The post This Back-to-Basics Photography Exercise Can Improve Your Photography first appeared at Digital Photography School. It is written by Rick Ohnsman.
The digital age has made photography simpler, cheaper and more accessible than ever before. Even people who do not call themselves "photographers" now carry a camera in their pocket in the form of their mobile phones.
But has the ability to take a photo without skills or knowledge made photography too easy? Even for you reading this article and coming to this site for more information about taking better photos, the convenience of taking digital photos with modern cameras has been robbed of it learn the basics?
Perhaps. Assuming you really want to learn more, try the following exercise with the intention of improving your skills.
Back to the movie days
Some of you still remember the film days, but with digital photography in the early 2000s, we already have a generation of new photographers who may never have loaded a roll of film. Others may never have had to focus a camera manually, calculate the exposure without a meter, or take monochrome photos in the camera.
As a risk of dating myself, here's a small background:
Back in the "pre-digital days" (in 1970 when dinosaurs roamed the earth), I was 16 and in high school. I bought my first real camera – a 35 mm Hanimex Practica Nova 1B. It was an East German camera built in Dresden and imported into the United States. The Oreston f / 1.8 50 mm Meyer Optik Görlitz lens was fast and sharp (although I didn't know much about things like that back then). It was usually loaded with Kodak Plus-X film (ISO 125, formerly known as ASA) or sometimes Kodak Tri-X (ISO 400).
I learned to process the film and later to make black and white prints in a small dark room in the corner of the garage. Working under the vague glow of a safelight and the magical appearance of the image as the photographic paper bathed in a Dektol drawer, young photographers have probably not experienced today.
I can't say I'm wrong.
Today's ' s cameras are much better. The ease of use on a computer with the help of Lightroom, where you can dodge and burn with one mouse click instead of with physical aids, gives so much more creative freedom. I also didn't spend a wastebasket full of failed paper prints and money on trying to master the art.
These were things I learned the hard way without electronic help from my camera. Let's see what you can learn. Set up your camera and take a photo walk as before.
We want to do this completely manually, so that you will be in charge of setting the aperture, shutter speed and ISO. So put the button in "M" mode. Turn off autofocus. You are going to concentrate.
If you have a 50 mm prime lens, it would be better to emulate what most of us had with the old 35 mm film camera ' s before we could buy a zoom lens. Composing with the "sneaker zoom" (that is, getting your feet closer or farther from your subject) is a good habit, especially if you always rely on a zoom lens to compose.
Goes black and white
Most starting photographers (and all of them in the pre-color era) have recorded a black and white film. So to keep us at the base, we will also shoot monochrome.
Yeah, sort of.
The best option in a digital camera is to take pictures in RAW mode, creating a color image. Later in editing, you create a monochrome image of that color file. By photographing for black and white, you can better concentrate on composition – another point of this exercise.
Chimp or not chimp?
You have the term ' chipping ' heard, what refers to the practice of some digital photographers to watch playback on their LCD screen after each shot? Some mock the practice. Others, (count me in that camp), think that the ability to take a photo immediately, check the histogram, make adjustments, and shoot again is the best thing that ever happens to photography. Immediate feedback, (instead of waiting days, weeks, months, whatever it was to get the photos back and only then do you discover your error?) – what a concept!
I still bow to the wedding photographers who made film. Those photographers knew their cameras relied on skills and experience so that they could trust that they had the photo before ever seeing the results.
So … a choice for you while doing this exercise – You have two options:
Raw, but set your camera to display the image that is being played back on the LCD screen (which is a .jpg thumbnail) in black and white
On a Canon camera, you will use Image styles. On a Nikon, Picture Controls is the term. Search monochrome in the menu. What you are going to do is create a RAW color image, but force the camera to play a monochrome image on the LCD screen.
Consult the manual of your camera for its setting.
The advantage is that you can see a monochrome image during playback instead of having to predetermine what it will look like. Because your raw file is still color, you have more control over editing. If you decide that you prefer the color image, you can keep it and not convert it to black and white.
If you only film .jpg, your image will be monochrome without going back.
Flexibility – it's just one of the dozens of reasons to create raw images.
Turn off or tape the LCD screen
like you really want to shoot film after, (and get the most out of this exercise), you won't be a chimpanzee at all. There was no option to view your recordings with film. The photographer had to trust their knowledge and instincts.
For those who have only taken digital photos (and even for those who may have used film for a long time but have not done so for a long time), this is more difficult than it seems. However, the reward will be to better analyze the scene, make necessary adjustments to the camera and to trust your instinct. YOU shall make mistakes and take note of them later, but the lessons learned with a little "pain" are those that you will remember best.
I do not suggest that you always work that way, direct LCD feedback is something beautiful. However, when practicing this exercise, see what it can teach you. (Don't forget to reset your LCD Review after completing the exercise!)
When more is not better
Another big advantage of digital photography is the number of images that you can place on a memory card. Depending on the camera and card size that can easily be hundreds, even thousands in some cases. You also don't have to worry that each recording costs you more. If you don't like what you see, that's what the delete button is for.
Cards are reusable. Once you have purchased one, you can use it again and again.
As the saying goes: "digital film is cheap."
Shooting movies wasn't cheap. There were the costs of the film, the costs of film processing and the costs of printing. Nothing was reusable and so all the shots, both the guardians and the mess, cost money. With digital we also do not have to print if we do not like a recording.
It was hard to watch a film in a negative way and to judge what you had. Unless you print your own images, you would almost always print everything and print money. Some of us shot transparencies (slides ' s). These were a bit cheaper because you would not usually print them. However, you had to get it into the camera because no slides could be edited.
Novice film photographers could spend a lot of money to learn with little to show.
There was also the limitation of the number of photos that could be taken on a roll of film. The capacity is usually measured in dozens, not hundreds or thousands of images such as digital media. If you have used 35 mm film, you can usually get rolls with 12, 24 or 36 exposures. With limited exposure and to save money, photographers wanted to take every photo.
The disadvantages were making fewer images (and thus reducing the chance of a keeper), less experimenting with new techniques and a longer learning curve for a new photographer who would take fewer photos. However, the advantage (and this is a big factor) was that photographers needed more time to do it right – more time to think before the shutter button was pressed.
Are you ready to give this exercise a try?
I would suggest not doing this in a session that is important to you. If you do it right, you tend to make mistakes. That's okay, those are mistakes you can learn from.
Here are your settings and steps:
Camera in "M" – manual mode – You can adjust ISO, aperture, and shutter speed
Autofocus Off – Focus with the focus ring. Learn to see and focus on what you focus on. A mistake that I often see by new photographers when learning to use an autofocus digital camera is that the camera can select the standard focal point when that is not the place they wanted to be in focus. Manual focusing gives you the lead on what the focus is. Also consider when you may need to use your aperture to increase or decrease your depth of field.
Determine your lighting conditions and choose a "film type" ISO – Choose ISO 125 for clear daylight (emulating Kodak Plus-X or Ilford FP4), ISO 400 (to emulate Kodak Tri-X or Ilford FP5). If you are shooting in low light, try ISO 800 and emulate "pushed" film. The point is set here once and leave it there for the entire session. It was not possible to change ISO with film, you were stuck with your choice for the entire role.
Use a prime lens if you have one – Learn to compose without a zoom lens.
Determine how many exposures you have – Choose 12, 24 or 36. Of course, film photographers often have multiple roles with them, but this exercise is designed to help you take every shot. Once you have reached your predetermined number, you are ready.
Calculate the exposure – By the 1960s, most 35mm film cameras had a light meter, but they were primitive to today's standards. A "match-needle" system where a needle could be centered when choosing the exposure and the shutter speed was what was displayed. If you intentionally exposed a little too much or too little, you would adjust until the needle was over or under as desired.
On cameras without meters, many relied on the chart that is usually found in a movie box. Often these calculations were based on what was called the "Sunny 16 rule". It said that on a sunny day when you set the aperture to f / 16, the shutter speed should be the same as the ASA, (now ISO), movie speed.
For example, if you choose an ASA 125 setting with a Kodak Plus-X ASA 125 film, f / 125 at f / 16 will give you a well-exposed image. If you wanted to shoot with a different shutter speed or aperture, you could calculate from there. For example, f / 250 @ f / 11 (assuming you had the same ASA 125 film in the camera) would be the same exposure.
If it wasn't a sunny day, you were in the shade or the light conditions were different, sometimes the small printed graph could help. Usually it was the practice that taught a photographer what "good" was for a certain film and for certain lighting conditions.
That is another purpose of this exercise; to help you to substantiate what is good for a certain light condition. See how you do it without relying on the meter. In any case, pay close attention to what the aperture and shutter speed are for a given set of conditions.
If this exercise does not teach you anything else, slowing down will make it worthwhile. With limited exposures available on a roll of film, the "spray and pray" style of photography was rare. Most of the time it was only sports and fashion photographers with motor drive (the mechanical version of what we now do with continuous mode).
Photographers have taken the time to think carefully about their composition and what they wanted to convey with the image. Which shutter speed choice can be the best to freeze or blur the action? How much depth of field might you want and which aperture choice would be best? Do you need to roll in a small exposure compensation?
All these factors were carefully considered. Bracketing shots to make sure that everything was okay could be done, but at the expense of eating that movie faster. The difficulty of fixing something in the dark room was also much greater, and photographers did not take the view that they "just fixed it in Photoshop". That is why the concept of "getting it right in the camera" was the norm.
Doing exactly right in the camera is one of the goals that are meant by this exercise. If you know that you only have a minimal number of exposures at your disposal, each must count. You will not have the luxury of shooting, chopping, setting and shooting again if you do this exercise as intended.
So, slow down, take your time, think about every part of the process. And then take your best photo.
Later you have a big advantage that film photographers did not have – the ability to view your photos with attached exposure data.
In the film days, conscientious novice photographers contributed a notebook and noted down their settings for later recall. Now your digital camera saves the notes. Boil another plus for digital photography.
Why black and white?
We briefly explained why monochrome was the choice for this exercise. One is of course that it replicates what early novice film photographers used and we simulate the limitations of that time.
The main reason is without color, monochrome images are much more based on shape, shape, line, tone and texture. It is also much easier to focus on composition without the added distraction of color.
Working in black and white can help a photographer to better assess those elements that give a strong image and that practice techniques.
If you've done a lot of monochrome photography, you probably already know this. If you've actually only taken color photos in the past, this part of the exercise will also be part of the process to improve your skills.
Weather in progress
Film photographers usually dropped their film in the lab, mailed it or sometimes did the film themselves. (I love the smell of D-76 in the morning! It smells like … Victory. Not! Sorry for the flashback, let's continue).
You come back with a few, (you have limited your exposure according to the instructions, right?), Raw images on your memory card. They are in color, but you convert them to black and white. In this article I will not spend the time outlining the best ways to convert colors to black and white. You will find a nice collection of these tutorials on DPS here. You will see that there are great ways to manipulate the tones in your monochrome conversion to create distinctive looks.
To complete the goals of the exercise, do you have to pay the most attention to whether you can create well-focused, well-exposed and beautifully compiled images with the self-imposed limitations of the exercise? Without the electronic help of a modern digital camera (auto focus, auto exposure), what worked? What not?
If this had really been a movie, what would you do differently next time?
This is a good time to become a photographer. The refinement of our cameras and the ease with which we can do great editing is fantastic. The purpose of this exercise, however, is to teach you to use your brain as a photographer, to gain full control of your camera, and not to rely on a microchip to do it for you. Personally I would never go back to the movies, not want to go back to a dark room and love all the electronic help that my camera offers.
The point is, I want those things to build on a solid foundation of photo power and knowledge. That is the reason for this exercise.
I sincerely hope you give this a chance. If you take great photos, great! If you struggle and make mistakes, fine – then you have learned something.
Either way, you will grow as a photographer.
Send me a message in the comments and let me know how you made it. Best wishes.
The post This Back-to-Basics Photography Exercise Can Improve Your Photography first appeared at Digital Photography School. It is written by Rick Ohnsman.