I'll divide this post into 2 parts: the first will map the terrain of what you need to know in order to understand the basics of photography, so that you can at least see how far you've come and how much farther you need to go; second, I'll give you some specifics about those aspects of photography.
But I want to emphasize first that you DON'T need to understand it all. As long as you understand whatever you understand, but have a clear picture of what's left to work on, you won't feel so in the dark about photography. Because, contrary to popular opinion, photography is easy, as easy as it's ever been. Cameras are smart, and most of being a good photographer is knowing when to let the camera do its own thang, but also when to adjust or take over in situations where it gets confused.
Still, humans are still smarter than computers when it comes to judgement calls, last time I checked. This may change in the very near future, with cameras that have an "Aesthetic Composition" mode enabled by Canon Artificial Phototelligence™ and that tell you, "Hey, owner. I don't like this composition. Move the frame a teeeeeny more to the left...more...don't cut off the tree...OK, up...more...right there! Shoot!" Until cameras can do that, humans will still be in the drivers seat, and you'll still need to take a photo class one time.
Yet I still maintain that photography is very much not mysterious, not difficult to comprehend, not hard at all. Seriously. I'm not lying. But it does require a base of understanding, to which the learning curve is a bit steep, if only because nowadays, the fancy doodads, chips, and metering modes on point-and-shoots has eliminated the need to learn the basics. Back when point-and-shoots were really JUST that, or you were using Dad's black-and-silver SLR, you had to know more. You know to know whether to choose 100, 200, 400, or 800-speed film, you had to focus yourself, and you might have needed to know what aperture and shutter speed were. Now, that's not the case.
Let me tell you what you need to know.
THE BASICS OF PHOTOGRAPHY
These are the basic things to understand, and should be a checklist for those of you wanting to learn photography for reals:
-- the relationship between shutter and aperture, which entails...
-- knowing what aperture is
-- knowing what the shutter does
-- knowing what depth-of-field is (this is related to aperture, by the way)
-- knowing basically what shutter speeds generally capture which types of motion
-- all of the above entails knowing what ISO, white balance, and other peripheral things are
All of the modes on your DSLR are basically decisions as to how to choose aperture and shutter settings. That's all they are. All those modes on the dial -- just variations, man. Like a Little Richard song: you get one, you get them all. Just read through this stuff below. You don't have to UNDERSTAND it yet -- just get what I'm saying as I describe the terrain.
AV (aperture priority) mode means you choose the aperture, the camera chooses the shutter speed. In TV (shutter priority) mode or "S" on Nikons, you choose the shutter speed, the camera chooses the aperture. Korean refers to this much more honestly, as "half-automatic" modes (반자동). You choose one, the camera chooses the other. Simple.
P for program mode simply does both. Some cameras have just a P where it chooses the aperture and shutter, but you can push the exposure it in one direction, like for a faster shutter speed, even though the camera is still automatically choosing for you. Canons and Nikon DSLR's both have a green P mode (Canon's is just a green box) that basically takes away all power from you -- you have a true point-and-shoot now. It even chooses to pop up a flash for you or not. You put it on green mode, the only difference between you and a blind person taking the picture is composition, which the sighted person will obviously be better at. But that's it. The camera's doing the driving.
And all those funny pictures on the dial? On both Canons and Nikons (and likely others), you get the lady's head, mountains, and the guy running, right? Those are just choosing aperture and shutter for the purposes of portraits, landscapes, and sports, respectively. Then you have the flower, as well as the star and moon, right? The former one is choosing aperture and shutter for macro (extreme close-up) shots, while the latter does the same, but sets the flash for a mixed-lighting effect. Basically, for all those who think flash looks "too harsh" and blackens out the background too much, so you always turn off the flash -- this mode is for you. Now, you get the nice ambient light coupled with the sharpness of flash. This mode is also available on most point-and-shoots. So stop turning off your flash and getting blurry shots. You can get the ambient light and flash together. Best of both worlds.
See -- you just learned something. You're welcome. Hehe.
Really, the only TRUE modes on the camera are AV and TV. Everything else is a variation. Basically, in my course, I just walk people through these modes, explaining as I go. The course is just a walkthrough of the basic functions of the camera, making sure to build explain each function. You don't have to get it all, but now, you at least have a framework to fit it into when you go back and remind yourself of a few things you missed or forgot. That's one reason I'm creating these guides: on the one hand, to attract new students by self-publicizing and talking about photography to get both Korean expat blogosphere and Google love, but also to give my students something more concrete to fall back on as review and resource material.
NOW, FOR SOME OF THE NITTY GRITTY
The basics of photography are the same, and haven't changed in the digital age. I know a lot about photography, as any photographer does. But explaining it is the real kicker, and some people are better than others at it. I'm pretty decent at it, but I also know when to use aids and assistance that can help me get my point across.
To this end, I give you one of the best guides to explaining basic photography ever created by man -- Canon's interactive guide to photography, designed for use with its entry-level cameras. But don't fret, it doesn't just apply to Canon only, since photography is photography, and the symbols used are universal. It's a kickass guide in general:
Click on the link below.
On Canon's Digital Rebel XT Tutorials page, after entering the lesson (it's Flash-based and very cool), go to Lessons #5 and #6 first. When you click on say #5, there are several squares at the bottom of the screen -- these are the pages to that lesson, in case you get confused. Read through the page and click on the next square. Lesson #5 is about aperture, while #6 is about shutter. Do those FIRST. It basically shows you, with graphics and photo examples, what I explained above. And they do a very, very good job. Then, I'd move to Lesson #11 to have all these points driven in concretely, as they explain the modes again in terms of you camera. And yes, this is for the Canon Rebel XT, but it's all the same -- Nikon people, "TV" means "S" -- that's the only difference.
Now, you just learned 80% of what you need to know about photography for free. You're welcome again.
Well, I'm not so dumb as to put myself out of business, because sometimes, things do need explanation. Questions do come up. But as an overview, Canon's guide kicks ass, and I use it in my photo class. The next major thing I cover is flash photography, which Lesson #8 and #18 in the tutorial also does a good job of explaining. The organization of the tutorial is a bit confusing, but I've picked and chosen for you here. I do have my uses, I guess.
Especially for beginners, a trip through the entire left side -- Lessons 1-10 under "Digital Photography Basics" -- is well worth it. And remember, on many of the sub-pages of the lessons, there are arrows and other things to do to compare pictures, show things before and after, or with and without things such as flash.
I guarantee that if you sit down in front of these lessons with your DSLR, in the order I suggest, you will suddenly see that learning photography is not as daunting a thing as you thought. If you are a former student, I hope this is a good review, and it's a guide I use in my classes for all incoming students.
I hope this guide has helped, while updating my street cred for those of you wanting to take a little course on the subject. Hehe. But seriously, add or ask questions in the comment section, or add in your two cents in terms of other resources and guides. But please, no fanboy stuff. I know Nikons are just as good as Canons or Sonys or...Pentaxes...umm, lemme stop there. Hehe. Anyway, you know it's all good and equipment don't mean shit.
It's all about the eye and who's taking the picture. And yeah, you need the right tools for the particular job, and the skills to use them properly. More than anything else, we should all be celebrating the fact that never has so many features been available at the entry level, along with so much smart technology. Never has photography been so easy, and never so cheap. One might scoff at the $500-800 price tags for the entry level, but let me contextualize it this way: digital has finally been brought down from the Mount Olympus of thousands-of-bucks for resolution that is higher than film. Long gone are the days when a camera only had one mode: shutter or aperture. The autofocus available on even the basic kit lens blows away human response times. The fact that, within the space of just a few years, what cost nearly $10,000 is what college kids carry as DSLR accessories to class in Korea just blows me away.
I just switched from film in 2006; to autofocus in 2005. I continue to be stunned, and I appreciate how fast technology is accelerating, how much photography has become democratized. Sure, as with every technological "democratization," from home printers, to EZ web page programs, digital video, self-publishing on blogs, and now, cheap DSLR's -- such massification of technologies that were once available only to the technorati elite generally leads to the creation of a lot more crap. Generally, the art-to-pap ratio not only doesn't stay constant -- it actually gets worse. I don't think that more DSLR leads necessarily to more good photo documentary, street photography, nude erotica, etc. I still think that the overall raw number of artists who truly get dedicated to their fields doesn't change much.
But one thing does change, and a lot -- that's the number of great uses "for the rest us" that these technologies produce, the overall increase in quality of general stuff like baby's first birthday or the family reunion. A birthday party shot on a digital video camera, cut on iMovie, interspersed with a well-edited slide show with the "Ken Burns" effect, and made with professional fades and transitions -- wow. I like the digital age.
I hope this guide can encourage you to make better media for your own personal consumption, or professional stuff that you can call your own art. I think a "professional" of any type is someone who takes their shit seriously, whether it be creative writing, filmmaking, or photography. Because if you don't take yourself seriously as, say, a photographer, do you think anyone else will?
Or put into the words of Ken Light, whom I had the honor to study with in 2001, when answering the oft-asked question of what makes a "professional" photographer, he answered at the time to just look at a person's negatives. An amateur's negatives in a 36-frame sheet are all of different, individual snapshots. A professional's will have several, or even dozens, of the same picture, shot again. And again. And again. A subject's different gesture. Or facial expression. Or part of the frame in focus. Or whatever one feels the need to make sure to get all the elements in the best combination, the best framing, at just the right time. A photographer might have 2 rolls of a subject just talking. Back in the days when film cost money, shots cost more than just disk space.
Source: ESG on Flickr
A photographer shoots. Period.
Hopefully, posts like this can increase the number of shots that come out well, that you can use, while demystifying the process and reducing the frustration that comes with shots that come out badly but you don't know why.
And I also hope this post can remind you of just what level of technological wonder you hold in your hands, or can buy for $600. You've got more raw firepower-as-technology under your hood than any photographer from history could have even dreamed about on their drunkest day. Yeah -- even your little ole' camera. Yeah, YOU.
So why aren't you out there shooting? And did you go through that tutorial yet? Oh, no?!
Then get to it, fellow photographer!
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