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Photography 101

With the advent of the inexpensive digital camera, there's no longer an excuse not to take lots and lots of pictures.You no longer have to pay for photo processing of photos that are out of focus, blurry or badly exposed because you can preview your photos on your screen and print what you want. Even better, your camera probably came with software that helps eliminate "red eye" in flash photos as well as the ability to "crop" photos by trimming uninteresting things out of the photos themselves before you print them! You also have control of color hue, saturation, contrast, brightness and even sharpness.

Taking Head Shots

People are generally self conscious about someone wanting to take their photograph, and one of the best ways to disarm the subject is to take many, many shots. Tell the person just to let the camera do the work as you snap away, one after another. Seven or eight shots later, they'll not be so concerned and will loosen up because they'll feel they don't have to "pose" for the shot. And because in only a couple minutes you'll have taken 20 or 30 shots of them, the likelihood that one of them is decent goes wayyyyy up. The person is also less likely to want to view them all, too.


The quickest way to set up a good head shot photograph is to know what the subject of the photo is and to know that the subject is the most important part of the photo. If the subject is a person's face, then taking the photo against a background that has a lot of action or color will compete with the subject -- it will draw the viewer's eye away from what you want them to see. A quick way to do this is to be either taller or shorter than the subject. For example, you might ask the subject to sit down while you stand and take the photo. If you're outside, the grass will probably become the background. Or if they stood on a bench and you knelt down to take the photo, you can position them against a cloud, the sky or a bushy tree.

Learn How Your Camera Focuses

Most digital cameras use some form of autofocus. And while it's generally quite successful, it can let you down when you least expect it. You need to learn what parts of the viewing screen are the "hot" areas where the autofocus system is most sensitive. Usually this means reading the camera's manual, but there's not substitute for experimenting. After all, taking practice digital photos is pretty cheap -- you can just view them on the screen and delete them later.

  • Test 1: Outside on a bright day, put two pieces of tape on the ground about 12 feet apart. Have your subject stand on one; you stand on the other. You'll be taking 9 pictures. Imagine drawing a tic-tac-toe figure on top of your viewfinder to divide it into 9 sections. Position the person's face in each of the sections and take a photo of each.
  • Test 2: Repeat the test, this time indoors with the flash turned off.
  • Test 3: Repeat the test again, this time indoors with flash.
  • Test 4: Repeat the test again, this time indoors with the lights turned off just before you snap the photo.

You'll very likely be able to see differences in the clarity of the pictures. Decide which is best and remember it.

Learn Your Flash's Limitations

I always think it's hilarious to go to a baseball game and see people in Section 35 try to take flash pictures of the star second baseman tagging out runners. The amount of light that gets to 2nd base from that far away is so low it can barely even be measured. This is because of what is called the "law of reciprocity." Without getting into the math, the net effect is that flash illumination drops off very, very quickly as the distance to the subject increases. In addition, the light from a single source such as a camera flash can't cover an object absolutely evenly, either. (It's a physical impossibility.) Therefore, you need to spend some time with your camera and a fresh set of batteries to learn the flash's limitations. Test #4 above will help -- you'll be quite surprised when you see the results!

Learn How to Hold a Camera Steady

This seems easy, but it's often not. Part of the reason is that digital cameras often have a delay between the time when you press the shutter button and when the camera takes the photo. And unlike film cameras, most digital cameras need a brief period of time to store the image into the camera's memory, causing another delay before another picture can be taken. More digital photos are ruined because the user moved just after pressing the button instead of waiting. And by the way, it really does help to hold your breath while you're waiting!

Body posture can help steadiness, too. When you hold any kind of camera, you should have your elbows touching your body instead of pointed out into space. This is especially important on windy days.

Understanding Backlighting