Thursday, December 31, 2015

Avoiding Beginner Photography Issues and Mistakes

The Canals of Bruges, BelgiumTravel photography requires versatility and knowledge of a variety of photography genres. Beginner travel photographers must be serious about learning the craft if they want to produce solid travel images. Beginner photographers, especially when engaged in travel photography, have two major issues to overcome; a lack of confidence and basic photo knowledge.

It's hard to gain essential knowledge and experience when you have little confidence, which often shows up in beginners thinking their equipment is letting them down.

Often, when I'm leading photowalks or workshops I hear, “If only I had your gear.” Just about every beginner I've worked with has gear capable of capturing magnificent images. Today's consumer Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) and Digital Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens (DMIL) cameras are excellent. I've proved this to more than a few beginners by swapping cameras with them, then making some great shots with their gear, better than they've produced with mine.

Beginners often opine they'll never make photos like pros. They forget, the pros started as beginners themselves.

Beginners often feel all their images are awful. It doesn't help that many beginners believe a myth that every shot pros make are “keepers.” While after a day's shooting I'm going to have many more well exposed photos than a beginner, I'm very happy with just a couple “wow” images. It takes time, practice and a lot of study to produce more keepers than duds.

I see beginners often down on themselves because they can't seem to get away from automatic exposure. It takes everyone time to learn how to use the exposure triad of ISO, aperture and shutter speed well, and lots of practice. Believe it or not, pros aren't born knowing how to use shutter and aperture priority, plus manual exposure modes.

Beginners lack of knowledge shows in interesting ways. Here are the three top problems I see in beginners' images which are easy to correct, and thereby gain essential confidence to become a better photographer.

1. Blurry photos – Blurry images often come when beginners first move from automatic exposure to manual or one of the “automatic-manual” modes, as I like to call Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority. When in these modes the photographer is responsible for ensuring the shutter speed is fast enough to overcome camera movement and freeze the movement of the subject in the scene to the extent desired.

Further blurring images is so-so handholding technique by beginners. In addition, many beginners don't understand that longer focal length lenses require higher shutter speeds than shorter lenses, to prevent blurring. A great rule of thumb is one's minimum shutter speed should be at least 1/focal length of the lens used. For example, the shutter speed for a 300mm lens should be at least 1/300 sec.

2. Too many tops of children's heads – Obviously, children aren't as tall as most adults, yet too often adults photograph children from their own eye-level perspective, not the children's. The adults stand straight and tall, shooting downward and are surprised when they review their children's images to see mostly hair and the top's of their heads, not their eyes or the expressions on their faces.

For great photos of children, try getting down on your knees, or sit on the ground. Make your eye-level perspective the same as the children you're shooting. Sometimes getting lower than that will give a wonderful perspective and a pleasing image.

3. Always using Auto White Balance – White balance refers to the color cast of the scene being photographed, due to its lighting, and your camera's ability to accurately portray it. Generally, humans see light as “white” or colorless, unless there is some special lighting such as at golden hours outdoors, or filtered light indoors. Experienced photographers notice, at a glance, the subtle differences in light color unnoticed by most beginners, such as the difference in the color of a scene caused by warm vs. cool fluorescent lighting.

It turns out that cameras' auto white balance, while not as good as the human system of eyes plus brain, is great most of the time, but has critical limitations.

Color temperature describes the spectrum of light radiated from a "blackbody," with temperature measured in degrees Kelvin (K). While photographers rarely deal with real “blackbodies,” we do deal with color temperature differences in light, and can use the measurement as a relative indicator for our work, to get the color right in our images.

Auto white balance generally works well from about 4,000K to 7,000K or from most fluorescent light through moderately overcast skies, which is a wide range.

Auto white balance falls down in scenes lighted with candlelight, incandescent light, shade, solid to heavily overcast skies, and when a scene is lighted by multiple varied light sources, as happens often indoors.

My rule of thumb is to use auto white balance when indoors with my electronic flash as the scene's predominant light source, or when outside while it's sunny to lightly overcast. Otherwise I dial in a setting specific to the lighting of the scene, or measure the color temperature and set a custom white balance.

If you're a beginner remember we were all there once, but improved through study and practice.

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