Photography can perform many functions, from copying a document, to recording an event which is meant to be remembered sometime in the future. And it can be an art. Sometimes the most simple objective can turn out to be very difficult, if we haven’t yet learned how to perform the task. For instance, copying a painting. That is not a job for amateurs, if you want a good copy. You need proper lighting, the camera must be parallel to the material you are copying, and the lens should be a neutral lens which does not distort the picture you are taking, something within the category of a portrait lens, between 75mm to 110mm on a 35 mm camera. Now I don’t expect an amateur to understand what this is all about. But I will explain a few of the concepts important to photography, on the basis of this example.
The lens is very important in understanding what the camera can do. What is called a ‘normal’ lens by photographers, is a lens that sees about as much as the human eyes see, when you’re looking at a scene in front of you. On a 35mm camera, this is usually a 55mm or 60mm lens. In the second half of the 20th century, the 35mm camera became the standard of photography. So much so, that even now when buying a digital camera, the effective range of the zoom lens is usually described as an equivalent of what it would do, were it attached to a 35mm camera. Traditionally, lenses had a fixed focus length, which meant that each lens had a particular angle of view. ‘Short’ lenses were short in physical appearance and were closest to the film or sensor when focused on infinity, and ‘long’ lenses looked long, and were held further from the film or the sensor. Short lenses had a wide view, and so were called wide angle lenses, and long lenses had a narrow view, and were called telephoto lenses. Today, most people use zoom lenses, which can imitate wide, normal, and long lenses, all with one lens. This sounds like a great advantage, but every camera and every lens has advantages and disadvantages. There are also disadvantages to zoom lenses.
The most pronounced disadvantage of a zoom lens, is that it allows less light to reach the film or sensor, which means that when you are taking a picture, you need more time to get a proper exposure. This is one of the reasons for blurred images. A lens that allows a lot of light to reach the sensor is called a ‘fast lens’. To understand what an exposure is, imagine that you are going to a faucet to fill a pail with water. You can open the faucet all the way, and then maybe there’ll be some rust or mud in the water. Or you can open it half way… or even just a little bit. If you open the faucet all the way, it will take the least amount of time to fill the bucket. If it is open just a bit, you will have to wait quite some time for the bucket to be filled. A proper exposure is like the bucket full of water. The faucet is the aperture. It is a set of leaves that make the opening of your lens smaller or bigger. The amount of time is called the shutter. It can be set to allow an exposure of a number of minutes, or to allow light to pass through the lens at only 1/4000 of a second. In some cameras you can set even a shorter period of time. Some cameras have a ‘B’ setting. The ‘B’ stands for bulb, which is what was used as a trigger many years ago. And this setting allows you to determine the length of the exposure manually.
Your aperture has a number of setting which are called ‘stops’ in the world of photography. They determine how far the hole in the lens will be opened or closed. There are standard numbers like 4, 5.6, 8. 11, and 16. These numbers represent how many times the area of the lens can fit into the area of the sensor. As I told you last week, the higher the number, the greater the depth of field, that means that something close, and something far away can both be in focus. Some people prefer a shallow depth of field. I used to like shooting with an aperture of f1.4. This allowed me to shoot inside a closed room without using a flash or a tripod. Both the flash and the tripod can help you to shoot people inside, without shooting at a speed so slow that the shake of your hand might blur the picture. A tripod can allow you to take really long exposures. A flash can allow you to take really fast exposures.
The problem with really long exposures, is that the light does not usually cover all of the spectrum, and then you will get strange colors in your pictures. One of the solutions to this problem is to shoot in black and white. An electronic flash will usually give you all of the colors of the spectrum that a human eye can see, but the light of the flash can be very brutal. It will give you the right amount of light at a certain distance. But nearer to the camera, there will be too much light, and further away from the camera there will be too little light. There is also another problem with flash. Head on flash lighting will often cause the subject to look flat. When taking pictures of people, I like the feeling of three dimensions. I want to see a little depth. If you have a sophisticated flash that can be aimed at the ceiling, the light that bounces back from the ceiling will fill the whole of a medium sized room. This will allow you to gain depth in your pictures, and if there are a number of people in the room, you will be able to see them all, and the lighting won’t be limited to a specific distance from the camera.
On the subject of depth, this might be a good place to explain that long lenses tend to make things look flat, whereas wide lenses tend to increase and sometimes (if the angle is very wide) to exaggerate the depth. That is why wide lenses are not good for portraits. Because they cause distortions which detract from the look of the person you are photographing.
In conclusion, today, I would like to discuss the amount of pictures that are taken. We know, that when using words, the most elegant writing is poetry. In using just a few words that represent the essence, without rambling on and on, we are able to offer the most striking thoughts and images. Some people think that because digital photography is almost free of cost, it is to their advantage to take a lot of pictures, and then choose the best, later. Unfortunately, they often swamp themselves in photographs and have a hard time separating the wheat from the chaff. And just as a person who is constantly talking is wearisome, the same is true of a person who is constantly photographing. If you love photography, you should have a sense of rhythm, and restraint when you photograph. You should be able to judge when the situation is right for photography, and not distract everyone around, people and other living creatures, by shooting too much. It will also help you to deal with the pictures when you study them on the computer.
Today’s illustrations were taken with the very simplest cameras, and were improved on the computer. You could get the same results with the camera on your telephone.