Thoughts on Photography

A picture is essentially capturing light on film. The art of photography is making the image you capture equate with what you want to show. When taking a photograph there are only a few variable that you generally have control over:

  • point of view,
  • effective focal length (depends on lens and film size),
  • aperture,
  • shutter speed,
  • focus distance, and
  • type of film.

These items are of course highly tied into each other. You usually can't change one without having an effect on the others.

No matter how fancy your camera is, these are still the only variables that effect the results of the picture. For example you can have an extremely complicated exposure system with multi-point 3-D exposure, but still the only variables that are being set are the aperature and the shutter speed.

point of view - The point of view or composition of the picture is really the most important thing. This is being in the right place at the right time, and composing the picture just right. Having an eye for photography is something that some people have and other don't. Those that don't often find a number of "rules" of composition that may be helpful.

The compressed image that occurs when using a long telephoto lens (210mm). Picture is taken on Grouse Mountain of the gondola. (James M9000)

focal length - This is how close the subject appears. This is effectively a way of cropping the photo in the camera and effectively making a bigger enlargement of that portion of the photo. This makes the image appear more compressed. However, it doesn't actually change your point of view. If you take a picture with a 50mm lens and then take a picture from the same location with a 200mm lens, you could take the photograph with the 50mm lens and crop to the same portion of the 200mm lens and effectively have the same photograph. (Except of course for the increased grain of the 50mm photo and the shallower depth of field of the 200mm lense for the same aperature)

aperture/shutter speed - These determine how much light reaches the film. A larger aperture, (smaller number - size of the openinig is related to the reciprocal of the aperture number) allows more light, as does opening the the shutter for a longer period of time. This is generally a trade-off as using a smaller aperture gives you a greater depth of field, but decreasing the shutter speed will increase movement blur (both from camera movement and subject movement). However, there are some cases where you want to limit the depth of field, or allow blur from subject movement.

focus distance - This is what your camera is focused on. Generally the closer the object focused on the shallower the depth of field.

Picture of Julia and James' hand taken with 1600 speed film pushed to 6400. The film grain is quite evident. (James M9000)

film speed - The faster the film (higher the ISO number) the less light that is required to take a picture. This gives you more options in the aperature/shutter speed trade-off. however, it is at the expense of film grain. Faster films such as 1600, 800 or even 400 speed films show more grain than the slower films.

Flash - When you add a flash you increase the variables considerably. Personally I believe that in most circumstances you are better off without using a flash. Unless used skillfully, a flash tends to make photographs look unnatural. When using fill flash, especially near sunset or sunrise, the colours and the shadows often look wrong as the natural lighting is quite warm, but the electronic flash is very white. I have seen a number of books on photography instructions, and many of the fill flash examples look bad. In many cases you can get away with changing your viewpoint, use reflected light to light the subject, or basing the exposure on the subject and letting the background be overexposed. However, I would admit that I occasionally in many cases this is the best option and there are some fill flash photographs that actually work quite well. I think it is best if used sparingly and with the absolute minimum of flash power possible.

Fill flash was used to eliminate the very dark shadows on the face. The lighting looks a little bit unnatural, but it was the only option in this snapshot. (James M7 - 013021)

When there is not enough light to take a photograph flash may be the only option. I would first look at using high speed film and a high speed lens. When flash is the only option it is important to try and keep the subject in a line close to the background and avoid having any foreground elements much closer than your subject. Anything much closer than your subject will be overexposed and anything much further away than your subject will be underexposed.

Digital Photography

I think it is pretty safe to say that digital photography will eventually replace almost all film photography. It is faster, cheaper, and the quality of the results is already rivaling 35mm film. However, personally I am in no hurry to switch entirely to digital photography. I like having the physical negatives and prints. Previously I wasn't interested in digital as I don't like looking at photos on the computer, having to deal with digital files in the field was difficult and printing was expensive. This has changed with the massive cf memory cards now available for relatively cheap and the cheap printing that is readily available from digital files, there is less and less reasons to switch. My sole remaining reason is expense. I have a number of cameras that I really like and have a lot of money invested in the equipment. To replace these cameras with digital cameras with similar features would be outrageously exensive. However, that has been changing as well and I think it is only a matter of time before I will switch.