Composition makes you or breaks you as a photographer. It is personal. You will have your own style and I will have mine. They are both valid and we will each develop a following of those who appreciate what we have to offer. So…I do not want to get in the way of your creativity and will only offer just a few ideas for your consideration…
-Get the horizon straight…preferably in the shot, but if not, straighten it when you edit the photo.
-Leave it in or leave it out. CJ taught me early on to either include a full element or leave it out entirely. Example..don’t just show a few leaves from a branch on the side of the photo. Either include the full tree…or at least the full limb…but do not just allow a small part of that tree into the edge of the photo. It is kind of like putting a quarter of a human being on the far right of your photo…you would not want to do that and it is the same for a building/tree/car or you name it. Leave it in or leave it out. Number one example…if you are taking a photo of a person…make sure their head AND feet are in the photo…so many feet get cut off.
-Don’t crowd the edges of the photo. Example…don’t have a persons feet standing on the exact bottom of the photo…give them a bit of room. Also helps you when you edit the photo…always nice to have a bit of room if you need to straighten it or crop it for some reason. I am all about giving yourself options…and a subject crowded directly to the edge, top or bottom of a photo reduces your options to near zero.
-Decide what part of the photo you want the viewer to focus on…what part will pull them into the photo. Compose your shot to put that part exactly where you want it…usually a third of the way across the photo or so. When you have time, look up Thirds on photos and see what it has to say. Thirds are important.
-Detail sells. Really broad photos of something like the Grand Canyon sound like a good idea. However, it is a closer view of a cliff within that canyon, covered in snow and lit by the morning sun that ends up flying off the gallery wall. Shoot for detail.
Enough…develop your own eye and your own style and try not to copy anyone. This is the area where you go from photographer to artist. Become the artist.
The photo attached illustrates the composition point. Taken by Linda in Tanzania, this single hippo was in a large pond surrounded by hundreds of hippos. She had choices, show the whole scene, show part of the scene or look for one thing that might be interesting in it’s detail. Over the course of the time we were there, she did all three types of shots, but ended up with this one that always makes us smile…close up of a happy hippo.
Just a couple of reminders that I will try to remind of time and time again…
-Take a fully charged back up battery and back up memory card with you always. The number one thing I hear on safari or remote trips is…”Don, did you happen to bring a charger along for my ten year old Nikon…I left mine at home and my battery is dead.” 100% of the time, my answer is “No.”
-Back up you best images in several places…including the unprocessed RAW file, the TIF file of your edit and the jpeg file you will use to print your image…plus a downsized watermarked file of the image for social media or your computer catalog. When I say “several places” I mean…I keep a file of those best images on my computer, on my laptop, on an outside hard drive, CJ has a copy of them at his home and/or at the gallery, we keep a copy in one or two cloud services and I periodically put my best ones on a thumb drive or hard drive and send it to my daughter for safe keeping in California. I might lose one or two of those…it would take a world calamity for me to lose them all…in which case I will have my hands full with other problems…like staying alive.
-Check the images you are shooting that day by reviewing them in the view finder or back of the camera…increase the size of them so you can see detail…and make sure they are the images you want BEFORE you leave the scene and go home. Hard to replace that great shot you took in China once you are back home in Kona and realize that great shot was kind of out of focus.
-Organize your RAW files and processed files so you can find them easily when you need them.
-Plan for failure. If I am traveling all the way to Africa…I can not take a chance that my camera body breaks or gets stolen. So…I travel with two of them…and so does my wife. Not perfect back up, but pretty darn good. And, we never check those camera bodies on an airplane…we hand carry them on…never let them out of our sight.
-Back up your images on the road. If you are in China and you have filled a memory card with great shots, feel free to keep those great shots on that memory card until you get home and put them in your computer…just use a second or third or whatever card for more photos. BUT…I copy those files onto some kind of a storage media that night…so I have them in two places in case something gets stolen or damaged or lost. If a couple of the images look epic…I back them up on a thumb drive and any other way I can think of to make sure I get home with them in duplicate or more…better safe than sorry.
-Insurance…have some. Cameras and lenses get lost, stolen or broken. If they are old and cheap…no problem. If they are new and expensive…buy the insurance they offered you. No sicker feeling than watching your brand new $4000 camera body and brand new $2500 lens drop over the side of the boat and head toward the two mile deep floor of the ocean. Poop happens…plan for it.
-A repeat because it is so important…check the images you are taking…check them while you are still on location…check them often…check them blown up so you can see the detail. I call it…look in the back of your camera.
-And I will close with a strategy for safety…Let’s say you get in a pressure filled situation where you have a great chance to get a unique photo….like the lava is dripping over a cliff into the sea. Maybe you only have a few moments to get that shot before the scene changes…the helicopter flies off or the boat moves. Don’t panic. DON’T SHOOT IT IN AUTO. What I do is to take as many shots as I can…changing one setting each shot…one at 1/1000th of a second, the next at 1/500th, the next at 1/250th, the next at a different ISO or I change the aperture. I try to bracket it manually…one exposure that I think is right on and then one or two over exposing it and one or two under exposing it…so I have a variety of shots to edit to get one JUST RIGHT. I am not smart enough to always get the settings perfect under pressure…so I CONTROL THE CAMERA to get a variety of shots…looking for that one perfect shot. I often take 50 shots of the same scene…all with different settings or slightly different compositions…trying to nail that award winning shot. No one but you will see the crappy shots you take…but the whole world might see your winner.
Have a plan to avoid photo disaster…I promise you that you will one day need to rely on it to save the day. Aloha.
Canon uses the term CR2 for its’ RAW files, Sony uses ARW and Nikon uses NEF…all pretty much the same thing. This is the most robust, data rich file format for a captured image. It is essential to take your photos in the RAW format, to safely save your best RAW images and back them up in several places. As long as you have the RAW image, you can always start over and process the image to it’s full potential. Save the RAW files…keep them well organized, backed up and safe.
When we are done with editing a photo we plan to use in the gallery, we Export it from Lightroom as a TIF file so we can go back and edit it further without having to start over, a jpeg as we use that full jpeg to send to the processing lab to print the print and as a downsized quite small image for Instagram and emailing and the like. That downsized one has our signature or watermark on it and is small enough that it will not print great if someone decides to steal the image from us…which happens often. I will tell you how to get your own signature/custom made watermark onto your downsized photos in a future article.
By the way, once I have a finalized image that I love, I go back into Photo on my Mac and create an album for it in the My Albums area of Photo…and drag that downsized photo into that album. The albums I have might say…turtles, whales, sharks, crocs, Africa, people, landscape, lava cliff, lava field and on and on…I have about 30 of them. Every now and again I synch my phone and iPad through iTunes on my Mac and that is how I keep my good shots well organized and able to show quickly to a potential customer in the gallery. There are a dozen other ways to do that…that just happens to be the way I like to do it.
RAW files…got to have them…got to love them…got to keep them safe. They are your treasure if you are to become an expert photographer. Without them, we can’t help you very much…you are limited by the jpegs or other lesser files that have already thrown away a bunch of data you will wish you had at some point down the road. Aloha.
Lots of ways to do this but I am only going to mention two you might want to start with…
I use a Mac. It has a program called Photo. I put my camera memory card in a card reader that is plugged in to the computer. I then open Photo and go to the Import dropdown in Photo. I preview all the images and select the few that I actually want to import…then import them only. The rest I might save in an attached outside hard drive…but I do not want to clog up my Mac with a bunch of images. In fact, once I have further evaluated the ones I import into Photo, I delete the ones I end up not using and then go in and periodically delete the Recently Deleted folder. I try to keep my Mac more than 50% empty to keep my processing speeds up.
From there, I select the few I want to edit in Photoshop. I have a folder on my desktop that is titled ToLRFeb2020 or whatever, and I export them to that folder. From that folder, I then Import them into Lightroom.
You can put your whole card worth of photos on your desktop and import them directly to Lightroom from there. I find it harder to sort images that way, but others are very use to it and use it exclusively.
Either way…the ones you want to keep…get them into a file to import to Lightroom and then save all the other RAW files to a well identified folder in an outside hard drive…off of your working computer.
That is it. Aloha.
We like to shoot with center focus. You may wish to expand it a bit. However, don’t just let your camera choose a focus over a large number of points as you will end up with an average focus vs a spectacularly clear focus. You want it sharp as can be.
We also use the continuous or Servo focus setting. This will focus on a subject, like a flying bird, and hold the focus on that subject as it moves across the scene. Try it…you will like it.
Some things you just have to focus manually. Night shots come to mind. We like to light up something maybe ten feet away and get that in focus, knowing that everything behind that is likely to be in focus on a long exposure. We might light up that element…perhaps a tree…auto focus on it to get it just right and then pull the focus switch into Manual to lock in that focus until we change the framing.
Many of the fancy cameras have something called Peaking color. Try that setting if you have it in your camera. When you then focus in Manual, it will highlight the part of the image that will be in focus…highlighting it in red or white or some other contrasting color. I completely love that feature…my old eyes might otherwise be just a bit off…and the Peaking color never lies.
Two important things on focus…
When photographing people, land animals, birds or even large fish…if you do not have the eyes in perfect focus you really don’t have much of a shot. Nail the eye focus. Some cameras have a setting to help you with that on both humans and animals…worth trying.
Second, I have had nights of shooting ruined because I did not look frequently nor carefully enough at the images I was getting. Learn to look frequently at the images you are getting in the view finder or back of the camera…blow them up as you review them to make sure they are in great focus…and repeat. Nothing worse than coming home from an all night shoot with a card full of images you think are great…only to find out they are all “soft focus”…close enough they look ok in the back of the camera after a quick glimpse…but not sharp on final inspection.
Those who say “I like my focus off just a bit” need to get into abstract painting. It is ok to blur the parts of the photo you want to blur…but if you have a main subject in the photo…for goodness sake…get that sucker in focus.
The third part of taking control is the ISO part. In the old days you could buy film at ASA or ISO sensitivities of 64, 100, 200, 400, 800 and the like. 100 was the standard film. 800 was for low light photography. The difference was how much light the film gathered given the exposure of the same amount of light. In other words, shoot a shot at 1/100th of a second at an aperture of f/2.8 with film having an ISO rating of 100 and you might get a fairly dark image captured at sunset. Take that exact same shot on ISO 800 film and the image captured would be much brighter. The ISO film was much more sensitive to light…and captured more of it…than the ISO 100 film.
Todays digital cameras work the same way. Although they all have a huge range of ISO settings to choose from, we generally use ISO 100 to 400 for most photos. We use ISO settings of up to 2500 for long exposure Milky Way shots…but do our best to shoot lower than ISO 2500. I will get into why in a moment.
So…you know how to control the time or T….you know how to control the aperture or A…and the third control is ISO and now you know how to control it…just pick an ISO of from 100 to 400 for most shots other than Milky Way type shots. Yes, yes there are ways to let the camera choose ISO within a range you set…but forget that for the next couple of years. Learn how the different ISO settings effect your images.
By the way…shooting in Manual or M is nothing more than you manually selecting the T, the A and the ISO setting yourself rather than letting the camera figure out any of those settings. So when the time comes to start shooting in Manual…and I hope that is soon…that is all there is to it. You try different combinations until you find the combination that works for the situation you are in…and then you will be getting the absolute best shots your camera can produce.
ISO effects how your photo looks. If a photo looks grainy, the ISO was probably fairly high…like 800 or above. We call that grain…noise. You can deal with it with software, but learn to deal with it in your camera. Shoot 100 ISO when you can and slowly creep up. Suspect your photos will look pretty horrible once you get to 800 and above. The bigger you try to blow up a photo for your walls at home or to sell…the more that grain and noise will show up. Lower is mo betta, as we say in Hawaii.
Try this…go out at sunset and set your camera at 1/250th of a second and your aperture at f/16 and do this in that M or Manual setting. Take a photo…if it is too bright by a lot or two dark, adjust the speed up or down to get a decent shot…then leave it right there for your next ten shots. Next, do that same shot at ISO 100, the 200, then 400, then 800, then 1600. By now it may be too bright…probably is so slow the shutter speed down until you are getting a normal exposure again…then continue to shoot at ISO, 2500, 3200, 5000 and higher. Put those images into your computer later and look at them carefully…especially in the sky. You will see the grainy/noisy effect that higher ISO causes. Good to know.
That is really about all there is to it…learn to control the speed, the amount of light gathered by the lens or aperture and the sensitivity of the sensor or ISO…it is the combination of those three that create your image. You are really ready to shoot in Manual at this point…but master either T or A before you go full manual. I still shoot in T a lot…because I shoot birds in flight and moving waves across changing backgrounds. Good luck.
I am going to take a break now, but the next article will be on setting focus. Aloha.
Aperture is the second way you control the light coming into the camera. It is how much light you let in through your lens. The size of the opening on your lens is shown in f/stops…like f/2.8 or f/22. F/2.8 creates a really big opening in the iris of your lens…lets in a lot of light. f/22 creates a really small opening in your lens and lets in a very small amount of light.
Remember…it is the combination of how much light you are letting in….for how long…and how sensitive the sensor or film is to that light…that all add up to the image you capture. Too little of any of those components and you are under-exposed and the image is too dark to use….too much of any of them and the image is over exposed…too bright to be used.
Aperture is also a key component to depth of field (DOF) that we will get to in another article. It basically means how much of the photo is in sharp focus…anywhere from just a tiny spot with everything else blurred…like the shot of the eye of spider taken by a specialty macro lens….or a shot of the Grand Canyon where everything from three feet in front of the camera to the horizon is all in focus. That is depth of field. As a general rule…the higher the aperture…like f/16, f/18 or f/22…the more of the photo will be in focus. That is enough on DOF for now.
There is an old saying…F/8 and wait. That basically means that f/8 is a pretty good middle ground for most photos. So, set your ISO at anywhere from 100 to 400. Set the little dial on the top of your camera to A for Aperture and then set the aperture setting to f/8. Now go outside in the daylight and take a few photos. The camera will be choosing the speed of those photos for you…so try landscape shots and portraits rather than swooping birds or race cars. Congratulations…you have controlled quite a bit and you should get some nice shots…and again, you are really just one step away from shooting in full Manual…your eventual goal.
You now know how to control for speed and for how much light you are gathering…one more control in the next article. Aloha.
Sounds complex and is if I were to try to give you a technical explanation…but this will be the simple explanation.
The fancy camera makes an image based on how much light it gathers, for how long it gathers that light and based on how sensitive the film or sensor is to that light (That is called ISO).
So…most cameras have a setting on the little top dial that says T or S…for Time or Speed. Same thing. You can tell your camera to let light into the camera for as long as you want…from just 1/8000th of a second (if perhaps you are shooting in absolute bright sunlight) all the way down to hours of exposure using the B for Bulb setting on the camera which allows you to keep the lens and camera gathering light until you manually stop it from gathering light (for perhaps an ultra long exposure of the deep sky to gather enough light to reveal something like the rings of Saturn). If you shoot anything slower than 1/80th of a second, you must use a tripod or you will get a shaky image. Many people will tell you that you can shoot at 1/60th of second hand held, but 1/80th is safer. In fact, CJ, Linda and I use tripods for the majority of our shots no matter the speed…steadier platform for shooting and more comfortable for the photographer.
If you want to get a stop action shot of a flying bird…you need to be shooting at 1/1000th of a second or faster…which means you probably need a lot of sunlight. If you are shooting any kind of action…like sports action or a moving car or running animal…, try for 1/1000th or faster.
A landscape or portrait during daytime…1/500th might be a good setting, but you can go all the way down to 1/80th of a second without a tripod.
A sunset or sunrise photo of water moving…to capture enough light for the sky and foreground and to make the water look like it has some movement…about one third of a second with your camera on a tripod.
The Milky Way at night…ten to 30 seconds on a tripod. Anything more than 30 seconds and the stars will start to have trails and not be pin points. Shoot for ten minutes in the that B or Bulb setting and you will start to have some interesting looking star trails.
So…the first lesson of controlling something is to control it with speed or time. Set your ISO at 100 or no higher than 400. Turn the little dial on the top of your camera to T or S and then follow those basic guidelines above to get your shot. You will have controlled the speed of the shot and the ISO the camera will use…and the camera will choose the right aperture or opening of the lens to make all that work. That is taking control…and almost as good as shooting in M or Manual…but we will get to that eventually. Aloha.
High end professional cameras are all about options and control. The camera gives you options and you take control. Over time, the choices you learn to make translate into your award winning photos.
CJ teaches everyone this one basic lesson…Always Control Something. That means never ever ever ever shooting your expensive camera in Auto. Here is how I learned that lesson…
CJ and Nick took me out on the active lava field in the middle of the night for a photo shoot. I was new to high end photography…brand new. I had no idea what I was doing. They had given me the basics but the pressure of the situation was such that I waited until they turned their backs and I turned the camera on to the Auto setting…because I really could not figure it all out on my own. Guess what…I got a really nice shot…nice enough that they got very excited about it when I showed it to them in the back of the camera. To hell with learning the camera…this Auto setting rocks. Hey…it was a double cheat, because they insisted that I use a tripod and I fooled them on that as well…shot it hand held…because I have such a steady hand.
Fast forward to later that same day. CJ called me and asked me to send him that shot…he wanted to print it for the gallery even though I really was not part of the gallery at that point…a major break through for me. By then I had edited it on my computer. I could not understand why it did not look like the image did on that one inch screen on the back of my camera. It was so grainy that it almost looked like an abstract painting…and not a very good abstract painting. What the heck happened? I checked the speed that Auto chose…looked pretty good at 1/40th of a second (actually way too slow for exploding lava while shooting hand held, but I did not know that then), the lens was wide open at f/2.8 and that made sense to me (but I did not realize that would put only a small part of the image in clear focus)…so what could be wrong? I eventually found the ISO setting that Auto had chosen. I asked CJ if ISO 25,600 was a good choice on my old Canon 20D camera. Yeah…turns out that is not a good setting for ISO…not even remotely a good setting. It left the already blurry image filled with sensor noise and grainy as heck. Lesson learned. When CJ learned the facts he told me that he could not print that image any bigger than 3 inches by 2 inches and that there was very little call for that size in their gallery…so much for my false start as a professional photographer.
In the next article I will give you some basics on what you can control with your terrific new camera and why you want to want to take control of something…or everything. Aloha.
And…ps…when I get a chance I will try to find that image I took way back when at 25,600 ISO to show you what a hot mess looks like…may get to that later today and will update this blog if I find it.