19 September 2019 (Introduction To Photography)

This week I gave an introduction to photography presentation for club members. Whereas last year I gave a demonstration with my own camera, this year I encouraged members to bring their own cameras and try some exercise themselves. My slides were very similar to previous presentations, and you can download a full set of notes by clicking on the link below.


This time I included some exercises where members photographed sheets of white and black paper and observed how their camera behaved in auto exposure mode. I also set up two makeshift studios: one where a piece of sea coal could be photographed against a white background and another where some white sweet peas could be photographed against a black background. If you are new to photography, or are just starting with a new camera, here are some points to take away:

  1. Learn how to configure your camera so it displays a histogram. For some cameras this involves viewing an image and then pressing an “info” or “display” button to cycle through the various options. Your camera’s instruction manual will tell you how to do it. A histogram that is bunched up on the left hand side suggests your image is under-exposed and a histogram bunched up on the right hand side suggests your image is over-exposed.
  2. If you are new to photography, or are trying out a camera for the first time, start by using the “Auto” modes provided by the camera. When you use these modes you are telling the camera to decide what settings and exposure to use. It helps if you give the camera information on the kind of photography you are doing. There might be special auto modes labelled “landscape”, “portrait”, “sport”, “night scene”, etc… You will find some camera controls locked in these modes (for example the flash pops up when you don’t want it to), which can be frustrating when you want to take more control. The next mode to try is “P”: This is still a fully auto mode (the camera decides on both the aperture and shutter speed) but it lets you take full control over other settings, such as ISO (sensitivity) and flash mode. The most popular modes for creative photography are “A” (set the aperture and let the camera decide the shutter speed – useful for landscapes, portraits and still life) and “S” or “Tv” (set the shutter speed and let the camera decide the aperture – useful for sport and wildlife telephoto shots). But the most creative and flexible mode of all is “M” (manual). Here you take full control of all the camera settings. Manual mode is essential for getting good shots in very unusual situations where the camera meter no longer works properly (for example astrophotography).
  3. All the camera modes except “M” are automatic modes where the camera chooses the overall exposure. Since the camera doesn’t know what it is photographing, it can make mistakes. A white piece of paper and a black of paper are rendered almost the same shade of murky grey. Look for a button on your camera with a symbol similar to the one below. This is the “exposure compensation” button. You can use it to correct the mistakes made by your camera. For some cameras you can adjust the exposure compensation by holding down this button and turning one of the control dials. Other cameras might have a special dial labelled -3,-2,-1,0,+1,+2,+3 which you can turn to the required setting. Changing this setting to +1 when photographing the white paper adds 1 stop to the exposure, and the paper should look a much better shade of white. Changing the setting to -1 when photographing the black paper subtracts 1 stop from the exposure, and the paper should look a more satisfying shade of black. You can fine-tune the setting until the histogram on the back of the camera looks right (see point 1). Don’t forget to restore the setting back to 0.0 when you have finished.
  4. You can bend a sheet of white or black card into a curve and stick it with masking tape between a horizontal surface (table?) and vertical surface (wall or plastic box?) and make an “infinity curve” (or “infinity cove”). This creates a space where you can photograph objects against a plain background which looks like it never ends. These can be quite expensive when purchased as part of a studio, but a piece of card is a much cheaper alternative. The best way to use an infinity curve is with a diffuse light source which casts no shadows. If the natural light in your room doesn’t work, try pointing your flash straight upwards and ask someone to hold another white piece of paper above your camera so the light is reflected from it.
  5. When shooting against a white background, try a positive exposure compensation and when shooting against a black background try a negative exposure compensation (see point 3). You can also try using your camera’s “spot” exposure mode and place the spot on the object.

Joe finished the evening by giving a mounting masterclass with the club’s new mount cutter.

I hope my presentation helps you get the best use from your camera. Best of luck. 🙂