1. If shooting indoors, make sure you have your color temperature control set to ‘incandescent’ or ‘tungsten’ (or use the apporopriate film. If outdoors – make sure that you have the appropriate setting for daylight and/or cloud cover (different result!)

2. When you have the picture approximately ‘framed’ in your mind, PUT DOWN the camera for a minute – you should ideally have it on a tripod anyhow (!) – I won’t discount the fact that it’s unwieldy – though you’ll find that MOST shooting situations will benefit from a smaller aperture (therefore less light) and a much longer exposure than the camera ‘will suggest to you’.

3. Decide how much depth of field you will need for the shot you want to make. If more (you want nearly everything to be in focus) – then choose a smaller aperture (smaller the aperture, larger the number – 11-22 is usually safe with digital cameras and will give you nearly infinite depth of field at 22… KEEP IN MIND that the closer you are to your subject, the more your depth of field ‘collapses’ – think of it in terms of scale – the closer you are to your subject the more your ‘field’ shrinks. The best thing is to try a few macro shots to start to get a sense of this.

Of course – if capturing action or facing a low light situation (without a tripod or adequate stabilizing surface) or you simply need a shallow depth of field – then use a smaller aperture number (large aperture).

4. Shutter Speed: Are there moving objects in the picture you want to make? Do you want them sharp, blurry or even ghost like? The choice is up to you. Clearly a higher shutter speed will arrest motion and a lower shutter speed will create blurriness or even ‘ghosting’. Think about this and apply it to your subject. You will generally find that even casual shots will benefit from a lower shutter speed (and smaller aperture) than otherwise. Of course – we are limited to some degree by the lighting we’re using. But consider this and select your settings accordingly. And PLEASE – don’t be afraid to try a shot you’re working on capturing with different settings – just to get more first hand experience. Don’t be afraid to explore ‘unsharp’ images however – they can be quite evocative:

Look at this work by Sandra Semchuk (Baba’s Garden) and see how low shutter speed are used to evoke a sense of intimacy and presence:

Baba's Garden, Sandra Semchuk, 1986

You can ‘cheat’ a little under poor lighting conditions by using a higher ‘senitivity’ or ‘ISO’ setting. Of course – you’re trading off ‘quality’ (graininess) for the ability to use a higher shutter speed than you would ordinarily be able to. A tripod or other support is really best though!

5.Approaching your subject: Pay attention to your framing. Don’t be afraid to try something out of your comfort zone. Most people are afraid to ‘cut off’ part of their subject or place their subject anywhere but the center of the frame. A great photograph is seldom made with this technique! Here’s a famous quote from the renowned Time/Life journalist Robert Capa: “if your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” Here’s a youtube video with Magnum photographer Bruce Gilden which makes a great point about this – notice how insanely close he gets to his subjects? This is partly due to the use of his wide angle lens – but the results are captivating. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IRBARi09je8


Have a look at this portrait of Igor Stravinsky by renowned portraitist Arnold Newman. Do you think he was worried that you might not recognize the subject of the photograph? No! Try using the subject’s environment to say something interesting about your subject like Newman did. If you want to get ‘serious’ and more formal about such a picture – also consider what elements are extraneous to the picture you’re trying to make. Notice how Newman uses EVERY part of the frame to make a statement about his subject and make the image more powerful.

Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Newman, 1946

Igor Stravinsky, Arnold Newman, 1946

again with the tripod – using a tripod is not only a way to make sure that your image is ‘stable’ but also a great way to force other aspects of your technique to the fore. In a way – it forces you to ‘commit’ to a photograph – and commit to learning proper technique.

The rest is up to you – there’s a whole world out there. The only thing you need to explore it (and new territory) is to have the will to do so. Good luck!


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