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05-12-2022, 03:27 AM - 4 Likes   #1
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Photography 'Basics'

I've noticed several requests here for 'Basic' photography and camera information recently. Like many of my generation, the first photography books and magazines that I read were concerned with film cameras, and using the controls to obtain good results. ISO (ASA !) was fixed, of course, so it was just shutter speed and aperture that were adjustable. Nowadays, it seems to me, the printed literature available concentrates more on Post Processing, leaving the camera to make all the exposure decisions for you - and the manuals are often less than helpful, assuming a basic level of knowledge.

There are some articles here on the Forum (if you dig for them !) but some are over a decade old, and although the underlying principles have not changed, I feel they gloss over the 'Absolute Beginner' information which some may find helpful. Is anyone (Clackers please step forward) willing and able to provide a simple low-level explanation of these points, including possibly an explanation of the origins of the terminology ? I am sure that this would help many who wish to progress from the 'Auto Everything' stage to understanding how to get the results they like while being in greater control of the camera, until they were confident enough to attempt to use 'Manual Everything'.

Some may say 'Why buy a camera that does it all for you, then not use this to its full capability ?' Surely being in complete control is a step closer to achieving personal results, instead of using parameters decided upon by a technician unfamiliar with the subjects and climatic conditions the user may wish to shoot. After all, we choose lenses in order to obtain the view we want - taking control of the camera is just another step in this direction.

And I am sure many of us (myself included) will be interested in and benefit from this ground work to help improve our images.

Just a thought.

Tony

05-12-2022, 04:03 AM - 7 Likes   #2
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Sorry for sounding a bit harsh, but in my opinion, focusing on camera settings, how to use a camera are mostly "missing the plot" with regards to photography as a graphical art. Although I reckon , focusing on equipment is what most photography books and most website do. I took a wrong path myself for more than a decade, focusing on cameras, lenses, tripods, filters, flashes etc and device settings, until one day I had a "ah ah" moment. At that moment, I realized that actively seeing was a prerequisite to creating compelling pictures, and the next step further on the creative path was to imagine a picture in the mind and actively bring the elements together to create photographs that trigger "Oh", "Ahhh", "Wow" emotions in the mind of the viewer. So, my number 1 recommendation to beginner photographers (save them 10 years of stalled progress) would be to forget about equipment, forget about camera settings and learn about graphical arts, human vision, distances, perspectives, and compounding elements to create images. At the very end, know how to use the camera, but that should be fairly low in the things needed as a photographer. I would recommend to learn photography via reading about composition for paintings. I would warn about asking any camera maker for learning about photography, because their rhetoric is all about selling more cameras and more lenses, they have very remote interests in graphical arts.

In short, I see four paths to begin photography, from worst to best:
1) Focusing on cameras specifications, believing that buying a more expensive cameras will make you take better pictures
2) Learning to become a technical expert in camera settings (aperture, shutter speed, iso etc), believing that camera settings will produce good pictures
3) Seeing (the art of seeing): paying attention to what's around us, create photograph from what's available (passive), post processing to try to improve the image
4) Imagination: creating the representation of an image in the mind (subject matter, light, mood, including thinking about post-processing capabilities at the time of exposure, the size of display, prints) and bring all the elements together to create the final picture as imagined.

I'm not saying that following (1) gear and (2) settings, will deliver bad images, it's just that good images will be the result of pure luck , based on taking a lot of pictures, and wishing some pictures turn out to be interesting shots. Mastering (4) a process of creation on the other relying much less on luck, and much more on creation.

Last edited by biz-engineer; 05-12-2022 at 04:30 AM.
05-12-2022, 04:49 AM - 2 Likes   #3
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The principle I agree with.

Those of us from the "film generation" quite possibly started, as I did, with a single shutter-speed fixed aperture camera, kept the sun over our shoulder and made our pictures like that.
The emphasis was on the composition and working within the limitations of the available equipment.

The emergence of do-it-all digital magic that can cope with virtually everything from the proverbial "black cat in a coal cellar" to "a snow field on a glacier in full sunlight" and produce a well exposed image with virtually no user input has meant there's now a generation out there with no "real" photographic experience but who expect every exposure to be a masterpiece without really knowing why

Whilst not suggesting the total reversion to the digital equivalent of a box Brownie or Instamatic, I'd suggest starting by setting the camera in Av (or Tv if preferred), with a fixed ISO, and working to understand what works (and consequently what doesn't) and why, then adding a feature at a time so's to experience the advantages of the various options.

In my mind, amateur photography is really a combination of two aspects, the technical mastery of the equipment (to the extent that gives acceptable results) and the artistic vision to "see" what will make a good picture.

All too often I meet apparently well-equipped photographers who ask me "What settings do you use?" then give a totally blank look when I quote "1/1500 @ f/8 - auto ISO"

Then there was the chap who insisted his top-of-the-range bridge camera needed to be replaced because he couldn't "do macro" … totally oblivious to the little "tulip" icon on his mode dial which gave him all the capabilities he needed, but simply hadn't been bothered to read about

Just my tuppence worth - YMMV - etc. etc.
05-12-2022, 04:53 AM - 3 Likes   #4
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On my Kindle app on my phone I have five short books from the website 'FreeDigitalPhotographyTutorials.com': 'Photography 101', 'Mastering Aperture', 'Mastering Shutterspeed', 'Mastering Exposure', 'Mastering Composition', which, as the name implies, are free, and cover the basics in an adequate fashion. Together with Clackers' Beginners Tips, I think most people would be on the way to better understand their cameras. They've certainly helped me!

05-12-2022, 05:07 AM   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by allanmh Quote
On my Kindle app on my phone I have five short books from the website 'FreeDigitalPhotographyTutorials.com': 'Photography 101', 'Mastering Aperture', 'Mastering Shutterspeed', 'Mastering Exposure', 'Mastering Composition', which, as the name implies, are free, and cover the basics in an adequate fashion. Together with Clackers' Beginners Tips, I think most people would be on the way to better understand their cameras. They've certainly helped me!
These sound like an excellent idea!
The only proviso I would add would be to fully understand one aspect (aperture, for example) before moving on to shutter speed (or vice versa) etc. to prevent the risk of "information overload".
Enjoy
05-12-2022, 06:26 AM - 1 Like   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by biz-engineer Quote
Sorry for sounding a bit harsh, but in my opinion, focusing on camera settings, how to use a camera are mostly "missing the plot" with regards to photography as a graphical art. Although I reckon , focusing on equipment is what most photography books and most website do. I took a wrong path myself for more than a decade, focusing on cameras, lenses, tripods, filters, flashes etc and device settings, until one day I had a "ah ah" moment. At that moment, I realized that actively seeing was a prerequisite to creating compelling pictures, and the next step further on the creative path was to imagine a picture in the mind and actively bring the elements together to create photographs that trigger "Oh", "Ahhh", "Wow" emotions in the mind of the viewer. So, my number 1 recommendation to beginner photographers (save them 10 years of stalled progress) would be to forget about equipment, forget about camera settings and learn about graphical arts, human vision, distances, perspectives, and compounding elements to create images. At the very end, know how to use the camera, but that should be fairly low in the things needed as a photographer. I would recommend to learn photography via reading about composition for paintings. I would warn about asking any camera maker for learning about photography, because their rhetoric is all about selling more cameras and more lenses, they have very remote interests in graphical arts.

In short, I see four paths to begin photography, from worst to best:
1) Focusing on cameras specifications, believing that buying a more expensive cameras will make you take better pictures
2) Learning to become a technical expert in camera settings (aperture, shutter speed, iso etc), believing that camera settings will produce good pictures
3) Seeing (the art of seeing): paying attention to what's around us, create photograph from what's available (passive), post processing to try to improve the image
4) Imagination: creating the representation of an image in the mind (subject matter, light, mood, including thinking about post-processing capabilities at the time of exposure, the size of display, prints) and bring all the elements together to create the final picture as imagined.

I'm not saying that following (1) gear and (2) settings, will deliver bad images, it's just that good images will be the result of pure luck , based on taking a lot of pictures, and wishing some pictures turn out to be interesting shots. Mastering (4) a process of creation on the other relying much less on luck, and much more on creation.
Thanks, @biz-engineer - not (in my view) harsh at all, but helpful suggestions. I agree you must be able to 'see' the photograph, but a basic understanding of the mechanics of the camera may well help less-experienced people to obtain a more pleasing (to them) capture of the photograph they 'saw'. On other photographic 'help sites', so often people blame the camera when it has been the way it has been used which has caused the issue.
05-12-2022, 06:28 AM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by allanmh Quote
On my Kindle app on my phone I have five short books from the website 'FreeDigitalPhotographyTutorials.com': 'Photography 101', 'Mastering Aperture', 'Mastering Shutterspeed', 'Mastering Exposure', 'Mastering Composition', which, as the name implies, are free, and cover the basics in an adequate fashion. Together with Clackers' Beginners Tips, I think most people would be on the way to better understand their cameras. They've certainly helped me!
Tried the website, ended up with something called 'Suzi Token' !

05-12-2022, 06:52 AM - 2 Likes   #8
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I have to agree with biz-engineer... It's like a writer focusing on the pencil instead of the story.
05-12-2022, 08:46 AM - 4 Likes   #9
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It sounds like we're talking about two sets of tools, one set mental/conceptual/compositional/emotional, the other physical/mechanical/electronic. The latter, nuts and bolts ones are what everybody is selling and buying. The "internal" tools are what some people hope comes packaged with the gear. The cameras and lenses partially determine how you take a photo or make an image; the conceptual side provides the why. This is what you bring to the table; why are you taking/making an image at all? What's the point? What's your goal? The best equipment in the world won't give the answers to these questions. A tool is nothing without a hand and heart to wield it with a purpose in mind. Knowing what the tool can and can't do lets you decide if it will be the right one to use for the answer you've got in mind. Learning to use the physical tool properly to give you the results your mental tools have in mind.

Photography, as a form of communication, is a means to convey information. If your intent is to share your images with others, then your mental toolkit must also take into account other people's thoughts and feelings. If you want to communicate, you must have something to say, and say it in a way that lets others understand it. Randomly punching symbols on a keyboard is unlikely to produce anything intelligible, much less convincing and persuasive. Without spelling, punctuation, grammar, syntax, and a shared literacy as a foundation for written communication, your infinite number of monkeys is left hammering away with no point and no audience until the heat death of the The same applies to image making. First, you have to have an idea or feeling that you want to communicate, and then you have to know how get it across. Without some understanding of the basics of composition, people won't be able to read your images. Whether we know it or not, we're in the business of emotional manipulation. We're trying to instill or arouse in our viewers some thought or feeling, through the medium of the images we create. Having some awareness of this fact can help us pull it off. The tools we use, and how we use them, certainly helps shape the message, but they cannot write it without our input.
05-12-2022, 10:19 AM   #10
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Hey, Thagomizer, post #2000!

I sometimes envy the people who start with no technical knowledge and a strong idea of the visual message they want. I think problems like "how can I make my photo brighter" are easier than "how can I make my photo more interesting".
05-12-2022, 10:29 AM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by 35mmfilmfan Quote
Tried the website, ended up with something called 'Suzi Token' !
I just checked the website, and it seems to be gone. However, if you just google 'photography tutorials free', you get several dozen other websites, and of course, there are thousands of YouTube videos, and both B&H and Adorama also produce video tutorials. There's a lot of material out there, you just have to search for it.
Happy hunting.
05-12-2022, 10:35 AM - 2 Likes   #12
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Following up on @Thagomizer's set of mental/conceptual/compositional/emotional tools, allow me to suggest a wonderful little book.

Picture This: How Pictures Work by Molly Bang is a small 135 pages book that deconstructs the composition and elements of pictures to look how they interact to create emotion and tell a story.

This book, to me, is a fooler. Its seeming simplicity belies its complexity. The author uses simple shapes circles, triangles, lines to present ideas of exactly how a picture works. When you complete the book, you will realize that you have much more sophisticated approach to understanding pictures.

I encourage everyone, but particularly beginners, to read this book.

The book was originally printed in 1991 and revised in 2016 for its 25th anniversary. In other words, it has staying power You can buy it from Amazon at this link. If you have a Kindle, the electronic version is a mere $2.99.
05-12-2022, 10:58 AM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by AggieDad Quote
Following up on @Thagomizer's set of mental/conceptual/compositional/emotional tools, allow me to suggest a wonderful little book.

Picture This: How Pictures Work by Molly Bang is a small 135 pages book that deconstructs the composition and elements of pictures to look how they interact to create emotion and tell a story.

This book, to me, is a fooler. Its seeming simplicity belies its complexity. The author uses simple shapes circles, triangles, lines to present ideas of exactly how a picture works. When you complete the book, you will realize that you have much more sophisticated approach to understanding pictures.

I encourage everyone, but particularly beginners, to read this book.

The book was originally printed in 1991 and revised in 2016 for its 25th anniversary. In other words, it has staying power You can buy it from Amazon at this link. If you have a Kindle, the electronic version is a mere $2.99.
I have that wonderful book, and can certainly endorse this recommendation!
05-12-2022, 11:32 AM - 1 Like   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by 35mmfilmfan Quote
I've noticed several requests here for 'Basic' photography and camera information recently. Like many of my generation, the first photography books and magazines that I read were concerned with film cameras, and using the controls to obtain good results. ISO (ASA !) was fixed, of course, so it was just shutter speed and aperture that were adjustable. Nowadays, it seems to me, the printed literature available concentrates more on Post Processing, leaving the camera to make all the exposure decisions for you - and the manuals are often less than helpful, assuming a basic level of knowledge.
In film days we used our best knowledge to get a correctly exposed negative, and then largely left everything else in the hands of our photo lab to get everything else right...... processing the film and printing the negative. Some of us did this ourselves, but it was a lot of work.

Today with digital images we have limitless options at our fingertips. The exposure technique has not changed in camera. Our ability to manipulate the image has.

I disagree that the digital age suggests we should concentrate more on using AUTO camera settings. I don't, and know no photographers who do.

Photography "basics", composition/exposure have not changed at all. Your camera is a tool. Use it for your desired purposes.
05-12-2022, 12:01 PM - 5 Likes   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by 35mmfilmfan Quote
I've noticed several requests here for 'Basic' photography and camera information recently. Like many of my generation, the first photography books and magazines that I read were concerned with film cameras, and using the controls to obtain good results. ISO (ASA !) was fixed, of course, so it was just shutter speed and aperture that were adjustable. Nowadays, it seems to me, the printed literature available concentrates more on Post Processing, leaving the camera to make all the exposure decisions for you - and the manuals are often less than helpful, assuming a basic level of knowledge.

There are some articles here on the Forum (if you dig for them !) but some are over a decade old, and although the underlying principles have not changed, I feel they gloss over the 'Absolute Beginner' information which some may find helpful. Is anyone (Clackers please step forward) willing and able to provide a simple low-level explanation of these points, including possibly an explanation of the origins of the terminology ? I am sure that this would help many who wish to progress from the 'Auto Everything' stage to understanding how to get the results they like while being in greater control of the camera, until they were confident enough to attempt to use 'Manual Everything'.

Some may say 'Why buy a camera that does it all for you, then not use this to its full capability ?' Surely being in complete control is a step closer to achieving personal results, instead of using parameters decided upon by a technician unfamiliar with the subjects and climatic conditions the user may wish to shoot. After all, we choose lenses in order to obtain the view we want - taking control of the camera is just another step in this direction.

And I am sure many of us (myself included) will be interested in and benefit from this ground work to help improve our images.

Just a thought.

Tony
Very nice ideas and sentiments here, Tony - bravo for the considerate suggestion.

I would be happy to write a few articles, but couldn't commit to a time-line at present, as I have a couple of projects on the go and other demands on my time. That said...

I'm a big fan of the website "Cambridge in Colour". As someone who only got into photography properly around 2010, and only seriously since perhaps 2014, I've learned a lot of fundamental stuff from its tutorials. They're each quite short, use (mostly) terminology that beginners will understand and more experienced folks will appreciate, and they cover all manner of essential subjects. I would heartily recommend anyone, whatever their level, to read every tutorial in the "Concepts & Terminology", "Using Camera Equipment" and "Photo Techniques & Styles" section. There are also some good tutorials on "Editing & Post-processing" and "Colour Management & Printing" for those who are ready to delve into these equally-important but, perhaps, secondary topics.

I firmly believe that anyone who reads the Cambridge in Colour tutorials and puts into practice what they learn will have a pretty solid foundation on which to build...

Last edited by BigMackCam; 05-21-2022 at 12:58 PM.
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