Photography has been a personal interest of mine for years, so I’ve loved seeing it become more accessible to everyone as technology has advanced. No longer do you need bulky, expensive equipment to take truly beautiful photos. All of us have extremely capable cameras right in our pockets with impressive capabilities, from low-light and nighttime shots to striking landscapes and portraits. Dedicated digital cameras still have their place among phones, with their superior optics and larger sensors able to gather far more light, but what I love about photography is the equipment ultimately doesn’t matter; you can get stunning photos no matter what by following a few fundamentals that have been pillars of photography since the art’s inception.
Have you ever wondered how to get into photography? A great place to start is by understanding these 4 basics.
1. What is Composition in Photography?
Composition is a key part of any photo. Strictly speaking, it is simply the arrangement of the elements that make up your photo. How you decide to frame the subject of your photo and the surrounding elements can have a drastic impact on the overall emotion of it. If you’re taking a photo of a person from a low angle looking up towards them, it can give a dramatic, “lording” effect, making the person look domineering. You’ll often notice the rule of thirds being used as a general good practice of composition; that is, the primary subject of your photo is offset in the frame rather than directly in the middle. The next time you’re taking a photo, imagine a 3×3 grid over the top of the image and try to position your subject so it falls in the cross-section of the top left, right, or bottom right, left of the grid. Most camera software on phones has the option for a grid you can enable to help with this.
Experiment with different types of interesting ways to frame and capture your subject. Traditionally if you’re taking a photo of a person and following the rule of thirds, you’ll position them on the side of the frame opposite the direction they’re looking. For example, if they’re looking off to the right of the photo, you’ll position them towards the left side of the frame.
Composition is an important and powerful factor in taking a great photo.
2. Understanding Exposure & Lighting in Photography
Exposure refers to the amount of light your camera “sees” when taking a photo. There are various ways to manipulate how it processes this light; primarily through ISO and shutter speed. But what does ISO stand for in photography, exactly? The acronym itself stands for “International Organization for Standardization,” though that doesn’t really speak to what it does. The ISO setting of your camera – again, whether a phone or dedicated camera – dictates how sensitive the sensor is to light. In bright daylight, your ISO will automatically set itself lower, because there’s an abundance of light hitting the sensor so it doesn’t need to be especially sensitive to gather the data required to capture the photo. In darker settings, the ISO will increase to gather that same data. Different types of sensors will have different capabilities and photo quality at varying ISO settings. Traditionally, the lower your ISO can be to take the photo, the better. This is because as you increase the ISO, you are also increasing the noise captured as the sensor gets more and more sensitive to light.
So what is shutter speed in photography, then? This refers to how long the camera sensor is allowed to collect light and information. Typically, in dedicated cameras, this is a literal, mechanical shutter physically opening and closing over top of the sensor in synchronization with capturing the light hitting it. Most phones do not have a physically moving mechanical shutter, they use an electronic shutter, but the principle is the same. In both instances, this setting can allow light to be gathered by the sensor for more or less time, creating different effects. A long shutter speed is good for when there is low light, or when you’re trying to blur movement. This is because as elements in the photo move, the sensor is capturing the light from that subject in various positions, resulting in a blur in the final photo. Sometimes this can achieve interesting results, like blurred taillight trails from cars at night. Other times, it just makes things blurry in the scene, in which case you need to balance your shutter speed with your ISO setting to get a clear, crisp image in low light. In brightly lit scenes, a higher shutter speed allows you to “pause time”. Imagine racecars speeding around the track in the daytime; a high shutter speed can snap an extremely fast photo of the car as it’s moving, with little to no blur, getting you a crisp image of a fast-moving object. Of course, you can always go in between for a little bit of blur to convey a sense of motion, while still retaining a sharp photo of your subject.
Taking the same photo with various levels of these different settings can net completely different emotions.
3. Focus & Depth-of-Field in Photography
Another important way to convey emotion and the importance of the elements of your photo is through the use of focus and depth of field. Focus refers to the plane of the space you’re taking a photo of that is as sharp as possible compared to the rest. This plane of focus – the amount of 3D space in front of the camera that is sharpest – can be increased or decreased through things like the F-Stop (aperture size), type of lens, optical zoom, and other factors. A common use of focus and depth-of-field is for portraits; many photographers enjoy a blurred background to help make the person stand out from the scene. Adding some out-of-focus elements in the foreground – that is, in front of your subject – can be a fun effect as well, further helping to establish the primary subject of the photo. Proper usage of focus and depth-of-field can make a small subject seem big, a big subject seem small, direct the viewer’s eye to important parts of the photo, and add dramatic and emotional substance to a photo.
A personal favorite style of photography that pairs well with a shallow depth of field is macro photography. Macro photography usually requires special lenses that allow you to magnify small subjects and get closer to them than what is normally possible while staying in focus. These lenses can further decrease the plane of focus, allowing for even more blur and bokeh in the background. Try taking the same photo with a wide depth-of-field, then a shallow depth-of-field, and examine the difference in impact they have.
4. Your Unique Style
Don’t forget to experiment and be your own photographer! The great thing about having capable digital cameras in our pockets is that we can take unlimited photos and instantly see the results! The next time you’re taking photos, take the same one multiple times while experimenting with these different settings to see the results and find out what you like the most. We all can establish our own style that speaks into our emotions and is distinct from everyone else. Starting with these simple tenets will put you on your own path to capturing quality, striking photos.
Of course, photography goes much deeper than what’s covered here, and sometimes hiring a professional is the right move. Interested in speaking with a professional for your product, event, or business? Contact us today to get started.