Technique is thankfully one of the easiest things to learn in photography. Once a few basic rules have sunk into your subconscious, you’ll be able to focus on the more exciting aspects of capturing the decisive moment & getting the look you want.
Conversely, bad technique sticks out like a sore thumb. It could be the big obstacle standing between your creative genius and your viewers. We believe every photographer can benefit from getting back to basics and honing their technique.
To us there are four main elements of photographic technique: composition, exposure, focus & light:
Composition is probably the most important skill to develop in photography. It is universally applicable. Whether you’re grabbing snapshots with your phone, handed a cheap compact by a friend at a party, or planning a complex commercial shoot with a 200 megapixel Hassleblad; the rules are just the same. And the impact of good composition can be just as great.
For beginners we would recommend letting your camera do the hard work. This leaves you free to focus on the composition.
For enthusiasts we would suggest that setting yourself a project investigating different rules of composition. Follow them to the letter and flagrantly break them. See what works for you. Some amazing images are amazing because the photographer deliberately broke the rules. The excellence in many more images can be explained by the way the rules were employed.
For professionals, composition is a key component of your personal style. Hopefully your style is the main reason that clients book you.
It’s tempting to let your camera take care of exposure. However, some of the most exciting shots’ unique appeal is a direct result of the photographer taking control of exposure. While technology gets better at detecting black cats in coal cellars and white cats in the snow; photographers will always benefit from being able to tell the camera exactly how they want it to capture the light. And that’s to say nothing of the side-effects of the three main tools we use to control exposure:
- Aperture – the larger the hole that lets the light in, the narrower the depth of focus, hence the more blurred the background.
- Shutter speed – the shorter the time that light is let in, the more the action is frozen. And vice versa.
- Sensitivity – the higher the ISO, the more noise will be amplified in the final image.
Beyond the basics, we can use selective exposure in high key and low key photography to add emphasis and interest and draw the viewer’s eye to the images focal point.
Focus is another element that we often leave to the camera. As a key component of composition, determining how sharply focused each object in the image is rendered allows us to draw the viewer’s eye to the areas the photographer intended.
The most basic and critical technique in composition is deciding what to focus on.
Enthusiasts’ images can benefit immensely from developing an intrinsic knowledge of the optimal aperture and point of sharpest focus for each image.
Professionals, and big-budget enthusiasts can take focus to the next level, by tilting focal planes with tilt shift lenses and large format movements.
All levels of photographers (even when using the most advanced autofocus with image stabilising) can benefit from improving their focusing and hand-holding technique. This gives us a higher proportion of keepers and allows us to capture better images in darker and more challenging situations.
Photography is literally drawing with light (φωτός = phōtos = light + γραφή = graphé = drawing). We can draw with available ambient light, or employ reflectors and light modifiers, small flashes, or studio light banks. Whatever the light source, there is probably nothing that will transform our photography more than an understanding of light and how it affects our subjects.
While the starting point for most photographers, ambient light photography can be the hardest to perfect. We can predict where the sun will be when and shoot at the appropriate time, but in our experience, no amount of shouting at clouds will make them change their course.
Light is largely defined by three components:
- its quality – how hard or soft the shadows are
- its colour – mainly how warm or cold it is
- its direction – where it is coming from and going to
Flash photography can be improved immensely by simply removing the flash from the camera, or bouncing it off an appropriate ceiling or wall.
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