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Thursday, July 8, 2010

What Makes a Good Photograph?

     The era of digital photography has created a plethora of photographers. Many of these photographers have even purchased professional grade cameras. While having a good camera is important, how is it that there are still extreme differences in the quality of photography between photographers? To answer this question, lets look at the fundamentals of photography.

     By definition photography means, “Drawing with light.” If the quality of your lighting is poor, your picture quality will suffer even if you use a several thousand dollar camera setup. When I first started I made the mistake of adding lots of lighting and thinking that would improve my photography. While the quantity of light is important, especially when photographing action, the quality of the lighting is even more important. The quality of the light deals with the position and the softness of the light. The larger the light source, the less harsh the shadows become. Carefully placed shadows can evoke a mood or set the tone of a photograph. If using outdoor lighting, try taking pictures in the early morning or late evening light because it produces softer, more attractive lighting than photographing during midday.
     Lens quality and selection are important factors that can make the difference between a good and a great portrait. Many of the starter kit lenses sold with dSLR cameras are considered all-purpose lenses. They work well in lots of light and usually only cost a few hundred dollars. Excellent quality zoom lenses can easily cost in the thousand dollar price range. The professional range lenses help capture better contrast, sharpness, and color purity than their cheaper alternatives. The lens length (wide or close) can create a difference in portrait quality. The wider angle lenses tend to create some distortion which can make a person appear disproportioned with the rest of the scene. Longer lenses help to create blurry backgrounds that place the attention on the subject and avoid distractions from elsewhere in the frame.

     Finally, whether you are using a cell-phone camera or a $20,000 medium format camera, all great photographs start with pleasing composition. Using the rule of thirds as a guideline can help to create pleasing arrangements. Think of the rule of thirds as the tic-tac-toe rule. Where the two lines connect is usually the most emphasized part of a picture. A general rule of thumb is to keep the eye line or horizon on the upper third. Before snapping the shutter, look around the frame for anything out of place. Do not take the picture until you have checked the foreground and background for anything distracting. Learning which angles are pleasing and how to frame a scene comes by lots of practice. An excellent way to develop a photographic eye is to study photographs. Ask yourself, what makes this a good picture? Why could the photographer not see the light post behind her head?

     No matter where you live, there are enough nearby pictures opportunities to keep you busy for a lifetime. So why not grab your camera and show the world through the eye of your camera lens. Photography is a skill that is not developed overnight so remember, “The more you look to learn, the more you will learn to look.”

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