Many beginning photographers have the ambition to improve their photography skills. At the same time there are too many opportunities: photography books, photography blogs, courses by photographers in their neighborhood, courses by or even trips with famous photographers, tutorials on youtube, websites etc.
Personally, I started with books recommended by Ken Rockwell on his website. I had to start somewhere. It actually turned out to be a good choice. I started with a book of Brenda Tharpe (Creative Nature & Outdoor Photography). By now I have read almost all books on his website. I have learned quite a lot, and also spent quite a few euros. To be honest, for me it was worth the money, however, not everybody has the means to do so.
Craft&Vision is a good alternative. It is a photographic education company initiated by David duChemin and his team of more than 20 famous photographers. Their manifesto is: “for the joy of creation and the love of the photograph”. They started with high quality, concise $5 eBooks. Easy to read on an iPad. By now, I collected quite a few of them. Just like I said, all of them are written by famous photographers, they cover a wide variety of topics, they are to-the-point, and they are cheap.
Nowadays, they have more products than just eBooks. They also have magazines and videos. I enjoyed listening to The Created Image Video, describing a journey of craftsmanship by David duChemin. Every time he mentions things that makes you aware there is still room of improvement in the way you take pictures.
I hope you will enjoy Craft&Vision as much as I do. On top you see a recently sold picture of Versailles. By reading a lot, I got more creative in composition and at the same time improved the technical quality of my pictures. Here you can see my pictures accepted by Dreamstime.
Henri Cartier-Bresson is a famous French street photographer and photojournalist. After recovering from black water fever he gave up painting and took up photography.
He used a small Leica camera with a 50mm lens which he covered with black tape to make it nearly invisible. He enjoyed submerging in a crowd and at the same time being ready to take a shot without being noticed by the people being photographed. He mainly took black and white pictures, and, surprise, surprise, he took no interest at all in printing his own pictures.
About his style he once said: “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.” (The Decisive Moment). He was continuously looking for the combination of a visual and dramatic highlight (see picture on top).
He traveled all over the world and participated in many historically important events where he took memorable pictures. For example, he took pictures of Mahatma Gandhi on his deathbed, after being shot during a protest against violence between Hindus and Muslims.
Although The Decisive Moment suggests that he always immediately took the right picture. This is not true. Henri Cartier-Bresson took a lot of pictures before capturing the highlights he had in mind.
Besides reading The Decisive Moment, I also enjoyed the two blogs of Eric Kim about Henri Cartier-Brenson:
Medieval baker. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Although I am a teacher at the university and a fan of apprenticeship I never enrolled for a course on photography. Maybe, when I am retired, I should do so. Until now I learned all I know about photography by reading books and practicing.
In the beginning it is not easy to find the right books. There are too many mediocre books. So, after appreciating the website of Ken Rockwell for selecting my camera and lenses, I had a look at the books he recommended. Until now I read quite a few of them. Almost all of them had a major impact on my way of taking pictures.
A few years ago I discovered Craft&Vision of David duChemin and his colleague photographers. They started with making very cheap e-books on specific topics. Nowadays, they sell e-magazines and videos of courses as well. Everything is in digital form. The quality is good, it gives a good insight in the way professional photographers think, and the advice is very practical. By now I have quite a lot of their material.
In the digital world the concept apprenticeship gets a different meaning. All the information you need is available on the internet, quite often for free (for example on YouTube), and there are many websites where you can get feedback on the pictures you took. Important to realize is that it is up to you to do something with it. In photography there is no way to learn something without practicing.
In the beginning I used the built-in flash of my camera. Although I realized that the pictures I took had little to do with what I saw, I did not know what to do. Then I bought a separate flash for the hot shoe on the camera. The reason was that this one was more powerful and I could use the ceiling or a wall to get indirect light. Although this was an improvement, it was still not what I had in mind.
The Hot Shoe Diaries and Sketching Light of Joe McNally made me aware of the wide variety of possibilities of using one or more flashes and getting better pictures. He is a very enthusiastic author and makes using several flashes to get better lighting easy. This book has been very influential for me.
The first step is to take the flash off the camera and put it either on the right or left of you. This will create some shadows and gives a better feeling of three dimensions. This is quite an improvement compared to the built-in flash that hits the subject right in front leaving only cast shadows. Cast shadows, by the way, can be avoided in several ways: use several flashes, place the subject far away from the background, make the flash bigger by using a softbox.
|Small flash – hard light||Big light – soft light|
The second step is to understand how the camera via the built-in flash (master) communicates with the off-shoe flash (slave) without flashing itself. You probably have to read your manuals. The idea is that the built-in flash communicates with the other flash just before the curtain opens. If you know how to do this it is quite easy to start using several flashes (left, right, rear, or top) with different flash power. This is real fun!
The third step is choosing the right Aperture and Shutter Speed. Actually, the Shutter Speed has no influence on the light coming from the flash. The duration of the flash is much shorter than the opening of the curtain. With some cameras you can go all the way down to 1/250 sec. On the other hand, if you leave the curtain open a bit longer, like 1/30 sec, then you will also catch some ambient light. It is important to remember that independent of the shutter speed the flash light freezes motion. The Aperture determines how much light we let through to the sensor. In TTL-mode (automatic mode), however, widening the Aperture does not give a brighter picture, only the flash requires less power; in M-mode (manual mode) it would make the picture brighter. In both cases the power balance between the various flashes is important, because it determines how much light each side of the subject gets.
The final step is to experiment:
- where to position the flashes;
- the power balance between the flashes;
- use TTL- or M-mode of the flash;
- what type of softbox gives the right light;
- what type of background gives the right atmosphere
Enjoy, you will learn a lot from it!
The Shutter Speed simply determines how long the sensor is exposed to light. Common is to use shutter speeds faster than or equal to 1/60 sec to make sure that slight movements of subjects and maybe also of the camera are more or less frozen. In general this works fine. However,
- if the lens becomes too long it is best to take a shutter speed 1/x sec, where x is the length of the lens;
- if due to low lightening the shutter speed becomes too long (less than 1/30 sec) it is best to increase the ISO;
- if the subject moves fast and is close by don’t underestimate the required shutter speed to freeze the subject;
- when using flash it is possible to use a slower shutter speed (for example 1/30 sec) to catch some of the ambient light without blurring the subject.
However, freezing the subject might not be the goal. There are many examples where slower shutter speeds better grasp what we experience: lights of moving cars in the dark, waves of the ocean, waterfalls etc. There is an almost unlimited number of possibilities to use slow shutter speed. Crafts and Vision has a nice eBook about this, called Slow by Andrew Gibson. In this case it is a good idea to use a tripod to avoid movements of the camera. Have fun with experimenting with slow shutter speeds.
(Aperture f/5.6, Shutter Speed 1/125 sec, ISO 200)
By now I have read quite a few books on photography. One of the first was Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson. It explains in very simple words the Photographic Triangle: Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO.
Before understanding this triangle I would leave my camera on Automatic. I stayed far away from Manual. My idea was that it was too complicated for me and the camera was smart enough to take good pictures. I never realized that the camera does not know what kind of picture I want to take. In Automatic mode the camera selects one correct exposure out of a whole set of correct exposures with completely different emotions.
The Aperture determines the size of opening of the lens, the Shutter Speed determines the duration of the opening, and ISO the sensitivity of the sensor. All three control the amount of light that is sensed by the sensor.
For Aperture each step in the sequence f/22 – f/11 – f/8 – f/5.6 – f/4 means doubling the amount of light. For Shutter Speed 1/500 sec – 1/250 sec – 1/125 sec – 1/60 sec – 1/30 sec also means doubling the amount of light per step. And, for ISO 200 – 400 – 800 – 1600 – 3200 each step means doubling the sensitivity of the sensor.
So, a triple (Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO) represents the lighting of an exposure. If, for example, (f/5.6, 1/250, 100) is a correct exposure then (f/8, 1/125, 100) is a correct exposure as well: the Aperture is halved and the Shutter Speed is doubled, giving the same exposure; the same is true for (f/8, 1/250, 200): the Aperture is halved and the ISO is doubled.
For every triple there are an arbitrary large number of triples with the same exposure. Of course, there are limitation, for example, the widest Aperture of a lens or the lowest ISO of a camera.
So, take control of your camera and start using the Manual mode, and decide yourself what type of picture you want to take: highlight the subject by a wide Aperture or visible movements by a slow shutter speed. The same exposure, different emotions. In upcoming posts I will elaborate on these choices.
Update: I am a great fan of Sean Tucker. Here a YouTube video of him explaining the exposure triangle.