November, 2010

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Composing For The Greatest Impact

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

As we come into the holiday season this is the time all the cameras come out to record those hapy family get-togethers. And with a little thought, those photos of family and friends can be much more interesting than the too often seen straight-on, quick grab snapshot.

A common tendency I see among beginning photographers is to point the camera at what they want to take a photo of, center the subject in the frame and take the picture. The thing is, a dead-centered composition is often not the best choice. While it may get the job done of recording the subject, there’s likely to be little else there to capture and hold the viewer’s imagination

With all visual art, which includes photography, the movement of the viewer’s eye through the image has a lot to do with creating energy and emotional involvement. And THAT’s what makes your pictures unforgettable.

One of the oldest compositional concepts in art is the ‘Rule of Thirds”. Very simply, it says that you “draw” two vertical lines on your image to divide it into equal thirds vertically, and also two horizontal lines to divide it into equal thirds horizontally. Some cameras even have a setting which will project this grid on your LCD and/or viewfinder.

The ideal place to locate your subject(s) is where these lines intersect. This creates a more effective balance in your image and helps cause the viewer’s eye to move thorough the picture instead of staying in one spot, saying “OK, I’ve seen what there is to see” and moving on to something else.

One important thing – remember to think of the Rule of Thirds more as a “suggestion” than a “rule”. The use of lines, shapes, color, tone and of course the subject itself all affect how the eye navigates your picture and causes the viewer to become involved as well. We’ll look at all of these individually in upcoming installments.

Don’t Run Your Digital Camera Out of Gas

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

It may be hard to believe, but at every class and workshop I’ve taught, someone has gotten part way through and realized “oh no, my battery is dying”.

Way back in “the day”, with the right camera, you could get by without a battery, just using the camera’s mechanical functions. Not any more. Digital photography is all about electricity, and without that little power source, nothing is going to happen.

Whether you use your camera regularly or leave it sitting in a drawer for months, the battery will drain. You may be more likely to have a freshly charged battery if you do shoot often, since you’ll likely remember to charge it after the first time your camera goes dead in the middle of a photo outing.

Since only a very few cameras now still use the simple old “AA” batteries, you need to recharge your camera battery with the charger that came with it. With most of the newer batteries, it’s OK to charge it even if it isn’t fully drained, so it’s a good idea to charge your battery the night before your shoot.

Of course the best solution is to get a second, back-up battery. That way, when the first one is done for the day, you just replace it on the spot and keep shooting.

Just remember to recharge the exhausted battery when you get home. And it’s a good idea to keep rotating your batteries through the camera even if you don’t use one up on the day’s shooting. That way you’ll be sure to have the second battery fully charged and ready each time.

And finally, when you’re traveling remember to pack your charger! I do, because I’ll never forget the trip to New Orleans when I arrived and discovered that the charger I had laid out and ready to pack never made it into my bags! I couldn’t find a store anywhere in the whole “Big Easy” that sold the charger for my batteries. My shooting on that trip became VERY selective.

It’s an easy thing to overlook, and if you remember just as you’re going out the door that you forgot to charge your battery, it’s too late. To help make sure that everyone who participates in Premier Photo Tours and The Photo Mentor classes and workshops has the best experience possible, I’ve created a pre-workshop planning checklist that you receive as part of your registration. That way everyone has enough energy for a great time.

If you’d like a copy of the checklist, shoot me an email at stu@thephotomentor.com and I’ll be happy to send it to you.

With Digital Camera Files, Bigger IS Better

Monday, November 15th, 2010

At a recent conference I attended, I was taking some photos, and one of the people involved asked me to email her some copies. I explained that I would as soon as I had a chance to download the images, process them (I always shoot RAW files) and make an email-freindly sized copy. She wondered what I was talking about – why do I need to go through all that? When she takes pictures in her digital camera, they email just fine.

Here’s what I told her:

One of the most common mistakes I see among beginning photographers can start before you even leave the house – it’s not setting the image quality in your camera to the highest quality.

Don’t worry – it’s not just you – even pros need to remember to check their camera settings before each shoot. Otherwise we could be happily shooting away and realize halfway through that we have our image quality set to a low quality we happened to use the other day for some obscure reason.

Here’s why it’s important to use the highest image quality setting your camera has. The bigger the file size from the camera, the better the photo will look and the larger you can print it. While it’s simple and easy to reduce the size of your photo for emailing or putting it on the web, if you start out with a small web-sized file and try to make it bigger, the image quality will just fall apart. You’ll probably even be able to see the individual little square pixels in the photo.

There are a number of computer programs for working on your photos which can reduce a large file for web and email use. Many are very inexpensive and some are even free!

Just be sure to save the new, smaller image with a different name – always use “Save As” and rename it, never just “Save” or you’ll lose the original file. And for that matter, always make a copy of the original photo file and save it as a backup somewhere so you’ll always have it, even if you do accidentally click “oops”.

And here’s the thing – you never really know which photo might be “THE SHOT” – the one you’ll want to show everybody, make into a poster, maybe even be able to sell – until after you’ve pressed the shutter and see the picture, often not even until you can look at it large on a computer screen.

So treat every shot as though it will be that potential favorite and set your camera to the highest image quality setting it has. The more you learn from the instructors on your Premier Photo To