Last Updated on January 23, 2022
Getting Profesional Snapshots
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Most people own cameras of one sort or another and take pictures from a documentary standpoint, a photographic record of what they, their family, and their friends were doing at a given time.
These ‘snapshots’ are put in albums or on mantlepieces or in frames and used to remind us of those times, to serve as visual cues that take us back to that weekend on the beach or the vacation to Florida.
Lots of these snapshots are harshly lit by an on-camera flash, exhibiting the dreaded “red-eye”, or pitch-black backgrounds behind flash-burnt foregrounds. But what can you do about it?
Getting Better Photographs
In this age of digital cameras with tons of features, there are many options, but we’re going to focus on one particular technique – one that may seem strange or counter-intuitive to those of us who’ve grown up in the snapshot age.
We’ve all seen beautiful photographs taken all sorts of places – bus stations, living rooms, county fairs, and restaurants.
They’re natural and relaxed and classic in appearance, shot by photojournalists all over the world. What’s the secret? Deceptively simple – No flash.
It’s that simple.
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Camera flash produces images that are nothing like what we see with our eye (unless you carry around a flashlight to look at the world with!) and because of the inverse-square law of light attenuation, it creates an unnatural separation between foreground and background, often robbing images of context.
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If you’re thinking that it can’t be quite that simple, you’re right. The concept itself is straightforward, but execution can be more difficult. The first thing is to evaluate your digital camera.
Can you manually adjust the “Sensitivity” or “ISO“? If so, set it to 400, or even higher if your camera supports it. Can you manually turn off the flash?
This usually takes the form of a button on the camera with what looks like a lightning bolt with the international symbol for ‘no’ over it – the circle with a diagonal crossbar.
Once you’ve established that the answer to both of these questions is “yes”, you can proceed. What you’re about to do is known as “available light photography”.
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Chances are the first time you press the shutter button on your camera in this configuration, the experience will be somewhat different than what you’re used to.
The click of the shutter will probably be noticeably longer. It has to stay open longer to let more light into the camera to create the image.
This can cause blurring due to motion; try it and see what happens. There are two types of motion blur – one that occurs when you, the photographer, move the camera during exposure, and one that happens when the subject moves during the exposure.
The first is almost always objectionable, while the second sometimes lends itself to beautiful images. It’s not uncommon to produce images with sharp faces, but hands blurred as they lift a drink or gesture in conversational illustration.
Getting Ultimate Snapshots
It takes practice to get good available light photographs. There are a few ways to combat photographer-created motion blur. If you have a choice, make sure that you pick a place with as high a lighting level as possible for your event, or choose the sites you take images accordingly.
Control your breathing – it’s an old trick taught to archers, sharpshooters, and photographers. Take a deep breath, blow it out halfway, then stop, and squeeze the shutter release, don’t jerk it. It takes practice.
You should also zoom your camera to the widest angle its lens supports; this will help minimise the effect of your normal body motions like breathing and heartbeat.
Finally, you can take advantage of physical objects to brace your camera against, from the napkin holder in a restaurant to a seatback at a night game.
Hold the camera firmly in place with one hand and press the shutter release firmly, but not jerkily, with the other.
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You’ll find that with practice you can produce quite a few solid images this way, with beautiful lighting and much more natural context and settings.
You’ll discover circumstances where you just have to resort to flash because there’s just not enough light.
If you practice, though, you’ll discover a new technique for recording your memories that reach somewhere beyond that standard snapshot.
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