Gadgets

Through the Lens

A lot of photography jargon can seem like double Dutch. You’re not alone – it can be confusing, but once you decipher it all it’s pretty simple.

Words by Simone Costi

First off, let’s run through the basic functions on the camera. Now every camera is different, but they do tend to have many similarities. I’ll go through the most common functions.

The majority of the stuff we’ll deal with in this article pertains to SLR cameras.

Modes

Most cameras have a variety of modes to choose from, which are a great help if you’re a beginner. Once you have the hang of your camera, I’d suggest forgetting about the standard modes and selecting the modes on your own as it allows for greater creative control.

Green mode is the basic picture taking option. The camera does everything for you, however, it does not necessarily mean it is the ideal option for taking shots.

Portrait mode is recommended for taking portraits. Once again the camera does all the work.

Action mode allows you to capture images of moving subjects, such as sports, kids and pets.

Landscape mode is, as it says, suited for taking landscape or scenery pictures.

Macro mode lets you get up close and take clear shots of flowers, bugs or other small things.

Night mode is great for night time photography, mainly evening portraits.

Those are the ‘no-brainer’ functions, which are fine, but you have a bit more fun working it out on your own.

P is program mode, which is one of the most popular options to use. The camera automatically sets the shutter speed and aperture to suit the lighting. This is also an easy option, but a very common one if you don’t have the confidence or time to play around with the shutter and aperture. However, it doesn’t give you the creativity that Av and Tv modes do.

Av is the aperture priority mode. In this mode you get to set the aperture. The aperture is like the camera’s eye, which opens and closes to let the light in and to take the picture. By changing the aperture on this mode, you are choosing the size of the camera’s eye and therefore the exposure. Changing the aperture also effects the depth of field, which is how much of the image is in focus. A small aperture (a little eye) creates a large depth of field (more of the image in focus), where a large aperture (a big eye) results in a small depth of field (less of the image in focus). While you select the aperture, a shutter speed is chosen automatically to match it.

Tv is the shutter priority mode. Here you can choose what shutter speed you want to use. So the shutter speed can be fast or slow. A fast speed is used to freeze the moving subject, for instance, a bird flying. A slow shutter speed is used to promote movement, such as flowing waterfalls. When you select a shutter speed, your camera will chose the aperture for you so the exposure is correct.

Shutter speed and aperture work together. When you alter one, the other one changes to accommodate it.

M is manual mode where you choose both the shutter speed and aperture on your own.

You can also choose auto or manual focus on your camera. The camera focuses for you on auto, and on manual you have to move the lens till the image is in focus. Most people use a combination of both, depending on what they are shooting.

Alright, so we’ve got your camera and its functions sorted.

Lenses

These days, most SLR cameras come with a lens, however, one might not be enough. When I bought my film SLR, it included a 28-80mm zoom lens and a 100-300mm zoom lens. When I bought my digital SLR, it came with an 18-50mm wide angle zoom lens.

As you’ve probably already worked out, there are a few different types of lenses and you can get them in varying sizes.

Standard wide angle lenses cover from about 15-50mm. They’re good for all round stuff, especially portrait shots.

Wide angle lenses are best for landscape photography, as they take wide-angle shots, meaning they can fit a fair bit in the picture. They tend to range from 8-28mm.

Zoom lenses are great and if you’re only going to get one lens, I’d go for a 28-200mm one. It can handle portraits and stuff a fair way away. They generally go up to 300mm at the most.

Telephoto lenses are super long lenses and range in size from 300mm to 1000mm.

You can also get special lenses, like fish eye lenses, which take those really neat curvy looking shots. Another popular lens is a macro lens, however some lenses have a macro switch on it. My Sigma 28-80mm has this option, where I can choose to shoot in macro.

Filters

It is essential to have a UV or a skylight filter on your camera. Not only do they help protect the lens, but these filters help eliminate the glare entering the shot and produce brighter, clearer results.

You can also get all sorts of coloured filters to change the tone of your shot, but I reckon sticking to the basics is wisest for travel photography.

Technical stuff aside, there’s a few really handy basics that will improve your photography immediately.

First of all, hold the camera steady. Use a tripod or lean against a wall for support. You can actually get inexpensive little mini travel tripods from camera stores. Tripods are especially important when you’re doing macros/close ups or time delay shots. Sometimes you can get away without one for macro shots, but more often than not, there will be noticeable camera shake and that crystal clear flower with dew on the petals will end up looking like a big smudge of colour.

Keep the sunlight behind you where possible as this will allow natural light to do its job. Also, if you haven’t already worked it out, shooting into the sun will often cause a big white blob on your pic and everything in the foreground will be dark.

It might sound funny, but watch where you stand when you take photographs. For instance, when shooting close ups of flowers your shadow might fall on the bloom, which you definitely don’t want. Or if shooting landscapes, your shadow might be cast into the foreground of shot. However, I don’t mind this effect, especially when photographing outback type stuff as it helps illustrate just how desolate and lonely it is out there.

You could just snap away at anything without actually lining your subject up. This will create an okay photo, but not really get the best result. To line your subject up, whether it’s a person or a tree or a fence, imagine your view finder has been divided into thirds, both horizontally and vertically and looks like a grid. Then when you’re aiming, line up the subject with one of these grid lines. This will work with scenery, people and close ups or macro shots of flowers.

Filling the frame is also an important technique in photography. It is a pretty simple one to apply to your shots too. Basically, fill the frame with your subject (which often requires zooming-in), rather than zooming-out and trying to fit in everything around them.

Survey your subject and its surroundings. If you’re taking shots of a building, make sure a car isn’t going to zoom through right as you press the button. If you’re taking scenery pictures, make sure a lonely garbage bin isn’t sneaking into the frame.

Keep in mind that you can position your camera both vertically and horizontally. For things like tall trees, hold it vertically to accentuate their height rather than chop it off. Then for flat sweeping plains, hold it horizontally to emphasize the vastness of the area. And if you’re not sure, well, just shoot it both ways!

But the most important thing of all is to blaze away and have a ball.

I remember my first camera. I got it from Santa when I was eight. It was a film camera that I had to wind-on and press down on a lever to take the photos. The pictures were printed square.

I remember my second camera. I got it for my 10th birthday. It too was a film camera that I had to wind-on, but it had a button to depress to take the pics. And the photos were printed in the regular 6in x 4in format.

Then I got my third camera. And it was very exciting. I saved my money from my weekend job and bought it when I was 15. This one had a zoom! And a self-timer, red eye reduction, automatic winding (and rewinding) and a date option.

Then I discovered my dad’s camera. It’s a beautiful Canon FTb SLR (single lens reflex) he bought in the 70s. It is heavy and classic and everything has to be done manually. I played around with that for a while and then I wanted my own.

So I bought my fourth camera. And adored it. It was a Pentax MZ30. An SLR – a proper camera with all sorts of cool functions. I had it for six years and then discovered digital.

I was introduced to digital SLR here at work and fell in love immediately, but I was hesitant to convert from my much loved film SLR. It already worked – there was nothing wrong with it and I took fine pics with it. I was also reluctant to go out and spend thousands of dollars on something new. But there was a niggling inside me…

So I looked around and found a digi SLR that matched my existing lenses. It is a Pentax istDL. And I fell in love again.

What is better? Film or digital? There has been sizeable debate over it for the last couple of years, but when it comes down to it, it’s personal.

I’ve got to be honest. At first I wasn’t real keen on the idea of digital, especially since my film camera served me so well for so long. But after playing around with a digital SLR my preferences started to change, and now I don’t think I’d return to a film camera.

But I’ll put forward both sides of the debate as fairly as possible to try and help you decide whether a digi or film is for you.

Cost

I thought we’d start with the cost of cameras, as often money is what helps decide what product we go for.

The price of digital cameras is dropping considerably, but film cameras have also decreased in price (and are also quite cheaper than digis). With a digital, you’ve got to buy a battery pack and charger as well as memory cards to get you going. With film ones, you’ve got to grab a roll of film and a couple of batteries. So the initial output of a film camera is essentially cheaper.

Then it comes to developing. You can get both your digi and film pics developed at the same photo shop for around the same price. And this is how I do it. You don’t need your own computer – all you do is take your memory device to the store, stick it in the machine, download it and choose the pics you want printed then and there. You can also choose what size to print each pic, the number of copies and can even change the colour to black and white or sepia if your camera doesn’t do it. And you can crop and zoom in on the images too. Doing it this way means that every single photo you get processed is useable, unlike film where there’s always a handful of crappy shots in the pile.

Recently I had to get some reprints of some film pictures I took ages ago. It cost me $1.50 per photo! I almost fell over when they told me the total price – it was more than double the original processing fee. But, with digital, if you get your pictures burnt to a CD, you can get any image on the CD reprinted for the same price it cost you the first time round – generally no more than 30c.

Alternatively, if you have a computer with the appropriate software, a good quality printer that’s designed to print photos, along with photo paper, you can print your digital pics yourself. Then there are the continuous expenses associated with printing your own digital images; software upgrades, printer upgrades, replacing printer ink and buying more photo paper.

When you do the math, the initial output of digital cameras is far dearer than film cameras, especially if you get all the computer stuff to go with it. But in the long run, digital is more cost effective.

In the short period of a month, I took over 3000 photos on my digital camera. If I did that with my film camera, I would’ve used approximately 125 rolls of 24 exposure film, which costs about $8 a roll, depending on the brand and speed you get. So to just buy the film would’ve cost me $1000. Add to that the developing charges at approximately $10 a roll, and that’s $1250. So just to take those shots – and to see what they look like – I would’ve spent $2250. Adds up doesn’t it?

So how much did it cost me to take the pics with my digital camera? My memory card holds close to 400 shots and cost me $150 – which is a one off expense. Each time I filled my memory card up, I simply burnt it to a CD at home, which costs no more than 50c a CD. Then I sorted through the images and worked out what I wanted printed. Obviously there was no way all 3000 pics were worth printing, so I selected the ones I wanted and paid 29c a print. But if I get more than 200 shots printed, they only cost 19c each. So the total cost is less than half the price of printing in film!

Printing is an ongoing cost for both film and digital, but you’ve only got to buy your memory card once, unlike film, where you need a new roll of film constantly. But put simply, both types of photography do cost a fair bit of money. I’ve just found that digital is more economic for my purposes.

Convenience

Let’s face it, we like things that make our life easier – not harder, so what is more convenient – film or digi?

With digis, you can buy a couple of massive memory cards and just snap away. But with film, after 36 shots (at the most), you’ve got to load a new roll. And often when you’re travelling, this is hard to do. Your film is bound to run out just as you’re trying to capture a bird hunting a rodent or something equally as fast and exciting.

And yes, your digital memory card can run out too, but it is far quicker to pop out and replace, rather than waiting for the film to rewind and loading another one. Plus, memory cards are little and take up hardly any room – but film does get rather bulky.

What about batteries? I reckon it is pretty much even between both kinds of cameras. You’ll always need to carry spares for each. Digital cameras do chew up more juice than film ones though. Some digital cameras only work with special battery packs that you’ve got to charge. Now, if you’re in the middle of nowhere, you can’t always do this. However, many digitals can take lithium batteries just like your film camera, so there isn’t too much trouble there.

Ease Of Use

Yep, technology can be a little daunting, but as soon as you learn not to be afraid of it – you’ll love it!

Most digital and film cameras have similar functions to their respective counterparts. So SLR models tend to have like-functions, as do point-and-shoot varieties. Digital has the advantage over film as you are able to work out what the functions do a lot quicker as you can see your pics straight away.

Best Results

You can’t really say whether film gets better results over digital or vice versa. The best photographer in the world could be given the worst camera ever invented and they are more likely to take a better shot than the worst photographer in the world with the best ever camera. Make sense? Basically, it isn’t the camera that takes good pics, it’s the person behind the camera.

However, you do learn to take better pictures faster on a digital camera. Why? Because you can see your results immediately and learn from them.

So that’s the debate in a nutshell. Still don’t know which type of camera to go for? Not surprising. I’d just go for the one you like best, but at least consider the following.

For either film or digital cameras, I’d go for an SLR, hands down. You have more control over your camera and more options, instead of just the on/off and the take the photo button, and if you’re lucky, a zoom.

But if you’re not going for an SLR, then at least get a camera with a zoom. If it’s a film camera, use a good quality film. Don’t pinch pennies and get no name stuff, go for known, popular brands. Choosing an appropriate film speed (ISO) is important too. 100, 200 and 400 are the most common these days, with 400 being best for action shots and 100 being best for scenery shots. The higher the ISO, the grainier the pic is. A good medium is 200.

In the way of digis, once again, get one with reasonable zoom. Second of all, make sure it’s got a good amount of pixels. Four megapixels is ideal for 6in x 4in and 5in x 7in pics, but if you’re thinking about blowing your shots up larger than that, then the absolute minimum you want is about 6 megapixels. Forget anything less than four megapixels – they might be cheaper, but you’ll notice it in your photos.

If you’d asked me a year ago what was better, film or digi, I would’ve said film. But 12 months ago I hadn’t laid hands on a digital camera. Now, there is no doubt in my mind that digital is the way to go.

So once you’ve actually worked out which one to get, then you can play with it! And we’ll cover that next issue!

Using your SLR

Last month we looked at some general techniques and ways to improve your photography, such as using a tripod, lining up your subject, the rule of thirds and surveying your subject. These are all very important things that can help make all your photographs better, but are also essential for landscape photography.

However, there are a few other things that are worth taking into account too.

The most popular lens to use for landscape photography is a wide angle lens. You can get away with a small zoom lens too, depending on what you want to use your images for and of course, how much money you want to spend on your camera kit.

So you’ve got your gear (including a must-have tripod) and you’re ready to shoot. What next? Yes, you can shoot anything and everything, and might get a couple of okay pics out of it, but it is best to think before you act.

You’ve probably got an idea of where you’re heading for the day, whether you’re planning to go out and play with your camera, or you’ve got a day trip on your itinerary. To obtain some great shots, do some research about the area first. For instance, if it is a popular tourist destination, consider when are the quieter times to visit it, so you don’t get people wandering in and out of your shot. Lucky for you, the quiet times are generally early morning and in the evening, which are coincidentally the best time of day to photograph. Also think about the items you might require when you’re out on your shoot – lenses, tripod, spare batteries, extra film or memory cards and wet weather protection. A little forward planning will help you get better shots.

Now you’ve reached your destination and you’re preparing to shoot. Before you press the button – think again. Look at your subject and consider what the photo will look like. Is it going to be the run of the mill shot that everyone on the tour group will have? Probably – after all, the obvious is the easiest option to shoot. But it isn’t the best.

Try and shoot from a different viewpoint or aspect. Remember that both you and your camera can move – you don’t need to be cemented to the one spot. Wander around the area and search out a different angle. Different angles also include heights, so get down low – put your camera on the ground or lie down, or get up high – climb a tree, up a rock, onto a staircase, or on a bridge. Keep in mind that your camera doesn’t just have to be positioned horizontally or vertically – you can tilt it too and this often allows for interesting results. Be creative and you’ll get a creative shot.

Look at the subject differently – is it just a big rock or is it made up of millions of small particles? Is it a stretch of lonely dirt road or comprised of cracked and dry tiles of clay? Is it just a beach or is it a coral beach, made up of chunks of coral. Get up close and shoot the essence of the landscape. These shots are often more interesting and tell a better story than the postcard shot.

Consider framing the subject – how do you do that? Like everything in photography, use your imagination. The rails in an outback fence might form the border for a lone daisy in the paddock beyond. A tree trunk and branch could frame a kangaroo in the bush. Perhaps a doorway in an old barn could surround the bales of hay within. The possibilities are endless – you’ve just got to keep an open mind. But the thing you do have to determine when taking the shot is what is your subject – the frame or the item beyond it?

Landscape Images

A good landscape image will have three parts; the foreground (the stuff at the front of the photo), the midground (what is in the middle), and the background (what is in the back of the shot). This helps create balance in your shots. Tie this in with the rule of thirds mentioned in last month’s article, where you imagine your view finder has been divided into thirds, both horizontally and vertically and looks like a grid. Then when you’re aiming, line up the subject with one of these grid lines. This creates interest in your shots and helps you make sure you just don’t put the subject smack-bang in the middle – boring!

Also associated with these techniques is the use of leading lines. Leading lines are meant to guide your eyes to the main subject in the photo. Common leading lines are roads, trees, walls and fences. Like framing your subject, you do have to make sure that the leading line doesn’t overpower the actual subject – unless of course your subject is the lines themselves?

Landscape photography more often than not will include the horizon. So where should you position it? Commonly, it ends up in the middle or in the top third. But it doesn’t matter. You’ll find that each shot you take will look better with a different horizon position. So experiment. Remind yourself what is the subject and how does the sky improve or detract from it.

There is one aspect of photography that you can’t control and it seems to have the greatest effect on landscape shots. That’s right – the weather. Weather is often the bane of photographers’ existence. But don’t let it get in your way. As long as you’ve got some good wet weather gear (for you and your camera), you’ll be fine.

Rainy or stormy weather can create different images and evoke great moods. Hazy, misty shoots or grey old days can actually be great for some subjects. Not long ago I went on a tour at Stockton beach and learnt about all the area’s war history. When I arrived I was so disappointed that is was a bleary old day. But once we got going, I realised that happy blue skies didn’t suit the history of the war time stories. As with the Sygna shipwreck. It would look pretty funny on a beautiful blue day with calm seas – but on a stormy grey day with massive swells, it seemed right at home and added a more accurate mood to the story.

And if all else fails and the rain has ruined your day and photos, then think about turning them into black and white or if you’ve got the computer programs – tweak it a bit.

Last of all, try and keep it simple. You don’t want to cram too much stuff into the frame. You want a nice, clear shot of the subject – not all the bits and pieces around it. Remember – simple and clean.

As you would’ve realised by now, there’s a fair bit of thinking and patience required for photography. Stop – think – consider – line up – consider – shoot – consider. It is a time consuming hobby, but take your time and enjoy yourself.