Sunday, November 27, 2011

Composition Guidelines

Photography has no rules; you can capture images as you please. However, learning the rules of composition sets the standard for capturing beautiful and symmetrical photos.

Consider it as a guideline and once it’s been learned, the photographer could either combine the rules or break the rules to create great photos according to their taste. Once you learn the rules, the possibilities could be endless.

Rule of Thirds

The most common rule in composition, it is a guideline followed by most artists. The idea of this rule is to divide the image into nine equal parts by using two vertical and two horizontal lines. Positioning your subject or your most important element in your photo along these lines or at the point where the lines intersect. This creates a more pleasing and balanced composition.

Rule of thirds sample - Image: Atanu Ghosh /

Leading Lines

Leading lines are objects in a shape of a line, found in a photo that is used to lead the viewer’s eye to another element or the subject of the photograph or out of the photograph itself.

Leading lines sample - Image: Sura Nualpradid /


Contrary to the rule of thirds, this rule prefers the subject to be in the middle of the frame. The idea is to show symmetry in the image, creating an image where the left part of the image is symmetrical with the right portion.

Symmetry sample - Image: sippakorn /


Look for patterns or repetition in the scene; fill your frame with it. Make the pattern seem endless and the number overwhelming. You can either emphasize the pattern or break the pattern by looking for a scene with repetition but has a single object that is different. Use this as the breaking point of the pattern.

Patterns sample - Image: Idea go /


Shoot your photographs at different points of view. For example when photographing your pet or your kids; consider shooting the photo from high above, in a low angle at the ground level, up close, from the back, and so on. Use your imagination the possibilities are endless.

Viewpoint sample - Image: Dino De Luca /

Understanding the Camera Auto-focus

The auto-focus system is what tracks the subject and adjusts the lens in order to bring the subject into focus. Learning what auto-focus mode to use for certain situation allows the photographer to be in control of the situation. Knowing which mode to use can mean the difference between tack sharp photos and unfocused ones.

Canon AF mode selector

Auto-focus modes

One Shot or Single Shot Focusing Mode – One-Shot AF (Canon)/AF-S (Nikon)

Single shot mode is usually used for subjects that don’t move. Once the subject is in focus, it will no longer refocus on the subject unless the shutter button is released and half pressed again. It is usually used for portraits, and shooting still life photos. This mode conserves battery as it only focuses on the subject once.

Penguin toy - Image:

Continuous Focusing Mode – AI Servo AF (Canon)/AF-C (Nikon)
As the name implies, continuously tracks and focuses on the subject. It detects the subject’s movement and refocuses the lens to keep the subject in focus. The continuous focus mode is useful for subjects that continuously move. This can be useful for sports and wildlife photography. However, this mode consumes more battery as the camera will adjust the focus continuously.

Deer running- Image: arztsamui /

Automatic Autofocus Mode – AI Focus AF (Canon)/AF-A (Nikon)

This mode automatically switches between one shot and AI servo mode depending on the current situation.

Focusing Basics

In photography, learning how to focus properly has an impact on the way the photo is delivered. It is as important as learning the basics of composition, because this aspect of photography works synchronously with composition. Focusing enables the photographer to isolate the subject with the use of depth of field.

Aperture controls the depth of field, which in turn controls how much of the subject stay in focus. This is particularly useful when emphasizing or isolating the subject in cluttered areas. The area covered by the depth of field or the area that will be in focus, broadens as the aperture value increases. Thus, allowing the photographer to have more parts of the subject in focus.

Depth of field chart using a 50mm focal length
The DOF chart shows how much area is in focus when using different apertures at a fixed focal length.

Another factor that affects depth of field is focal length. A wider focal length has a wider depth of field, increase the focal length and the depth of field becomes narrower. But keep in mind that, focal length only lessens the depth of field of the current aperture setting. The main setting that controls the depth of field is still aperture.


Combining the focal length and aperture controls the depth of field. This controls the objects that are included in the subject and the main point of focus. Thus, allowing the photographer to compose the photo according to his preference.

You can also try the depth of field calculator found at

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Camera Lens Type

The big advantage of DSLR cameras is their ability to change lenses. They have specialized lenses built to do specific tasks which tackles landscape, portraits, wildlife, sports and macro. With this, DSLR cameras have the flexibility to photograph almost anything visible to the eye.

Lens Classification Based on Focal Length

Wide Angle (28mm or lower)
Wide angle lenses can capture almost everything the eye sees, this makes it perfect to be used for landscape photography. They are also useful during indoor events where there is limited space in the area you’re shooting on.

When shooting at the widest focal length, photos become susceptible to distortion which causes the edges of the photos to be distorted. Lens distortion is obvious in wide angle lenses.

Alpine Meadow - Image: Michal Marcol /

Standard (35mm to 85mm)
Standard lenses are less susceptible to distortion which makes it good for taking portraits, as they provide natural looking portraits.

Portrait - Image: photostock /

Telephoto (100mm to 300mm)
Telephoto lenses are great for subjects that are far away, this range allows you to bring them in closer to the frame. They are mostly used for sports and sometimes portraits.

Kite Surfing - Image: Stuart Miles /

Super-Telephoto (300mm or higher)
These are the type of lenses wildlife photographers use, as it provides them great distance from their subjects.

Wild life photographer - Image: Patou /

Stalking Tiger - Image: Michael Elliott /

Types of Lenses

Basically, there are two types of lenses mainly: Zoom and Prime lenses. Here are their differences:

–    Flexible. Have the ability to use different focal lengths.
–    Most zoom lenses have smaller aperture opening (larger aperture-value)
–    In some zoom lenses, the aperture changes depending on the zoom setting. For example, in 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 lens. The largest aperture setting for 18mm is f3.5 and at 55mm the largest aperture can only be at f5.6.
–    Expensive. Construction of zoom lenses is more complicated than prime lenses. The moving parts of zoom lenses take its toll on image quality. Zoom lenses usually have high quality glass to get an image quality equal to that of a prime lens.

18-55mm Zoom Lens - Image:

–    Fixed focal length. The photographer has to move to zoom in and out.
–    Prime lenses have larger aperture opening (smaller aperture-value). This is great for low light shooting, and shallow depth of field. Giving that blur background effect. The aperture value doesn't change unless the photography decided to change it.
–    Less cost. Since it doesn’t have a lot of moving parts, the glass inside a prime lens is very precise.

50mm f1.8 Prime Lens - Image: Graeme Weatherston /

Monday, November 21, 2011

Camera File Formats

Modern cameras like a DSLR have two usable file formats mainly RAW and JPEG. Choosing your file format depends on how you want the camera to process the photos.

Choosing RAW format in Canon DSLR

Every time you capture an image, your camera processes the image to create a photo. The image created by this process creates a JPEG file, which is the photo itself. A RAW file records the image but does not create a photo yet. You can think of RAW files as a digital negative file, which requires processing before it can be used. This also enables users to edit the image before creating a JPEG file or photo.

The Pros and Cons

        Photo editing friendly; mistakes made during the shoot can be corrected. This includes exposure, white balance and other stuff. Thus, providing users with much more flexibility.
        Since no compression is made, no image data is lost.

        RAW format creates large files; it lessens the amount of photos that can be captured when using JPEG.
        Requires programs that can support the file format. Usually the bundled software is used to process RAW images.
        Requires high powered computers to process and create JPEG files.
        Processing can be time consuming.

        File size is smaller than RAW; this maximizes the space of the memory card.
        Editing and viewing is easy, any photo editor can handle JPEG.
        Sharing photos online, to friends, e-mails and other social networks is faster due to small file size.
        JPEG is a standard file format; it is supported on every type of computer.
        JPEG compresses the photo; during this process some details of the photo is lost.
        Harder to edit compared to RAW, because details are easily lost when intense photo editing is done.
        Lesser control over the outcome of the photo.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

White Balance and Color Temperature

White balance controls the color temperature of the light source. This makes the colors in your images as accurate as the way you look at the scene. Camera white balance is measured in Kelvin.

You may have noticed when taking photos, some may come out with strong bluish or yellowish color, even though the colors in the scene look natural to the naked eye. The reason behind this is the actual source of light has different color temperatures.

Kelvin values of White balance preset
Take the chart above as an example, if you are shooting under a daylight condition wherein the color cast is bluish, then you should set your white balance at the range of 5000-6500 Kelvin to warm the color and balance the bluish cast. Doing so, will balance the color and thus will be more accurate to the actual scene.

White Balance comparison

Learning to balance the color temperature, will allow you to take control of the camera and set it to the proper white balance, so your photos will have colors as accurate as the scene itself.

White Balance Preset

Auto – This preset automatically adjusts the color temperature according to the different lighting conditions. It works on most occasions, but using other presets or custom Kelvin settings will provide better results.

Shade – Shade preset is useful in a shaded location where color temperature is cooler and produces bluish photos. Using the shade preset warms the color temperature of your camera.

Cloudy – This preset is used when you’re shooting on a cloudy day. Cloudy preset is warmer than shade.

Daylight – Daylight preset is used for outdoor shoot on a sunny day setting.

Flash – Flash color temperature is quite cool. Using this mode warms the color temperature.

Fluorescent – This preset is used when lighting comes from a fluorescent lamp, which produces a cooler color compared to tungsten bulb.

Tungsten – This mode is the coolest setting on the white balance preset. It is usually used indoors, especially when dealing with tungsten light bulb as lights source. Tungsten mode cools down the color temperature in your photos.

Custom White Balance – Allows you to use a photograph as a reference to white balance. To use this preset use an expo disc or a white balance card and shoot it where your light source is coming from.

Kelvin – This mode allows you to enter the actual Kelvin value, giving you precise control over the camera’s color temperature. Kelvin mode is useful if the presets can’t get the right color temperature.

Tip: Use a white object when setting your white balance, take a couple of photos. Check the photos using the LCD. If the color of the white object is accurate according to the actual object, then you have a correct white balance setting.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Controlling Exposure

In the previous post, we talked about understanding exposure and the settings that affect exposure. One thing they all had in common is they are all associated with light. Photography is all about light, using light. The word itself is from a combination of two Ancient Greek words: photos – “light”, and graphein – “to draw/write”. Thus, photography is literally “drawing with light”.

Film Strip With Pictures - Image: Anusorn P nachol /

The combination of the three settings Shutter speed, Aperture, and ISO controls exposure. The combination can drastically affect the outcome of a photograph. You should set these combinations by priority. For example: In a sunny day situation, you want to take a photo of a person with the background completely blurred. First select your proper ISO; since it is sunny the ISO should be set to the lowest setting. I believe this should be set first because the current available light will not change drastically during a photo shoot. Next thing you should do is set your priority between shutter speed and aperture. In this situation, let's say you want the background to be completely blurred; aperture should be your higher priority over shutter speed. If you want a blurred or bokeh background, the lowest aperture value preferably f1.8 or lower should be selected (If you can’t set your aperture to f1.8 then you might be limited by the type of lens that you use, learn more about camera lens type). Now, shutter speed will be used to compensate for the increased amount of light. Since we allowed more light by selecting a wider aperture, shutter speed should be increased to reduce the amount of light that passes through. If the combination is right, the camera should reward you with a beautiful photo with proper exposure.

Pink Flowers - Image: Graeme Weatherston /

This shot was taken with the idea of blurred background. Thus the aperture is the priority over shutter speed. Shutter speed was used to compensate for the increased amount of light.

Grand Central Subway Train Station - Image: Paul Martin Eldridge /

The idea of this shot was to capture the movement of the people, to make the photo appear as though the train station is busy. For this image shutter speed is the priority aperture. Aperture was used to compensate for the increased or decreased amount of light.

Using Give and Take Rule to Control Exposure

Practice controlling exposure by playing with two settings first; mainly shutter speed and aperture. Try giving a stop­ higher to shutter speed then take the lost light in aperture by moving a stop lower. Use the one stop chart below as a guide.

One stop chart - click to zoom

Master the give and take rule, by using shutter speed and aperture first, then try using three settings; shutter speed, aperture and ISO. Check your meter for proper exposure. Keep practicing!

Camera Metering Modes

Metering is how the camera determines the exposure. It considers the amount of light the sensor receives within the frame. Using different metering modes can result to different exposure. Meaning the photos could come out either over exposed or under exposed. The important thing is to understand when to use certain metering mode, as it will allow you to control the area used to calculate for the best exposure.

Camera Metering Modes

Metering mode icons for Nikon and Canon cameras
 In the images below, the gray areas are the part of the frame where light is considered.

Multi-zone (Evaluative [Canon]/Matrix [Nikon])

This mode is the default or standard metering setting for most cameras. It considers the amount of light that the sensor receives across the entire frame, combines the results to calculate for the best exposure. Multi-zone uses various algorithms to compute for the best exposure. The most common use for this mode is when there is equal lighting across the scene – take landscape photography for example.

Multi-zone - considers light across the whole frame


Considers light at the center of the viewfinder and fades towards the edges. This mode was the standard metering settings before multi-zone metering was introduced. Some photographers still use this as their default metering mode as it is more reliable and the results can be predicted. This mode works similarly to Multi-zone metering but it focuses at the center of the frame provides, compared to multi-zone this mode covers a smaller area to be used for exposure calculation.

Center-weighted - considers light at the center of the frame and fades to the edge.


This metering covers only a small portion of the viewfinder (1 to 5%). It considers light falling at the the center focus point within the frame. Spot metering is a a good option to use if your subject is strongly contrasted against the background. Take portrait as an example, there will be conditions where there is a strong back light. Metering the face of the person prevents the subject to look like a silhouette against a bright background.

Spot - considers light at a small portion of the frame.

Understanding Exposure

Understanding exposure and the factors that affect it, is key to obtaining beautiful photos that are properly lighted. The settings that will be talked about here can mean the difference between over exposed and under exposed photos.

Is the amount of light that falls on a light-sensitive material. An exposure is made when the shutter curtain opens and light-sensitive material (a film or image sensor) is exposed to light for a certain amount of time.

Circle Of Happy Friends With Their Heads Together Portrait
Portraiture: Group of friends - Image: photostock /
This is a sample of good exposure, even though the background is blown out. The faces of the people, which are the subject in the photo, are properly exposed.

Settings that affect exposure:
Shutter Speed
The amount of time the camera shutter curtain is exposed to light.

A fast shutter speed freezes motion, needs more light. 

Stacked checker pieces hand frozen - Image: graur codrin /
The movement of a hand climbing to the top of a stacked checker pieces is stopped by using fast shutter speed.

Slower shutter speed captures motion, may cause blurry images, needs less light.

Stacked checker pieces with motion - Image: graur codrin /

By using a slower shutter speed the movement of the hand climbing to the top of a stacked checker pieces is captured.

Shutter speed is measured in stops. Starting at 1 second to 1/2 of a second is one stop. 1/2 second to 1/4 of a second is one stop. To understand better, here is a shutter speed one stop chart.

Shutter speed one stop chart

Is the wideness or narrowness of the lens opening. This limits the amount of light that passes through the lens. Aperture affects depth of field, controls flash exposure and ambient light.

Wide aperture (Low aperture value) will give a shallower Depth of field this causes the main subject of focus to be sharp while the background to be blurred. Using a wide aperture produces the popular bokeh effect, needs less light.

Zen stone with bokeh background - Image: zirconicusso /

Girl With Sun Glasses, bokeh background - Image: Witthaya Phonsawat /

Wide apertures are used when you want to isolate the subject by blurring the background.

Narrow aperture (High aperture value) will give more depth of field this means that most part of the image will be more focused, needs more light.

Palm trees - Image: Arvind Balaraman /

Under the sun rays - Image: prozac1 /

Narrow apertures are used in scenes where you want most part or the whole photo to be in focus. This is usually used in landscape photography.

Aperture is measured in f-stops, from f1.0 moving to f1.4 is equivalent to one f-stop. Moving from f1.4 to f2.0 is also one stop. Look at the chart below to understand better.

Aperture one stop chart

Controls the light sensitivity of the imaging media. The higher the value, the more sensitive the media but this also makes the picture grainier.

Low (ISO value), less sensitive to light but more grainy
ISO 400 - Almost no noise at all

High (ISO value), more sensitive to light/needs less light but more grainy
ISO 1600 - Noise is fairly visible

Comparison of ISO noise
Noise comparison of ISO 400 to ISO 3200

Like shutter speed and aperture. ISO is also measured in stops. Starting from ISO 100 to ISO 200 is 1 stop. Moving from ISO 200 to ISO 400 is also equivalent to one stop. Use the chart below to understand better.

ISO one stop chart

Use the Exposure Meter
Exposure meter
Digital cameras have a built in exposure meter which works by evaluating the amount of light on the scene. The built in exposure meter can be seen in the camera viewfinder or LCD. Keeping the meter in the middle usually gives proper exposure. If you’re not getting the right exposure try playing with the exposure control settings: Shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.

The right combination of these three settings is the key to achieving perfect exposure. Good understanding of exposure and the basic settings allows us to know the right combination for various situations.