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1) Camera selection information

  • What to ask yourself before buying
  • Some Lingo to learn

When you embark on getting ready to buy a camera everyone questions the same thing...which one? We all have gone thru that dilemma at least at point or another in our lifetimes. And some are going thru that now. We are in an age of the digital world and it seems to be growing faster than the buyers can keep up with. So this first part will be about what guidelines you need before you go out and buy and some of the lingo so you can go there having some knowledge of the techie world.

I will list very important questions that you need to answer for yourself in order to direct you on the path of what to buy.

  • What will this camera be used for? Candid's like mom and dad cutting their birthday cake..or more professional shots like the perfect sunset that you want to sell? Or just a camera to preform a duty..like photographing art?
  • How much can I afford?
  • Do I want most of the control or do I want the camera to do most of the thinking?
  • What megapixel amount do I need? Are you looking for prints higher than 8 x 10 or is it just a reference picture for yourself?

Now lets address the questions:

If your looking for just candid shots then low end priced point and shoot is all you need. It is basic, will do all the focusing, will automatically tell you if you need a flash and can print normal sized 4 x 6 prints clear as day with a 4 mega pix camera. Panasonic Lumix makes a great camera for that so does Minolta and Sony as examples. If your seeking more professional I would suggest a SLR (Single Lens Reflex) or a higher end advanced point shoot ( SLR ex: Nikon D70; Point and Shoot Advanced ex Nikon CoolPix 8700) They will provide more manual settings, more control and better reprints up to about 20 x 30 in size. They are normally above 6.1 megapixels. Photographing art I would suggest any of the above but more control would be an advanced point and shoot or an SLR.

Affordability is very important...you have to really sit with yourself and make the choice on investment value. Higher end cameras cost a lot more than the point and shoots..so you have to really answer that yourself. If the camera will have important valued use to you..then I suggest the investment. But again that is a choice you have to make.

Camera control is a big issue..at least for myself. A camera is nothing but a box with a hole..even in the digital world. Basically it is a "dumb" box. In most auto everything cameras you have to remember it is still a dumb machine doing its most basic judgmental functions. It can not always exposure correctly to light, it can not always produce the very correct colors, it can not even always focus where you want it to focus. It is solely going by meters and sensors. So if you prefer the camera that controls everything then a point and shoot is the way to go. But with higher end cameras and SLRs you will have the ability to TELL the camera what YOU want it to do. Making you the intelligence behind the lens. You can set your focus, you can set your exposure, you can set your foreground and background focus, you can set your own film speed, you have options for different added lens capability and the list goes on.

Megapixels..what do you need? Well as in question one you will see the difference in laymen terms..more pixels more clarity in printing purposes. Less pixels less clarity. Without getting to techie basically a pixel is the dots on a computer screen. All those dots will form an image from your camera onto that screen. The more you have, the more dots you have, the more the image can become clearer when enlarged to high size. So question remains..if using images just for web use or small 4 x 6 pictures..all you need is a 4 megapixel camera. If your looking for larger flexibility for you to make prints go with a 6 or better megapixel camera.

2) Composition

This is the ultimate basic start to photography. The bells and whistles of techno language, F stops, Shutter Speeds, Metering..all are second. Reason I say this is because without a good composition all the rest means nothing. Think of developing your "photographic eye" as working out a muscle in your body..without proper exercise the muscle will be weak and ultimately effect your performance.

I will explain some information that you should always keep in your mind when shooting anything!

The first step is to answer three questions to yourself before you shoot an image:

  • What is the Subject--Theme--I want this picture to be about?
  • How can I Focus Attention on my subject and draw the viewers eye to it?
  • Have I Simplified? Have I included only what draws attention to my subject and have I eliminated everything that is non essential or distracting?

There are the keys: Subject/Theme, Focus Attention, and Simplicity; Three main questions to ask to form a great photograph!

An example situation...everyone loves to shoot flowers..beautiful colors and emotional feelings can be captured with a flower. Let's say you come across a field of Crocus Flowers. You would like to take a picture of one close up enough for detail. Think of the first question...what is the Subject or Theme..well we already thought to our self I would love one close up to capture details. Now think of the second question..how can you focus attention..well one way is we can compose the shot by filling most of the frame in the view finder with the flower. (Typical of Macro Photography), or you can focus on the one flower semi close up, and make the background out of focus as to bring attention to the one flower in a sea of flowers. Now third question..to simplify...if there is a garden hose in the shot lets say..well we would have to recompose because who wants to see a water hose next to the flower bed :) .

Always pay attention to WHAT is in the image and if it is needed to be there.

Next step to developing your eye is Composition. Meaning the way the subject sits in the frame. Now most rules are meant to be broken sometimes for certain images..but most times photographers follow the "Rule of Thirds". This rule means picture in your mind a grid of 3 Vertical Lines separating the image in the frame into thirds. When you figure out what the Subject/Theme will be..try and offset the subject either off to the right of the frame by a third..or off the left of the frame by a third..basically NOT keeping the subject in the middle.

For example:  There is this great old barn house on this farm land property..and a great mountain landscape behind it. Most people will shoot that barn house in the center of the frame..not a bad idea..but offsetting the barn to the left or the right of the image will draw a visual line for the viewer to follow.

Remember all rules are not set in stone..but they aide in training your eye!

3) The importance in lighting

- Photographing art

Being artists we all run into the common problem of photographing our work and making the pictures look just as good as the actual subject. How is this done? The question of the century. Well first off takes time and practice number one in order to learn about light and technique. So here is some tips for you.

Light is the number one importance and light differs from indoor to outdoor. That difference is there because of light temperature. Your home lighting is a different temperature than natural sunlight. It is measured in degree Kelvin. Exposure is the number two importance. How to properly exposure your "film" (same for digital cameras except film is now a sensor) for this light. Now with that being known here is things to try and do.

Your best light will always be outdoors...sunlight and even overcast days which causes ambient light. You will get the best tones and colors using this light. But like anything that you can see with your own eyes there is glare. That is easily correctly with a tilt. Just take your own painting and look at it at different angles with your own eyes. Notice how certain angles will cut off the glare. That is the same thing you will do with a tilt when you photograph your piece. If you have an easel, set it up outside and shoot either at an angle or tilt the piece then shoot. If you don't have an easel to use then prop the piece up on a book on the ground and photograph. (Keep a sheet or something on the ground to avoid your piece from getting dirty)

To photograph indoors either do it in a well lit room from a natural light source..or have bright white bulbs in your lamps you are using. Exposure is very important here. If you are using an SLR you can bracket your shots by controlling your Aperture (F Stop) and shutter speed manually. I would suggest setting your ISO film speed to at least 400 and using an aperture of F5 -F8, your shutter you will have to adjust per shot to get the correct exposure. Also you can set your white balance for incandescent light. The reason for the ISO speed at 400 is that the faster film is needed for darker light. Outside on a sunny day you can use ISO 100 and lower. In darker lit areas you need to compensate for what you are losing with a faster film speed. 400-800 is best for darker lit areas. Just by adjusting that in your camera you will see immediate results.

Another suggestion is..eliminating what you don't want in the shot. In other words compose the piece to fill the frame of the view finder. No one needs to see your mop and broom in the corner. This will also aid in focusing. Your camera will not look at the nail on the wall to the left to focus on..it will look at your piece.

4) The importance of stability when shooting

- Use of tripod and other forms of stabilizing for good focus

Biggest issue with photography is focus!! There is two versions of out of focus images. One is Camera Shake and one is You focused on the wrong object! Now camera shake is normal and happens to many people. It is difficult sometimes to hold something that can be heavy especially when you are trying very hard and can become nervous or are in an awkward position. Camera shake will result in a COMPLETE image blur, meaning not ONE thing is in focus. Now when you focus wrong on your own that is because you are not putting your subject in the focus area on your viewfinder therefore making Joe blurry and the cake clean and pristine. Here is when tripods and stabilizing comes in.

Tripod..if you can get one..is a great investment! You can then shoot stationary objects or motion and not worry about camera shake, and also you can concentrate more on the subject instead of trying to hold, compose, focus and shoot all in one breath. Most tripods are affordable unless you start getting into the ones that will stand during a hurricane..you don't need that unless you plan on going on shooting exhibitions in Kenya. Some good reasonable ones are Slik, SunPak, and Velbon.

If you cannot get to a tripod...well you have a built in one...YOU! Your body can work as a tripod. By properly resting your elbows on or close to your chest and keeping your feet shoulder length apart, you are creating stability. But don't forget your table, chair, car, or other flat to the ground source to lean on for support. In most camera places you can also buy small bean bags and mini tripods to use. One Key to do and this is not a joke...DONT BREATH when you shoot. Hold your breath when you are ready to hit that shutter button and then breath when done. Trust me it works! Another focusing key point is to have a focal point on the subject. Look for the eyes of a portrait piece or the center of the abstract piece. Pick a focal point and utilize that to aid in you focusing properly.

5) How to set up a small studio with lights in a small space

Whether you live in an apartment or a house, you can set up a corner of your home as your "studio" for just a few dollars, Since the only way to learn to use floods is to practice with them. Here is how to begin to create your own studio:

Your studio does not need to be permanent--you can set up a temporary studio even in a corner of your living room. Move some furniture away, if you can, to create a clear area about 10 feet deep by 8-10 feet wide.

If the wall is plain white or a plain light color, you can use it as your background. If it has distracting wallpaper, or is cracked, mottled or dirty, you can make your own background by hanging a smooth white sheet in front of the wall. Iron out any creases or wrinkles in the sheet, and hang it flat and smooth. Wrinkles can make very unpleasant shadows. Use thumbtacks or masking tape to adhere the sheet to the wall.

I recommend using a tripod and again it does not have to be the expensive fancy kind..just has to be stable and sturdy. If you cant get a tripod right now..you can always use a chair back, a table, or any other grounded surface to lean on for stability.

Also if you have one, use a lens shade on your camera in the studio to help keep the glare of flood lights from hitting the lens and causing flare.

Basic Equipment in the Home Studio:

  • 3 Standard 250 Watt Photo Flood Bulbs
  • 3 Flood Reflectors
  • 1 Spot Reflector (not necessary but good to have)
  • 3 Clamp on units (clamp device to attach your floods to anything like a chair back, better with gator grip teeth)
  • 3 Light Stands (metal poles with a tripod base and you attach the lights to them. )
  • Extension Cords and Multiple Sockets (extension cords help you move your equipment freely, get heavy duty extension cords..your drawing good current)
  • 1 16 x 20 inch sheet of white cardboard (use as a reflector,cover one side with aluminum foil that you have first crumpled and then flattened out. This will produce a 2 sided reflector...one brighter than the other...poster board is good to use)

This is the basic equipment you will need..and don't forget things like thumbtacks and masking tape...they are important to have.

One last thing is verify your electrical house current so you don't over load !!!!! A typical house- current circuit can handle about 15 amps. Since a normal house current is around 110 volts, the average circuit can handle about 1650 watts (110 x 15=1650) You should be fine using 250 watt bulbs...but always be aware what else is running on that same circuit you are using your floods on!

For photography supplies any and many: www.bhphoto.com, The Photographer's Source!

XXOO

Tina


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