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Study Guide on the Art of Photography

Study Guide - THE OUTLINE
Elements of Photography: Seeing Beyond the Lens
(c) 2014 Mark D McKinley - a photography enthusiast

Study Guide - ONE
Elements of Photography: Composing the Shot
(c) 2014 Mark D McKinley - a photography enthusiast

Study Guide - TWO Coming soon!
Elements of Photography: Refining Images in Post
(c) 2014 Mark D McKinley - a photography enthusiast

Photography by Mark D McKinley

MOGS Photo Gallery (C) 1999-2022 mogswebsite.com

Elements of Photography: Seeing Beyond the Lens
Info Is Geared Toward Digital Photography
(c) 2014 Mark D McKinley - a photography enthusiast

I enjoy photography. I'm not an expert on the subject. A couple of years ago I embarked on a series of random photo excursions to gain a better understanding of manual settings on a DSLR camera. I put myself in situations both indoor and outdoors under a variety of lighting conditions and forced myself to find the proper exposure "to get the shot." I imposed only one rule during those outings - I could not use ďautoĒ mode. During the course of that project I missed a few shots now and then. I consider that par for the course - the learning curve. Over time those "missed shots" in random situations have become fewer.

Proper exposure is one of the most important aspects of learning photography. I consider good composition to be of equal importance when discussing the art of photography. Composing the shot - you can study everything there is to know about proper exposure and wind up with an image that lacks visual appeal. That's where visual balance and composition enter the picture. Without good composition skills it doesnít matter how well a subject was focused or whether the lighting was correct ... the image will lack balance.

I have always been interested in art - up until the computer age drawing and working with graphics always involved paper, pen and pencil. Now most everything I do is done on a computer. Digital photography is a natural extension of everything I enjoy about art. I consider the art of photography to be a continual learning process. I haven't had much time in recent months to spend with a camera - I haven't been shooting nearly as often as I used too.

The best advice I can suggest [based on experience, and my current level of knowledge] is to start with the basics. A proper understanding of basic photography concepts will provide a good foundation to build upon and enable you to grow as a photographer. The outline that follows this introduction covers basic notions of photography. A few items suggested for study might seem obvious - point being, research each of them. Ponder. Study. Practice. You will then have a better understanding of photography. In the coming months you will begin to [see your subjects differently] through the lens of your camera.

One thing I havenít covered in the outline is the business of photography - that area would be best learned from someone that has background and experience in the photography business. Iím only a photography enthusiast ... I can only teach and offer advice within my own realm of knowledge and experience. Start at the beginning of the outline and work your way through it. Regardless your level of knowledge - repetition is a valuable learning tool. Research. Study. Practice. Learn what your camera can do. I'm still learning things my camera can do. Photography is an ongoing process. Take full advantage of every opportunity you have to shoot. Truth be known I often go days - weeks - months without a camera in my hand. Good Grief ... I need to work on that!

I. Composition: Research - Study - Discover the answers
         A) What makes an image pleasing to the eye?
         B) What makes a good composition ... good?
         C) What makes a photograph work?
         D) Why does this photograph work well ... and yet, that one doesn't?
         E) Study images of the pros
         E) Identify the common denominator to these questions

II. Learn and understand the "Rules of Composition."
(Learning the rules of composition will also enable you to find artistic ways to break the rules every now and then and still have an image that works well)

         A) Research and learn "The Rule of Thirds"
         B) Study the "S" Curve, Lines, Angles, Triangle compositions (in photography)

III. What photography style or genre really "Grabs You?"
          A) Study what astounds you about an image/photography.
          B) Find (develop) your own style - most everyone has a certain ... tweak.
          C) Relax. Item "B" is something that develops over time.

IV. Exposure Settings.
         A) Learn the Exposure Triangle
                        1. Aperture - f/stop - Depth of Field (DOF)
                               a) Higher f-stop number means smaller aperture
                               b) Lower f-stop number means larger aperture
                               c) Smaller aperture lets in less light
                               d) Larger aperture lets in more light
                       2. Strictly Speaking - Depth of Field (DOF)
                               a) Small aperture - long (deep) Depth of Field (DOF)
                               b) Large aperture - short (shallow) Depth of Field (DOF)
                               c) Longer DOF - [up to] the entire frame can be in focus
                               d) Shorter DOF - [only the subject] will be in focus
                               e) Learn about Bokeh and why it matters

           B) ISO
                        1. Digital Sensor Sensitivity
                               a) Lower ISO = decreases sensitivity - less image "noise"
                               b) Higher ISO = increases sensitivity - more image "noise"
                       2. Available lighting determines the proper ISO setting
                               c) Lower ISO setting - best used in good lighting
                               d) Higher ISO setting - best used in low light

           C) Shutter Speed -
                       1. Fast shutter speed - Freeze the action!
                               a) Capturing action (horse races, car races, sports, etc.)
                               b) Any situation where subject movement is fast or unpredictable
                               c) Performance venues (head, leg and arm movement, etc.)

                        2. Slower shutter speeds.
                               a) Capturing action (horse races, car races, sports, etc.) *
                                * [pan with a moving subject] to create a blurred motion
                                    background - your subject will be in focus
                                     against a blurred background (motion blur takes practice)

                               b) Controlled blur can be used to emphasize motion/movement
                               c) Practice slower shutter speeds with still life and in-studio work

The "Exposure Triangle"
ISO - Aperture - Shutter Speed
(adjust these three settings as the situation demands to achieve the best exposure)

V. Does the image tell a story?
          A) Does the image make a statement?
          B) What story do you want the image to convey?
          C) Does the focal point convey the message accurately?

VI. Photography and Photographer.
           A) Skills to learn
                       1. Framing the shot - (revisiting composition)
                               a) What is the best angle of view?
                               b) What would make for an interesting shot?
                               c) An example: "How can I make that tree limb ... interesting?"

          B) Post photography considerations
                       1. "To crop, or not to crop!" - that, is the question!
                               a) Critic your work - study your images
                               b) Is the captured image pleasing to the eye - as is?
                               c) Could a slight crop provide more visual appeal?
                               d) Seek balance [within the image] when you frame a shot

           C) Take command of the process
                       1. Workflow
                               a) Scrutinize your work - review - sort - purge
                               b) Follow through on images that pass review, start to finish
                               c) Be selective about the images you keep
                               d) Potential clients appreciate and expect a finished product
                               e) Backup image files regularly - (external HD is a good option)
                                f) When working with jpeg images - [only edit a copy] of the original

VII. Developing an eye for photography
          A) [See] something special in the ordinary
          B) Keep a camera with you - yes, a "point & shoot" or mobile device will do!
          C) Frame the ordinary and make it special - make it interesting.
          D) Ask yourself what will make [the shot] enticing/pleasing to the viewer.

VIII. There are good books [and online resources] covering all aspects of photography.
          A) Browse quality websites for informative blogs and newsletters
          B) Use your camera. Be imaginative. Explore different genres.

Knowledge is only one element of photography. Practice, practice, practice. Understand your shots. Be proactive - be in the process and scrutinize your work. Chart your journey as a photographer - learn as you go. Compare past images against current images. Then determine which images worked well and which ones didn't. An ongoing process - learn from the last image how to make your next image better.

Don't rush through the outline. It isn't a race to the finish line. Think of it as a journey toward a goal. Study these key points of the photography process. Research. Study. Learn. Once you have a working knowledge of the points mentioned ... you will begin to notice a difference in [how you see] the world through the lens of a camera.

Study Guide - ONE
Elements of Photography: Composing the Shot
(c) 2014 Mark D McKinley - a photography enthusiast

This lesson will cover high points of balance and composition. Several factors come together to acheive good compositions - vital to obtaining good shots. The more things a photographer composes correctly in-camera, the less demand and time spent in post editing. Composing a good shot is a time saver - a photographer should place the importance of composition along side sharp focus and proper exposure. Any one of these single factors can make or break an image.

To discern what makes a photograph pleasing to the eye is essential to understanding photography. A well composed shot can evoke emotion. Images can entice us through the sheer beauty of a captured scene. A snapshot can transport us to another place and time, stirring memories from the past - photography is powerful stuff. Pictures that command our attention [and intrique us] occur when the photographer has composed the shot in such a way that everything in the image works together without conflict.

To examine what makes a good composition - a well composed photograph is appealing because the image isn't competiting against itself. Another way to express this would be that the photographer has achieved what I refer to as "Visual Balance". The focal point of the image should always be the subject(s) that you're photographing - without distractions. What isn't in the frame is of equal importance as what is in the frame when peering through the viewfinder. Photographers understand the importance of positive and negative space within an image. Think of positive space as the subject you're framing (the focal point) - understanding the "Rule of Thirds" is essential. Bring these considerations together to better understand the transition from taking pictures to photography. The concept behind photography isn't solely about [getting the shot]. Photography is about framing [everything in the shot] correctly. Comptemplate balance in the visual sense as positioning your subject in the proper area in the picture. When your goal is finding visual balance each time you frame a shot - you'll capture better images.

Let's take the notion of balance and composition further and compose some shots - think about what you've studied. When you're shooting a single performer, they need to be framed so they occupy a balanced place within the viewfinder - precise placement is important. If the placement is wrong visual tension is created for the viewer. Make it a priority to compose well balanced images. That doesn't neccessarily mean you want an individual perfectly centered in each shot. When they're facing directly at you, more [center of image] options are available - it all depends on the background, their surroundings and what you want the image to convey.

A good deal of this study guide is geared toward performance photography, however, the basics apply to nearly ever genre of photography. A centered straight-on headshot is exceptable in most instances depending on how you fill the frame - how close you are to the subject, the type of lens you're shooting with, etc. If your subject turns away from the camera, glances off center, or turn their head left or right, composition requirements change. When your subject is facing left stage, allow more room in the left of the frame - the "Rule of Thirds" might apply for that shot.

The following analogy demonstrates how the "Rule of Thirds" and proper centering apply when framing a shot - consider your camera's viewfinder the portal to a large spacious room. Think of each side of the viewfinder as a wall - the two walls indicate the outside perimeter of the framed shot. The scene [or subject] should be appropriately centered between those two walls before you press the shutter button.

To illustrate why I refer to each side of the viewfinder as a wall - imagine you're standing next to a wall in a large uncluttered room. Now step closer to the wall ... turn around and face the wall. You'd probably feel awkward standing that close to a wall while facing it. Now turn around and face the open room. Without hesitate I suggest that facing the open room feels much better. People are usually more comfortable in a setting that offers adequate personal space.

Apply a similar train of thought to the art of composition. When your subject is positioned too close to the edge of your viewfinder it can produce a visual sense of frustration - especially if the subject is facing toward the edge of the frame. By studying the art of composition you'll learn creative ways of [seeing beyond] the viewfinder and antisipate the final image. In review - if a subject is facing to the left or to the right  - provide that subject some space - give them room to breathe.

Unclutter the image whenever possible to clean up the shot. Live music venues can introduce unique obstacles for the photographer - mic stands, boom arms, cables, music stands, instrument stands, stools, etc. Each obstruction, in bold competition for a place in your shot! Another reason why learning about lines and angles in composition is so important in photography. The visual concept of framing lines and angles can be of great value to the photographer.

On occassion you'll find it difficult to capture a specific performer - circumstances confine mobility and the only good shot available is a bad shot! There are times when the only shot possible means peering through a maze of cables, mic stands, clutter and other distractions. Proper focus on the subject is crucial in this situation. Review your study outline - when you find yourself in this predicament I would suggest composing the shot using lines and angles to direct the viewer's eye.


Study Guide - TWO to be added in the future
Elements of Photography: Refining Images in Post
(c) 2014 Mark D McKinley - a photography enthusiast

Sometimes you'll review a shot that's decent, yet a little tweaking (post-editing), is required to turn it into a useable image. Learning, and knowing, some basic post-editing skills is essential - such as Brightness, Levels, Contrast, Vibrance, Curves, Color, Hue, Saturation, Sharpen, and Cropping.

If your camera allows you to shoot in raw file format, that is certainly the best choice. Raw files save much more image information than a jpeg does. Utilizing software like Adobe PhotoShop, Lightroom, or other photography software will turn your computer into a digital darkroom. Shooting in raw file format provides much more latitude for making adjustments when editing your image files.

(this study guide might be continued ... one of these days :)

(c) 2015 Mark D McKinley - a photography enthusiast (not an expert)

MOGS Photo Gallery (C) 1999-2022 mogswebsite.com