Let’s discuss photography (1st Edition)

I have an alias of mine called Omography which I have dedicated to photography, one of the things that I am quite keen about and an area that I like to experiment in whenever time permits. I am by no means a professional photographer, but I practice and work hard to try and continuously improve my technique. I asked my twitter followers a few days ago to suggest some photography-related topics to blog about so here goes!

One of my followers (Thanks @RazanAbuJaber!) responded by asking for some tips for amateurs who are new to DSLR photography but are keen on exploring it.

What I tell my friends when they are considering getting into photography and start asking questions about gear is to be clear on what they are going to use the camera for and how much time they are willing to invest to learn how to use it and the seemingly countless options and features on the camera body. I would be lying if I said I knew what every single button does on my camera gear and what some possible combinations would do, but I definitely learned a lot by simply fooling around and changing settings and experimenting with the dials.

I am saying this as my answer to the question may be slightly cliched and predictable but you should try out things on the camera. What I observe sometimes is that people expect to simply hold the camera, point and shoot and that whatever comes out should be a perfect shot. Well, I am sorry to break it to you but the camera at the end of the day is a machine of limited capability. No matter how advances and how expensive the camera is and/or the lenses you have bought for it are, it is an electronic device which has to analyze many factors in less than a split second to take the shot. The camera does not know what you envisage and what you visualize in your own human eyes to be the perfect shot. You have a duty as a photo taker to fiddle with the camera, the settings and take advantage of the setting whenever possible to improve the quality of your shot.

I know that a lot of what I am saying may come across as common sense but we got to understand the difference of the human eye vs. the camera’s sensor. We have been blessed with eyes that capture millions of colors, our fancy DSLRs unfortunately don’t. I will share some tips in bullet points that will hopefully be useful to Razan and to others as well.

  • It may be annoying, but get to grips with the manual mode on your camera. It allows you to control the shutter speed and the aperture and to adjust them accordingly.
  • On the camera’s screen or display you will find a meter, if you notice, it moves to the left or the right when it is on the manual mode. This indicates how bright or dark the scene is (To the camera, it may be misleading especially when distracting lights are around)
  • If the meter’s dial is on the center, then the camera thinks this will create a balanced shot. If it is towards the right then the camera thinks the scene is overexposed (Way too bright) and finally if it is to the left then it thinks it is underexposed (Quite dark).
  • You do not have to keep it in the center at all times. Sometimes a shot would be much better if it is underexposed or overexposed. Experiment to find out!
  • The aperture determines how big the opening of the camera is. The higher the number is the smaller the opening (And the more time it would take the camera to absorb light from the scene)
  • A high aperture value (Let’s say 18) will also result in the background not being as blurred out as an image that has an aperture value of only 2.4. The latter shot’s background will be quite blurry in comparison. Make sure of course that you are focusing on the object, which would usually be in the foreground. This is not necessary though (You may reverse the focus)
  • Shutter speed determines how long the camera’s shutter will be closed for (In other words, it is a measure of time of how long you have to wait before the camera snaps a shot. It can be very, very fast and it can last for hours if you set it up to be that long).
  • Unless you have extremely steady hands, you will unlikely be able to take any shots with a shutter speed of 1/10th of a second with a DSLR. Use a tripod.
  • Other ways to get around a long shutter speed in dark situations is to use a lens with a lot aperture and/or to increase the ISO. The higher the ISO the faster the camera can take the shot, however, this is at the risk of having “noisy” pictures. A noisy shot means that it is quite grainy (Can still be interesting if it is intended to be that way).
  • Excuse my French buddy but your camera’s kit lens is shit, especially the Canon 18-55 lens. If you can try to get a deal via the seller/retailer to give you another lens for free or at a discounted price. I won’t go into which specific lens you should get as it really depends on what you intend to shoot but get a Canon.
  • Notice that I did not mention the word flash at all so far? Well, I am terribly biased. I am against the use of flash in photography unless you have external flashes and a set up for that (Something I do not have). Flash basically fills your picture with white and takes away all the beauty of the foreground and background from the shot. I am not saying it is a cardinal sin to use the flash, there are exceptions of course but what new photographers tend to do is simply whip the flash up, take endless shots without even attempting to take a shot without it.
  • You sadly cannot take that stunning shot of that impressive tower or monument at night, from a moving vehicle and with a flash. Out of experience, it is very, very hard to get an okay shot at night while being on the move let alone a sharp and memorable one. Why? The car is moving, it’s too dark and the camera needs time (Long shutter speed) to capture the scene properly. Since the camera needs time, then it needs to be stable. A moving car makes the camera move obviously, and the camera cannot take the camera fast enough in these circumstances. The flash won’t help, a typical flash’s range does not exceed a few meters. It cannot cover a distant object and it certainly cannot cover towers that broke world records in terms of sheer size. Sorry!
  • Solution? Well, you need a) a tripod b) bit of patience c) Choosing a longer shutter speed. Even having these in place might not result in a great image, maybe there will be distracting factors like background or foreground streetlights, crappy weather conditions (Rain, dust and/or haze etc)
  • To capture landscapes, cityscapes and the like you need (ideally) a wide-angle lens or at least a lens with a wide spectrum. Lenses between the 10-25mm range are good for this purpose. Make sure to use a tripod, even during the day (Will help you frame the shot better and to think before clicking of various factors and distractors in the frame)
  • Portraits- I love portraits! Some rules I try to follow: Focus point should be the eye, they are usually the first thing in a person or a pet’s image that your eyes get drawn to. Sharp eyes alone can make or break a great portrait. The other rule is try to be a bit spontaneous. I personally prefer natural moments (Even if they are not in reality). Your object (Model) should be comfortable with you and not be tense
  • More on portraits- Try to get a prime/portrait lens. They come with a low aperture usually and allow you to frame your shots well, especially since they have fixed zoom (In other words you cannot even zoom using them). This forces you to move back and forth to choose the right angle/frame in the viewfinder and to utilize the space better
  • A waterfall- Personally I love taking pictures of moving bodies of water. The best shot is to use a tripod and wait till it starts to get dark (Or is already dark). This will allow you to set up the camera’s exposure to be longer and this will give the waterfall/water a mysterious milky look.

Time to move on to the next question, this time by @arvindhsundar who asked about rain photography and paintball photography.

I tweeted back to Arvindh on twitter informing him that unfortunately I do not live in  region that is known for its significant rainfall figures and that I have not had the chance to “shoot” paintball battles (Excuse the lame pun attempt)m however, here are some personal tips (Which might be right or wrong. Feel free to try them out yourself!)

  • Rain, well the last thing you want to happen while shooting anywhere is getting your gear damaged by rain. What you can do is make sure it is well-sealed from the elements. I am somewhat careless so I would struggle to seal it off entirely, but you can always make sure you are on the safe side by taking cover under a bridge, under a building or somewhere relatively out of water’s reach.
  • If you would like to try to capture lightning then it is not as hard as you might think. After you are sure the camera is safe, set the shutter speed to be quite long. If you can put it on bulb mode on a tripod. If you are lucky, there will be several lightnings during the time the shutter of the camera is open. The results may be stunning! You got to be patient, needless to say take some warm clothes and a warm drink! It may be a long night 🙂
  • Paintball- As mentioned, I never had the chance to do that, but as with any sport, you will need a fast lens. A very fast one as well. No flash should be used either. High ISO and a low aperture number (below 3.0) will help. It’s certainly not going to be easy though

The last topic suggestion was from @EclecticCorner who suggested we mention food photography.  I have a blog that is dedicated to eating out and UAE restaurants which is called Faja3. I share with my partner in crime (i.e. faja3) some interesting  photography.

Food photography is fun generally, to be frank I am not the best food photographer out there but here are some personal suggestions, or let’s say observations.

  • Increase the saturation on your camera (Or in post processing. Your call really). This is a great trick, especially if the food is colorful. This will make the image quite vibrant and interesting as it adds more life to it
  • Try different angles. If you are at a restaurant which has a nice ambience try to involve some of that in the background
  • Lighting! Make sure any lighting is utilized as it can make a difference to the outcome. Even a candle could make a difference if you are in a relatively dark place (A pub or a bar let’s say)
  • Don’t use the flash. I generally do not recommend using flash when shooting, this is of paramount importance especially when it comes to food.
  • Finally, be aware of the presentation and the general appearance of the food. Sometimes poorly presented food should not be shot. Gross looking food may look even worse in photographs so keep that in mind the next time you get soggy rice or food that seems to have been thrown on the plate randomly by the chefs 🙂

Alright everyone this is it for now. I genuinely hope you enjoyed my feedback above. Feel free to leave your comments and thoughts, I love discussing photography related topics!

ps. Feel free to check out my alias Omography on twitter and Facebook and to subscribe to my posts to get the latest updates here on my website. Till the next time, shoot away and experiment as much as possible!