Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Photography Tips From Homer-Dog

My last two posts generated some questions about photography from GeekHiker (GH) and Phil. I decided to use them as an excuse to post about photography.

First a disclaimer.  I am not an expert in photography.  At best I'm average.  Please take any advise in this post or any other Homer's Travels post with a grain of salt.

I like photography.  Capturing that vista, or even better that moment in time, is a challenge which, when successful, gives me a sense of great satisfaction.  My picture taking history stretches, in fits and starts, back to 1995 but, after an aborted start in Alaska, really took off after Peru.  Since then I have taken a lot of pictures and here are the lessons I have learned:
  1. Know your camera.  This is advise that I don't always follow.  I've read my camera's manual a couple times but it seems I've rediscovered useful setting many times over again.  I have become very familiar with the Macro function as I have a predilection for extreme closeups.  I've experimented with levels.  Hey! My camera has a fireworks mode - what does that do?  I'll tell you what it does - it helps take great fireworks pictures.
  2. Point the camera in the right direction at the right time.  This one is probably the hardest thing to do and it's impossible to practice for.  Most of what I would consider my best pictures are a result of luck.  Not much more I can say about this one - either you get the picture or you don't.  For example, the geese from the last post - not trained geese, GH, just a lucky shot.
  3. Take lots of pictures.  I mean a lot of pictures.  A lot.  #3 goes hand in hand with #2.  Since I often don't know the perfect angle or perfect time, I attack the problem with shear volume.  Take them from many angles.  Turn lights on and off.  Use the flash or don't.  Zoom or don't.  Try different camera modes.  Move around.  As of this post I've uploaded 3,820 pictures to Flickr.  Of these I've put only 74 into my Personal Favorites set.  That means to get one picture that I consider good, I have to take almost 52 pictures.  Less than 2% good-to-average yield.  Actually it's worse.  I don't upload all the pictures I take.  I only upload pictures that I consider good enough or are needed to illustrate a post.  This means my yield is much less than 2%.
  4. After you take the picture, load up the Photo Editing application.  Photo Editors are your friend.  I used to think that editing photos was cheating.  Then I bought a book from a National Geographic photographer at a National Geographic sale.  One section of the book talks about tools of the digital darkroom.  If the experts do it, why shouldn't I?  I personally use Google's Picasa.  It's tools are simple and the thing's free.  I usually play with the contrast, sharpness, and, if there's color, the saturation.  A little tweak can turn a 'Meh' picture into a 'Wow' picture.  For more complex stuff, I use Photoshop Elements.  For Phil's question, I rarely use the flash when I can add fill light with my editing application.  The closet was well lit with the closet light and a little Picasa tweaking.
So there you have it.  That's about all the wisdom I have to share.  There are plenty of sites out there in the ether that tell you how to take good pictures.  I'm considering taking a class myself.  You can never learn too much.

    3 comments:

    1. LOL - You knew I was joking about the trained geese, right?

      The one piece of advice I'd like to add about flash: try using it in the daytime. Most people don't ("flash is only for night stuff"), but that little fill can help dark objects in the foreground. And the light is already daylight balanced.

      I'm going to do a photo post of my own in a few days; you beat me to the punch!

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    2. Nice article. One of my New Year's resolutions is to learn to use our digital camera. I had just learned to take some great pics with the Nikon SLR, and they came out with digital.

      Almost all the photos on our blog are taken with a cell phone - not so great. I want to get some of those WOW photos of which you spoke.

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    3. GH: I've never been very good with the flash. I usually try with and without and usually end up using the non-flash version. Maybe I need to learn the way of the flash.

      T_B: Thanks. Digital is wonderful.

      Our cheap cell phone which we use only for emergencies has no camera.

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