Basics of Photography

dslr-camera
While it is great to use a DSLR camera because they produce high-quality photos, you can still capture great photos using your smartphone or point-and-shoot camera.

For the next two weeks, we’ll be working on photography and photojournalism. While it is great to have an expensive digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera, it is not necessary for this class. We can still take great photos with our smartphones and point-and-shoot cameras.

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.

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.

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.

photographer_laying
Move around to get different angles and perspectives.

Use Vertical Shots: Don’t always shoot horizontals, be sure you use vertical shots as well.

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).

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 sunset light is better. But, partly sunny days provide the best light because it is much softer on skin.

shooting_into_the_sun
Shooting into the sun will create shadows on your subjects. This creates interesting contrast. Alternatively, you could use a flash in order to provide some lighting on your subjects.

Now for the Top Composition Tips as outlined by Photography Mad, as well as a few 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. Color: Example
  11. Texture: Example
  12. Establishing Size: Example
  13. Contrast: Example
  14. Focus: Example

Active Learning Activity

Get into a group of 2-3 students.

Review the The New York Times Lens photography blog.

Talk about each photo that you examine in terms of the creative devices used in the photo.

Discuss how the photographer may have captured this photo. What were the potential challenges in capturing the photo?

Discuss the messages that the photograph is communicating. If a “picture is worth a thousands words”, then what words are being communicated? –> We will talk more about this in Wednesday’s class.

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

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 Multimedia Production class at the University of Wyoming on Monday morning. She is a professor of communication and journalism and is in her eighth year at UW.

(Example of a caption without a person in the photo) New fallen snow shimmers on the frozen ground of Prexy’s Pasture on Monday. This February has been one of the warmest on recent record, according to the National Weather Service.

Blog Post #3: Digital Photography Assignment

Blog Post 3 – Digital Photography

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.