Tag Archives: Clutter

Ten simple ideas to improve your photography (and a fun quiz)

Ten Tips

Ten Tips and 12 fun quiz questions.

Simple things help you…

We should all take a step back and think about the basics sometimes. It helps us remember essential techniques and keeps us on our toes. Here are the basics with some fun quiz questions too.

The simplest techniques in photography are often the most important ones. In this post we make sure we don’t forget them…

10 essential things to know; 12 fun quiz questions
  1. Not knowing your camera: This is really bad news. If you are hoping to improve your photography make sure you learn what every lump, bump, dial, screen, lens and twiddly bit does. Read your manual regularly. Practice with each function until you have got it right. Then practice it in the dark so you can do a night shoot.
    Quiz Question 1: How many lenses are there on a camera? Answers at the end!
  2. Poor stance: Most people when starting photography don’t realise that the way they stand and hold the camera creates all sorts of problems and poor performance. If you are a keen photographer a good stance can contribute to improved sharpness (hand-held shots), better focus, more steady hand and better shot timing. Learn to stand properly right at the start and you will save yourself lots of re-training time later.
    Quiz Question 2: At what point in the breath cycle is it best to take your shot?
  3. Not using a tripod: classic mistake. Tripods save you lots of time and give you pin sharp photographs. They give you an opportunity to set your camera up properly and ensures that your are ready for your shot.
    Quiz Question 3: A monopod has one leg, a tripod has three legs. What is, and how might you use, a bipod?
  4. Not giving the camera time to focus: When you press the shutter button halfway down it causes the auto-focus to cut in which focuses the camera. But if you punch straight through that to the shot the focus has not had time to do the full focus. This normally happens on the first focus attempt when the focus is right off. After that the lens in nearly focused and will adjust more quickly. So don’t make your first focus attempt too close to the shot or it will be blurred.
    Quiz Question 4: Why do you have two rings on a modern auto-focus/zooming photographic lens? What do you call each of them?
  5. Taking pictures against a bright light? Cameras don’t like very bright lights. Especially if there are also very dark spots nearby. Shooting indoors while looking at a window out to a bright sky will cause a strong white spot. This is very distracting and draws the eye away from the subject. Not good. There are Light and Lighting resource pages on Photokonnexion for you to learn more.
    Quiz Question 5: How many stops of light can healthy human eyes see (20:20 vision)? How many can the camera (rough generalisation) cope with?
  6. Relying on flash (especially pop-up flash): Pop up light has a very small concentrated source. It discolours faces, washes out colours, creates harsh, sharp-lined shadows and is badly placed (too close to the optical axis) creating nasty highlights on faces. Try to use natural light more. It is much more forgiving and does not produce such harsh shadows most of the time.
    Quiz Question 6: What is often the result of using pop-up flash with respect to two parts of the face?
  7. Dead centre subject: If you put the subject of your picture in the centre it will usually be boring. If you off-set your subject the eye will be looking to see why the symmetry is broken. That keeps the eye hunting around the screen. Learn about the “Rule of thirds” and other Composition principles. That will help you make the shot more compelling to the eye.
    Quiz Question 7: What type of compositional perspective would you be working with if you want to promote a three dimensional feel to your picture composition?
  8. Horizon control: Make sure your horizon is level, especially if it is a seascape. If you leave it on an angle the picture will be ruined because it will look like the sea is sliding off the page! Horizons also induce mid-picture viewer-stupor. Make a decision. Either shoot for the sky in which case place the horizon in the bottom third of the picture. Or, shoot for the ground in which case the horizon goes in the top third of the picture. An off-set horizon is more dynamic and keeps the viewers eye moving.
    Quiz Question 8: If your main choice is to shoot for the sky, where would you take your exposure from? (Where would you point your viewfinder focus point?) a. The sky? b. The ground?
    Quiz Question 9: Describe autofocus hunting and why it happens?
  9. Simplify, simplify, simplify: The most effective way to show a subject to your viewer is to de-clutter the picture. Take out of your composition everything that is nothing to do with the subject. The more you make the viewers eye go to the subject the more effective your shot will be.
    Did I mention that you should simplify your shot?
    Quiz Question 10: What is it called when you paint out something from your picture in post processing to simplify a shot?
    By the way, did I mention that you should work really hard to simplify your shots?
  10. Go manual: Auto-modes on your camera are really best guesses about what the manufacturer thinks will be suitable for the average shots most snappers will take. Buy you are a keen photographer. To get the camera to do exactly what you want, and to make discerning choices about your images you should work on improving your manual control. Your understanding of photographic principles will improve, your skill at exposure will improve and you will find yourself making informed choices about how you want your picture to come out. You will turn from a snapper into a photographer.
    Quiz Question 11: What does the ISO control do? a. Adjust the sensitivity of the digital image sensor or b. Change the aperture size?
    Quiz Question 12: Does ‘shutter speed’ or ‘aperture’ control movement blur?
Answers to quiz questions
  • Quiz Question Answer 1: I am talking about any camera that has a lens, not just DSLRs. the number of lenses is a matter of variation. If you are discussing photographic lenses then only that one will count (but read on). Some people think of each glass element in the photographic lens as an independent lens. Technically that is not true. They are optical lenses or glass elements, not photographic lenses. However, if the photographic lens (and elements if you included those) were all you counted you would be wrong. Here is a short list of Possible lenses on a camera of any sort…

    There may be others.

  • Quiz Question Answer 2: You should take a shot at the full inhale point or full exhale point before inhaling or exhaling in the next part of the cycle. You can choose which is best for you. All you do is delay the next part of the cycle while you take a shot. This is the point in the breath cycle when there is least movement of the shoulders/chest. Read more about it in Simple tips for a good stance
  • Quiz Question Answer 3: A bipod is photographically uncommon. Understandably, it has two legs. Find out more here… Definition: Bipod
  • Quiz Question Answer 4: The two rings on an auto-focussing photographic lens allow one ring to focus the image – the focus ring. The other ring is for zooming the lens. The latter changes the focal length and is called the focal length ring.
  • Quiz Question Answer 5: Human eyes can see about 18 to 20 stops of light when healthy. However, by contrast the best commercially available cameras have to operate with a dynamic range of 8 to 12 stops of light. Research is pushing the boundaries but there is still a big gap to meet the dynamic range of the human eye (in 2013).
  • Quiz Question Answer 6: Pop-up flash is very likely to cause red-eye.
  • Quiz Question Answer 7: To make things look three dimensional in your image you should be working with three point perspective. Look for lines in your image that promote cube-like structures. For example buildings, walls and other objects with lines and shapes that have a solid feel in real life. This will trick the eye into believing that there is a solid object in the picture. Read: Simple ideas about perspective in photography and: Definition: Perspective
  • Quiz Question Answer 8: If you shoot for the sky you will need to be taking your exposure from the sky as that is the brightest point. This will leave the ground darker in your exposure than you would see it with your eye. You can use one of a number of techniques to correct that later.
  • Quiz Question 9: Auto-focus hunting is when the auto-focus in the lens cannot focus and will keep going up and down the focus range trying to get a focus. This is a common problem at night, in darker conditions, low contrast conditions and clear or totally grey skies. You can read more about it in: Auto-focus ‘Hunting’ Definition: Hunting, Auto-focus

  • Quiz Question 10: when you paint out something from your picture in post processing to simplify a shot? You normally use a cloning tool. You can find out more in: Definition: Cloning; To Clone; Cloned; Clone Tool.
  • Quiz Question 11: What does the ISO control do? It adjusts the sensitivity of the digital image sensor allowing you to work in bright light (low ISO setting) or low light (high ISO setting). There is an article on ISO here: ISO.

  • Quiz Question 12: Shutter speed controls movement blur. Aperture controls blur (bokeh) created by the loss of sharpness outside the zone of acceptable sharpness. This is traditionally known as the depth of field. More reading on: Definition: Exposure and related to aperture: Definition: f number.

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By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

The secrets of good backgrounds

• Backdrops •

• Backdrops •
Wallpaper can be used extensively as a backdrop. There is plenty of variation and the material is relatively cheap.

Get more out of less.

One of the central ideas behind photography is to reduce the “clutter” especially in the background. We want to simplify our shots to help focus the viewers attention on the subject we have chosen. Often, by way of controlling the scene we use backdrops. For the modern photographer a backdrop provides a simple uncluttered background that can be used to off-set the colours of the subject, or to complement them or remain neutral.

Backdrop secrets

Modern backdrops have a wide range of finishes. However, strong patterns and fussy details draw the eye off the subject. So most backdrop patterns are designed to reduce the impact on the eye. Rather than regular strong lines or shapes these back drops will tend to have random and subdued variations in the theme. Other backdrop types are solid colours. The best backdrops are minimalist.

Black backdrops are often used for darkening and absorbing the light. White backgrounds are frequently used for high-key photography. Reds, purples and blues are often used for different types of shots, but can also form effective variations for monochrome work (single tone shots or a single colour and white).

Bright green backdrops are called chroma-key (chromakey). They are often used to provide a set colour ready for post processing technique called compositing. This is where new colours or entire images are to swapped into the image. The subject is retained but the green colour is replaced with an entirely new image. This technique is the digital replacement of the old ‘back-projection’ or painted backgrounds techniques used to make it look like there was something solid in the background in the days of film. Actually there was a blank screen behind the subject. This technique is also known as “green screen”.

Backdrops can be used anywhere but are used extensively in two particular branches of photography. Portraiture and fashion photography use backdrops to simplify the scene as much as possible. This allows the person or model to be the strongest element in the scene. The eye is therefore drawn to the person which is where the photographer wants people to look. A fashion or portrait shot where the eye is not on the person is a disaster!

Still life

The other area where backdrops are used extensively is in various types of still life. Again the intention is to create a simple scene so the subject is the centre of interest. However, in still life the relatively close up nature of the work can allow the use of stronger elements in the backdrop.

Heart in hand

Heart in hand • By Damon Guy
In smaller scenes or still life backdrops can be stronger. The diagonal wallpaper pattern here helps the flow of the eye.


In the picture above the hands are the centre of attention. The backdrop is used in this case to provide a dynamic feel (from the strong diagonal) and to direct the eye along the line of the phrase in the heart. Eyes naturally tend to follow lines like that.

Wallpaper

While solid colours and simple patterns are well catered for in the market, specific patterns on backdrops are limited. However, in the picture at the top of this page you can see that I have arranged a variety of different wallpaper samples. Wallpaper is easy to find – it is in every DIY store and great patterns, plain or textured can be found at relatively cheap prices. If you are working at small, still life, sizes one piece of wall paper might be sufficient. However, I have sometimes worked with wallpaper on a full sized portrait backdrop. In this case I use strong tape to stick the wallpaper sheets side by side to make the backdrop wide enough. Then, I staple the wall paper to two light wooden battens, top and bottom. This helps hold the papers together with less damage. It also helps pull the paper out so it hangs flat. Wallpaper has a tendency to curl. Then the top batten is clamped to the backdrop cross bar. Hey presto! You have a cheap but patterned backdrop.

Other patterns, shapes and marks can be used to do other things in a picture. In fact if it is used properly the use of backdrops can be complementary, can be contrasting, can form effective reflections, light dampening, and many more things. Understanding backdrops is a great way to ensure that you can control what is going on behind the main subject.

Decor

Backdrops have rich history in the theatre. Today, in modern still photography they are relatively simple and uncluttered. However, if you have a specific scene in mind you can use wall paper to provide fun and varied backdrops to complement or change your scene. While proper cloth or paper backdrops can be quite expensive; wallpaper is a relatively cheap way to use fun patterns and interesting backdrops.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

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If you enjoyed this article please sign up for our
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10 ways to bring out the point of interest

"Drag bike" Selective colouring is a great way to bring out your point of interest in the shot

“Drag bike” – Selective colouring is a great way to bring out your point of interest.
Click image to view large

Focus the attention of your viewer using these great techniques.

The most important thing about your image is the part that you want your viewer to see. A great image needs to concentrate their attention and hold it in the shot.

Next time you are ready to take a photograph – pause for a second. Think about composing your picture so you direct the viewer at the most important part of your image. The ‘point of interest’, ‘focus of attention’ or a ‘focal point’ is where the viewer finds satisfaction from looking at the image. It makes sense that you use one or two techniques to point the viewers eye right at the reason you are taking the shot.

10 Techniques directing the eye to the point of interest
  • Crop: The cropped shape of the picture is an important way to help the viewers eye find the ‘point of interest’. Letterbox shaped crops help the viewers eye to run across the width of the picture; square crops help direct the reader to the centre of the shot; landscape views are so common that they help the reader be unaware of the crop; Portrait views alert the reader to the vertical things of interest. A crop is a great way to help the readers eye, especially when used with other techniques below.
  • Position: Where you place your point of interest in the shot can affect how prominent it is or how the eye is drawn to it. A good introduction to positioning is to look up the Rule of Thirds. That is a basic rule of composition that gives the eye a dynamic reason to look at the point of interest.
  • Size: A large subject or point of interest is a great way to make people look at it. Big and bold and your viewer will hardly miss it!
  • Focus: The use of depth of field is really effective. The human eye naturally sees what we directly look at in focus. So we tend to concentrate our viewing in the area of sharpness in a picture.
  • Movement blur: Capturing movement creates blur. In my picture above the bike is travelling very fast. To capture it like that I have panned my camera. The background is out of focus. The sharpness and blur create a contrast that draws the eye to the sharpness. Alternatively, you can photograph something moving that you want to become blurred as the focus of attention. Classic movement blur is often created at the fair in the evening. Fast movement with brightly coloured lights wonderfully blurs the merry-go-round in a longer exposure. The strangeness and strong colours draws the eye to the patterns.
  • Colour: Using colour is a great way to draw the eye. Strong primary colours (red, green, blue etc.) are especially good at catching the eye. One bright colour against other lesser colours also directs the eye. Contrasting colours can be a good way of highlighting a particular point of interest too. Colours are best used to make the point of interest stand out from the background.
  • Selective colour: The absence of colour in part of a picture and the selection of one colour or an object in colour is a great contrast in the picture. That difference – greyscale to colour – will strongly make the point of interest stand out. An example is the picture above.
  • Shape: The use of shape is a way to draw the eye too. Again you can use a contrast. One round object in a group of square objects really captures the attention. A strong geometric shape in a picture where there is no other strong, well defined shapes pulls the eye.
  • Pattern: Where there is pattern there is focus. Our eyes are good at picking out patterns. Sudden, clear formation of pattern in a picture where there is no otherwise clear pattern focusses the attention on the pattern. The opposite is true too. Where there is a breakdown in a pattern the eye is drawn to the difference and questions why the change or break in the pattern.
  • Lines: The eye naturally follows lines in a picture. So, you can use lines both as the actual point of interest, and as a way of pointing at the focus of attention. Implied lines can be useful in the same way. A line that strongly points to something else is another way to capture the attention.

It is important too, you are careful not to make the picture too complicated or cluttered. To much to catch the attention will have the eyes whizzing around the picture and not able to settle on your point of interest. Likewise, it is best to use just one or two of the above techniques. Too many and the eye is confused with what direction they should follow. Composing your picture is about subtle messages and directions to help the eye. The last thing you want to do is to confuse or misdirect your viewer.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

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