Develop your photography
A back to basics guide helping you take award winning photos for your publication by Matty Davies
Moving forward with any new interest can be challenging, things may seem confusing and learning new skills can prove to be tricky. But with a little perseverance the sky is your limit. Don’t give up if at first you don’t succeed, remember every expert was once a beginner. Photography is no different, from the outside looking in at photography there’s settings, composition, lighting and editing and it can begin to seem very confusing. Once you get to grips with a few key photography fundamentals though, the fog holding your photographic progress back will disperse.
First off it’s worth recognising the stage in which we’re all at with our photography endeavours. For the purpose of this piece I’m going to assume those of you reading this are all complete beginners. That way we should avoid as much confusion as possible.
Additionally I’d like to add I have not had any in depth tuition when it comes to using a camera. I’ve picked up what I know over the past couple of years from YouTube videos and the occasional book and tutorial so the way I may do something could be different to others.
Shooting for your publication
When setting out to take images for your publication whether it be for a magazine, newspaper or online it’s worth considering a couple of things. A photo can tell a thousand words so ask yourself the following:
How am I going visualise what we’re saying in the article in a single shot? Think symbolism; you can use metaphors and analogies to make your images interesting.
Do the readers want to see this? Make sure the shots you use are ones which will engage your reader. As the photographer you want your image to be just as memorable as the writing it’s accompanying. So consider who your reader will be and whether this is an image that they’ll particularly like.
Can we print this? Before you send anything off to print, ask yourself can my publication print this? If you haven’t taken the photo has the copyright owner given the publication permission? (I understand copyright can be hard to understand but don’t worry, the Copyright Licensing Agency has made a student’s guide to copyright. Give that a google if you need more information). Has the person in the shot given us permission to use the shot? (This rule can apply especially if your publication is being distributed externally out of school) if you’re unsure speak to the editor of your publication or whoever is overseeing the operation as they’re the ones who make the final say before anything goes through the printers.
Having a “big camera” will not make you a better photographer; this is something we all need to learn as soon as possible. A great example of where this is proven can be found in Digital Revs video series “Pro Photographer, Cheap Camera” where some of the industry leading photographers are given the worst cameras around and asked to take the best shots they can. The images that come out are fantastic considering the tools available.
Technology has changed dramatically in the last 10 years and the camera quality of a smartphone now levels that of high end cameras from just a few years ago. Many leading news outlets have recognised this and now issue their reporters with work phones capable of taking photos that are high enough quality to go to print; we’re all photojournalists now. In the words of pro photographer Chase Jarvis “The best camera is the one you have with you”.
So you’ve got your hands on a camera but don’t know what everything does yet. Don’t panic. Driving seems hard to people who have never driven before, but like with anything, we pick it up the more we try it.
To begin it’s worth us bearing in mind actually how a photo is formed. The basic premise of a digital camera’s inner workings goes like this:
- The shutter button opens the shutter.
- Light travels into the camera through the lens and hits the light sensor in the camera.
- The sensor sends the light information to the computer in the camera which then processes it into a viewable image.
Auto mode is found on pretty much all cameras and it allows us all to take good photos, however to have full creative control over how your images look it’s much easier to shoot in Manual mode. There are three key components worth knowing about when you take a picture: shutter speed, aperture and ISO. They’re all of equal importance and if one changes the other two are effected. Now in Auto mode your camera works it out for you. In Manual mode however you get to choose the mixture of settings you’d like in order to achieve the shot.
The first component we will look at is shutter speed. Shutter speed is rather obvious, it’s the speed at which your shutter opens and closes. The longer it’s open, the more light it allows in. If you have a fast shutter speed set you will get sharper images. However if you don’t compensate for the shutter being fast and not letting as much light in the camera then the image may turn out too dark. The opposite of this is a slow shutter speed (long exposure). If you set your camera on a slow shutter setting you’ll find you can capture movement in your images however the images may turn out too bright if you don’t compensate for the long shutter time. (We’ll cover how to compensate for it further on) It’s important to remember when taking a photo with a long exposure your images will blur if you’re not using a tripod.
Knowing how to utilise aperture correctly for your desired look is a really great skill to know and fairly straight forward once you get your head round it. The camera’s aperture is “The opening of the lens” and is graded in “F stops”. The larger the opening of the lens the lower the F number will be. For example F8’s opening is a lot smaller than F1.4’s opening. The size of the aperture will affect the amount of light that goes into the lens so a Lower F number means more light in the camera.
Aperture diagram: CBuckley – The English Language Wikipedia
If you’re trying to achieve a shot with only a small amount of the image in focus for example a portrait with a blurred background then you’ll want to use a low F number. F2 would be prefect for this however not all lenses have an aperture size that goes so low. In opposition to a low aperture a high F number like F16 will keep a lot more of the image in focus.
When light travels into the camera it hits the image sensor. This sensor is covered with millions of light sensitive pixels (this is where the megapixel measure comes in), its job is to take in the light information and relay it to the computer inside the camera. The ISO is how sensitive these pixels are to light. If you set your ISO to 100 your image will be a lot darker than if your ISO is set to 64000. I personally find ISO the most useful in changing the brightness of my shots. However there is one issue. The higher your ISO is the more “noise “or “grain” you will find in the image. As general rule I try not to shoot above an ISO of 1200 but this sometimes is not possible.
Using shutter speed, aperture and ISO together can be confusing at first. Best thing to remember is, all three of the components change how much light the camera gets, however each one has additional factors that you need to consider.
Getting Print Ready
So we’ve covered the key aspects to creating the image with your camera. Now it’s time to consider how you get the image ready to go in your publication. Editing software like Photoshop and Lightroom can be expensive, if you need an alternative there’s a large amount of free editors online.
Finally when sending off your photos make sure you’re sending over the highest resolution version possible. This will keep your images looking more professional in your publication.
Taking photos is such a fantastic way to visualise a written piece in a single snapshot and it can bring you a huge amount of satisfaction when you get a shot you love. As a final word just remember don’t panic if you’re unsure about how to take a certain shot, just persevere and you’ll get it eventually. Enjoy being out with your camera, there’s an endless amount of great photos to be taken, and finally good luck!
About the author: Matty Davies is a Photographer and Journalist for TERM magazine, Tarporley Sixth Form College’s student publication. At the 2015 Shine Awards Matty was highly commended for his feature article and was named “Young Journalist Showing Exceptional Promise”.
You can follow his photography work at: Facebook.com/mattydaviesphotography
And Term Magazine on Twitter: @TermMagazine