In the days of Smartphones, Instagram and filters it sometimes feels like we are all professional photographers. While this day-to-day documentation of our lives is important and the average person already has a lot of experience taking pictures, there is always another level and a way to improve.
Photography can be an incredibly fun hobby as well as a challenging but rewarding career choice. Although we all spend a lot of time taking pictures, there is so much to learn about how to take, edit and distribute those photographs. Even middle or high school isn’t too early to start learning some of the more advanced techniques to take some incredible images.
The below list is by no means exhaustive but is a list of elements that serve as a great starting point for new photographers. While you can certainly take good pictures without some of this knowledge, getting these things down will give you greater consistency, range and a higher ‘ceiling’ for your pictures.
There is a huge range of helpful background information on photography and cameras – some if it will directly help you take better pictures, while some of the other information will help give you a deeper understanding and sense of photography – this can inform and improve your photography. The camera you are using isn’t as important as the way you use it, so you should strive to understand your camera as well as possible. Different cameras have different buttons and toggles – you can usually find a YouTube video or website tutorial to walk you through the functionality on your exact camera.
- Point and Shoot – these are typically compact cameras where the cameras are designed to automatically adjust the settings based on the light source and object you are photographing.
- DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) – These cameras use a single lens reflection – they can shoot on ‘automatic,’ similar to a point and shoot, but are designed to be shot on ‘manual.’ In this setting, the user is responsible for adjusting the camera, taking into consideration things like how much light is available, depth of field and focus.
- DSLM (Mirrorless) – Growing in popularity, these cameras don’t actually have an optical mirror like DSLRs. They are often lighter and have a digital viewfinder and often an electronic shutter.
File type (JPEG/RAW) – These are the most common file types for photographs. JPEGs are smaller file sizes that already look processed. These are ideal for photographers that do not plan on touching up or post-processing their photos. RAW files are larger – they store all of the data of the original image – they often look unpolished, but since they store all data, they have more flexibility in post-processing to ensure the photographer gets the exact look they want from a picture.
Lenses – For DSLR or Mirrorless cameras (and some point and shoots), the lens may be removed from the body of the camera. This allows you to choose the best lens for the occasion. Lenses are usually marked by the focal length and aperture.
Composition is the way a photographer chooses to frame a certain shot – things like positioning the object, the viewpoint and lighting source can impact the final outcome of a picture. There are certain ‘rules,’ however, these are guidelines that shouldn’t be rigidly followed.
*Put into Practice: Practice taking pictures of the same object from different angles and with the object taking up different amounts of the frame. This is an easy one to practice with your phone because you can easily take many photos from different angles and see how they compare. This can help you learn the Rule of Thirds. The Rule of Thirds is one of the most basic composition suggestions – basically, you want your subject to take up about 1/3 of the frame so that you can see surrounding elements – this makes the picture a bit more exciting. See which pictures you think look better – and why. There isn’t a right or wrong answer, but this can help teach you how you prefer to compose.
Aperture – Aperture controls how much light gets into the lens by either opening or restricting the opening.
Shutters Speed – the camera shutter is like a little door that covers the sensor until you want to take a picture. The shutter speed determines how long the shutter stays open. Shutter speed could be as short as 1/1000 of a second, or even several minutes long for things like astrophotography.
*Put into Practice – find a subject that is moving (a dog is great!). Practice adjusting the shutter speed and taking pictures of the subject in motion. See how short and long shutter speeds impact your picture – keep in mind light and how blurry the object appears with different speeds.
ISO – The ISO Settings allows you to brighten your picture by raising your ISO. Different cameras have different ranges, but the more you raise the ISO, the more noise or blurriness tends to be in your picture. Noise has to do with how your sensor attempts to reconstruct a picture when there is not enough light – a lot of noise will look like pixels that are discolored. A picture with a lot of noise will appear to be blurry.
*Put into Practice – In a low light setting, try taking a picture with a low ISO, such as 100 or 200. Then take a picture with a high ISO, such as 1600. Compare the differences between the two.
Depth of Field – This helps define and describe what object in your picture is in focus. Sometimes the object that appears in focus will be in the foreground, near the front of the picture (shallow depth of field). Sometimes the object in focus will be further away with the nearest objects out of focus (deep depth of field). Several elements determine DoF, such as focal length, distance from object and aperture.
Post-Processing – Post-Processing is the editing photographers do after the picture is taken. This occurs in a photo editing program, such as Photoshop. Often, this is used to ensure the picture accurately represented what the photographer saw, but there are all sorts of enhancements that can be made. For example, increasing the contrast to make the subject pop out for the viewer.
JKCP Photography for Xploration and Enrichment
JKCP offers a photography class for both middle schoolers and high schoolers as part of our Xploration and Enrichment programs. The course covers everything from camera functionality and composition theory to the business side of photography, such as permission and printing.
This class is a great way for students to gain familiarity with the basics or to continue to grow an existing skill; we meet students where they are and can accommodate absolute beginners as well as students with a lot of photography experience.