For noob DSLR owners like me...


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Jul 12, 2008
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Your "Whispering Eye"
Noob DSLR Pt. 2

So they added more to the Noob info that I posted a while ago. Rep is much obliged :haysm9:

MODS: Could we sticky this under the other one that I posted?

TSLRich from said:

By Rich Lavigne

Congratulations… you’ve graduated from my first Photography Basics post to this one. In actuality, this one should probably be called ‘Photography Basics Pt. 1’, while the other one should be, ‘Intro to your DSLR’, or something. I intend to cover some basic principles of Photography; things that will make your shots better no matter what kind of camera you have. If you have a digital SLR, you might be able to get better, more accurate results, but really these will work with even a basic Point and Shoot.

Rule of Thirds
If I could identify one single thing to do that would make your pictures better, this would be it, the “Rule of Thirds.” The rule of thirds is a design principle that says that if you split your viewfinder into thirds, either vertically or horizontally and align the important subjects of your photograph on these lines it will improve the composition and provide for a much more interesting and exciting photograph. I know that I wasn’t the greatest when it came to fractions in Math class, so here is an example of what a 2:3 format image looks like split into vertical thirds.

Here is an example of a 2:3 format image split into horizontal thirds.

When you take all of those lines and overlay them you get this.

Anyone want to play Tic-Tac-Toe? No seriously, I know it looks funny, but if you compose your pictures so that your subject falls on any of those four intersecting points, it will dramatically improve your shots.
Don’t believe me? Ok, let’s try it out.

Below is an image I shot at a Formula D event in West Virginia, back in 2007.

Pretty cool right? Chris Forsberg, rockin’ the drift in the drop top 350Z, but I can hear you already, “Rich, didn’t you just say to put our subject on one of those points?” You’re right, I did and we are going to do just that, but first let me tell you why. Whenever anyone asks me what they can do to get better, the first thing I tell them is they have to learn to edit. When I say this, I don’t simply mean, learn to edit your pictures. I mean learn to edit in the grand scheme of things. After a days worth of shooting, go through your shots and pick out the good ones (that’s the first step of editing, edit out the bad photos, so you are only doing processing work on the good/ interesting ones). Then learn to edit, both for color correctness and composition. When I took the above shot, I knew that I was going to be shooting fast moving cars. I chose the center focus point because I know that is the fastest/ most accurate focus point on my camera (incidentally, it’s the fastest/most accurate point on almost all digital SLR’s) plus I knew that I’d be editing my shots afterward, so I could crop and recompose the shot to look exactly how I wanted. Let’s see.


The picture above shows you what my crop box (with the 3rd’s lines) looks like over the original file. See how the car now falls on that upper left intersection point? Here is the final edit.

See… isn’t it much better? You should be nodding your head “yes.” In photography, there is always more than one way to skin a cat and there are a few ways that we could have gotten our picture to look like this final version. Obviously I chose to recompose my picture in Photoshop, but this does have some drawbacks. If someone had come back to me and requested a much larger, high-resolution version, I would be limited because I had cropped out much of the data that I didn’t need. If I knew ahead of time that I was going to need a much larger, high-resolution version, than I would have selected the left most focus point on my camera in order to nail this type of composition right in camera. The one drawback of this, is that the left most focus point isn’t quite as accurate or fast as that center one. Using the thirds system really does work, but there are a few other composition ideas that I’m using here that really make this picture work. Let’s talk about Motion and Leading Lines.

Motion and Leading Lines
Motion… sure, I’m shooting moving cars, motion is done, right? Wrong. In order to truly get the effect of motion for the shot, you have to have careful control of your shutter speed. I took this picture in shutter priority with a shutter speed of 1/160th of a second. It was a bright, beautiful summer day in West Virginia, so I could have easily dialed in a shutter speed of 1/1000th, but that would have frozen the car and the background, effectively eliminating all of the motion. By selecting a slow shutter speed and following the car along its path of travel (or panning, as the photogeeks call it) I make the background blur with motion while the car is in sharp focus. If I held the camera totally still and kept it in one place the exact opposite would happen. The background would be in sharp focus while the car would be blurry as it traveled through the frame. It would still have the effect of motion, but in my opinion the car is the focus here, so having it blurry doesn’t help the picture, it hurts… but I encourage you to try it out and see for yourself. You don’t have to shoot cars, try it with your dog or your kids in the backyard… anything that moves. It will probably take a few tries to get that shutter speed correct. Its different depending on subject and speed, but go ahead and experiment.
We aren’t finished with motion just yet though… I’m using another effect here that conveys some motion and it is a trick called, “leading lines.” By angling the camera body slightly, I managed to make the track extend from the upper left corner down to the lower right corner. This simple trick creates a strong leading line that forces your eye to travel along that path and draw you through the frame. You can use leading lines to draw the viewer’s eye through an image that doesn’t even have any motion. It really creates a dramatic effect.

Symmetry isn’t so much a photography idea as just a design idea in general. Symmetry means that something is the same on both sides. Rarely will you find a perfectly symmetrical thing to photograph on your photography journeys, but you’ll probably find that is best applies to items like monuments, statues, streets.. anything that might have a strong central item, like this

Now you’re probably thinking, “Rich, didn’t you just write 3 pages on why things in the middle of the frame are boring?” Yes I did, but every good rule deserves to be broken and should be when the reason is strong enough. When you have a subject that is so centrally strong that it would look odd if you put it off center, then you MUST center it (obviously.. this rule can be broken as well).

Horizon Lines.
The last thing I’m going to cover in this write up is horizon lines. One of the first things we want to take pictures of as a photographer is a beautiful sunset. There’s something nostalgic about the classic sunset picture and we all want to have our own crack at it…. But usually we fail on our first attempts and we might do so for a few reasons. The number one reason why fail is very similar to the first theory I discussed, it has to do with where we put the horizon line. 9 times out of 10, we put the horizon line smack in the middle of the frame… and what does that lead to? It’s a path to boringville… population, your picture. Next time, try placing the horizon on either of the 2 imaginary thirds lines we discussed earlier. Which one you choose, depends on what you are trying to focus the shot on. Is the sky a beautiful orange fading to blue? If so, than you might want to put the horizon line on the lower of the two to give that sky a big canvas. Below is a picture that I took in Florence, Italy. I chose to put the horizon line on the upper thirds line (ok, its not exact, I said I sucked with fractions) because I wanted to focus on the peach reflection of the River Arno as it wanders through the city.

You can also see that the river roughly hits the upper left thirds intersection point as well as the lower right intersection point, causing your eye to wander through the frame. There are a few other rules regarding horizon lines… mainly keeping them straight. There are some people that live and die by this rule and they will call for your head if you tilt a horizon line. I’m not so sure. I’ve experimented with it and I like titling it sometimes, especially when using an ultra wide angle lens because it gives a very odd, almost out this world view point.

Well, that’s it for now… see you next time. Rich