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Beginners' guide to photography Part 2 - an eye for detail

Beginners' guide to photography Part 2 - an eye for detail - Part 2 of our beginner's guide to photography Michael Jenkins suggests we look around a little more when pointing the camera at the subject

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General Photography

Making Your Selection by Michael Jenkins

Whenever I collect a film from my processor, I always worry about what I will find. Sometimes, I look through the photos and think, 'Did I take that?' So often, what we saw with our eyes is not reflected in the prints in our hands.

As a young photographer, you will be concerned with getting as many good prints as you can from each film. This keeps your costs down. In lesson one, we looked at achieving this by keeping your camera steady so that your pictures don't suffer from camera shake.

As important as it is, camera stability is only part of the story. When you look at a scene, you pick out the parts that interest you without really seeing everything. That's how your brain works. It selects the point of interest and concentrates on that. We see the buildings and their reflections, but we don't notice the vast expanse of grass, water and sky that take up the majority of the picture. The camera, on the other hand, records everything within the scope of its 'eye', the lens. You have to help it to be selective.

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If you have an adjustable camera, you can do a lot to remove distractions by the settings you choose. However, here we want to concentrate on the area of the scene you choose to record and the format in which you record it.

Most cameras record a picture with one side longer than the other. For example, on 35 mm film, the image is recorded on a piece of film 36 mm by 24 mm. Other cameras record an image of 6 cm by 4.5 cm and so on.

This is a very flexible arrangement. Long before cameras were even thought of, artists recognised that it was best to record landscapes with the long side of their canvas horizontal. When they painted portraits they turned the canvas so that the long side was vertical. Today, we still use the terms landscape and portrait to describe the format of our pictures.

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It is important to understand that, although it is generally considered a rule that we use the horizontal or landscape format for scenery and the vertical or portrait format for people, there are times when breaking the rules works just as well. Photography is one of the few areas in life where breaking the rules is allowed!

One of the most important rules of photography is the 'rule of thirds.' This suggests that, if you were to split the picture into three both horizontally and vertically, the main 'activity' should take place where these lines cross each other. This 'activity' is not necessarily movement. It may be that important parts of your subject will be at the point of focus, or your subject's eyes will be at this point in a portrait, or at least on one of these lines.

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With this information, you can now proceed to make your selection from the scene in front of you. How do you go about it?

It is a good idea to make a viewing frame for yourself. This should be in the same format as that used by your film. For this reason, many people use an empty slide mount. Alternatively, you could cut a frame for yourself out of a piece of card. (If you are a young person, get help from an adult.) Because you will probably be using 35 mm film, cut a hole 36 mm by 24 mm in the card. If you want to make it bigger, keep the same ratio of the long side being one and a half times the short side.

You may want to put marks on each side of the aperture where it splits the frame into thirds. This will give you a reference for positioning important items.

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Now, when you look at a scene, look through the viewing frame with one eye. It will save you having to lift the camera to your eye all the time.

As you look through the frame, take note of the location of important features such as trees, fences, buildings, windows, eyes and so on. Move the frame around, turn it sideways to get an idea of what the scene would look like in different formats, move it closer to your eye then farther away. Each view will be unique. Having gone through this process, you will have a better idea of what part of the scene you want to record.

Cameras donNow that you have selected your image, you may find that, if you do not have a zoom lens, you will need to move your location so as to get closer or farther away from your subject. Before you move, check the area again, just to make sure there isn't a photo hiding there somewhere.

By the way, if you really cannot get to the best place to take your photo, or you already have a potentially good image in your album, you could always scan it into your computer and crop it. If you don't have a computer with image editing software, you could get the photo printed at a size large enough so that you can trim it to suit.

Don't Just Take Pictures, Make Them

Choosing the right area of a scene to record, then recording it in the right way is an important step in your progress as a photographer. I'm not saying that you will start producing masterpieces overnight, but you will go a long way from taking pictures to making them. Remember, cameras don't take pictures; people do.

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