of the recipient. The most common example of this situation is the requirement to make a standard 6″ x 4″ print (3 x 2 ratio) from the 4 x 3 ratio of many compact camera images. If you don’t crop or print the images yourself, the automatic printer crops your photos arbitrarily, and so may not give the best result.
Consider a 4 x 3 image: say it is 3600 pixels wide by 2700 pixels high. To get the maximum size 3 x 2 image for printing we set the the crop tool to 3600 pixels by 2400 pixels and apply it to the image. Note that you have the choice of whether you cut out the new image in the centre strip, or higher or lower to get the result you want.
And of course you could have made your crop even smaller eg 3300 x 2200 pixels, and placed it anywhere over your picture, if you wanted to cut out even more extraneous material.
See the following example of automatic versus manual cropping:
When a 3:2 print with automatic centre cropping is produced, it may turn out like the second image, with the top of Bill’s head shaved.
Before taking it to the printers, it could have been manually cropped to the 3:2 ratio by taking the unwanted material from the bottom of the picture, so leaving Bill’s head intact. See the last image.