10 simple lessons to take your photography to the next level (lessons 6-10)

6) CONTROL THE LIGHT

Your Brain
Your camera or smartphone is not as clever as you are…it can only see 4 stops of light (let’s not worry about what stops are for now) but your eye can see 12 stops. So, for example, you line up your friends against a bright background and all looks amazing…you take a picture and your friends are quite dark and the background is not great either…wot the?

The camera or smartphone is trying it’s best to work out the exposure (how much light to capture) so guesses somewhere in the middle, it doesn’t know your friends are more important than the background.

Your job is to help it and prioritise what’s important.

The great news is that most cameras, phones and apps have something brilliant called exposure compensation that nobody much ever uses. It basically allows you to add or subtract light after the camera has made its guess. It often has the symbol +/-
Check out your device and start using it today!

Indoors tricks
What we want is quality of light and not quantity. Often in a room there is way too much light bouncing everywhere to make an interesting picture, so take control! Turn off the overhead lights, close the door, half close the curtains and suddenly thing get interesting.

Taking control may mean moving your subject to a better position….look around, are there any pools of light from windows? Maybe turn on a lamp and if not…why not create your own with inexpensive LED video lights? (More on that soon.)

Cheats:

1) Try a HDR (High Dynamic Range) app (or setting) which takes three pictures of varying brightness and blends them automatically to give a single image. Professionals do this manually like this:

7) ADD LIGHT

Turn off your flash
Built in flash is not your friend…it looks harsh and generally will ruin a good shot, so get out your manual and find out how to turn it OFF! That said, I am a big fan of ‘off camera flash’, but currently smart phones, iPhones, iPads and most compact cameras do not support this technology. We can still use the principles employed by professionals, but you’ll be pleased to know, I’ve made it waaaaaaay simpler.

If you cannot take control and move the subject to the light, you have two options to dramatically improve the existing light….both fit in your pocket and are relatively inexpensive.

Reflectors
Old school I know, but used by professionals the world over in photography, film and TV because they are cheap, simple and effective. That been said I’m not content with that, so I’ll show you how to make a pocket version for a few pounds which will work even better for you! Reflectors simply bounce the existing light in the direction you want…remember when you were a child and you’d bounce light off your watch around the ceiling in class? …same principle.

It involves a little moving them around and experimenting to get the best results. They are great to fill in heavy shadows or just to bathe you subject in a wonderful pool of light.

So, as promised, here is how you can make a pocket one for a few pounds: The great thing is you can make any size, the more crumpled they get the better and light has colour [more about that in a mo] so they give off a particularly cool light:

LED lights
This technology is still emerging and has just become very affordable, not that we care, but it is emerging from the video market….and I have to say, I LOVE these lights and so will you! So, a very quick but simple technical bit: Light has colour. You know that lovely light at golden hour (just before sunset) it’s a very different ‘colour temperature’ to normal day light or flash. That’s all you really need to know…the LED lights I talk about, unlike LED torches from the hardware store are the right colour temperature for photography.

The big advantage of these continuous lights over flash lighting is you can see the results and refine the light before you take your picture. This will open up a whole world of possibilities and you’ll soon be shooting at night like a pro.

They are battery powered and cost from £36  upwards [I plan to review several units on the blog soon]

They are great for pictures of people, smaller objects, but clearly won’t light up a big subject [unless you have a few] or a landscape

Here are a few before and after shots taken by an 8 year old child on an Ipad2 to demonstrate just how easy they are to use (notice the rough application of the rule of thirds…swells with pride ;-) :

8) GET CREATIVE

Regardless if you have a smart phone where you can download apps or a traditional camera with modes….the only limit is your imagination:

Panoramas:
The Olympics was a great example of a times where it’s difficult to get a great picture that stands out from the usual phones snaps, especially if the action is far away. Why not try a panorama app or setting. I downloaded Photaf PanoramaPic HD from my seat and got this shot first time from my HTC Desire HD phone, but there are many similar apps:

Retro Style Apps:
There is a ton of great apps that will make your pictures look cool once you’ve got the basics nailed. I love ‘Pudding Camera’ & ‘RetroCamera’ on android. The below shot was using RetroCamera:

Abstracts:
Get in as close as your camera can focus and look for patterns in every day objects…you’ll be amazed with the results and no apps required.

Tilt Shift:
Tilt Shift has traditionally been used in architectural photography, but you’ll have seen the effect where thing look miniature and toy like.You can apply the effect to new or existing pictures and it adds a particular style of blur. This effectively increases the impact of the picture by directing the viewer eye to a particular part of you image.   Below is a before and after, I used Awesome Miniature, but there are many similar apps:

Make something:
Why not create a set, a concept or make something cool to photograph.  Below the walls and the model are covered in newspaper:


Depth of Field:

The perception of depth in a picture can be controlled by how much is in focus and how much is blurred, this also directs the eye to the important detail or just helps you remove distracting clutter.

This is normally controlled by the aperture of a tradition lens and the smaller the number such as F2.8 gives the least depth…ideal for portraits and the bigger the number, the more that is rendered sharp for landscapes, etc. Smart phone users have a sort of compromise position where control is not really possible…worry not, here’s the cheat you’ll need…

Below is an example of a very cluttered background, in life sometimes you cannot move the subject or change the background, so here is a great post effect (applied after the picture is taken)  See the example below, The first is the original image, the second has a blur (albeit a bit too much) and the final one has a motion blur all applied with the after focus app, but there are many similar apps:  [My examples are a little rough and ready…if you purchase the app, use the feather option to blend the image in a smoother manor]

9) SHARE & HAVE FUN

Instagram:
Phone users checkout Instagram, a smart and Iphone app that lets you take pictures, apply filters and share your work. In May 2010, it exceeded 50 MILLION users worldwide…..it’s a brave new world!  Don’t forget to follow me (Username: Photoality), it’s great if you like the vintage look, here’s a couple of examples:

10) PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT

Project 365
Now you are equipped with the basics you need to go and play with your new found knowledge. If you are serious about photography, I’d suggest you start a Project 365 which involves taking pictures everyday and posting your best one of each day on www.Flickr.com or similar.

Missed lessons 1-5? Click here!

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One thought on “10 simple lessons to take your photography to the next level (lessons 6-10)

  1. Pingback: Photography. Creating Magic in Simplest of Things. | Scream and shout

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