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When I was a kid, I learned a little bit of photography via a summer program for "gifted" students. I borrowed my father's 35mm Canon rangefinder camera (which was older than I was) and managed to learn the difference between aperture and shutter speed. Unfortunately I didn't really learn how to use them to control pictures. I know that I definitely understood the implications of shutter speed better than aperture. Since I didn't take a lot of pictures, I didn't get my film developed very often, so I didn't really get the opportunity to learn from the pictures that I did take. After a while, my attention ended up elsewhere, and finally came to rest on computers.
Digital photography has changed all that, and I'm pretty eager to make up for lost time. Our recent vacation was a great opportunity to take pictures in a variety of settings, especially since the kids were both old enough and interested enough to take some interesting day trips. The two older girls hiked right up to the top of the obsidian flow with me. One of the things that I did during our vacation (and a bit after) was to read some books on photography. I checked out a bunch of books and tried to read them over the course of the vacation, so that I could try a little bit more on each day trip.
Here are some quick reviews of the various books:
This is the book that picks up where I left off. Peterson covers apertures in a way that made real sense to me, breaking them down into three groups: Storytelling Apertures (f/16, f/22, +), Singular Theme Apertures: (f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6) and Who cares? Apertures (f/8, f/11). That treatment really help me a lot. I switched over to using aperture priority mode much more heavily than I had before. I also felt quite a bit more confident to put the camera into fully manual mode and play around. I did all the waterfall shots on manual, and I also switched to manual on several occasions because the aperture priority wasn't producing what I wanted. There was also a a useful treatment on shutter speeds, but it wasn't as eye-opening for me as the treatment of aperture.
In addition to aperture and shutter speed there was good treatment of front, back, and side-lighting, and some useful tips for metering pictures with the sun in them -- something that Peterson calls "The Sky Brothers", which (unsurprisingly) involves metering the sky and then using the AE lock to shoot the actual composition.
There was also a sidebar on using a tripod. We have a big Slik tripod that we bought years ago to go with our camcorder, so I packed that along on a few of the day trips. Michaela volunteered to be my tripod sherpa for part of the time, and I just carried the camera mounted on it the rest of the time. It's amazing how people's perceptions are affected by things like equipment. When I was taking the waterfall pictures, two or three sets of people asked me to take pictures of them at the falls. In any case, I couldn't have made the waterfall shots, and a few of the other shots that I really liked unless I had the tripod. My hands just shake too much.
This book wasn't actually on the list of books that I started with, but while I was in the library card catalog, I searched for other books by Peterson, and this one came up. I'm at the point where I'll photograph anything for the sake of photographing it, so I was curious for tips on photographing people. There was some treatment on photographing people's faces or hands, and on filling the frame (which has improved my people pictures enormously). Also a bit about lens choices, but since I only have one lens, that only made me wish for more, but I already broke the bank for the year just on the camera. A large section of the book was then application of the techniques from Understanding Exposure applied to people.
My biggest thing with photographing people is just working up the nerve to actually do it. There was a section on approaching people which was helpful, but that doesn't help when you're right there in the situation. I guess I'm going to have to start working on that.
The next two books are about visual design. I've always been intimidated by painting, drawing and so forth. Much of my exposure to the arts has been via music. These two books by Freeman Patterson gave me a jumping off point into the world of visual design.
Patterson stepped through some building blocks of visual design: light, line, shape, and perspective. After that he talked about how to assemble these building blocks into compositions and how they impact/create dominance, balance, proportion, and rhythm. There were lots of photographic examples of all these concepts which helped to get the ideas across.
About a third of the book is exercises/assignments that you could do to start improving your sense of visual design. I think that I'm going to be trying a bunch of these out
This book was a little more "artsy" (for lack of a better description). Sections had names like "Learning to observe", "Thinking sideways", "Abstracting and Seeing" and so forth. Some of this is a little ahead (I think) of where I am artistically. There were lots of very interesting photos, many a little more art-like that the type of photos that I have been making. Again there were some interesting exercises accompanying the various discussions.
The last third of the book was a review of visual design that was reminiscent, but not identical to the material covered in "Photographing the World Around You".
I don't think that I'm going to be getting to these exercises for a little while yet.
By the time I got to this book, some of the material was starting to be repetitive, such as the basic visual design elements, and various kinds of light. I did learn about additive versus subtractive colors, which wasn't treated anywhere else.
Peterson also did a general treatment of the various classes of lenses, which was helpful. The biggest thing that I got out of that section was the use of extension tubes as an alternative to dedicated macro lenses.
The section on composition was probably the most helpful. Via other means I had already learned the benefit of Filling the Frame, and the Rule of Thirds. There was some additional stuff about the Rule of Thirds (prefering 66/33 versus 50/50, and preferring the right third as opposed to the left third) that was helpful. The discussion of framing (Frame within a Frame) and the use of edges was also new. Generally speaking I found this section to be really helpful. Part of it is that Peterson's style seems to be perfect for where I am on the photographic learning curve. All of the exercises that he suggested seem like they would be really helpful to me, so I am definitely going to try and do them all.
If I had to suggest a reading order for these books it would be:
- Understanding Exposure
- Learning to See Creatively
- People in Focus (if you are interested in people photography)
- Photographing the World Around You
- Photography and The Art of Seeing
Of course, the thing that I really need to do now is go and apply myself to some of these exercises.
The Freeman Paterson books also sound intriguing - one can always use something to get the creative juices going.
You might want to look at Joel Sacket's recent book: Island in Time - he's good at approaching people and capturing something. Plus you probably know (or know of) some of the people therein.
The aperture-priority observation is interesting. For quite awhile, I shot mostly documentary/journalism stuff.
This was in the days of manual focus - but overall shutter speed
was usually the most important factor in such images - getting a usable shot of something in motion using available light.
So at that time, even with the automatic cameras of the time (Canon A1/F1) I almost always used shutter-priority.
In fact, I often wondered why the Nikon's at the time did not have shutter priority! Eventually though I drifted away from that
kind of stuff. Now, I usually shoot in aperture-priority, or in "P" mode when simply shooting quick snapshots.
(With my P&S I usually try one at aperture priority, evaluate the exposure, then switch it to manual so i don't have to fight with exposure any further.)
There is another school with respect to people photo's - that's the street photography - a wideangle held at waist level in the old days, a digital with tilt lcd now. Just stop it down and aim in the general direction and be discreet!
A long lens also helps, but only if you're in a place where pointing something like that at the subject doesn't freak them out!
Regarding "filling the frame" - I think that's very good advice, especially for people shots. Unless you need the
background to help tell the "story" of the picture of course.
(there's always exceptions)
Don't worry if you can't get close enough to fill the frame, you can always crop it tight later.
Otherwise, I'm a little skeptical of "rules" - there are certainly compositional standards that we've inherited from centuries of painting and decades of photography, these are pleasing to the majority of people, but the "right third vs the left third"?
I think the saying goes something like "learn the rules so you can know when to break them". but photography is its own medium, and should set its own rules.
A book you might find interesting "Ways of Seeing" - not about photography but about imagery and what it says about the creator and to the viewer.
a more technical book that you may want to read sooner or later is "Color Confidence" - an excellent resource on the subject of color management and getting good color out of the digital lab.
I thought it was a good refresher for stuff I already knew, and I learned some new things as well with respect to certain technical things I had noticed, and a couple of new techniques to better achieve results more easily.
(Now I want a spectrophotometer though!)
I still have the library's copy but will be returning it soon.
You covered a lot of ground, and so did I, if a bit less organized. thanks for posting your reviews.
Posted by rick at Wed Oct 12 23:42:47 2005
Posted by Trackback from In Photos at Thu Oct 13 12:31:16 2005
Thanks for the recommendations. My Dad's 35mm Canon was shutter priority only, so I started out heavily biased that way, so the aperture stuff was especially useful for me.
As far as rules, I don't think that I'm going to hold to any of that stuff super rigidly, but it is nice to know about things that have worked for people in the past.
I got all of the books from the library, if you're interested in checking them out.
Posted by Ted Leung at Thu Oct 13 22:12:13 2005
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