Introduction to Photography, the Notes

For the past 14 years, I have taught adult education photo-classes, ranging from “Basic B+W Photo” to “Basic Lighting Techniques” and onto “Don’t Be Afraid of Your DSLR.” In the last six months, I have taught my DSLR introductory class at Mike Crivello’s Cameras four times. I’m proud to say that it has sold out all four times! I thought it might be nice to share the notes that I give the class, via my blog here, for anyone else who would like to understand their cameras better. 🙂



Part 2 here.

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+The Two Most Important Tools for Photography

The two most important concerns, that the understanding of which will vastly improve your photographs, are as David Hurn states in his book “On Being a Photographer“–Viewpoint and Timing.

“These are the two basic controls at the photographer’s command–position and timing--all others are extensions, peripheral ones, compared to them.”

–David Hurn

To make better photos, it is important to keep a certain see-saw active in how you perceive things.  You have to keep a level of mindfulness  going on, that you will be present and responsive in the moment.  You also need to keep a level of “seperate-ness”, that you can be instinctually-aware of what makes a good composition/moment.

One of the problems with photography is, to a degree, that it’s become too easy to make photographs.  Press a button and the camera focuses, exposes, makes an image.  Were we required to exercise more care and thought, we’d likely make more quality images.  To that end, I want to encourage you very, VERY strongly to work on “Conscious Photography“.

By being Conscious, I ask that you, aside from the technical considerations that I’ll soon cover, simply pay attention to your viewfinder.  When you look through your camera, THAT alone is what you’re doing.

–Check your edges–is there anything distracting going on?

–Check your subject–is what caught your attention in the first place recognizable as such?

–Check your viewpoint–is where you are shooting from the best possible vantage point (given practical limitations) to capture your subject?

–Finally, check your timing–is something interesting happening?  Would it be better if you waited another 2 seconds, another 2 minutes?

All of these considerations are important and contribute consciously, or in the sub-structure of our heads, to the success of our image-making.  You need to make photos that people will want to linger over, to spend some time with.

“Above all,  life for a photographer cannot be a matter of indifference.”–Robert Frank

As I mentioned, YOU are responsible for what ends up in your photographs, and so, picture-taking should NOT be carelessly done.  It may be casual, light-hearted and experimental even–but it should not be thoughtless.  YOU make the decision to press the shutter and that is why, when the camera comes to your eye, it “cannot be a matter of indifference” as Mr. Frank says.

+Lens-houses the Aperture/F-stop

wide-angle: takes in more–landscapes, group shots: 11mm-28mm

normal: minimal distortion, similar to our eye’s perspective–general uses: 35mm-60mm

telephoto: to magnify far-away photo-subjects–sports, nature, travel: 80mm-300mm

Super-telephoto: same as “telephoto”, just longer still: 400mm-800mm

+Camera Body-houses the Shutter

It’s from the camera body that the camera settings are made–shutter speeds are selected, ISO sensitivities are set, and so on.

**Study the layout of your controls. Very likely that the features the manufacturer expects you to use are made the most obvious–exposure compensation, exposure mode dial, focus points, etc…**

-ISO  +refers to the light sensitivity of the capture chip.  The more sensitive the chip is, the less light needed to capture a “proper” exposure.

The less light sensitive a chip is, the more rich the colors will be, the more “clean” and free of grain/noise, the image will be.

Low ISO = 50-200 (outside, with flash, with lots of available light)

High ISO = 400-6400+ (indoors or at night/dusk, with/without flash,  with minimal available light)

-Camera Body/Shutter

+The camera body houses the shutter.  Shutter is like a curtain sweeping across the capture plane at a speed set by the camera or photographer.  Shutter speeds are usually displayed as fractions of a second.  500 = 1/500th, 30 = 1/30th and so on.  Most cameras have a range of 1/2000th down to 30 seconds.  The shutter controls the duration of the exposure, how long the capture chip is shown light.

Visually, shutter controls how much movement is allowed in an image.  A “high” shutter speed, a very short duration, will “freeze” motion.  So, when photographing sports, a photographer often tries to get a shutter speed over 1/250th of second or faster, if they want to still the action.  If, on the other hand, a photographer wants to show movement, they may try for an slower shutter speed, such as 1/30th or slower.

-Lens/Aperture (f-stop)

+the lens houses the aperture.  The aperture is basically a valve that opens and closes in pre-set amounts.  Picture it similar to a garden hose’s nozzle.  A gardener can adjust it to let a lot of water through or just a little.  Apertures are often represented by numbers that don’t seem to make a lot of sense.  There is a reason, but it is not pertinent to our discussion for now.  Ask me later if you want.

Important thing is this:  Small number (f1.4, f2, f2.8, f4) lets in LARGE of light.  Higher numbers (f8, f11, f16, f22) let in SMALL amounts of light.

Visual effect is thus:  Lower-number f-stops (f1.4-f4) create photos with a shallow depth-of-field (d.o.f.), such as portraits and close-ups, where the background is all out of focus.

Larger-number f-stops (f8-f/32) create photos with very deep d.o.f., where everything appears to be in focus–landscapes and the like.

-Overview of Basic Exposure Modes:  “Green” Zone, P, M, S/TV, A/Av, Scenic/Picture Modes

**If you want to get better at photography, it means being willing to make bad photos. The Green Zone on most cameras will make good photos and also make it very hard to learn good photography. The Green Zone is the “leave it to the camera” mode and it works real well. It makes it hard to make mistakes. It makes the photo-making process thoughtless. So, AVOID the Green Zone. The GZ is “safe” and risk-less, and where there’s no risk, there’s no achievement. So please, make bad photos–don’t take the easiest route–make mistakes and learn how to avoid. them

+”Green Zone”-Our goal is to stay AWAY from this mode.  FULLY automatic, minimal operator input (depends on make/model).

+Program-This mode is OK to be in.  Fully automatic (camera chooses the shutter and priority), but operator is allowed some freedoms (depends on make/model).

+Shutter Priority– This mode is OK to be in.  This mode is semi-automatic.  Operator has all the freedoms of Program, but also has the control to determine shutter speed setting.  Camera then chooses appropriate aperture.

+Aperture Priority-This is my preferred exposure mode.  This mode is semi-automatic.  Operator again has all the freedoms of Program, but also has the control to determine the aperture setting.  Camera then chooses appropriate shutter speed.

+Manual –This mode is OK to be in.  This mode is completely manual.  Operator chooses shutter speed and aperture, using built-in light-meter to set exposure.

+Picture Modes-the camera “dials in” biases to color and exposure based on selected subject matter.  Are fully-automated modes.


One thought on “Introduction to Photography, the Notes

  1. Thanks for doing this, I look forward to learning a little more next week. I have had some success doing photography and would possibly like some of your input. I have managed to be published twice and hoping for Wisconsin Trails is looking at more of my work. Thanks again and see you next week.

    Karen Snyder

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