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The Art of Photography

By: Lacy Hilliard
Tomahawk Writer, Photographer

A picture is worth a thousand words, and just as it is wise to think before you speak; thinking before you click your shutter is what determines the difference between a snapshot and a professional photograph. Learning the different settings on your camera and how they work together to create an image will not only change the way you take a photograph, it will also enable you to have a better understanding of why common photography errors occur. Photographs have long been relics of cherished memories from days past, present and future. They invoke emotion and bring about change. They create immortality by forever capturing memories that would otherwise be retired to the recesses of our minds. The preservation of a memory deserves consideration. Below is a guide for achieving a better photograph. Because every photograph should be as special as the subject it captures.

The way you expose a photograph determines how light or dark it will be. Exposure is not a one-size-fits all rule, but there are several guidelines that if employed correctly, can guarantee that you will achieve the desired exposure. When talking about exposure, you will often hear photographers refer to ‘The Exposure Triangle.’ The exposure triangle is made up of three parts; aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. All three parts of the exposure triangle can be controlled if your camera allows for manual settings thereby completely determining the outcome of your photograph. The three parts of the exposure triangle are detailed below.

Aperture- The aperture setting is measured by f/stops and by changing the setting, you determine how much or how little light will travel through your camera to expose the photo. The lower the number of your f/stop setting, the more light you allow into your camera and vice versa. Aperture settings also control ‘Depth of Field’ (DOF).

Depth of Field (DOF)- A low aperture setting like f/2.8, for example, will create a shallow depth of field. A shallow depth of field is desirable when the subject is close and you want the photograph to focus on just the main subject. The shallow depth of field will create a blur in the background with the subject in stunning focus. Shallow depth of field is often used for portraits. A high aperture setting like f/22 is used to achieve a large depth of field, meaning, everything in the photograph is in focus. A large DOF is often used in long range landscape photography.

Shutter Speed- The shutter speed setting is to your camera is as your eyelid is to your eye. The faster your camera ‘blinks’ the less it sees. Shutter speed determines how long you intend to expose your photo. A low shutter speed setting allows more light and information to enter into your camera. However, if you’re shooting a fast moving subject, a low shutter speed will result in blur.

ISO- In film cameras, the ISO determines how sensitive the film is to light. In digital photography, it determines how sensitive the image sensor is to light. A high ISO like 2000, will allow you to expose a photograph at a higher shutter speed in a low light situation because the image sensor is more sensitive to light. However, a higher ISO will sacrifice clarity in the photograph. The higher the ISO, the more grain, the lower the ISO, the sharper the image.

Utilizing all three parts of the exposure triangle correctly is what it takes to achieve perfect exposure and it’s important to remember that if you change one setting, you often have to change another.

A photographs composition is perhaps one of the most important elements of photography. How you capture the subject can mean the difference between a snapshot and a visually stunning work of art. The example photographs to the left illustrate the importance of proper composition. The photo on the far left isn’t nearly as visually effective as the photo of the same subject next to it. The aperture, shutter speed and ISO settings are identical for both photographs, so why is one photo clearly better than the other?
Both photos attempt to capture a dog licking snowflakes off of his nose. In the first photo, it isn’t impossible to guess what the subject is, but it also doesn’t give the viewer a clear idea of the point. The dogs in the background create a visual distraction, taking away from the main subject. In the second photo, the subject is clear. By getting down on the same level as the dog to shoot the photograph, the background clutter has disappeared and all that’s left is the intended subject. Composition often follows a ‘rule of thirds.’ The three parts are background, foreground and subject. In this photograph, the background is the snow, the foreground is the dog, and subject is the snowflake on his nose. Composition is about creating balance within the photograph and thereby producing a visually stunning image.

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