In previous essays we have talked about photography being more than simply “taking” pictures; about your learning to see better, seeing potential in scenes and subjects, seeing not just whole objects but discerning the characteristics of a subject or scene that add meaning to photos— enhancing the subject or scene, about better connecting and communicating with viewers… This third essay provides concepts that show more about how to do just that. The concept is simple: For a scene or subject that you wish to photograph, there are
1) Creative Effects you may wish to try (for example blurring a waterfall, stopping sports action, adding light to a scene, etc); but in order to achieve those creative effects, you need to know what the effects are and
2) their Determinants: factors or variables that will bring about those creative effects, and finally
3) the Creative Controls you have, mostly on your modern DSLR or Mirrorless camera that will alter the Determinants and provide your best chance of achieving the Creative Effects that you want. In what follows we discuss the main categories in each of these three, then show in one sheet a summary of all that’s covered:
Creative Effects ⇐ Determinants ⇐ Creative Controls
Before you can use items in the array of creative effects, plus understand their determinants and then use various ways to control them, you must become familiar with your camera’s information screens. You don't need to know “everything.” Following are the most important things you should learn to access.
1) the exposure histogram (exposure graph) allowing you to see at a glance whether your upcoming image will capture all the scene’s blacks and whites, and then after the shot is taken will show if you indeed did capture them to your liking. Some cameras have “blinkies,” pulsing areas of color which show on an image any areas where shadows and highlights are “blocked” i.e. cannot show any detail. You do not want a white wedding dress to lack form and texture.
2) Can you see your current settings for Aperture, Shutter speed and ISO (sensor-sensitivity)? These three are the main ‘levers’ we use to achieve all the artistic controls, so you must know what their values are and how to change them. Manual mode (“M”) gives you control over all three.
3) A lot of Creative Effects depend upon the Focal Length of your lens(es); It is best if you have “prime” lenses (having a single focal length) and/or ’telephoto’ ‘zoom’ lenses that span, for a full frame 35mm camera, a wide (somewhere between 18 & 35mm), a “normal” length (around 50mm) and a telephoto of anywhere from 150mm to 300mm. [If you use a crop-sensor camera [APS-C] the corresponding mm would be about 2/3 these values. OK if you have prerequisites 1)-3), we're ready for understanding and using
Creative Effects, their Determinants and associated Creative Controls, [We provide a summary table at the end]
CREATIVE EFFECTS Creative Effects are elements professional and other artistic photographers bring to their shots. They do so in order to produce photos that attract attention, are interesting, display a desired array of light values, use appropriate focusing etc.,… You can control creative elements so that your photos will reflect your personality, show what attracted you to the shot in the first place, and convey to others [and remind yourself] the elements and emotions you would like to be felt. Not “snapshots” but creative and artistic communication! To go beyond “taking snapshots.” You can develop 1 or 2 creative effects for any capture that are appropriate to the shot and which have your stamp of individuality and personality. In what follows, as with a restaurant menu, you don’t need to take everything on the menu, but you need to know what creative options are available to you and how to access and use them! The Creative Effects involve five areas: Composition, Light, Exposure, Focus and Color. We take a look at each.
COMPOSITION - involves the picture ‘frame’: you decide what is the subject of the photo, how large is the scope of what is captured what shape the frame is [portrait, landscape, square, oval]….how the included elements are distributed within the scene…what will attract a viewer to the photo, hold their interest, have emotional impact… etc. Composition is an important source of creativity and artistry when the subject is “given.” But there are many forms of photography where you can exert significant, even total control over the subject: flower or other still-life arrangements, portraits, table-top still life photos, etc.
LIGHT/LIGHTING -Thus involves the quality, intensity, and direction of light on the subject or scene. [Michael Freeman in his book “Capturing Light” - (see Bibliography)- identifies more than 50 categories of light and lighting situations!] Light can come from different directions relative to the subject or your camera, be strong or weak, sharp or diffuse, colored in various ways, and so on. Besides direct light, there are reflections (on water, windows, eyeglasses….) to include, reduce or exclude… While this light is sometimes “given” you have more control than you probably think, if you are willing and able to change it! One can add light, even a penlight, to vegetation surrounding a photo of the Milky Way, for example, or return to a scene at another time, for example at dawn etc.
EXPOSURE -The lightness/ darkness of the captured image can be made “independent of” the scene itself. Besides the general "level" of light, there's its “Dynamic Range”: the range of whites and blacks to be presented, in other words, you can decide what lights and darks are captured or clipped:
A) Full Dynamic Range: the exposure curve [from black to white] spans an entire light-to-dark range with- out clipping whites or blacks. Or, if you wish, create an image that does not cover the entire range but is:
B) “High key” favors light values, with no or few darks
C) “Low key” favors dark values, with no or few whites.
D) “Clipping” means the camera is not capturing certain light values; for example excluding some brighter whites, or blacks obscuring some shadow detail that you believe should be revealed. Remember that we are speaking here of your resultant image, not the scene itself.
E) It is often desirable when we are uncertain about exposure to "bracket exposures": besides your “best guess’ exposure. add one shot (or more) with higher exposure, another with lower.
A) The scene/subject contains motion: a moving subject (a running/flying animal, a waterfall etc); or other scene elements that move (clouds, trees in wind, people, auto traffic, etc.)
B) Other motion that you would like in the scene, e.g. a race car or sports figure: subject 'still', background “moving.”
FOCUS Sharpness or creative blur; besides creative motion blur above (or lack thereof), there is creative focus: In the following diagrams (professionally developed with no thought given to cost)
" ⚗"represents the camera, |————| the depth of field “
Depth of Field” (DOF) is the range before you that will be in Focus; DOF can be
A) “Deep” or “Shallow,” ⚗ |—————| vs ⚗ |—|
B) “Near” or “Far” ⚗ |——————-| vs ⚗ . . . . . . |—————|
C) “Tack sharp” or slightly soft [sometimes portraits of ladies are deliberately softened], In terms of backgrounds, with portraits, you might want a to have a blurry, non-distracting background, but want a landscape to be sharp from close foreground rocks to the distant mountains…
COLOR I personally shoot everything in color (even when I expect the output to be in black and white), and set my camera so that its images are at least 24-bit colcc and in RAW so that I have complete control over color temperature and other variables in post-shot editing. But you can “correct” or creatively alter color by altering the color controls on your camera.
Well, those are examples of some basic Creative Effects. Now let’s look at the Determinants of these creative characteristics and how you can Control them.