by Mike Rosen
Hi <<First Name>>,
In the last three issues of Photo Tips I've been urging you to "seize control of your camera" if you're serious about making better photographs. I can't emphasize enough how much more satisfying it is to translate your creative vision into your own unique images by understanding and controlling your camera's exposure controls rather than leaving it to pre-determined, automatic settings. Like in any other endeavor, you get out of something what you put into it. With practice, you'll get comfortable and truly enjoy taking creative control of your work into your own hands. You'll be proud of it and amazed at the compliments you'll start to elicit from your viewers.
I'd urge you to go back and review the February (click HERE) and March (click HERE) issues of Photo Tips as a good way to get going on this project.
In addition to aperture (synonomous with lens opening and measured by f-stops), shutter speed (measured in fractions of a second) and depth of field (referring to how much of your scene is in sharp focus), there are several other important camera settings you should understand. Here are two of them (two more next month).
White balance (WB on your camera)
This refers to the hue or tint of the light as it is interpreted by your camera. Adjusting white balance properly will eliminate color cast problems such as overly yellow indoor shots or bluish images made in the shade or low light.
You can set your camera to "auto white balance," but I generally don't recommend this. TIP: Control the color tone yourself by choosing an appropriate white balance option for the type of light present, like daylight, shade, cloudy, tungsten (for indoor shots without flash) or flash (indoor shots with flash).
Note: Serious photographers who shoot in RAW format rather than JPEG can fully adjust white balance in the editing process on their computer, so can feel free to leave their cameras (whether point and shoot or DSLR) on auto white balance (AWB).
This photo was taken from the top of Twin Peaks in San Francisco just after sunset. Note the distinct bluish cast, which imparts a cool, harsh feeling. That's not how I remembered the scene.
Since I was shooting in RAW format with my camera set at AWB, I could fix the white balance on my computer later to eliminate the blue tone and warm up the image. If you're using a point and shoot camera in JPEG (the format used by most non-pro photographers), you could choose the cloudy or shade white balance setting to accomplish the same result. Experiment with different settings to check out the varying moods each one creates.
Focal length is a measure (in millimeters) of the magnifying power of your lens, from wide angle (say about 14-35mm) to telephoto (80-300mm or higher). Nearly all point and shoot cameras have built in zoom lenses, allowing you to easily dial the zoom control, from wide angle continuously through telephoto, by simple finger movements. DSLR cameras, and now some high-end point and shoots, provide for interchangeable lenses, so you can purchase an array of zoom or fixed focal length lenses for different purposes. I use an all-purpose 18-200mm zoom because (a) I like the images it delivers; and (b) I'm lazy--it's a lot easier than lugging around multiple lenses and changing them all the time!
When you see an ad for a 4x camera or zoom lens, that means the ratio between the minimum and maximum focal length is four times, like 28-112mm for example. My lens is about 11x.
TIP: Think about what you're trying to say with your photo and choose an appropriate focal length for that purpose. For example, you would use a wide angle setting for a big landscape scene where you want to include as much as possible. You might also try a relatively wide angle to increase coverage of people in an interior close quarters situation. Conversely you would probably zoom out to maximum telephoto to capture details from a distance such as wildlife. Again, experiment. It's fun and creative.
I couldn't venture too close to a herd of desert elephants in Namibia, so instead I had to get maximum lens magnification of my chosen subject (I'm certain the baby is smiling). So I quickly rotated my zoom to the 200mm telephoto setting and was able to capture one of my favorite images ever.
This dramatic sky outside my home one evening was compelling. However I was fairly close to the houses across the street and wanted to get as wide a sweep of the clouds in the photo as possible. That called for a wide angle lens, so I rotated the zoom control the opposite direction down to 18mm.
Again, the lesson in both these examples is to be aware of your primary reason for making the picture and then adjust your focal length before pushing the shutter button.
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All the best,