Don’t Just Point and Shoot

Photography 101

For the vast majority of my photo shoots, my main camera gear consists of a Nikon 5200D with a Nikor 18 to 200 mm VR2 f/3.5-5.6 lens, a Metz 58 AF-2 and various filters and other accessories. Fully loaded (without a laptop or tripod), my camera bag weighs about 10 pounds, which isn’t unusual. However, it is big and heavy enough that I am not going to carry it around with me everywhere I go — to and from work in downtown Ottawa, running errands in my suburb or just out and about walking or on my bike.

Not wanting to miss an opportunity, I bought a Sony Cyber-shot for just such occasions. It fits nicely in my purse or zipped jacket pocket. This 20-megapixel, 30-times optical zoom, f/3.5-6.3, point-and-shoot camera comes in handy when I come across something interesting in my travels. I typically have it on full manual mode, but I can easily switch to shutter or aperture priority.

I have a few friends and family who have similar cameras, using them on full automatic setting. When they compliment my images and say they don’t have the equipment to create the images I do, I kindly correct them. Great novelists existed long before the advent of powerful word processors and even before the invention of the first typewriters; they literally wrote their books. A camera is just the tool we use to tell a story; after all, a picture says a thousand words. Yes, a photographer has a lot more control over the images produced by a Cannon 5D than my little Sony or the 12-megapixel iPhone 6. But when you get down to basics, it is the photographer telling the story, not the camera.

So, let’s get down the basics. The first thing to remember is to… well… forget the name! Don’t just point and shoot. Take your time. Look at your subject from different angles — move to the right and left, kneel down or even sit or lay on the ground to get to a child’s or pet’s eye level or to get an interesting perspective of a flower. Look at how the light falls on your subject from these different angles. While some shadow is good for giving a two-dimensional image a three-dimensional feel, too much can be too harsh on a person’s face.

Beached-catamaran

Many theories exist for composing an attractive image, some are more complex than others. Perhaps the easiest one to use and remember is the rule of thirds. Many snapshots place the subject in the centre of the frame. For a more appealing image, mentally divide your view screen into thirds vertically and horizontally, creating an even tic-tac-toe board. Placing your subject, or where you want the viewers’ attention to be drawn, where those lines cross — or a line in the image itself following one of those lines — will provide a more interesting image.

Beached-catamaran2

For the image shown above, I moved around the catamaran to find an angle that I liked. Being on the side the sail was naturally blown towards and seeing the shadow below the catamaran provides depth to the image. I then composed the picture so that the horizon would run along the imaginary line marking the bottom third of the image. The catamaran itself is along the left third. It is a much more interesting image than the this picture, which I took from the other side of the catamaran, placing it in the middle of the frame and the horizon almost cutting the image in half.

The better image took a little more time to shoot, but the results were worth it.

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