On photography how-tos

Photography, simply the technical side of it, is still a bit of a struggle to me.

There are too many settings to keep track of. For instance, aperture (the size of the lens opening), shutter speed and sensor sensitivity determine exposure; exposure, sensor resolution, lens resolution, focus, camera movement and subject movement determine sharpness; and so on.

By the time I have figured out what I need, my subject will have left. Even in landscape photography you often don’t have much time because the sun keeps moving (and clouds before it).

Then there is the fact that for a lot of types of photography you should expect to only get a couple of ‘keepers’, photos good enough to publish as a ratio of all the pictures you took.

That one took a while to wrap my brain around, too. It’s one of the blessings of the digital era that we can take as many photos as we want, that we are no longer bound by the physical limitations of film, which takes up space. I mean, I get the immediate, rational, in-your-face idea behind it, but when I have a camera in my hand I still feel that every shutter button press should count, and feel a sense of failure when it doesn’t.

Modern sports photography (spray and pray) is a clear example of this type, however I have also found that when photographing bees and bumblebees that setting my expectation of the amount of keepers low (1 in 20) helps to ward off frustration.

(Number of keepers refers to successful exposures, not to good pictures. That number is much, much lower. Well, it is in my case.)

But to me the most important discovery was that if you can categorise the sort of photography you are going to do (street, sports, nature, cars, bugs, what have you), there are often dozens of tutorials on the web that will tell you how to approach the subject. What settings you need to get which photo. I guess a good photographer would find it easy to work these out by herself, but I find it easier to ask the internet for help and try and get on with taking (hopefully) interesting pictures myself.

  • Derby photography, freezing the subject:
    • Expect 2 in 5 keepers.
    • 1/250 or faster (you’ll still get motion blur).
    • With modern camera technology you’re going to use F2.8 or ‘faster’ apertures, and high ISOs.
    • If shooting with a DSLR (and for this type of photography you should), set to continuous shooting and subject tracking (AI-Servo on Canon cameras).
    • ‘Freezing’ the subject doesn’t work well for high octane sports such as derby. You’ll get a lot of in-between-the-action shots. Consider ditching photography altogether and switching to video.
  • Motion (that stripey effect):
    • Expect 1 in 10 keepers (practice helps)?
    • Set shutter speed to 1/60 or 1/125, and track the subject with your camera.
  • Photographing bridges:
  • Rain:

And so on.

Not every tutorial is of the same quality, but approach like you would any web page. If it looks the page is there more to generate eyeballs for advertisements than to enlighten you, move to the next search engine hit.

Settings, at least those for exposure, can also be gleaned from a photo’s EXIF data. Flickr has a menu to show you these, although many photographers blank them before uploading. Still, you only need EXIF data of a couple of good photos to be on your way.

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