Photo guide interest?

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by beavo451, Jul 23, 2006.

  1. beavo451 macrumors 6502

    Jun 22, 2006
    With the recent threads on making money off of photography, it got me motivated to compile a beginners guide to photography, for both a hobby and for profit. It covers the very basics of photography and camera usage.

    This guide is as of now incomplete. It covers some basic details and terminology. I will later add to it more detailed explanations and examples as well as more advanced techniques. Also, I make statements that are of my opinion and are just that. They can be points that are debated, but I will tell my thoughts on them.

    Feel free to ask questions or make any comments or critiques.

    So here it is, the beginning... is a few posts down :D

    EDIT: So how do you change a thread title?
  2. cgratti macrumors 6502a


    Dec 28, 2004
    Central Pennsylvania, USA

    I'd read it... You can never learn too much about photography...
  3. DBAlex macrumors regular


    Mar 4, 2006
  4. beavo451 thread starter macrumors 6502

    Jun 22, 2006
    Basics of Photography

    Photography is an interesting hobby to have than many people are interested in. Some keep it at a basic level that is sufficient for lifetime memories. Others want to further their understanding into a hobby with a desire to produce artistic photos. This guide will cover the basics of photography and the use of equipment. Due to modern times, the equipment discussed will be of digital basis.

    The deciding factor of photography is the final image. What a person sees on a computer screen or in print is the most important thing. When a person is viewing a picture from an artistic standpoint, or as a walk down memory lane, all he or she really cares about is the appearance of the photo and content. The technicality is just a mere curiosity. Only when a photo is being critiqued for the express purpose of improvement does the technical details really matter. For instance, who really cares what paints, brushes, or canvas Leonardo da Vinci used when he painted the Mona Lisa?
    Pick a part of photography that you really like and concentrate on that. For me, I like to shoot people in a studio and at events. If landscapes are your thing, go all for it. Or bugs. Or commercial. Or products. Or architecture. There are many areas of photography. Concentrate on what you like best.


    Keeping in mind the above statements, equipment is still important to producing quality photos. Good equipment will be reliable and produce the best possible image quality. A dSLR will produce a better image than a point & shoot. This is not to be confused as to which takes a better picture. An excellent photographer with the cheapest point and shoot will still produce a picture that is better than a beginning novice with the most expensive equipment.


    Point and shoots are the first thing that comes to mind when people think “digital camera”. They have the stereotypical LCD screen that you use to compose a shot and instantly review. Many of these types of cameras have very little control over exposure, white balance, etc. The more advanced point and shoots have more control, a bigger zoom, and usually a better sensor. However, they still do not offer the control of a SLR camera.
    SLRs (Single Lens Reflex) cameras are the staple of enthusiasts and professionals. This type of camera is most commonly recognized in its 35mm film format. Modern times have boosted the popularity of the digital SLR and they have become affordable for nearly all that are interested in photography. A SLR will have a bigger sensor than a point and shoot. They also have the most recognizable feature of having interchangeable lenses. If you want to get serious about photography, this is the type of camera most suited for learning. All modern dSLRs have full manual control over the image produced. Since the SLR is usually the weapon of choice, all camera talk and technique will be made in reference to a SLR camera (specifically a digital SLR).

    Basic Workflow:

    Before the advent of digital, people would load up film into their cameras, shoot it, and then process the film in a lab. With digital, the same basic workflow still exists. You put a memory card into your camera, shoot pictures, and then you process the images on a computer. There are some “purists” that hold the belief that a picture should come out of a camera without any manipulation in a computer. I personally think this is an unwise thought pattern to adhere too. To get to the level that you see in magazines and advertisements, processing is a requirement. You can do most of the computer manipulations in a film darkroom as well.

    Starting out:

    The building block of all photography is exposure, or how much light is made to hit the sensor. Properly exposed pictures look good with lots of detail. Underexposed pictures look dark and overexposed pictures look too bright or washed out. Exposure is made up of a combination of aperture, shutter speed, and optionally, flash. The aperture is part of the lens. It is a diaphragm that closes to a specified size hole and dictates how much light gets in. The lower the aperture number, the larger the hole, and the more light that is let in. The shutter speed dictates how long the sensor is exposed to light. Longer shutter speeds expose more light.

    So you decide that you want to get into photography and produce wonderful pictures. So you need to decide how much money you want to spend and how much dedication you are willing to put into your new hobby. Buying a lot of equipment in the beginning is not a wise decision and may over whelm you. My suggestion to a beginning kit is as follows:

    A good quality dSLR with room to grow. My suggestion is Nikon or Canon. Pentax, Olympus, and now Sony are all major manufacturers, but the lens range, third party accessory support, and the sheer number of people who use Nikon and Canon are a lot better with these two companies. This gives you an edge in options and a bigger pool of information to draw from. The Nikon D50, D70s, Canon Rebel XT (350D, and 20D/30D are all great cameras to start out with. There are pros who use these cameras as well. Read up on reviews, specifications, and go to the store to check out each camera. Pick the one you like the best.

    Lenses are necessary to the operation of the camera and have the greatest impact on image quality. Do not be afraid to spend more on lenses than the camera body. The body will be replaced every few years while the lenses will last a significantly longer time. Don’t go cheap here. There are two main specifications when you are looking at a lens: the focal length and the aperture. The lens will list the maximum (lowest number) aperture. If you have a bigger hole, there will be more light, and hence you can use a faster shutter speed. So larger aperture (lower number) lenses are called “fast” lenses. These usually range f/2.8 or lower. Faster lenses require bigger glass elements and more engineering to get them to work correctly. With these extra costs, the price of the lens rises significantly. Fortunately, you also get better glass and build quality. Focal length gives the field of view. A lower focal length will give a wider field of view than a longer focal length. Longer focal lengths in effect “zoom” into whatever you are looking at. 50mm is considered the normal length and equivalent to what a human eye sees.

    A tripod is essential for landscapes, night photos, and when using slower shutter speeds. Bogen/Manfrotto and Gitzo are two quality manufacturers with good value for your money. Fully expect to pay around $200-$300 for a decent tripod and head combination.

    An external flash unit will provide more control and power over the built in “pop-up” flash that is common to many consumer dSLRs. The proper flash unit will help the exposure by filling in shadows and giving extra light in low light situations. Expect to pay around $300 for a unit.

    A good, durable bag to hold all your gear. Lowepro, Tamrac, and Crumpler are a few good brands. High speed memory cards to hold your pictures. I personally use Sandisk Extreme III CF cards. A good quality card reader to transfer your images over to the computer. Photoshop CS2 or Elements for processing the photos.

    Basic Terms:

    Aperture: As previously mentioned, it is the adjustable hole in the lens that controls how much light gets in.

    Shutter Speed: Controls how long the sensor is exposed to light. Fast shutter speeds freeze fast action while slower shutter speeds introduce motion and blur. The slower shutter speed is also used at night to get long car trails or star trails. Slower shutter speeds are also more susceptible to camera shake when holding the camera. As a general rule, your shutter speed should be at least 1/focal length. So if you are holding a 300mm lens, the minimum shutter speed to be used is 1/300 of a second. The closest that is programmed in a camera is usually 1/500.

    ISO: Formerly known as ASA, this dictates how sensitive the sensor is to light. On SLRs it usually goes 100, 200, 400, 800, and 1600 with steps in between depending on the camera. The higher the number the more sensitive to light the sensor is, but will introduce “noise” into the image and degrade image quality. Certain cameras are better at controlling the noise than other cameras.

    Depth-of-field (DOF) and focus: DOF is the amount of the picture that is in focus behind and in front of your focus point. A larger aperture (f/2.8) will have less DOF than a smaller aperture (f/8). So more stuff will be in focus at f/8 than at f/2.8. The exact DOF is a function of the focal length, aperture, and distance to your focus point.

    Meter: Either in camera or a handle held device. It measures the amount of light in a scene and suggests the settings for the camera to get a proper exposure. It can be easily fooled by high contrast scenes, very bright scenes, or very dark scenes. It is up to the photographer to recognize these situations and over or underexpose the image from the suggestion of the meter.
  5. beavo451 thread starter macrumors 6502

    Jun 22, 2006
    10000 Character limiter break....

    Shooting pictures:

    The absolute necessity before all else is exposure. Your image must be properly exposed before all other considerations. Practice in all kinds of lighting to build up your exposure skills. Learn to recognize when you need to compensate for the shortcomings of the light meter.

    The second most important thing is focus. Learn how to focus properly, whether autofocus or manual.

    And lastly, composition. If you have focus and exposure spot on, you have a decent picture. With good composition, you then get the spectacular images we are used to seeing from the pros. The most basic rule is the rule of thirds. This is not a hardest rule, but more of a guideline. You can break it in certain situations, but for the majority of the time, the rule of thirds will produce the best compositions.

    Rule of thirds is dividing a picture into thirds veritcally and horizontally. You will have nine rectangular boxes. This aids in composition. You place the most significant subject as close to one of the thirds lines or intersections as possible.

    Here are some examples:

    Notice the major features are the facial features: eyes, nose, mouth.


    Major features here are legs body and head.


    Major feature here is the hole in the clouds


    Shooting for money:

    To be brutally honest, if you are just starting out, don’t even think about it. You must have a firm grasp on the three basic concepts mention above as well as being able to do it consistently before even thinking about having people pay for your pictures. There are many more advance techniques and concepts that I have not mentioned.
  6. GoCubsGo macrumors Nehalem


    Feb 19, 2005
    It's not a bad read. I really enjoyed it and the examples are nice.

    However...I for one would never make the claim that a dSLR will produce a better image than a point and shoot, there are some nice point and shoots out there that are actually more expensive and have better glass than the low-end beginner dSLR. But since this is all based entirely on your opinion, I can see how you'd say that.
    My opinion is that anything written that is meant to be a guide based on the opinion of another is nothing more than a blog. Don't take offense to that, it's not meant to be offensive, but it is in fact my opinion. ;)
  7. beavo451 thread starter macrumors 6502

    Jun 22, 2006
    None taken. The dSLR (specifically Nikon and Canon dSLRs) claim is for the vast part true. This is due to the fact that the sensors are larger than most point and shoot cameras. The higher dollar P&S are closer and can surpass a dSLR with a very low end lens. But, once you get past the lowest cost lens, the image is sharper, more contrasty, better color rendered, etc. Plus the advanced P&S have a large zoom range and that results in significant distortions at either end of the zoom. I would contend that a Nikon D50 or Canon Rebel with their respective manufacturer's 50mm prime lenses cannot be touched by a point and shoot in terms of image quality. A D50 with 50mm f/1.8 lens can be had for under $600.
  8. beavo451 thread starter macrumors 6502

    Jun 22, 2006
    Basics of flash:

    Flash photography is known to many as that annoying flashing bulb that goes off with each picture. Flash photography goes to a much more advanced level. On a dSLR, most of the consumer cameras have a built-in pop up flash. This flash is usually a little bit better than those provided on a point and shoot camera. Where flash photography really shines is when an external flash unit is provided. These are more powerful and offer a higher level of control. They also allow the ability to use light modifiers to change the way the light behaves. There are two main types of flashes. The first is the “speedlight”. It is a flash gun that can be mounted onto the hot shoe of a dSLR. Nikon and Canon both provide systems where multiple flash guns can be used in single picture, all synched and controlled wirelessly. The second type are studio strobes. These are large units requiring stands and an ample power source. They provide an even more powerful flash and can mount larger modifiers appropriate for use on groups of people.

    The speedlight:

    A necessity in flash photography that vastly outperforms the onboard flash. Modern dSLRs can control the flash output via TTL (Through The Lens) metering. This gives a good exposure and without a lot of guess work.


    After learning the basics of exposure and being able to shoot good photos with available light, adding a speedlight to the equation increases the complexity of the shot while also opening up more options.

    Fill flash is a photo enhancing technique that adds light to some shadows which otherwise would be a well lit scene. The most prominent example is shooting people outside. By some strange phenomenon, a person is almost always darker than the scene. You set the camera to expose correctly for the scene. Your subject will be underexposed and the flash is used to fill in the shadows. The result is a well balanced exposure. This is especially true for backlit situations where the light source is behind the subject.

    Here is an example of a fill flash shot. The couple is underexposed when shooting with only available light, so flash was added to bring them out of the shadows.


    The second and more prominently known use is acting as a main source of light in a dark situation. A straight on firing with the flash usually produces less than desirable shots. They usually end up being very flat and seemingly overexposed. However, with practice and creativity, a direct flash can produce good quality.

    Direct flash:


    Using a light modifier such as a soft box will soften and diffuse the light, resulting in softer shadows. The goal a softbox is a box made of fabric that goes in front of the flash and has a diffuser panel. The goal is to make the light source bigger. The bigger the light source is relative to a subject, the better the quality of the light.

    Direct flash with a mini softbox


    Another technique that makes the light source very large is bouncing. This works well indoors and the room has light colored walls. Most flash guns have the ability to turn the flash head itself. So this technique is accomplished by pointing the flash straight up at the ceiling, or one of the ceiling edges opposite from the subject. This requires a large amount of power from the flash unit.

    Bounce flash off ceiling



    Softboxes have been mentioned earlier. They range in sizes from a small rectangle to huge boxes that are the size of two people or larger. They can be mounted on flash guns or more commonly, studio strobes. The produce a diffused, directional light that can be easily controlled. The downside is that they are large and cumbersome, usually only practical in a studio or with many assistants.

    Umbrellas are another modifier available that will be discussed with the studio strobes.

    Diffusion domes are a little plastic box that slips over the head of a flash gun. It helps diffuse the light even more when bouncing flash. The Stofen Omnibounce is a very popular diffusion dome. Nikon provides a similar dome with their SB-800 Speedlights.

    Another common modifier is the Gary Fong Lightsphere. It is a half cylinder contraption that mounts on the flash gun and bounces light straight to the subject. More information can be found at his website.

    Flash brackets attach to the camera and flash gun to move the flash unit off the camera and further away from the lens. They also allow the flash unit to remain in the same position relative to the lens whenever the camera is in a horizontal or vertical position. The result is no more red eye, more contrasty image, better direct flash results, and it hides shadows behind the subject.

    So that is the very basics on camera flash units. Next up: studio strobes.
  9. JonHimself macrumors 68000


    Nov 3, 2004
    Toronto, Ontario
    I'm not sure if you were planning on doing this or not, but I think that a guide for lenses would be great... like explaining the obvious and not so obvious characteristics of the different types (basic types, ie 18-55mm, 50-200mm, 30-700mm, wide angle/fisheye etc, like 4 or 5 different kinds) as well as the advantages/disadvantages of each along with what they should/are most commonly used for... Just an idea, I would find it helpful.
  10. beavo451 thread starter macrumors 6502

    Jun 22, 2006
    Good idea! I'll do one in the next couple of days. The one I can't cover is the fisheye because I do not have a fisheye lens.
  11. sjl macrumors 6502


    Sep 15, 2004
    Melbourne, Australia
    What would work better, I think, is if you were to post comparitive shots. ie: shoot a scene without flash, then shoot that same scene with the flash in varying ways -- direct, bounced, and so forth -- so that people can see how the flash affects the shot.

    Google for "canon flash work"; there's a good introduction to the whole use of flashes in photography out there already.
  12. beavo451 thread starter macrumors 6502

    Jun 22, 2006
    Tough crowd...

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