Continuing our series on photography basics we look at flash, tripods and lenses.
Using on camera flash
Using a flash that sits on top of your camera is the easiest way to make your photos look flat and boring. When we are taking a photograph what we are actually trying to do is trick the mind into thinking we have created a three dimensional image on a two dimensional plane. To achieve this shadow is our best friend.
Let’s use a portrait as an example. This lovely picture was taken with the light (a flash mounted on a tripod) just the left of the subject. We can see the light coming in to the face and dropping off into shadow and already there is a sense that this is a three dimensional object.
Lighting with flash
A photo where the light is mounted on top of the camera looks flat and two dimensional and not really very good.
This is what your pop up flash does to every picture so unless you are able to use an off camera flash use it sparingly.
There are some occasions when your pop up flash can be used creatively, in particular when you have a backlit subject.
How many times have you stood in front of a beautiful view or tourist spot only for the background to become bright and washed out and for you to be eclipsed into shadow?
A simple remedy for this is to use your pop up flash as a fill light. What you are trying to achieve is the same about of light falling onto your subject as onto your scene so you will have to get close to your subject as you pop up flash will have a very limited range.
If you are using a fully automatic or portrait setting on your camera then it’s likely that your flash will pop up automatically but of you are using a manual setting then you’ll have to flick it up manually.
Your fill flash will also have various power setting which are worth experimenting with and it should be easy enough for you to change the power levels if needed.
This is a very simple set up but it does create a lovely image.
Find a nice viewpoint and wait till just before sunset.
Set your camera to manual mode and take an exposure reading which will achieve a lovely landscape with the sunset nice and colourful and the sky with plenty of detail.
Now position the subject with his or her back to the sun and take a shot.
They should appear as a silhouette.
Pop up your flash and set to its lowest setting.
Take a series of images increasing your flash power with each shot.
Now do one more shot with your flash on AUTO
You might find that your auto setting is too bright on your subject but the experiment should give you an idea if how much fill flash you might want to use in the future.
Important : when doing this experiment make sure you are the same distance away from your subject for each shot. If its not bright enough in any of your shots then move closer to your subject and do it again.
Any time when using flash the inverse square law can help you.
The inverse square law : double the distance = quarter the light
If you are 4 metres away from your subject and your flash is not bright enough move 2 metres forward and you will have 25% more light.
How to stand and using a tripod
Why do you never see a professional photographer holding a camera at arms length to take their pictures?
It’s not that they have fancy cameras with a tilting screen (many of them do) it’s because you can’t compose an image as well at arms length as you can when it’s tucked up in your face.
In fact of you see a professional photographer photographing like this then they are either one of two things.
1. So confident in their instinctual ability to compose an image that they do not even need to properly look at what they are doing to take a great picture.
2. They are an amateur.
I have a feeling in most cases it will be the latter but let’s not dwell on that too much…especially as I’m guilty of not looking through my viewfinder at all and just trusting 20 years of experience and an awesome camera with face tracking.
To take the best picture you possibly can when holding a camera stand up straight with your feet shoulder width apart, hold the camera up to your eye with both hands and have your elbows tucked in.
Sounds simple, and it is, but this is the most stable position for taking pictures unless you’re going to use a tripod.
Why and when to use a tripod?
Most photos are out of focus because of camera shake. This normally happens when you are holding your camera and using a slow shutter speed (anything under 1/60th of a second in my case).
Some cameras have image stabilisation but that will only tell you get away with so much.
By using a tripod you pretty much eliminates that factor and all you have to worry about is your subject is moving too fast for your shutter speed.
This is why you see landscape photographers using tripods. Keeping the camera steady means that you can use smaller apertures which let less light in but have more of the scene in focus and need longer shutter speeds to compliment them.
Tripods are great for capturing a blurred moment without blurring the rest of the scene. This could be people walking through a scene or blurring the movement of a river or waterfall.
Another reason for using a tripod is if you are bracketing your exposure or creating a HDR image. What you need in both instances is the exactly same scene and unless you can stay perfectly still in between shots then it’s unlikely that you will be able to achieve this without a tripod.
When you are using a tripod it is best to use a remote trigger or a timer as the act of you pressing your shutter still does add some movement to your camera.
I always used to think these were quite silly and pointless things until I actually started using one of them!
When shooting portraits on location I often experienced a small amount of camera shake due to the fact that photographing children is a fast paced activity. I was using long lenses which added weight to my camera and didn’t really help matters.
As I am constantly on the move in a portrait session, especially ones with toddlers, using a tripod isn’t really an option. The monopod allows me to be far more mobile whilst still keeping my camera steady.
The monopod does slow me down more than if I were just shooting hand held but that extra bit of time allows me to consider my shoot better. As a result my images have improved so that can’t be a bad thing at all!
What lens should I use?
A good lens is more valuable than a good camera body and will certainly outlive it. That statement is certainly true but what I’m not suggesting is that you blow your budget on glass* early on. In all honesty buy the best lenses you can afford and build up your collection slowly. But I guess you’re wondering what type of lenses are the best?
*A term that all the cool kids call lenses.
Think about what you intend to photograph first then think about what equipment you will need. It’s unlikely that if you’re doing lots of portrait work you’ll need a fish eye or massive sports photography zoom so be sensible.
If you are going to invest lots of money start off with one good workhorse lens. Mine is a 24-70mm zoom which has a largest aperture of 2.8.
This is great for just about everything I do.The f2.8 aperture means I can photograph easily in low light and get a really shallow depth of field. The 24mm end of the zoom means I can get lovely wide angle group photos without too much distortion and the 70mm end is great for portraits.
Bare in mind I’m using this on a full frame DSLR so of you are using a camera with a small sensor then the equivalent lens size will be something like 17-55mm
If you are just starting out and you have what we lovingly refer to in the industry as a kit lens then that’s absolutely fine. If you are going to invest more money in lenses though I would replace this one before buying others. The simple reason being that this will be the lens that you’ll most likely be doing most of your work with and like I said before, it will outlive your current body.
This is fine if you are buying into a system where the lenses fit onto both entry level and high end bodies. The problem is that there are lots of mid price mirrorless camera systems that have their own lens system. Most of these lenses can’t be used on the SLR models so if you’re spending a lot of money on glass then make sure your are going to stick with that system and not want to upgrade in the not so distant future.
Zoom or Prime lenses?
Firstly I should make it clear that Prime lenses are awesome. They have a particular quality about them which zoom lenses just can’t get near, this is why they are expensive.
If you are just starting out then certainly stick with the zoom lenses but of you are tempted in trying out a prime lens then both Canon and Nikon offer very affordable 50mm prime lenses. Affordable inasmuch as they will cost you less than £100 which is about as affordable as you can get when you’re talking about lenses.
Yes these 50mm are a bit plasticky but they are actually pretty good and I would recommend putting it on your Christmas list.
If you have any particular questions regarding what type of lenses you should be using for different jobs please feel free to contact me.