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Tips For Better Photos

Discussion in 'Media Threads' started by andi, Mar 24, 2004.

  1. andi

    andi Well-Known Member

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    These tips are meant to apply to general purpose photography, but they also apply to taking daily progress photos! Please feel free to post any photo-related questions; I know there are lots of us with experience that would be happy to help out.

    -Most important tip EVER: Read Your Camera Manual. Cover to cover. In many cases if you’re having some sort of problem and your pics aren’t right, that book that comes with your camera can tell you how to fix it.

    -Make sure you have enough light! While your eyes tell you that you can see everything perfectly by that single light bulb across the room, your camera *can’t* see very well by that light. Turn on more lights, bring them closer to your subject, put the subject near a window, whatever it takes. More light! Low light pictures can be blurry, grainy, and of course less detailed.

    -Flash Is Evil! (Okay, not really, but in most cases and for most people it’s difficult to control, makes things look ugly, and causes more problems than it fixes… red eye, washed out subject, too dark background, etc.) If you can avoid using it, do.

    If you must use flash….

    -Bring your subject off the background. In other words, don’t stand right up against a wall. You’ll get really harsh shadows on the wall.
    -To avoid redeye: Redeye is caused when the flash bounces off the back of your retina and back to the camera lens. See if your camera has a red eye reduction feature. If it does, use it! Try looking at a light for a few seconds immediately before taking the shot, so that your pupils go small. Look ever so slightly away from the lens when you take the pic, to deflect the reflection of light. Or if your camera has manual settings and you have a basic idea of how to use them, don't use the flash at all- leave the shutter open longer instead. Or the last thing you can do is fix it in Photoshop :)
    -See if you can “dial down” the flash. This is where reading your manual comes in. If you have the option to weaken the output of your flash, it can make the light much less harsh and the photo much nicer to look at!

    -To take a better picture, get closer! How many times have you handed your camera to someone to take a picture of you and your significant other, and you get photos of yourselves from head to toe, tiny in the shot, with all kinds of other clutter in the frame? Who needs to see your car, the road, the road signs, the traffic, and the buildings three blocks away when all you wanted was you, your honey, and this one cool building? Don’t be one of those people! Unless you’re taking your progress pictures or have some great need to include a person’s full body, try taking photos of people from the waist up. Or even chest up. Chances are capturing the people’s expressions and getting a hint of what’s going on behind or near them will make for a much more interesting photo.

    -Dead center is deadly. When you look at a photo, you want to really *see* it. If you place your subject smack in the middle of the frame, you’re wasting a lot of space and making a boring photo. People’s eyes will be drawn right to the thing in the center, then they’re done and their eye leaves the photo. By placing your subject elsewhere in the frame, the eye wants to investigate the photo more- to wander around the photo, to see everything. Look at professional photos. Sometimes a photographer will place a subject in the center of the frame to achieve some effect, but it’s rare. More often a photographer will use the rule of thirds . Taking a photo of a sunset? Don’t place the horizon line straight across the center of the frame- put it 1/3 of the way from the top or bottom of the frame.

    -The best natural light in the world is available early in the morning and late in the afternoon. I guarantee everything will look better in this light. Mid day light is harsh, makes people squint, and makes hard shadows.

    -It sounds counterintuitive, but if you're taking photos outside in mid day light, use your flash! Look for the "fill flash" option. Make sure you're close enough to the subject. This will "fill" or "open up" any shadows under their eyes nose and chin and provide more even lighting.

    More to come!
     
    #1 andi, Mar 24, 2004
    Last edited: May 2, 2007
  2. Duckman

    Duckman Well-Known Member

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  3. marcus

    marcus Well-Known Member

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    Good post, there are some really good tips there, simple but vital.

    I suppose this doesnt apply when doing pics for weight loss comparison but I like photography as a non serious hobby and I've never taken that into mind. I might try it next time.

    Cheers Andi :tu:

    Marcus
     
  4. John Stone

    John Stone Every day is Leg Day
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    Good stuff so far, Andi! :tu:

    If you have time, how about posting some basic tips and information for those of use who want to move past point-and-shoot photography and would like to give manual photography a try? For example, I know very little about what seem to be the fundamental concepts for taking pictures manually: sensitivity (ISO), aperture settings and shutter speed (I'm sure there's much more...)




     
  5. andi

    andi Well-Known Member

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    Ooh, you just wanna get me started dontcha!?!?! Can do. Gimme a bit ;)
     
  6. andi

    andi Well-Known Member

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    Some definitions to start, which will help to explain how these things work- particularly with one another. All three of these things contribute to the exposure of your photo, but individually they also affect other things.

    ISO: Formerly known as ASA. This determines how “fast” your film is, in other words, how long it needs to take in enough light to get proper exposure on a photograph. The higher your ISO, the quicker it is. With digital this is an approximation of how it would work with film. 100 ISO is slower (takes longer to get good exposure) than 200, 400, 800, etc. The slower the ISO, the clearer and sharper the photo- but you might need a tripod to get it. The faster the ISO, the more noise (grain when talking about film) your photo will have, but you can shoot hand held more often. Low ISO’s are great when you have plenty of light. High ISO’s are good when you’re working in low light with no stabilization (tripod) but really need the shot. There’s a lot more to it but that’s a basic start.

    f/stop (Aperture): This is a hard one for beginners to wrap their brains around. Think of the aperture as the hole in your camera lens that opens up to take the photo. So of course big aperture= large hole. The numerical aperture values, known as f/stops, are the opposite. Small number= big hole, big number= small hole. So an f/2.8 is wide open. An f/64 is like a pin point. The aperture affects your depth of field. If you take a photo of a landscape and you want everything in your shot, from here to the mountains, in sharp focus (a long depth of field), you’re going to need a small aperture- perhaps f/64. Say you want to do an artsy portrait of someone- you want just their eyes in focus, leaving their nose and even their hair out of focus (extremely shallow depth of field) you need a wide open aperture of f/2.8.

    Shutter Speed: This is how long the shutter stays open to let light in. 1/500 is 1/500th of a second. Fast. 2 is two full seconds. Slooow. Shutter speed controls showing and stopping motion. If you use a very fast shutter speed, you can stop a water droplet in midair coming out of the faucet. If you use a slower shutter speed, you can create an artsy blurred effect as a car goes by. A general rule is that if it’s slower than about 1/60th or 1/30th of a second, you’ll probably need a tripod to get it sharp enough. Experiment and see. Always try learning against things to stabilize and see how sharp you can shoot handheld.

    They all work in tandem.
    These three things, ISO, aperture, and shutter speed, can all be manipulated to get the effect you’re looking for. If you want to catch that water droplet, you know you need a fast shutter speed. But you’ll also need a whole lot of light in order to catch it and not have it be too dark (underexposed). So you use a large aperture and maybe even a high ISO in combination with your fast shutter speed. That landscape with the long depth of field? Small aperture means you’ll need long shutter speed to get proper exposure. Deciding whether to bump up your ISO is based on whether you can live with noise/grain in your photo or not.

    So to summarize:

    You want:
    A long depth of field? You need a small aperture. Adjust your shutter speed and ISO accordingly.
    A short depth of field? You need a large aperture. Adjust your shutter speed and ISO accordingly.
    To stop movement? You need a fast shutter speed. Adjust your aperture and ISO accordingly.
    To show movement? You need a slow shutter speed. Adjust your aperture and ISO accordingly.

    All of these will also be affected by how close you are to your subject, but we'll talk about that later.

    When you go into manual mode on your camera and start adjusting aperture and/or shutter speed, some type of graph with show up that indicates whether you’re over exposed, under exposed, or right on. Right on is generally right in the middle. Twiddle the aperture and shutter speed back and forth and see how they’re reciprocal to one another.

    Also check for shutter priority and aperture priority modes on your camera. These are just what they sound like. If you want a long depth of field and you know your aperture needs to be small, you put your camera on aperture priority, choose your aperture, point the camera. The camera decides for you what the necessary shutter speed is for proper exposure. If you want to stop movement, you put it in shutter priority, choose your shutter speed, and the camera decides the necessary aperture for proper exposure.

    Make sense? Good!

    Ask questions at will. I’ll add more as time permits!
     
    #6 andi, Mar 25, 2004
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2004
  7. andi

    andi Well-Known Member

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    More on Reciprocity
    (the relationship between shutter speed and aperture)

    If you were to take nine photos of the exact same thing at the following settings, what do you suppose would happen?

    f/32 @ 1/8th of a second
    f/22 @ 1/15th of a second
    f/16 @ 1/30th of a second
    f/11 @ 1/60th of a second
    f/8 @ 1/125th of a second
    f/5.6 @ 1/250th of a second
    f/4 @ 1/500th of a second
    f/2.8 @ 1/1000th of a second
    f/2 @ 1/2000th of a second

    The exposure- amount of light taken in by the camera- would be exactly the same in each and every one of those 9 photos. Why? Reciprocity. f/32 @ 1/8th (small hole open long time) is the same exposure value- same amount of light- as f/2 @ 1/2000th (large hole open short time).

    So how would the photos be any different?

    If something in your photo moved in the first one, it would be a blur. But the depth of field would likely be sharp throughout the shot. If something moved in the last photo, you'd freeze it right in it's tracks. But the depth of field would be very shallow. Things in front and behind what you focused on would be blurry.

    The other shots would have incrementally shorter depth of field and more stopping of motion as you move down through the list.

    See how you can use reciprocity to your advantage, depending upon what you're trying to acheive?
     
  8. John Stone

    John Stone Every day is Leg Day
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    Awesome, Andi! That was exactly the sort of basic intro that I was hoping for. Very helpful - thanks. :)
     
  9. Knubb

    Knubb Well-Known Member

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    Woa...

    I've just realized two things:

    Firstly, my camera is crappy.

    Secondly, I want a new camera.

    Doubt that I have the energy it takes to master photography though, but a post like this REALLY gets the fuzzy stuff inside of me moving around, telling me I want this.

    What's in a camera? That, which we call a photo, by any other lence, would look as good.

    Juliet was dead wrong! Oh, and I might have missquoted her...
     
  10. Evil Hx Coupe

    Evil Hx Coupe Well-Known Member

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    Now I have to save up for a new camera.
     
  11. Banditfist

    Banditfist Well-Known Member

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    What about pixel size for pics to post or layouts? I guess I could just go look at the source code of some of the posts that I want mine to look like.
     
  12. SCHTEEVIE

    SCHTEEVIE Well-Known Member

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    great article Andi! :tucool:

    Understanding the variables to control exposure is very important, and Andi has explained them very well.
    Those are the tools you need to understand "how" to get good exposure of a given light value.

    To control the over all "look" of your image, you need to understand "exposure latitude" of film stock or a digital camera CCD (charged coupled device)

    Generally, film stock can have as much as 6 or more "stops" of latitude.
    This means at a given F-stop setting, you will still get good image information for three stops under, and three stops over that exposure level.

    Digital video and digital still cameras do not have as much latitude as film. (that is a main reason why motion picture looks so much better then video)

    i.e: when shooting people inside a room with windows and bright light outside, you will tend to get "blown out", over exposed widows.
    The reason is that the exposure was set to perfectly expose the people inside and the light outside would then be more then 3 stops over the light level inside.

    you need to decide the "look" you want to achieve and then decide where to set your base exposure.
    If you don't want those blown out windows, meet the exposure some where half way; let the inside subjects be underexposed 1 or 2 stops, and the outside windows be over 2 or 3 stops - you will still get good information on most parts of the image that matter, and what you'll end up with will probably look much more natural, and closer to the way your eye saw it.

    Here is an example of a frame from a film I shot.
    (please do not reproduce or edit these images in any way)

    (35mm, 500 iso, F2, 1/50th or 24 fps (frames per second)

    I wanted the look to be moody and dark, with lots of deep blacks and clean shadows.
    so I intentionally underexposed the whole image, knowing that the little bit of light that was there, would contrast nicely with the blacks, and parts of the actor's face and room would fall off into absolute darkness.
    If I over lit, or over exposed this scene, the whole mood would have been lost.
    the brightest part of the actor's face is one stop under exposed.
    (I have added in some text indicating the "reflected" spot meter readings of various parts of the close up image.)

    wide shot (25mm lens)

    [​IMG]

    close-up (100mm lens)

    [​IMG]

    There are two ways to read or meter light: Spot meters and incident meters.
    Spot meters look like a little gun, you look through a lens to read "reflected" light (light reflecting from an object. (many cameras have built in spot meters)
    Incident meters are the hand held ones with the white ball that read incidental light (light hitting an object.)
    So, with spot meters you point the meter at the subject, and with incident meters, you point the meter at the light source.

    The reason these two types of metering are very different is because the same amount of light can yield a very different result based on the reflective nature of the subject.
    i.e.:
    White paper will reflect almost all the light that hits it, black velvet will reflect almost none of the light that hits it.
    So, with this in mind, it is very important to consider what part of the image you are metering with your camera's built in spot meter, when you set your base exposure.

    In the above example images, I was shooting in a studio with complete lighting control, and I lit for a pre decided F-stop and exposeure range with my incident meter, then did final "tweak checks" with my spot meter when the actor sat it; but the same theories of planning base exposure as it relates to the whole image apply to shooting on location with no lighting control.

    To truly control the look of your shot, you still must decide "where" in the exposure range you want your base to be.

    If I had used my spot meter to read the shadow of the actors face, and set my F-stop to expose that part of the frame correctly, I would have got really good exposure of her face, but lost all of the mood as the dark shadows would be gone, and the studio set probably would have looked much less "real".

    This was sort of a stream of consciousness and not nearly as well planned as Andi’s initial article, but I hope it is helpful. :gl:
     
    #12 SCHTEEVIE, Mar 28, 2004
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2004
  13. andi

    andi Well-Known Member

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    Histograms

    Now that John has his new camera and is experimenting with shooting in manual, this is an excellent time to bring up histograms. here are John's photos , which I'll specifically be discussing.

    First let's look at John's two original shots. In both images he's working with shade with a little dappled sunlight (almost half shade half sun in the macro shot). He put the camera in pattern metering mode, which means the camera takes a look at everything in the frame to determine proper exposure, rather than metering on a particular spot (called, duh, spot metering).

    If it's an important shot, don't rely on the camera to make the correct decision, and don't look at the lcd view of your photo and say "yup, looks good!" A photo's histogram will show you a very specific graphical representation of the exposure. Many digital cameras (including John's) will allow you to view a histogram immediately after taking the photo, so that if you determine it's under or over exposed you can take the shot again. Some cameras, when you look at the histogram, will even "blink" in the portion of your photo that is over or under exposed. Photoshop CS includes a histogram palette so that you can watch real time changes to your image as you edit it. . This tutorial gives some excellent examples of histograms and how to read them, so I won't go through it all again here. I've included the histograms for John's images below, straight out of Photoshop CS.

    Based on the histogram, the first photo is somewhat underexposed. Most of the graph is bunched up on the left. But the graph does move all the way across to the right side as well, so you do have enough contrast. It's not completely undercooked. The second photo is likely exposed as best as it could be given the lighting conditions, which were a bit too contrasty (midday light, as discussed earlier, is harsh)- the darks are a bit underexposed and the lights are slightly blown out. You can see this in the bright yellow flowers, jut a little highlight detail has been lost. With digital your best bet is always to underexpose slightly, because you can work with it. If you overexpose, it's pretty much impossible to recover lost detail. The tutorial includes a link at the bottom about image processing, this will show you how to to appropriate post processing to an image.

    John, looking at the EXIF for your manual shot, it shows ISO 200, f/2.8, 1/1250th of a secnd. Before I comment on the settings, would you be willing to share your reasoning for choosing those particular settings?

    Now as for the second set, the color adjusted shots, this totally comes down to a matter of preference. Based on his adjustments, I'd say that either John's monitor color is dull (thus overcompensation), or John likes saturated color. Personally I really like my colors to be a bit oversaturated, bright and poppy. Then images take on that postcard quality. But the color of the original shots is probably closer to reality. It's all up to you!
     

    Attached Files:

  14. andi

    andi Well-Known Member

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    Macro

    Thought I'd add a little something about macro and focusing. In John's macro shot, notice that the bright yellow flower just left of center appears to be the sharpest thing in the entire image... yet it's also one of the most blown out. This makes it difficult for the eye to know where to settle.

    When you're in macro mode and you're close to your subject, you have to be aware that your depth of field is going to be very short. Make sure you're focusing on what you consider to be the subject of the image, because that's where the viewers eye will be drawn.

    Loki's Nose is a great example, the nose is sharp, the detail is excellent, and the eye isn't confused.

    Remember that photography doesn't mean "hurry up and hit the button". Most digital cameras focus when you half-press the button- this allows you to put your subject in the center, focus, recompose the shot with your subject not in the center, then fire. Most cameras assume you want whatever is in the center and closest to the lens to be in focus. But it's not up to the camera, it's up to you. Take your time with composition and depth of field.
     
  15. Einar

    Einar Well-Known Member

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    This post was great! Thanks Andi :tu:

    I've seen that there are many good photoshopers out there. Anyone care posting a link to a guide that can help a newbie-photoshopper put together transformationpictures taken with a digitalkamera? :D I can resize them, but it would be cool to cut them up and put them in a row of like three pictures.
     
  16. John Stone

    John Stone Every day is Leg Day
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    Schteevie,

    That was a really interesting and informative post. I enjoyed it on two levels -- as a budding photographer, and also as a film buff. Thanks!

    Andi,

    Thanks for the detailed analysis of the shots. Basically I choose f2.8 because I wanted the main subject in focus, and I wanted the stuff behind it to be blurry. I picked a fast shutter speed because it was bright out there and I didn't want to over-expose the pictures. Of course that was my first manual shot, and I'm still very unsure of what I'm doing (duh!), so please feel free to elucidate!

    My monitor is not dull, I just went a little nuts with the saturation. :) I like really saturated colors. The histogram information was very helpful and should help me improve future shots. So much to learn, but so much fun learning it. :)
     
  17. andi

    andi Well-Known Member

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    Hot damn. My post must have made sense! :)

    Actually I think you did great given the lighting. For your first manual shot it's frickin' awesome! The only thing I would suggest is using ISO 100 when you have plenty of light like that. You can slow down the shutter speed a bit, still easily hand hold the shot, and get a little more clarity than you could at 200 ISO.

    I should have mentioned that the histogram is just a guide, not the answer to a yes or no question. If you are going for a mood, like Schteevie's shot, or are trying to create some sort of effect (a lot of times over or under exposing can look really cool), then go with it- the histogram will tell you it's not properly exposed, but if you like how it looks and it's what you want to see, that's all that matters.

    One of my photography teachers made a point of telling us "these are the rules of photography, feel free to break them, and often."

    Now that it's getting towards evening out here on our coast, I would really suggest wandering around outside and getting some photos in the "sweet light"- late afternoon, early evening sun is gorgeous. Unless you've got clouds right now like we do in Atlanta.
     
  18. Devery

    Devery Well-Known Member

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    No question is a dumb question, right?

    I own a FinePix F601 Zoom digital camera and my question is this, if I look at something close up through the display on the back of the camera, it appears blurry and out of focus. It needs to be at least 12 inches away, or so it appears. Looking through the viewfinder, it appears clear up close. It also seems difficult to take a close up picture with clarity. Is this operator error, or should I go read my manual?
    Devery
     
  19. andi

    andi Well-Known Member

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    From my first post in this thread:
    -Most important tip EVER: Read Your Camera Manual.

    Yes, you definitely should! But something else that might help you when trying to take a closeup- put your camera in macro mode. I just did a quick search on the internet and found that your camera does indeed have macro capabilites, with a range of 20cm (7.87 inches). Read the manual to ind out how to turn on macro.

    Also, with most cameras you have to push the button half way to get it to focus, then push it the rest of the way to take the shot. If you just mash the button you aren't seeing the shot in focus before the camera fires.
     
  20. Devery

    Devery Well-Known Member

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    Andi,
    Thank you so much for the quick response. I will go read my manual from cover to cover and read about this macro feature. I noticed the problem when I was trying to take a picture of my watch for another post here, but to my dismay, I couldn't focus in on the face of the watch. I thought maybe it was a digital camera thing or something. Please excuse my ignorance.
    Dev
     

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