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09-15-2012, 06:55 AM   #1
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Rules of Thumb

I need some help.

In the past when I was in school and would go out and shoot I felt like I was doing it blindly. No matter how much knowledge about photography I had (exposure, DOF, camera shake, white balance, etc. ) I always felt like I was just pressing button and turning knobs in hopes of getting the right shot.

I tried to teach myself to stop and think through the long list of decisions I was required to make in order to get the right pic. I started to carry a small notebook with me to jot down notes, and tidbits I'd learn along the way.

With digital photography it's much easier to experiment, you can just test your way through a shot. But when I decided to pick the camera back up and get back into shooting I decided to shoot all film. The only digital I have is my phone camera.

I feel like I need a set of guidelines, a collection of rules of thumbs to check for and think about before I take the shot.

Does anyone have a good set of these? A type of step by step process that guides you the right direction when shooting and then you adjust accordingly to fit the situation?

There are so many things to consider, so many decisions to make. I'm starting to feel a little overwhelmed again and when that happens I find myself resorting back to my old habit of turning dials, pressing buttons and just guessing my way through a shot. Then hoping the film comes back looking good.

09-15-2012, 07:31 AM   #2
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I suppose it depends on what you're shooting. It would help if you expanded on that. I mostly shoot real estate, so I kind of keep these rules in my head when shooting houses and interiors:
Shoot below eye level. Nothing looks worse to a prospective home buyer than an image almost completely filled with ceilings.
Shoot for the windows and meter on natural light. I want viewers to be able to clearly see through them; nothing is worse than having every window a blown - out mess, leeching light onto windowsills and adjacent walls.
If you have to shoot above something, stand tall and shoot down. Better to fix perspective later but get a good detail.
Not sure if this is any help to you, but before assigning yourself rules, first choose what you want to shoot. Good trial and error will follow.
09-15-2012, 07:35 AM   #3
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Why are you not wanting to shoot digital?

Immediate feedback of digital shooting will help you become intuitive with the type of setting that you may prefer. If you ever shoot digitally, do it in manual mode. If you insist shooting film, I recommend Leica, which forces you to decide your settings manually. At any rate, I think what you need is quick feedbacks and repetitions.

In the end, a rule of thumb just may make many of your pictures more or less the same. If anything, "anything goes" kind of attitude can make the act of shooting more fun. I see nothing wrong with just going out there and shoot with not a whole lot of thinking.
09-15-2012, 08:39 AM   #4
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I kinda also start thinking into moving into analog. Somehow I feel like it makes you more disciplined and realy makes you think: what lenses to take, how to use current setup - and how to make the most of the money that will be put into developing photos.... Digital makes people lazy.

09-16-2012, 05:29 AM   #5
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There are really only 2 rules I know.

The sunny 16 rule, where on a sunny day at F16 exposure time is 1/ISO


Shutter speed = 1 / focal length to remove camera shake.

You could add when shooting a white subject or snow add 2 stops of exposure to compensate for the white subject, but that's about it.
09-16-2012, 06:14 AM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by SCADjacket Quote
I'm starting to feel a little overwhelmed again and when that happens I find myself resorting back to my old habit of turning dials, pressing buttons and just guessing my way through a shot. Then hoping the film comes back looking good
What you are saying is that you dont like the pictures you take. It seems like you know how to make a 'correct' exposure. It maybe the composition aspects that you are having trouble with. In any case, your question is still vague.

Here is what I would do:

Go to the photos section in this site. Then click on Users Photo Gallery. [Don't go for the exclusive gallery at this point]. There are about a dozen categories. Choose just one favorite type of category. Find the first photo that you really like. Save the link. Try to compose the EXACT kind of picture. I literally mean that. This is a learning experience. You are not trying to be creative at this point. So try to make the exact same kind of picture. You will learn from the experience. [Obviously you have to have access to the a similar kind of subject. So choose with that in mind.] REPEAT this for at least a dozen pics. Once this is done, now go to every category in that section and do the same thing. Even for sections you don't necessarily think you will like.

Post a link to the original picture and upload your own. Ask for feedback on what you were having trouble with. I find that on this forum when people ask for help like this they rarely follow through with posting pictures of what they are having trouble with though...

This may not make you take photos you like. But at least you will have a better handle on what your weaknesses are. I did something like this once. Except that I had a live person giving me feedback. I shoot pics for fun. I dont think I take any really great pics that belong in any exclusive section but I enjoy the pics I take. Which is the main thing when photography is a hobby...

Finally get a digital slr. Shooting film is not going to make things better simply because its film. You need the digital feedback for this kind of learning.
09-16-2012, 04:40 PM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by psychdoc Quote
Shooting film is not going to make things better simply because its film.
LIES! Shooting film ALWAYS makes it better.

What film camera and other gear are you using? More just curiosity than anything.

I assume you can read a light meter and are not asking how to get proper exposure (just center the damn needle), but rather how to get the shutter speed and depth of field you want in an image while still getting proper exposure.

Someone who spoke several languages once told me that the English language is difficult to really learn well, because where a normal language has many rules but few exceptions, English has few rules and MANY exceptions, you basically have to practice for years before you get a knack for the rules, or in reality the lack there of. This is also completely true for photography.

Lowell mentioned a few good "rules" especially the one about picking shutter speed with different focal lengths to avoid shaking the camera enough to blur your picture, that one is a bit foggy though because some of us are steadier than others. There are lots of guidelines like that, but like the pirates code its not set rules, its really more of a set of guidelines.

With my film camera the first thing I need to do before I go shooting is decide the ISO film I will use. Sometimes its decided for me by whats left of the roll in the camera which is why I only buy 24 exposure and not 36 when possible.
For normal quality film or digital you basically always want to use the lowest ISO possible that will still allow you to get the job done.
With high end film, just like how people claim that 40 is the new 30 for age, with newer high end film technology 400 is the new 200. High end 400 speed film has very fine grain and that is great because its much more versatile since if its too bright out and you want a wider aperture for narrow DOF you can just screw a ND filter on (lens sunglasses).
You might think that fast lenses would make up for lower ISO film, but you don't want to always be forced to shoot at wider apertures.
With digital you can set the ISO higher on the fly if you find its required to get the desired aperture and shutter speed combination, one of the few advantages that vile technology has.

Choosing aperture and shutter speed is more a juggling act, you figure out which is more important for what you want, and then adjust the other for proper exposure, or if both are important you have to find a way to compromise. Usually there are limits on shutter speed based on whats moving, the maximum shutter speed of the camera, and whether or not you are shooting from a solidly located tripod. With aperture the limits are caused by available light and how much or little you want in focus (DOF).

When you go to shoot a picture first you have to decide what you all want captured and whether or not there is enough movement where maintaining a minimum shutter speed is important.
If I were shooting a landscape the aperture would be more important so I would use a smaller aperture (higher number) to increase the DOF, and since the landscape hopefully isn't going anywhere I could use whatever slow shutter speed works to get proper exposure with that aperture even if a tripod was required.

If I were shooting a person or specific object, I would have to decide whether the background added to the composition or not. If it does than you want to use a smaller aperture to get it also in focus. But with many portraits the person is the key and it looks better if you isolate them from the background with focus so they stand out. That means choosing a wider aperture which would result in you just picking whatever shutter speed is correct for proper exposure. Frequently when getting narrow DOF pictures in bright daylight with an old film camera with faster speed films and a max shutter speed of 1000 you will need to use a ND filter to darken things enough that you don't overexpose the image. With digital cameras the shutter speed goes WAY higher so its not usually an issue (plus you can change your ISO).

Life becomes a pain in the ass when you have a moving object in low light because somethings got to give. Usually that something is ISO and you just switch to a higher ISO at the cost of some quality. I have huge troubles shooting trains in the late afternoon with the pile of cheap 200 ISO film I bought on clearance because with a train its so long it needs a larger DOF meaning you have to stop things down more and with slow film that means moving the shutter speed down to the point that the train blurs, which outside of an artistic shot of the bullet trains, tends to look like crap.

Since the focal length (20mm, 30mm ect.) effects the depth of field, lens choice can help you get some more wiggle room where depth of field is concerned. Sometimes its best to pick a different lens and move your feet to change the DOF when shutter speed issues make it impossible to open or close the aperture enough to get what you want in focus.

Something to remember is, it is extremely difficult to remember depth of field in your head, which is why older lenses had DOF scales on them and cameras came with a DOF preview lever (which works like crap btw). With experience with an individual lens you may get a pretty good idea of its DOF characteristics, but as soon as you change lenses to a different focal length (or adjust a zoom lens different) then its all different. So learning DOF at all the possible combinations of aperture isn't something you should make a real effort to do or worry about.

Learning what combinations of aperture and shutter in a given situation will do is more a matter of experience and practice than anything, there isn't a book that teaches it in a way that is easy to memorize. You may find a chart or page somewhere giving general suggestions for what is required to freeze certain types of action though.

Hmm that got rambly and I'm not sure it helped but maybe you can clarify if you have further questions.

EDIT: just a shopping note, if you do intend to go digital later you may want to get all A series lenses as they work just as well in either world, otherwise you will have to use stop down metering with your lenses when moved to a DSLR instead of just using the front and rear dials to change shutter and aperture. Oh, and the peep hole of a view finder for the the tiny sensor will piss you off.

Last edited by PPPPPP42; 09-16-2012 at 04:54 PM.
09-16-2012, 05:30 PM   #8
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Ultimate Exposure Computer

09-16-2012, 08:56 PM   #9
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There are whole books written on photography basics. Since modern camera are so good at getting exposure and focus right, I'm guessing that you are wanting composition rules. Many sites offer tips like these 10 top composition rules.

I still shoot a little film, but, for me, learning happened faster with digital because I got immediate feedback. That's huge. I also quit worrying about wasting/running out of film.

The other part of learning is the hardest, finding your personal vision. We can get technically superb, but without personal vision we just end up copying other's work. David DuChemin's book Within the Frame offers a good place to start with vision.
09-16-2012, 09:51 PM   #10
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If you want the very basic rules, the one's that are essential for the derivative, it is that there are only three operations required on a manual camera once you have loaded the ASA setting, and got a light meter setting.

Choose a speed
Choose an aperture

I have used a camera that had only four speeds, no light meter and no range finder. I guessed the distance and exposure. I love the simple minimalist approach. This picture was taken with that camera.

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