Exposure Basics

Shutter speed

There are two elements to creating a “correct exposure”. These are aperture, and shutter speed, which we will look at first. When you press the trigger button on your camera to take a picture, it opens a set of sliders, like opening a window. How long it stays open, depends on how you set the shutter speed. Shutter speeds can range from extremely fast (i.e. 1/8000 of a second), to very slow (30 seconds), or even infinity if your camera has a bulb setting. These are extreme shutter speeds and not often used, except by people who shoot fast moving subjects, or in very low light. For most of us, we tend to stick to somewhere in the middle. As a general rule, the faster the shutter speed, the sharper your photo will be. For most people, anything at 1/60 of a second or above is acceptable when hand holding a camera. Lower if you have a particularly steady hand. If you need to use slower shutter speeds, you will need to use a tripod or rest your camera on a steady surface. These slow speeds can be particularly useful for creating blurred effects. For example the flowing water in a waterfall.


Ever wondered how photographers get their subjects to really stand out by blurring the background? The secret (which really is no secret) is adjusting the aperture. The aperture changes the depth of field in your photo. Depth of field is how much of the image is in focus. For example, if you have a depth of field of 4 meters, anything within that distance of the subject you are focusing on will also be in focus. There is as much variety with this control as there is with shutter speed. You can choose to set a narrow aperture (long depth of field) when you want the whole shot in focus, for instance a great, sweeping landscape, or a wider aperture for portraits.

Ok, so you’ve got your shutter speed sorted from your aperture. Now we just have to put them together. Any SLR camera will have an inbuilt light meter. This little gadget measures the amount of light you will need to create a correct exposure. It is usually in the form of a little bar with a too high (+) and a too low (-) sign at each end. It is simply a matter of balancing one against the other so that the meter is centered. Once you’ve done that you can press the button! That’s all there is to it.


Another choice that will effect your exposure is the ISO you use. With film cameras, this means the speed of film that you use. If you use a 100 speed film, your ISO is 100. Digital cameras also have an adjustable ISO speed. It’s just in the form of turning a dial instead of loading a different film. A general rule is to use the lowest ISO you can get away with. Higher ISO films or digital settings can result in noisy (grainy) pictures. They do, however, allow you more freedom in your exposures in that you can shoot with less available light. Experiment with your particular camera, see what you can get away with. Remember that the quality required will be different for everyone. If you only want to make small prints to put in an album, or just store the photos digitally on your computer, then you will not need the same quality as if you want to make large prints to hang on your wall.

Provides Photographic Insight

If all the subjects in your image are of equal size, shape, or visual weight, with nothing being
clearly dominant, it becomes very difficult for your viewer to know what to focus on. In a great photograph, things that are dominant have the most visual weight. They are the most important, powerful, influential elements in your image. Things that can dominate in a great photograph
include: the subject, color, line, size, shape, or texture.

The subject is generally the object that you want the viewer to notice most. If you have a field
of bright yellow daises for example, that will catch some attention. However, if you find that on
one edge a spider has created a huge glowing web; and focus on that, then the daises only
become background. By shifting your focus to the spider first, the viewer has a place to start.
They may still think that the daises are awesome; but the spider acts as the first page in a great
novel. It gives your viewer a reason to want to explore the rest.

If you have a dominant color you subconsciously have tapped into the viewer’s emotional
reservoir. Depending on their own past experiences, different viewers will have different
reactions to different colors. Take red for example; it can be thought of as power, strength,
or passion, but . . . it can also be associated with anger, violence, or danger. The emotional
impact of a burning building with a woman leaning out the window holding a baby in her arms;
will not be the same as a father and son roasting marshmallows over a camp fire. Even though
both images may have a dominantly red or orange tone, the history of the viewer will greatly
impact the success of the image.

Dominant lines help to create depth, but more importantly they lead. Face it, lines lead. That’s
what they do. Now if you’re careful they will lead your viewer into your image; but . . . if you’re
not careful they can also lead them out of the image. They are your supporting actor or actress.
They can actually be the main subject, but most often they are satisfied with making your subject
look good. They also have a certain emotional impact. Think of the calm peaceful lake at the
base of a snowcapped mountain, that’s usually a horizontal line. On the other hand, visualize
a tall powerful redwood tree, more than likely that would look best shot as a vertical shot to
emphasize the vertical lines.

That brings up another important point. If something is suppose to dominate the frame that’s
kind of hard to do if your camera is in the wrong position. If you are shooting a predominately horizontal shot then its fine to hold your camera as normal. If you are shooting a vertical shot
however . . . please turn the camera on its edge so it is also vertical. By not doing this simple
thing, many photographers waist a lot of space and leave your photograph full of unwanted
clutter that only detracts from your main image.

By having something dominant in size, you make things more real for the viewer. If for example;
you have a picture of “The Narrows” in Zion National Park, they are very interesting in and of themselves. However . . . for someone who has never been there it is hard to comprehend these beautiful walls of red rock often 80 feet tall or higher. Now if within this shot you also have a
hiker, you now have something for the viewer to relate to. Without the hiker, no matter how
gorgeous this curvy canyon of massive red walls may be, it is impossible for someone to
comprehend how awesome it really is. It would be like describing the Grand Canyon in Arizona
as a really big hole. While technically that may be true, your idea of big and my idea of big may
be totally different.

When you practice dominance in shape you are often dealing with patterns. Remember that when
you repeat a shape one or twice it becomes more interesting; when you repeat that shape several
times it becomes a pattern. A single daisy along the side of the road might make an interesting shot. Two or three daises gives your eye something more to look at; to dance from one point to another,
but, a whole field of daises paints a whole different image! You can easily use this to show
opposition as well. While a row of small balls placed in a semi circle might be interesting; it would
be far more interesting if two thirds of the way back there was a block in the line up.

When you look to make texture as a dominant element in your photograph, you are taking your
work to a whole new level. Whether it’s the fluffiness of a newborn kitten or the glistening of a rattlesnake’s skin in the desert heat, you can almost “feel” the emotion rising within you. If you
can make some one have an emotional response to your images, you have a great shot. You may never see a photograph of a young sexy model dressed in a potato sack. Why? Because even
though the texture may be interesting, it does not compliment the subject. Texture is another one
of those supporting characters that make the difference between, “Oh, she’s pretty.” Or “Wow, is
she hot!”

Great images don’t just happen. When you constantly think about and remember the basic
elements of design, the award winning shots are much more likely to appear. If you want to be
a world class photographer, you must think like they think, you must see things like they see them.
Ralph Waldo Emerson made this observation, “A man is what he thinks about all day long.”
You have the power within you to achieve greatness. Focus that power, focus your thoughts,
and by all means focus your camera on dominance in your images.

Create Mood With Color

Let’s understand the core of a photo or a painting for that matter. Human subconsciousness readily sees things in symmetry. Therefore, a symmetrical figurine or view would register faster. Asymmetrical view (in this case a photograph) would also catch attention but with some portions drawing more attention than others.

Next comes the color and texture. Colors in your photograph can have an impact in two ways. One, through the contrast created by using colors of ‘cooler hues’ along with colors of ‘warmer hues’. Second, through the use of a color-type in dominance you could create vibrance, tranquility or royal elegance. Red, Orange and Yellow of the spectrum are warm colors. Blue, Purple and Green on the other hand are cool colors

If a photograph is created with a contrast, the warmer tones need to be occupying less space as these colors draw away attention. They have an effect of warmth & excitement, which when used in excess can also be agitating.

Red is the best choice for creating warmth & passion in your photo. Why on earth did you think that Valentine’s Day is all about red flowers, red balloons and a long flowing red dress? Red with a background in white adds drastic contrast but has an element of grace to it.

Orange gets created by mixing yellow and red. It therefore, brings in enthusiasm and warmth. Nature’s best hues are when the sun goes down and colors the sky in a confused array of pink, orange and yellow.

Yellow reflects most of the light and thus draws lots of attention; too bright a shade will leave you irritated. Prolonged exposure can also have a tiring effect. It is best used in down-tones; as background for white articles/figures.

Green is the color of tranquility and vibrance. It’s nature’s color and often gets used in pro photography for food advertising. It seems perfect when paired up with yellow. They have opposite impacts on your mood. Though it may sound like a garish combination, when used in equal proportions it has lasting impact on your photographs.

Blue produces a sense of calmness, which edges more towards sadness. Someone once said-‘I am felling blue’. Blue is also a very responsible color, very corporate and powerful, when paired with black.

Black has varied meanings in different cultures across the globe. Universally, it’s the color of choice for most formal occasions equally for men and women. It magically makes your outline look much slimmer. It takes in all the color and should be used sparingly in photos. Most welcome to be used with warm colors or when the sentiment is serious..

Use white and pink to create a softer look. White creates a sense of space and is ideal to give a deeper look to your photograph. And if you got a flared pink dress, just sit on the green rug across a white background to get clicked….you will appreciate and cherish that photo hanging on your wall for years and years to come.

Now that you are aware of what colors can do to the photographs! Now go enliven yourself with those snazzy snaps in the living room or retire in that lounge area with cool blues. Ah! and not to forget the right kind of shades too.

Need for Speed

As a leader of tours and workshops, one of the biggest problems I have encountered with participants is their taking too much time getting everything ready and missing THE shot. This is fine when doing a scenic and the subject is going nowhere, but when you’re getting ready to photograph a pair of bighorn sheep about to butt heads or an elk thrashing its antlers on a tree or shrub, you need to be ready to push the button at the opportune time.

Knowledge of Equipment: Knowing your equipment is as important as knowing and being able to anticipate the movements of your subject. Yes, everyone today owns autofocus equipment, but there are times when you switch to manual focus for whatever reason.

Ask yourself these questions: Which way do I turn the barrel of my lens to bring the subject into focus if it’s approaching me? Which way do I turn the shutter speed dial if I need to go from 1/500th of a second to 1/1000th because of a change in lighting conditions? If you don’t know these you might have missed a shot. When something special happens, such as a bighorn sheep butting heads, you need to know how to work your equipment to get the shot, especially if some clouds move in front of or away from the sun changing your exposure just before the action happens.

More important than this is knowing all of the functions of your camera body. Just because it will do everything for you, you still have to know which settings, modes, white balance and programs are right for any given situation. Getting a new camera body and then taking it on a trip to a location you’ll probably never go to again is not the time to learn how your camera works. Read the manual beforehand and make sure you know enough to feel comfortable in at least one of the modes.

A lot of shots of animals in motion can be made easier if you get on them early on. A good example of this is with birds in flight. The further away you are able to get the subject in your viewfinder, the easier it is to get the shot you want, especially when you have a large lens on your camera. Trying to find a flying bird through a large lens with it right near you is nearly impossible, because your field of view is very narrow. If you are able to focus on the bird at a distance you can follow it on its path, keep it in focus and get the shot at the location you want. Another thing to keep in mind when doing this is to follow through with your shot. Keep panning with your subject even after you have clicked your shutter release so you don’t have any unnecessary jerking of your camera causing an out of focus image. Bump up your ISO. In doing photography of birds in flight and other quick wildlife action raise the ISO to around 400. If you typically shoot at 100, this will give you two extra stops of light you wouldn’t have previously. Do this even if it’s a nice sunny day to get a very fast shutter speed to freeze the action.

While speed is important in getting a lot of shots, some that look like they require all facets of speed also rely heavily on patience. For these instances you have to stand there and wait for the anticipated action to occur and then be quick on the shutter release to get the action, like with sitting on a great blue heron or other type of bird standing in the water waiting for a meal to swim by. The shot you’re hoping to get is of your subject lunging into the water for a fish and then coming up with it.

For this you can do it one of two ways. First, you can sit there with your eye glued to your viewfinder and finger on the shutter release and wait for the action to occur or you can keep a watchful eye on the bird knowing that certain actions will happen just before it moves into action. Here is where knowledge of your subject comes into play. For hunting herons and other similar birds they will make a slight movement of their body position before plunging into the water for a meal.

Knowing this and other behavior patterns of animals helps in getting good action and behavior shots. Keep a mental notebook while working different wildlife species of seeing if they do something that prepares them to do something else.

Wildlife action shots are the ones that show behavior. It’s nice to have profiles of an animal standing there looking back at you, but when you’re able to bring some behavior into the image it makes for more interesting photographs. Head shots and profiles do make their way into print quite often, but when your are able to incorporate behavior you’re able to tell more of a story. And after all, isn’t that what photography is all about, telling a story.

To get that good behavior shot you have to be ready for it to happen, not be driving up to a location where a moose is crossing the road getting ready to enter the willows, knowing you have to change batteries or lenses. Be prepared. Be knowledgeable. And most importantly, be quick.

Andy Long is an award-winning photographer / writer who devotes his photography work to the beauty of the world around us. As a leader of workshops since 1994, Andy likes to help people explore new areas and to go home with a memorable experience as well as great images.

Taking a Photo of Artwork with a Digital Camera

The best way to get a great digital image of your painting/sculpture or artwork is to take it outside on an overcast day making sure there are no shadows on it. Fill the frame of your viewfinder of your digital camera with your painting taking care that you have lined it up square on. Don’t shoot looking up, down or at an angle because the photograph will not end up square. Have your camera set on the highest resolution possible.

Delete photos that don’t turn out and keep on taking photos of the painting/artwork until you get one you are happy with. You will need to copy the files from your digital camera onto your computer. Refer to your Digital Cameras manual if you are having problems.

Have a go and experiment with the editing your photos with the software that comes with your digital camera or with your PC. Images can be cropped and color adjusted if necessary. If you are not satisfied learn more about software such as Adobe Photoshop to edit your digital files, borrow books from the library, get on the internet or enroll into community courses.

Make sure you save the image in the correct format and size – read the conditions for the art competition you are entering. Most organisers will accept the format “Jpeg” or “Tiff” and will often have a labeling convention that needs to be followed with your name and the title of your artwork. When you burn the image on the CD include any notes or additional information in a word document at the same time. Label the CD clearly with your name, title of work and address and phone number. If you want to you could print a customized label for your CD and include the image you are entering in the art competition.

Allow plenty of time to organize yourself so that you have your photo of your entry ready to go well before the closing date of the art competition. If you leave it to the day before guaranteed this will be when you run into computer problems, loose power, or have unexpected visitors!

Photo Printing Origins

History of Photographs:

  • The word “photography” actually originates from the Greek phrase “drawing with light.”
  • Modern photography has roots in the early 1800’s, when chemical printing first began.
  • The earliest image exposures took 8-hours. No one-hour express printing at the local drugstore back then!
  • A man named John Herschel was the first one to use the terms “photography, positive, and negatives.” He also made the first negative out of glass in 1839.
  • George Eastman invented film in 1884, which replaced photographic plates and began the earliest stage of modern photography.

Modern Photo Facts:

  • All photos were monochrome in the beginning, another word for black and white.
  • Color photographs were emerging in the mid-1800’s.
  • A physicist named James Clerk Maxwell took the first color photograph in 1861.
  • The Lumière brothers invented the first color plate, Autochrome, in 1907.
  • Throughout the 1900’s, photo technology continued to advance.
  • Digital photos began when professionals such as photo journalists found they had to carry portable photo-developing labs with them on the job.
  • Sony created the first non-film camera in 1981: The Sony Mavica.
  • The first camera that took digital photos was released in 1990, the Kodak DCS 100.
  • Digital photos are taken when an image sensor records a photograph, instead of through a chemical-changing process.

Today, digital cameras are a hot trend and many own at least one. Photographers and your average Joe alike have turned to online digital photo printing, where they can easily transfer images into online digital photos in mere seconds. This can alleviate film-developing issues and early exposures. We’ve all had the bad experience with popping our cameras open too soon and exposing all our hard-taken photos to sunlight, essentially ruining them.

This exact experience has led many to make the transition into digital photographs. 6StarReviews.com mentions a digital photo processing service called Snapfish in their photo printing reviews. Snapfish offers photo-fans the option of printing out their digital images at local grocery and drugstores.

Closeup Digital Nature

There are many potential subjects for this type of photography in nature. Taking the time to find the right subject will not only produce great artistic photos, it just might also change the way you look at the world around you. The imagery resulting from closeup nature photography is a pictorial expression of the age old phrase “stop and smell the roses”.

Perhaps the most enjoyable part of closeup digital nature photography is finding interesting subjects. Insects are popular subjects among photographers, as are flowers. While these often result in good photos, there are so many more elements of nature that could be photographed.

Take a walk outside and slow down and look around. You’re bound to notice things that have always been there that you’ve never seen before.

The most important piece of equipment for closeup photography is the lens. There are specialty lenses available on the market and several alternative techniques for achieving high quality closeup digital photos. Do your research before you go out and buy an expensive lens. Here is a page that goes into more detail on your digital cameras lens [http://www.mydigitalphotoclasses.com/digital-cameras-lens.html]

Photograph the accordion like underside of the mushrooms growing in your front lawn or the texture of a leaf hanging on the tree in the yard. The grain on the cut end of a wooden fence also begs to have a closeup taken of it. Take time to “stop and smell the roses” and you’ll begin to see the world of nature as a bountiful opportunity for closeup digital photography.

Aside from purchasing a specialty lens, reversing your lens, use of extension tubes, and use of a bellows attachment are all viable options.

Any camera is capable of taking closeup pictures to varying degrees of quality. However, to take good closeup nature pictures with your digital camera, you need to understand the equipment you are working with. Check your camera’s owners manual for specific settings that will optimize your results.

Emotions Inside

Advertising is a 200 Billion Dollar a year business . . . and most of it relies on photographs that
have emotional impact.

So the obvious question is; what is it that transforms a two-dimensional, piece of paper into a three-dimensional image that yanks at our heartstrings? Emotional intimacy is what touches people
and more often than not causes them to take action. Look at it this way, the worse thing a parent
can do to a child is NOT to let that child know they are loved. Like wise: a photograph that does
not evoke emotions or feelings in the viewer, has robbed the viewer. Your job as is not just to
“document” or “point and shoot”. Your job is to touch the hearts of those who have not experienced
what you have. Remember: what comes from the heart goes to the heart.

You have to realize that all art seeks to express emotion, and you as a photographer are also an
artist. No offense to craftsmen around the world, but they have a pattern, the results are always
known. If you connect “A” to “B” to “C” you have a clock (for example); you always have a clock,
there is no doubt in your mind that you are making a clock. The Artist on the other hand; may start
out looking for joy, but may end up with something that reminds us of sorrow or pain. Obviously,
not ever viewer will have the same emotions that you had when taking the photograph, but as long
as they feel something . . . that’s OK.

Color is often overlooked; or not talked about in great detail in the world of photography. Have you
ever noticed someone walking down the street with clothes that were loud and out of place? It almost gives you a headache just thinking about it. But why is that? Different colors invoke different emotions. Some are positive; some are negative depending on the viewer’ perspective.

Here are some Colors and their perceived emotional values:

  • Red as Positive means: Sense of power, strength, action, passion, sexuality.
  • Red as Negative means: Anger, impatience, violence, forcefulness, and revenge.
  • Yellow as Positive means: Caution, brightness, intelligence, joy.
  • Yellow as Negative means:Criticism, laziness, or cynical.
  • Blue as Positive means: Tranquility, peace, love, comfort, harmony.
  • Blue as Negative means: Fear, coldness, depression.
  • Orange as Positive means: Courage, confidence, warmth, energy
  • Orange as Negative means: Ignorance, inferiority, slowness.
  • Purple as Positive means: Royalty, sophistication, religious.
  • Purple as Negative means: Bruised, beaten, foreboding.
  • Green as Positive means: Money, health, nature, growth and soothing.
  • Green as Negative means: Envy, greed, guilt, and jealousy.
  • Black as Positive means: Dramatic, classy, committed, serious.
  • Black as Negative means: Evil, darkness, death, and coldness.
  • White as Positive means: Pure, fresh, goodness, heavenly.
  • White as Negative means: Blind, cold, bitter, and distant.

If you want to understand emotion in photography, you need to understand color as an emotion. If
you’re ready to take your work to the next level, try shooting 40 shots of each of the colors listed
above. The subject matter does not matter, but you must shoot half those shots as positive and half
as negative. Trying to create emotion in photography, often means getting inside your viewers head. Different people have different life experiences, thus they view the world differently. If you want your work to reach as many people as possible, you have to be able to view things from as many different perspectives as possible. Take the challenge to see if you really understand color. Once you do, your world of photography will never be the same.

Opportunities of Digital Photography

When shopping for a digital camera a good idea is to keep in mind what the camera will be used for and what level of skill or experience the photographer has. There are very advanced digital cameras on the market that literally have hundreds of different adjustments and settings, accessories and add-on features. Most hobbyists do not need this level of technology and refinement to create beautiful images using digital photography. Generally a good basic digital camera will have:

  • Adjustable resolution – this determines the overall quality of the picture when photographs are increased in size. The higher the resolution rating, the larger the photograph can be made without sacrificing picture quality.
  • Glass lens – a glass lens will give a clearer image than a plastic lens. It does require some additional care to avoid scratching but is worth the added cost over the long run unless you are planning to replace your camera frequently.
  • Various modes – most digital cameras will have a close up mode and a distant or landscape mode. This is a great feature and will automatically keep pictures clear when used in the correct setting.
  • Manual exposure feature – if you want to work on lighting and creating new and unique pictures, consider choosing a digital camera with a manual exposure feature.

In addition to the features offered by the digital camera, there is also the consideration with regards to cost. There are many very basic digital cameras available on the market that work very well, however there are just as many low-cost digital cameras that simply don’t. Be sure to complete some online research, read product reviews, as well as talk to friends and others interested in digital photography to get an idea of the brands and models that they prefer. On the other hand, some of the very expensive cameras are often complicated to use and can make learning digital photography more challenging than it needs to be.

Vintage Photo Albums

One day I found an old photograph at a local flea market from around 1900 of a train wreck. It was so cool seeing all the men wearing bolo hats and looking on at the pile of twisted metal that I just had to have it. Little did I know that that one image would get me started on a collection of photographs that has since blossomed to include; Photo Albums, Daguerreotypes, Ambrotypes, Tintypes, Negatives, 35mm Slides, Stereoviews, and a whole host of photographic mediums.

Back to the photo album of the trip to India. I was not so hot on photo albums back when I first started collecting photos but my whole perception changed when I opened that photo album. The very first image was of 2 men and 2 women at an opulent 1930s bar with the bar tender standing on. The men and women were all decked out in 1930s attire, the women in gorgeous gowns and the men in tuxedos. They were all turned towards and toasting the camera with martinis in hand, and the caption read “The night before our trip to India 1938”. The image reminded me of The Shining when Jack Nicholson was in the barroom full of ghosts how cool is that?

I discovered page after page of interesting photos, and I discovered that the album was telling a great story. The second page started the trip with a cool image from the deck of the steamship. The photographer was looking down at a dock full of people wishing a happy Bo voyage. As the album progressed there were some more images of New Jersey from the ship as it steamed towards India, and other images of the deck of the ship, but that’s not the interesting part of this story, I’ll get to that shortly.

Those people visited many areas in and around India but when they got to Bombay with old two wheeled carts being pulled by the native population, a snake charmer, a Swami, the hotel where they were staying, and all kinds of other people and places, things started to really get interesting. As I turned the pages I could see that the album layout was well thought out and was telling a story.

As I carefully turned the pages, I turned to a page with one of the women all decked out in a Pith helmet, Safari pants and shirt, and holding a big gun. I stopped in my tracks and had to take a second look. She was standing over a rather large dead tiger, and with one foot resting on it in triumphant victory! There were native Indians and elephants moving around in the background and the whole image had an air of excitement. Now I don’t condone the killing of animals just for the pleasure of doing it, but that image conjured images of Teddy Roosevelt charging off on some great Safari of his own, and represented the values of another far off time.