“BASICS FOR BEGINNERS” by BRENDA AMOS

“or whatever title you choose” A collection of notes from Image newsletter commencing September, 1984.  The original document was richly illustrated with hand drawn examples.

by BRENDA P. AMOS, AAPS, ARPS, AFIAP, ESAPS

Many of us are quick to recognise a good photographic subject, but are disappointed with our efforts to capture the picture on film.  Perhaps the following will help some new photographers to recognise the many decisions that have to be made before taking a photograph.   At first It requires a conscious effort to consider each aspect. With experience, those decisions will be made almost automatically, in a split second.

The key to success is to think about every picture and spend time considering all angles and approaches, Improvement comes quickly with practise, but it is not how many rolls of film you take that counts – it is how much thought you put into each photograph on those films.

FORMAT

Landscape or portrait.  Use the format that suits the shape of your subject. Make use of all the film area, not just a small part of it.

A central upright subject in a landscape format will be surrounded by  a lot of blank space on either side.  This  could be considered wasted space.  Consider using a portrait format to centre attention on the subject.

Some subjects will suit both formats.  Example a group of pine trees  where the subject, a half revealed but slightly darker tree in the forest suits both vertical and horizontal format.

SIZE WITHIN THE FRAME

Your subject can be overpowered by a large area of uninteresting surroundings.  Get in closer, Concentrate on the subject.  Go very close to show texture and detail.

Sometimes the subject will have a good background (such as beautiful Clouds). Consider standing back and giving the picture an atmosphere of “space”.

HORIZON LINES

A landscape picture divided Into two equal areas can be very uninteresting.  Try a low horizon if the photogenic material Is in the top half.  If the top part is not importanty consider a high horizon with the introduction of foreground interest.

Consider eliminating the sky If it Is bare and uninteresting. This will stop attention being drawn up to the light sky area. it will also enable easier metering for the exposure. Light skies are responsible for a very large, percentage of wrongly-exposed photos taken by beginners.

Some types of horizons (e.g. the sea) must be parallel to the horizontal edge of the frame. Avoid tilting the camera.

DIVIDED INTEREST

This often occurs when photographing similar subject (e.g. people) especially when a blank space separates them in the picture.  Here are some solutions you could try.

Place subjects closer together to remove the gap dividing the picture into 2 halves.

Have one person in profile, looking towards the main subject.

Place the main subject higher in the frame, in a commanding position, where It will attract more attention,

Illuminate the main subject strongly, and slightly subdue the light on the second face. Or have one face closer to camera – focus sharply on main subject and have second face slightly out-of-focus.

Try different poses, consider a formal change.

AVOID DISTRACTIONS

Small bright or light areas (particularly near the edge of a picture) distract from the main subject. These,-aj particularly bad when they are “chopped off” parts of objects.  Example given is the back half of a dog.

Backgrounds.

Many otherwise good pictures are spoiled by bad background. Novice photographers tend to concentrate on the main “subject in front of the camera and do not pay any attention to the surroundings. Many “family type” pictures show common errors such as railings emerging from ears, and tree-orbIs sprouting from heads.

Frequently the above can be remedied if the photographer changes his position slightly. If this isn’t successful he should ask the models to move.to a place with a more pleasing background:

Foregrounds.

Small pieces of rubbish (a piece of paper, discarded drink can or bottle etc.) spoil many pictures. It takes only a moment to tidy the area near your model or subject. Don’t be lazy! Sometimes the distracting object cannot be moved. .Perhaps it is a brightly-painted litter bin, park bench, a car or distant building. This is a challenge to the photographer to use his ingenuity to find some way to keep that unwanted item out of the picture.

A movement to left or right may help. .or a lower/higher camera angle. He might have to move around the area and. look for something to “frame” the picture, and at the same time, block out the distracting item. (More about Framing later).

PEOPLE IN LANDSCAPES

One photographer says always Include a person In a scene. Another says never do this. Which Is correct?, In my opinion – they are both wrongl

A thinking photographer is flexible, He approaches every picture with an open mind, ready to weigh up the pictorial components, before his eyes, deciding what will look best for that particular scene under the existing lighting and weather conditions.

When would the Inclusion of a person spoil a landscape? When the photographer wanted to convey a special mood e.g. an unspoiled natural wilderness – the emptiness of a desert -,a sweep of beach unmarred by human footprints – the devastation after a bushfire … etc. Perhaps the dismal deserted streets of a city at 3 am.

Why include a person?  To add a bright touch to a view of monotonous tones or colours.  To give a “point of interest” to a scene lacking a strong feature to capture attention. To include family/friends In a “holiday record” type photo. To give scale particuIarly to very large ltems.

If a person Is added as a “point Of Interest” or for “scale” be sure the figure is well-placed. (More about this in Composition).

When the view is the main subject ensure the person is fairly small in the picture area, and doesnt obscure any important components of the scene. The person will be less distracting If facing Into the view, so the full-face cannot be seen.

If the person Is the subject of the photo make sure she dominates the landscape (which Is now merely a background). Obtain correct focus and exposure on the person.

Make up your mind – do you want a ‘Landscape” or a “People” plcture?  A compromise rarely works.  Far better to take 2 photos – one of the landscape, the other con     centrating on the person.

PART 2

POSITION OF MAIN SUBJECT.

The long-established “Intersection of Thirds” rule Is not a rulel It Is an excellent guide. Simply – it encourages us to place the main subject somewhere around one of the positions where the lines Intersect.

Don’t think of this as a RULE as that implies a restriction to your imagination. It Is a recommendation that these positions usually result In pleasing arrangements, so they are a good Starting point.

Beginners who use this guide can quickly make great improvements to their pictures – without Inhibiting their freedom of expression.

There is no Book of Rules that can be slavishly followed to produce the perfect picture. Enthusiasm, Imagination and practice will lead towards that goal.

When you consider placing a subject near the Intersection of Thirds, you will probably say “won’t it look lopsided because the rest of the picture area is empty?”  Yes —that would be true If we stopped at that arrangement. But now we Introduce an element of Balance.

BALANCE

A large item can be balanced by one or two smaller items. right or very dark item can be balanced by paler items.

Distribute the ‘weight” of the subject matter. Sometimes the shape of the main subject will suggest the best placement for it.

A bent tree implies strong wind movement from one side, so this position in the frame suits it.  (Tree to one side – leaning in to the centre of the frame).

Now add a secondary interest to the empty side of the picture. This may be quite small, but if well-placed, could be all that is needed for “balance”.  (Picture indicates people or birds on the opposite side of the frame to the tree)

If using clouds, the effect will be especially harmonious if their “line of movement” is in the same direction as the lean of the tree.

Many pleasing arrangements con-slat of a large subject balanced by a similar – though smaller – shape (or shapes).  (A mother cat leads a couple of kittens from right to left)

Taking this further – Repetitions of the main shape can be interesting. (A pair of dolphins leaping)

GIVING DEPTH

The following 2 sketches have two dimensions – height and wIdth.  A square on view of a row of tree and a colonnade are depicted.

However, If a camera-angle and viewpoint are chosen to show those same shapes in diminishing size, the pictures gain a third dimension. There Is an  Illusion of depth.  The viewer now feels he can be drawn.Into the picture.

However if this “line of vision” Is subtle and gentle, the viewer’s attention is led toward the main interest at a leisurely pace, and allowed to appreciate all the material in the whole picture. This type of “lead in” is frequently chosen for a scene with a quiet relaxed mood.

LEADING LINES

These are a way of directing a viewer’s eyes to what you want him to notice in the picture.

It seems logical that a strong line running directly from the frame to the main subject will quickly focus attention on that subject, although the viewer will receive only a fleeting impression of the surrounding elements. Many dramatic pictures feature strong”lead in” lines.

Winding rivers, pathways, curves of hills or waves etc are found In many views. _________

The photographer needs to study the subject from various angles and viewpoints to enable him to decide on the camera position that makes best use of any “leading lines” available.

DON’T BE MIS-LED. Some lines lead out of the scene. If these are dominant (light, bright, or strongly-lit) – they can have the undesired effect of directing the viewer’s attention right out of the picture.  Example – roadway exiting to the right, tree branch leads past the Kookaburra and off the page to the right)

CENTRAL PLACEMENT OF SUBJECT

Countless dull pictures are made by placing the main subject in the middle of the frame. This is usually because no thought was given to considering where the subject would look best. Most subjects look most pleasing when set away from the centre. Ordinary common-place subjects with little artistic appeal need the help of good composition to enhance them.

Central or Symmetrical arrangements CAN result in successful pictures. However, good examples of this kind are not common, and such pictures are not easy to make. They are usually produced by experienced photographers who have developed an “artistic eye”.

Look at quality magazines and find some successful pictures with centrally-placed subjects. You will find that these subjects are usually compelling – with bold lines/impact-filled result.

If you recognise such material in front of your camera one day – by all means, give the subject a central or symmetrical position.

Advertisements contain many excellent examples of how central placement focuses attention on the main item of interest. These are designed by skilled artists to capture attention long enough to notice the product for sale. Don’t confuse this aim with what most of us want our pictures to do – attract and HOLD attention.

Examples: The ad for wine is backed by a strong pattern forcing us to look at the central bottle – read the label – and rush out to buy some! (Radial lines eminate from behind the centrally placed bottle)

For comparison the Still Life (arranged for artistic pleasure) features secondary elements that complement the wine bottle (bunch of grapes). Viewer’s interest will be held longer while he examines the colours, textures and arrangement of these items.

Both pictures are successful but they had different aims.

More about “Placement of Subject” in the next issue,

PLACEMENT OF SUBJECT (continued)

High or Low? Sometimes the positioning of a person – high or low in the frame – helps to complement and enhance the expression on the face.

Emotion and Mood

While the model looks crushed and dejected – place him in the lower part of the frame.

Position him higher when pleasure or excitement give him “a lift.”

Room to move.

When the subject is in motion special care is demanded for framing.

Leave space for it to move into,” This parachutist Is too closely framed. Also, wrong format (Landscape) is used.

He is falling – give him somewhere to- go. (create free space below the parachutist)

Try a diagonal to strengthen the suggestion of movement.

Very fast subjects often look more exciting if given ample space to enter.

Space to look into.

This usually applies to living creatures – people, horses, birds etc. (and models or statues of these). It simply means – make your subject appear ‘comfortable” when you put the four lines of the picture frame around him.

No creature likes having his nose jammed against a wall, so avoid this when framing your portraits etc. –

The two most common solutions

  1. Change the camera angle to leave ample space in front of the nose, and less at the back of the head. –

2 Frame the face closely, eliminating the top and back of the head.,—

Remember – this Is only general advice to help beginners start thinking about better arrangement.  If you want to learn about framing, posing, lighting etc. for portraits, study the work of experts. – –

Some people have a feeling of claustrophobia when they view a tightly cropped portrait. Remember we cannot expect the picture to appeal to every viewer. Present your portrait in the way you think It looks best, and be tolerant of those who prefer a different presentation.

As an old Queensland Proverb says: “When people disagree with you, don’t be upset … they are perfectly entitled to their ridiculous opinions!”

Camera Viewpoint

Camera Viewpoint is an important consideration when positioning a subject.  Three pictures of a leaping child are used to illustrate this point.

Picture a. Photographer was standing at normal height to snap a child. Jumping off the ground. Result: ordinary.

Picture b. Taken by photographer at ground level, subject is against the sky, and now he really looks airborne. Result: impact!

Picture c. A third approach could be to incorporate the child’s shadow as an important part of the scene.              –              –

The above are only three of many angles/approaches that could be – considered. The choice is yours. There are always various possibilities to consider. There is no one “correct” way to take the picture. –

An unusual viewpoint can work wonders at times. It can alter the mood of the picture completely, and turn mundane material into a-fascinating study. Climb onto a fence or a wall … up a tree or ladder, or down a hole ..or lie flat and shoot along at ground level, or upwards.

Don’t worry about people seeing your acrobatic performance! Another Old Queensland Proverb says “He who never loses dignity – loses many picture opportunities.” –

SIMPLIFY

Don’t frame too much in the camera viewfinder. The more unimportant material you have in the picture, the harder it is to make a reasonable arrangement.

A simplified view with a dominant ‘point of interest” has much greater appeal than a cluttered picture crammed with many items of equal importance. Such a “busy” photo causes the viewers’ eyes to constantly scan it, seeking a particilarly interesting place on which to settle

Examples “cluttered” (many fish) “simplified” (a single fish)

DECIDE ON THE MAIN ITEM OF INTEREST, AND FEATURE IT

Here are a few simple ways this can be done.

Lighting Contrast

  1. Light against dark. Attention is Immediately drawn to a light Or brightly-coloured object standing out boldly from darker surroundings.
  2. Rim lighting, Light shining from behind the subject separates it from the background, (Watch for this “halo” effect through hair, fur,, leathers and suchlike).
  3. Dark on light. Maximum contrast is obtained by a silhouette. Success depends on choice of an interesting shape or shapes; good placement within the frame; suitable background, correctly exposed.

Because .a silhouette is dark and dominant, special attention must be paid to the balance of the subject within the frame. Often a too heavy area at the base has to be made smaller.

The mood of a silhouette can be altered by a change of format and/or background. Two views of a subject can differ greatly.

A vertical of a blazing red and yellow sunset will br dramatic.  A horizontal with grey-blue background will suggest a quiet tranquil mood,

Colour Contrast

The dominance of a colour is relative to what surrounds.   A small subject will be lost if Its colour Is similar to that of the background.  It will stand out If It is a contrasting colour.

A picture filled with  masses of saturated colours frequently attracts the comment – “colour for colours sake”. Think of an orchestra, with every Instrument playing a different tune, each striving for attention Confusion!

The same can happen with colours. Bright colours alone don’t guarantee a great picture. In fact, many glorious colour photos are of delicate tones with only faint colour accents.

A thinking photographer uses colour as a tool to enhance his plctures. He learns which colours clash  and which harmonise. He knows how to combine colours to build mood and suggest harmony or discord.

Some photographic text books contain a drawing of the Colour Wheel, showing which colours are In harmony or opposition to others. Much can be learned by studying this, and reading the advice of expert photographers and artists about the use of colours. Collect pictures from magazines and calendars, and see how their authors used colour combinations. It doesn’t matter if you like or hate the pictures – as long as you learn by analysing them.

A simple exercise for new photographers Is as follows. Photograph the same subject against different backgrounds to see how the mood/impact varies. For example, yellow flowers against – an orange wall; blue sky; green leaves; black shadow area; etc.

No need to use expensive film – buy a slightly out-dated roll for a couple of dollars.         •

While learning the effects seen when placing various colours together, remember the shape and arrangement of each area of colour will need attention too.  A “colour” exercise can be used to practise “composition” also.

Differential Focus.

This means deliberately obtaining sharp focus on part of the subject matter. This is useful when wishing to record a sharp “point of interest” and make an obtrusive surrounding area go softly blurred (outof-focus),

Be sure the main item of interest (which is sharp) is well-placed in the frame, and is strong enough in colour/tone and size to dominate the blurred surroundings.

Factors that can help you Obtain this effect are

– subdued lighting

– a wide aperture

– a long focal-length lens

– a film that is not too fast

Examples:

Normal picture.

50 mm. lens        f.22        64 ISO film

A standard lens at small aperture gives great depth-of-field with (sharpness) from front to back of view.

Restricted depth-of-field

Same lens, same film f.4

It you want even less depth-of-field, change to a telephoto lens at maximum aperture.                0-74

200 mm. lens     f.4 (same film).

(The longer focal length will, of course, increase the relative size of background objects).

Has your camera a “Preview” or “Stop down” button which enables you to check focus and depth-of-field?

Do you really understand how to use the depth-of-field scale printed around the lens of your camera?

References

This could be a good time to check your camera Instructions book or read a good clear text book. The HP Series Is excellent.

If you have a camera of one of the most popular brands (Olympus, Canon, Pentax etc) HP have special Camera Manuals for you – titled;  “How to select and use (X brand) SLR cameras”.

I can also recommend HP’s ‘How to take great pictures with your SLR” (which is non-technical) and “Understanding Photography” (giving basics and theory that don’t overwhelm you).

FRAMING

Attention can be concentrated on a subject by adding a frame around It. A frame can also conceal unwanted items in the view; Example: This landscape view, has two faults – bare sky area, and a distracting white tank.

By including two trees for a frame – the tank is hidden, and the blank sky, area Is less obvious.

An added bonus Is the Illusion of depth obtained. The viewer feels he Is standing near the trees, looking Into a distant scene.

Frames most commonly seen In landscapes are trees and rocks. A weakness In many photos by beginners Is Illustrated below. The framing Items have “no vlsible means of support,” and the balan of the picture components is spoilt.

When the frame is as heavy and dark as the examples above, it is wise -to-consider including some supporting tree trunk or rock as below.

Remember – these examples are of heavy and overpowering frames.

If a frame Is of light shapes/tones/colours, a ‘supporting shape” may be unnecessary. Example: Fine lacey foliage across the sky area of a view can make a beautiful picture without needing the whole tree Included.

Angle of light also plays a part In a decision about framing. Example: A branch in bright sunlight might look fine when used as a frame. The same branch In heavy shadow would possibly be too dark and heavy, and “overpower” your main subject.

In cities and towns look for dramatic pictures using architecture and statues/sculpture. A wide-angle lens is an asset here. it will enable you to obtain sharp focus on the framing objects close to you, in additiori to the more distant main subject.

The stark lines of man-made structures can often combine with natural trees etc. for striking photos. Look for Interesting contrasts or harmonies In textures and shapes.

Work situations often provide good framing possibilities. Once you make a conscious effort to look – you’ll probably be surprised how frequently you can use framing to add interest and impact to pictures.

Windows – Intact or broken – can enhance a photo, too. What subjects can you vIsuallse in these frames?

Archways feature in many pleasing pictures, and can be particularly effective when the arched shape is repeated. Try using a frame of material with a broken outline to add to the mood of age and decay when photographing ruins.

If you are new to photography, for a while you may have to make a conscious effort to look for frames. Practise – really think about each subject before taking a photo. With experience, you’ll quickly recognise any framing possibilities present in the area around your subject.

Be very careful to make your frame a secondary Interest.

If it is LARGE – BRIGHT – OR VERY DARK — there is a danger It will dominate your subject.

Also, If you want the frame to register as a sharp image on your film pay particular attention to focus. (See “Depth of field” and “Preview Button” mentioned in the March issue).

Sometimes a frame looks best if It is slightly out-of-focus. Occasionally, a very out-of-focus frame is delightful.

A discerning photographer soon finds the effects he likes when framing different subjects, it just takes a period of thoughtful practise.

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