Friday, March 27, 2015

Fundamentals of Photography

I recently was browsing a website where someone asked what the "fundamentals of photography" are. And most of the answers ranged from philosophical to out and out BS. One answer was, "just being near something to photograph" and another was "your imagination", and the ever popular "just having your camera with you".

While having a good imagination and being near something to photograph while having your camera handy are all well and good, a basic understanding of the camera settings and composition elements are what I think the "Fundamentals of Photography" are.

What good is your imagination and a great subject if you don't know how to make the camera do what you want to make the image your brain imagines?

So I made a short down and dirty list of the fundamental things you should know in order to be a competent photographer (without getting all philosophical).

  • Shutter speed - this is how long the shutter is open for. The longer it's open the more light gets in, but also more chance for motion blur. Shorter shutter speeds can freeze action, but let in less light. Fast and slow speeds both have their uses. Common speeds are 1', 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/15. 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500... Each full stop doubles or halves the light. Most current cameras also adjust shutter speeds in 1/3 stops
  • Aperture - this is how wide the diaphragm of the lens is. The wider it is the more light reaches the sensor. Wider apertures also produce a shallower depth of field (this depends on focus and background distance as well). The aperture numbers are ratios of the size of the actual opening in relation to the focal length. They are known as f/stops.  The smaller the f/stop number the wider the opening. for example, f/2 is wider than f/16 because mathematically f/2 is 1/2 and f/16 is 1/16. So a 50mm lens at f/2 has a 25mm opening and at f/16 it's just over 3mm. The common aperture numbers in full stops are 1.4, 2, 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, and 22. If you look close you will see every other one is doubled. Also if you multiply the one before it by 1.4 you get the next number. 1.4 is the square root of 2. Each stop doubles or halves the light. Again, most cameras also adjust f/stops by thirds.
  • ISO - this used to be called "film speed", but it's just the sensitivity of the medium, typically the the sensor. The common speeds are 100, 200, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400. These are full stops and also double of half the sensitivity to light. Once gain most digital cameras adjust these in thirds as well.
This is the essence of exposure. Without knowing this you don't know photography. You can put your camera on auto and make great photos, but you still won't know the fundamentals. Another thing that's important to know is that to maintain an equivalent exposure if you change one of these settings you must change another with the equal value. 

Next on the fundamentals list is composition. These are generally guidelines to go by rather than rules, but it's best to learn them so you know when to use them and when you can break them. I won't go into detail, but some of the most common elements of composition include:

  • The Rule of Thirds
  • The Golden Ratio
  • Leading Lines
  • Patterns
  • Negative Space
  • Balance
  • Asymmetrical balance
  • Use of complementary and analogous color
  • Framing
You can use google images to see examples of these. That's the down and dirty, yet thorough, answer on fundamentals. 

When you set out to learn these things, don't look at them like a stumbling block. They become intuitive very quickly. Make sure you have fun experimenting with the different settings, that's the best way to learn and make everything stick.

*the picture has nothing to do with the subject, I just don't like to post things without eye-candy.

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