Thursday, October 18, 2007

Photography Tips

I’ve had a lot of people ask me recently for tips on using their digital camera, and my opinion on film vs. digital. The truth today is that most point-and-shoot digital cameras pack quite a punch. I use a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera, but I started out years ago with a point-and shoot. In my comparisons, I have found most digital cameras on the market today to be far superior to film cameras. A film camera is only equivalent to about a 6 megapixel digital as far as resolution. Digital also offers many more automatic features, making knowledge of how cameras work avoidable. Many people don’t know what these features are or how to use them. No need to fret- if you don’t understand ISO, aperture, and shutter speed there is an easy way to take great pictures- using the scene modes. Every manufacturer of digital cameras (including Panasonic, Kodak, Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax, Fujifilm, and Minolta) will include scene modes as part of their camera’s basic features. These modes will include; portrait, sports, landscape, low light, macro, etc. For each shooting scenario, using the scene modes is the most effective way to ensure that your picture turns out the best. The sports mode will most likely have a higher ISO (400-1600), allowing for a faster shutter speed, while landscape mode will have a lower ISO (50 or 100), but a slower shutter speed in comparable lighting scenarios. So, it makes sense, use the sports mode when shooting something that is moving fast or when you are moving fast (such as riding in a car). Use the landscape mode when holding the camera relatively still, because its sensitivity to light is greater. The modes your camera will have depends on the manufacturer, but they are all pretty similar and even some DSLRs have scene modes. Using these modes is the best bet for getting the best photograph.

Now, for those of you who are a little more savvy with cameras, here are a few tips that are sure to improve your photography. To prevent blur, use a camera or lens with an image stabilizer when hand-holding. Some manufacturers (like Sony) have image stabilizers built into the sensor, so they work with any lens you use. Other brands (like Canon) have their stabilizers built into their lenses and work by a floating diode. These lenses will be more expensive, but come in very handy and consume very little battery power. Once a photo is blurred, it is nearly impossible to fix. Make sure that the focal point is your subject (seems obvious, right?) but a lot of photographers don’t understand how to change the focal point of their camera. Remember that there is a triangular relation between ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. Use this to your advantage, and make sure you are constantly adjusting your settings to get the best possible photo. If your camera allows you to shoot without a card, don’t. It’s always best for your camera to only let you take pictures when there is a card in, so you don’t think you’re capturing something when you’re not. Adjust the brightness of the LCD screen to the middle or below. Having the brightness of your LCD screen up too high will make you think you got a more vivid photograph than you actually did. This error caused me to have to re-photograph a couple of my subjects. When shooting still subjects, use AEB! This single feature can prevent overexposure, underexposure, and allows you to present an image that best represents what your eye actually saw. A camera is able to capture around 8-10 stops, but the human eye sees about 14 stops. Thus, AEB is one of the most valuable tools digital has to offer, allowing as many stops as you prefer. If you print a lot it is always worthwhile to invest in a color-calibration tool for your monitor. It’s always depressing to get a print and have it look different than it did on your monitor. They sit on or near your monitor and can be purchased for a reasonable price if you can find one that’s been used. Finally, use real photo editing software like Adobe Photoshop CS3. Photoshop elements and Microsoft Picture It are for kids and amateurs. When CS3 is packaged with Adobe Bridge and Adobe Lightroom, you’ll have the best photography software combination on the planet and ensure a professional photograph every time.