Creating better photos

Discussion in '35mm Cameras' started by Calvin Sambrook, Sep 9, 2009.

  1. This month's SI entry was great and I really enjoyed commenting on the
    photos but as I was doing so I began to realise that I was typing the same
    two phrases repeatedly so I thought I'd post a note reminding us all about
    some of the basics. I realise that this posting runs the risk of being
    condescending and that's certainly not my intention at all, please read it
    as me trying to be helpful to those who may not be aware of these
    techniques - if you already know all this you're not my target audience but
    please chip in with constructive comments.

    First the big disclaimer, "rules" of photography, like any art, are there to
    be broken. A good photographer is aware of the rules and will probably
    apply them either consciously or sub-consciously to almost all photos but
    they will be happy to not apply them when the need arises. A good
    photographer knows they are breaking the rule and is dong it for effect or
    expediency. They are aware of the effect of breaking the rule. So I'm not
    saying "every shot has to do this" but if you're not even thinking about it
    you're in trouble.

    One of the differences between a good photo and a snap is that the artist
    ensures the viewer's attention goes to the intended parts of the image
    easily and is drawn back to them when it wanders. The human brain has a
    very short attention span and is actively trying to find other things in the
    photo so it's very easy to lose control of the viewer by allowing
    distractions. The biggest of these two are things in the background and
    extras in the image.

    Depth of Field.
    Backgrounds can be really troublesome. In a studio it's easy because you're
    in control but out on the street all sorts of things try to muscle in.
    Often it's simply impossible to find an angle from which to shoot which
    doesn't have something, a car, a pole, a building or all three sitting just
    behind the subject. One way around this is to try to throw the extras out
    of focus.

    The most basic technique is to control the aperture of the camera.
    Essentially the smaller the aperture (smaller "F" number) the less of the
    image will be in focus. Often just switching to Aperture mode on the camera
    and selecting the smallest number can change a shot from snap to Wow!

    Slightly more advanced is that a longer focal length (bigger) lens will have
    less depth of field. So if you have a choice zoom in or use a long lens and
    move the camera back to compensate. Doing that has other effects too
    because it changes the size of the subject relative to the background which
    mostly helps with avoiding distractions.

    Hopefully these two techniques will allow you to rescue even a dire
    situation but when they aren't enough there's another quite useful trick
    which might help. Any combination of focal length and aperture has a
    certain depth of field, that is to say a certain band of distance which will
    be acceptably in focus. Normally most of us simply let the camera autofocus
    on the subject and it will usually put the subject into the middle of that
    band. Usually however the area in front of the subject is not causing a
    problem whereas the area behind is often cluttered with things we'd rather
    not include so by focusing slightly in front of the subject you can arrange
    for it to be at the back of the acceptably sharp area and so throw the
    background out of focus. I have to admit that's hard work though.

    For an excellent example of how an out of focus background forces you to
    look at the subject take a look at Interesting_TimConway3_old.jpg
    and for exactly the opposite see how Tim had real problems with

    When you're concentrating on the subject and the depth of field and the
    lighting and the focus it's all too easy to not notice the
    dog/car/finger/etc creeping into the shot at the edge. Almost all image
    manipulation and editing tools allow you to crop an image and you really
    mustn't be afraid to use them.

    What's worse than finding a worm in your apple... Even worse than a stray
    object in the shot is half a stray object in the shot. The viewers brain
    will simply scream that's something's wrong.

    For a great example of the problem see Int_MarthaCoe_1.JPG where a bench, or
    rather the top part of a bench, could easily have been cropped. And at the
    other extreme see Int_MarthaCoe_3.JPG for perfection in
    both cropping and depth of field.

    Many consider it cheating to use software such as Photoshop to manipulate a
    shot. I don't. Learn to use clone brush and you'll be able to create great
    things from disasters, remove that ex-partner from the old family photo
    (same thing really) or just get rid of a single annoying object which ruins
    your best work ever. For a shot I love but which could be even better see
    the glass in SI_Interesting_Solomon_Peachy_2_old.jpg
    and for an example of a shot which has had stuff removed see just about
    anything I've ever published but especially Leapfrog where about
    half a dozen people were surgically removed in order to turn the worlds most
    nothing shot into something I like.

    Hopefully I've not patronised too many people and even more importantly I
    hope Tim, Martha and Solomon aren't too upset by my singling them out.
    Believe me they weren't alone and I chose them as examples because they've
    shown they are perfectly capable of producing great stuff.
    Calvin Sambrook, Sep 9, 2009
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  2. Calvin Sambrook

    Eric Stevens Guest

    On Wed, 9 Sep 2009 22:58:17 +0100, "Calvin Sambrook"

    --- snip ----
    There is another factor also. I (and probably you) are equipped with
    permanent wide angle vision but tend to concentrate on the small
    central area. When I took my photograph 'INT Eric Stevens 4.jpg' my
    mind concentrated on the chair sitting there in the midst of all that
    antideluvian machinery. To emphasise the point I did a few minor
    things with brightness, contrast and saturation for the chair.

    Even so, the chair does not stand out in the relatively small picture
    which is all I get on my screen (24"). I see more or less the entire
    field of view at the center of my vision and the chair is just one
    more item in the general clutter. However, I have made an A3+ (13" x
    19" slightly cropped) print which I have stuck on the wall in a part
    of the house where there is not room to step back more than about 5'
    and the picture works like a charm. I won't say that the chair
    dominates the picture but it does appear as a center of interest.

    The moral is that size and viewing distance does effect how you look
    at pictures and what part does or doesn't catch your attention.

    Eric Stevens
    Eric Stevens, Sep 9, 2009
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  3. Calvin Sambrook

    Eric Stevens Guest

    Viewing it at the (larger) original size increases the effect. I
    thought WOW! - what is that! (although I already knew).

    Eric Stevens
    Eric Stevens, Sep 10, 2009
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