Learning the capability of your equipment and how it will see a scene you shoot and utilizing that knowledge, I think is a skill akin to that of Leonardo Da Vinci, Pablo Picasso or Rembrandt van Rijn. You think this is a little over stated? Perhaps not. Not only will you notice the shading caused by the light, the setting around your subject and how you want to set-up your shot, but when your new skill is perfected you will be able to estimate with some certainty the shutter speed necessary to render your subject perfectly lit.
As I have personally begun my own education in estimating shutter speed in connection with proper exposure, I understand it takes a little time and thought before pushing the shutter button. I was the impatient student ready to push the shutter button expecting a miraculous photo worth thousands of dollars. Even if I were completely talented, talent can be formed and shaped. So now I understand the value of learning the basics and the power of their effects in a photo. So get ready: Here we launch into a few practical steps to learn and practice in “self-metering” light.
Where is your subject? Sitting in light, with face shadowed? The location of your subject relative to your light source is important to note because a person’s face is a delicate surface to capture.
What is the part of your subject you want properly lit? Eyes more specifically than only the face for best expression. What I meant by a person’s face being a delicate surface to capture is that being so well-shaped it is deeply shaded or over lit. Proper lighting may require a longer exposure time than you are used to, but keep a tripod or mono-pod on hand to help steady your camera.
How is the background lit in contrast to your subject? Is the background part of the photo as you planned? Be sure to plan steps to include the background elements essential to your designed shot.
Asking questions can open a whole new set of opportunities to you and not just in learning your equipment, but also for the availability of “pre-designed studios”. Allow me to explain: Friday afternoon I was in the local IKEA store, and with my camera over my shoulder I kept seeing one stock shot after another. So I found a floor sales assistant and asked for permission to take photos in-store. After some checking up the chain of command I was given the “okay” to take photos of the store product and section design.
Now, please understand this is a casual business agreement. Because I want something to push my business ahead, IKEA or any other company you ask for this kind of permission will also want something in return. This is a kind of business bartering and be ready to handle it with care and wisdom. IKEA obviously does not want me to obstruct the shopping experience of their other customers, and so I carefully choose which pieces of equipment I will use while taking photographic shots.
Also, IKEA appreciates name publication and rightly so! Each company in a free market thrives on word of mouth recommendations and name recognition. I as a business owner and sole operator understand this and I am willing to give them what publicity I can in exchange for my ability to profit of photographing their store design and product layout.
As a benefit to me and a method of contact for the store management, I gave the employee my business card. In case you didn’t catch it, I just got publicity and name recognition with this employee which IKEA has asked of me by handing out my business card. Now, this is not a game of “one-up-manship”, but on the contrary; this is “I help you for helping me” business. A kind of “Thank you for permission”, “And you for your consideration.” Beautiful business assistance.
I have talked a lot about learning as much about my equipment as possible before investing in something new or additional for the studio. I almost did not take my own advise. Let me tell you a story.
I have become “lazy” in the digital part of photography by letting my camera suggest the proper exposure time for a photo. I usually shoot in manual mode with my Canon Rebel xTi, but I have only used half of the capabilities given to me in manual mode.
Just yesterday as I was on an errand, I looked into the sky to see some of the most beautiful clouds back-lit by the sun. So I got my camera, made sure my settings were proper for shooting into the sun. Raising my camera to my eye and observing the metering, it showed that the photo would have been much to over-exposed for the style of shot I was seeking, so I forgot the meter and raised my shutter speed to 1/50 of a second. Then as the instinctive digital photographer I am, I looked at the LCD screen to see how the shot came out. *Fail Buzzer*
I have wanted to distance myself from these “fail-safe” practices by pursuing extensive education in film photography. I wanted to know what the conditions for a shot around me were as well as knowing how to manipulate the camera settings to get the best shot for style, exposure or journalism.
So I began asking myself, why I thought film would help me accomplish this goal. My answer came to this: “Film is 1 set quality of ISO per roll.” Thus the ISO cannot be easily changed without risking the exposed film.
Guess what? I can start this training by setting my digital camera ISO and refrain from changing it. This will give me only the options to change shutter speed and aperture to best suit my shooting preferences. While this will not keep me from watching the camera meter I can accomplish my goal in maintaining a certain ISO quality and working with more effective resources.
“Is it really necessary that I purchase an expensive camera to get nice photos?” Answer: “No. An expensive camera is not necessary to get nice photos.”
Even though I now am a professional photographer I still do not own the top of the line digital camera and a studio full of fancy equipment.
I actually began testing myself in the field of photography with a camera in a cellular phone. I have since the age of 4 played with differing film camera models which came from the late 1960’s, but this was different. This time, using a digital camera in a cellular phone, I did not need to buy for film and pay for processing.
This is not to say that I would be satisfied to go back to using the camera inside the cellular phone, however it provided me a great opportunity learn the angles and perspectives which bring the picture together to communicate a logical visual thought. [Woe! Okay Mr. Big Words; Let us read this in an understandable language this time! – Blog editor] It is important to capture the subject in a natural, comfortable pose. If a viewer looks at the photo and says what they are thinking, would they say something like “That does not look comfortable!” Or would they say, “Wow! I wish I looked that good.” Truthfully we all think that about ourselves, super model or not. The important thing to remember is that the beauty we see is inherent within the person and how they look comes from the way the picture was taken.
Go to a camera store, and I mean a camera store, not a computer super-store. Talk to a sales associate about renting a digital camera and take it out with you everywhere; subjecting it to all the situations in which you will find yourself, testing its abilities. Learn the camera’s strengths and weaknesses. If it will help you, treat the time you have rented the camera as a product review and you are a highly acclaimed journalist who could make or break this store’s sales quarter.
In other words, enjoy your time and put the camera through its paces.