Photography Basics

For the next two weeks, we’ll be working on photography and photojournalism. First things first, we’ll learn about the basics of photography and forever-useful creative devices.

Creative Devices for Composition

Good photojournalism begins with understanding basic composition and design principles. Here’s some easy ways to improve your shots.

  1. Steady Does It: Hold the camera steady by digging your elbows into your chest, placing your elbows on something, using two hands, or leaning against a wall.
  2. Move Around and Get Closer: You need to constantly be moving around to get a variety of good shots. Go on your stomach, your knees, a ladder, or chair. Change your position and your angle. Don’t be afraid to get very close to your subjects.
  3. Use Vertical Shots: Don’t always shoot horizontals, be sure you use vertical shots as well.
  4. Pick A Focal Point: The automatic focus on point-and-shoot does a good job at focusing on what you desire, but it is sometimes limiting to work with. So, when you want to focus on something very close and want to blur the background, you can use the “macro” function on your camera (if it has one).
  5. Light: Natural light provided by the sun is the best light to shoot in. If there is bright sunlight and you’re shooting people who are facing the sun, they may squint and shadows may be cast on their faces. Be sure to avoid those shadows by moving around to find the best angle. If there is bright sunlight and people have the sun behind them, their faces will be dark. You can compensate by using a flash. Noon and mid-day sunlight is typically bad sunlight for photography. Sunrise and sunrise light is better. But, partly sunny days provide the best light because it is much softer on skin.

 

Now for the Top 10 Composition Tips as outlined by Photography Mad (No. 1-10), as well as five more suggestions of my own. Some of these are also mentioned in Ch. 7 in the book as well.

  1. Rule of Thirds: Example
  2. Balancing Elements: Example
  3. Leading Lines: Example
  4. Symmetry and Patterns: Example
  5. Viewpoint: Example
  6. Background: Example
  7. Create Depth: Example
  8. Framing: Example
  9. Cropping (Note: This does not refer to cropping in Photoshop; this refers to compositional cropping when you take the photo): Example
  10. Experimentation: Example
  11. Color: Example
  12. Texture: Example
  13. Establishing Size: Example
  14. Contrast: Example
  15. Focus: Example

 

Let’s take a look at some photos on The New York Times Lens photography blog and talk about what kind of devices their photos use.

A note about your rights and duties as a photographer.

  1. In public, you can photograph anyone or anything. If they approach you and request you don’t take their picture, you may respect their request; but, keep in mind that they are in public and they cannot expect any privacy in public (i.e., you can keep taking their picture).
  2. In private residences, businesses, and property, you should get permission. They may not allow photography. **You can always ask for forgiveness rather than permission, though.**
  3. If people ask why you’re taking photos, explain it is for your class blog and schoolwork.

 

Writing Captions

Your subjects’ age and job description are optional in your captions.

If you shoot people, then get names and put them in captions. [Many students neglect this. You NEED names. Unless the person is too far away or completely unrecognizable in the photo.]

A well-written caption adds value and context to the image instead of merely describing the contents of the photo. Consider including information that goes beyond the obvious.

If you capture an event, then who are the key players in the photo and event? When was the event held? What was the purpose of the event? Where was the event held? Why should the viewer care?

If you capture a portrait or photo of a person, tell the viewer more about the person or context of the photo.

(Example of a caption with a person in the photo) Kristen Landreville teaches the Online Journalism class at the University of Wyoming on Tuesday afternoon. She is a professor of communication and journalism and is in her second year of teaching.

(Example of a caption without a person in the photo) Yellow fall leaves litter the lawn on Prexy’s Pasture on Tuesday. The first official day of fall was Saturday.

 

About The Author

I'm a faculty member in Communication & Journalism at the University of Wyoming. At UW, I have taught online journalism, advanced new media, introduction to mass media, politics and media, and alternative media. At Ohio State, where I got my PhD, I taught research methods, news reporting and writing, visual communication, and persuasion. My reserach focuses on political communication, emerging media platforms, and entertainment media. In my spare time, I love to play with my daughters, hang out with my family, cook, hike, jog, read, and blog.