Beginners’ Workshop

Thanks to everyone who attended the beginners’ workshop today, the following are the notes that I’d made in advance with all of the basics required to get you started.

The links to the resources I used can be found at the end of the notes. Any feedback at all about the talk would be much appreciated and if you’ve any further questions please post them in the comments (or email me directly at jk478).

Introduction to photography session – 02/11/2011

This is the first workshop of the year and is for absolute beginners – my apologies if a lot of the material seems basic to those of you who have any experience with photography. The aim of it is to get anyone who has never even seen a camera before up to speed so that they can go away and experiment before we have any more sessions. Most of my experience is with analog photography. This talk will be coming from the point of view of a film SLR user. I’ll ramble on for about 20 minutes when I’ll then open the session up to questions and discussion.

Feel free to ask any questions throughout, don’t worry at all about asking too basic questions. In fact the simpler the better. At the risk of sounding like a lecturer I’ll be putting a lot of this material up on the website afterwards including links as to where to go next for more information.

The talk will be split into two parts: Exposure and Composure, with far more focus on the former.

Exposure

The technicalities of capturing light on a sensor or on film.

  1. Holding the camera – keep it as stable as possible. Right hand grips the right end of the camera, left hand held below to support the weight of it and focus the lens. Keep arms tucked in for maximum stability. Be careful not to jab at the shutter release button but squeeze it. Use tripods or lean against objects for extra stability.
  2. Focus and zoom – be careful what you want to get in focus in your picture. It’s worth understanding just how much the human eye compensates for. Without moving your eye think about just how little your eye is actually able to see clearly. Zoom allows you to crop the image and allows vastly improved composure. Focus rings on certain lenses let you know when you’ve got your focus sorted – there’ll be a break between two semicircles if what you’re pointing at isn’t in focus.
  3. Shutter speed – demonstration with the camera. All that’s happening is that the shutter is opening for longer to let more light onto the sensor. If you want to capture an instant then set shutter speed low. Units of measurement – fractions of a second so 1/1000 is 1ms opening. Bulb setting lets you hold shutter open for as long as you want. A general rule of thumb for maximum shutter speed without risk of being shaky when holding by hand is to not go higher than a fraction that is the focal length of your lens (e.g. 135mm lens so I wouldn’t have any exposures longer than 1/125).
  4. Aperture size – property of the lens, how wide open the shutter is. Demonstrate with 135mm lens. The terminology can be confusing: it’s an inverse relationship so smaller numbers mean the aperture is further open, letting more light in. Through a combination of shutter speed and aperture you can determine how much light is let into your camera. Each stop is half as bright as the last but confusingly is 1.4 times larger – 1.4 comes from the square root of 2 and we’re changing the diameter of the aperture but working out what effect it has on the area exposed.
  5. Light meter – the majority of cameras come equipped with a light meter that informs you if you’re under or over exposing. Different films are more tolerant to under/over exposure. It calculates what is tolerable by using a sensor and the ISO of the film you’re using.
  6. Film speed – often referred to as the ISO, the scale of measurement. It indicates how sensitive a sensor or film is to light. The higher the ISO the less light is needed – sports shots and night shoots work better with a higher ISO setting but this has the disadvantage of making images grainier (more noise). ISO 400 is a fairly staple standard for general purposes.
  7. Depth of field – put simply it’s how much around your focal distance is in focus. A high depth of field means everything up to and beyond your focal point is in focus, opening up the aperture (stopping up) reduces your depth of field. The implications of this are pretty vast and selecting your depth of field is the major characteristic that separates your SLR photography from point and shoot cameras. Ask questions at the end if you’d like to know more.

Digital photography – your camera will have settings to compensate shutter speed, ISO and aperture to get the exposure just right. I’d strongly recommend experimenting with manual settings first, then trying out these different priorities. Aperture priority is you telling your camera you want an aperture of this size no matter what, it’ll then tweak other variables to make sure the right amount of light ends up on your sensor or film.

Composure

So how do you capture photographs that people are going to care about? There are a few universal concepts that apply to just about all types of photography. Don’t worry about sticking to these guidelines – they’re very much there to be broken.

  1. Fill the frame – very basic point, but be careful what you’re putting in the frame. If you’re using a rangefinder camera then look around the edges of your picture and consider what is and isn’t worth including. Be very aware of how much work the eye and brain do in limiting your field of vision. On SLR cameras everything you see through the viewfinder will be captured – do you really want that distracting guy in the background visible or could you alter your perspective to remove him?
  2. Rule of thirds – divide the image you see up into thirds and place objects of interest at these points. Be aware that a lot of this kind of selection can be performed afterwards but when you can get it right the first time.
  3. Change your perspective – photography is as much about looking at the world differently as it is about taking pictures. Get down low, take pictures from up high, think about your relationship with the position of objects in the world and what would be a fun way of looking at things. Part of the appeal of macro photography is you can get up close and see things from a completely new perspective.
  4. Lead the eye – think about what you would look at were you presented with this image as a flat, reduced picture printed in 2D. What would you look at first? How could you lead the eye? A very common example is from looking down the end of a street, this being an example of converging lines. Telling a story in a picture.
  5. Frame – framing objects within your image can work really well to place emphasis. It needn’t be a complete hard frame – a building between two trees can be framed.

My best advice is to think about what image you want to record (but be careful not to think too much if the situation demands it). If you had to hang this picture up and describe it to people could you explain why you wanted to use a soft focus? Etc. etc.

Experiment is very important. Don’t worry about getting every picture right, play around with exposures and angles and depths of field to see what works. It’s very satisfying to see your own style begin to emerge and form. Go and use your Jessops discount to print things out – having a tactile real life image is so very different to seeing it on a screen.

If you don’t have a camera yet or would like to branch out and get more equipment ask the committee questions about this. Photography can turn into a very expensive hobby very quickly.

We’re looking to have a session to follow on from this and examine more of the composure side with photographic examples. If you’ve any questions that you don’t want to ask now send me an email at jk478. I (and the committee) welcome feedback – please get in touch about any workshops or activities you’d like to see run and we’ll see what we can do.

Further reading:

  • Manual photography cheatsheet
  • Guide to basic photography (composure / exposure divide)
  • Ffordes – photographic equipment shop which provide a good baseline price. They can be a little expensive but quality is guaranteed. I’ve found them especially useful for buying older lenses.
  • Cambridge in Color have a very good set of tutorials with images. I’ve linked the tutorial about metering for those of you who had questions about that.

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