Capturing Light & Magic.
Having shot photo and video both personally and professionally for the past 5 years now—even going so far as to say it’s been my “all-access pass into businesses, organizations, and the personal lives of individuals”—photography (when distilled down to it’s most basic components) is actually really quite simple! When broken down, photography (videography is a different beast, entirely) boils down to 6 primarily elements. Though, as an added bonus, I’ll also throw in two significant trade-secrets as well. Let’s begin:
Settings: Know Your Gear
—”Yo, what did you shoot that at, bro?!”
When you really think about it, there are only 3 elements to capturing any photo: Shutter Speed, Aperture, and ISO.
The name of the game (ultimately) in photography is “Capturing Light”. Depending on the “mood” or “feel” of what it is you want to capture in your photography, it will always consist of these three elements. But, what do each of these elements do?
Think of it like blinking. Shutter speed (or, how fast your camera takes a photo) either lets in light really quickly or super slowly. This is also where you can get really cool shots like making it seem like you’re floating in air, or getting an awesome light stream to cascade across the frame. The faster the shutter speed, the less light that enters into the camera. The slower the shutter speed, the more light that enters it. Simple as that.
This is your “focus” dial. The higher the Aperture number (f/16, for example), the more “in-focus” your background is going to be in relation to what’s targeted via your focus dot. Conversely, the lower the Aperture number (f/1.8, let’s say) the more blurry your background is going to be. That’s also how you get that sweet “Bokeh” effect that portrait photographers just love! Though, be warned, the higher the number (ie. the more “in-focus” your subject is), the smaller the Aperture hole is going to be. The smaller the hole… the less amount of light that gets in… the darker your photo will turn out.
ISO is, essentially, artificial light. Too dark outside? Boost your ISO. Have your Aperture and Shutter Speed where you want them to be, but your photo is still coming out dim? Boost your ISO. ISO is basically your catch-all for when you can’t get the lighting just right. Though, be warned, (as it’s a common mistake amongst newb photographers out there…) try not to go over ISO 1600 when shooting. The greater the ISO, the greater the grain that will show up when you upload your images to your computer. Granted, if you’re going for that ultra-grainy look in your photography, then ISO-away!
Setting: Position Your Stage
—“Let’s put an object in front of you to get some really cool depth-of-field!”
Aside from the Settings on your camera, you will also need to account for what’s in-play while you’re actually shooting. Essentially, your Setting comes down to three main things: Light (and Shadow, for that matter), Subject, and Stage.
This one is pretty obvious. That’s really what you’re trying to capture here. The reason for all of the heat lamps, reflectors and diffusers is because you want to get the right amount of light into your camera. Greater light adds more detail to a photo; however, too much light and you’ve got “harsh conditions” for unwanted shadows to appear. Always be mindful of your lighting—it can make or break your photo.
This is the thing you’re actually shooting. Whether it’s a person or an object, you’ve got to manage it—and manage it wisely. Things that come off “natural” in real life, can fail to come across correctly on camera. Funny enough, the same goes in reverse. What you may think feels awkward in real life actually looks authentic when being shot! It’s all about positioning for this one... and not to mention (if you’re shooting live subjects), people-management.
Your stage comes down to what’s actually in-frame. Often times you can angle a shot just-right, or fill a frame with enough objects to make it look like you’re not actually where you really are. This is the power of good framing and (what most people commonly refer to as) “movie magic” (or photo-magic, in this case…).
There you have it—the 6 main components to taking any good photo!
Before I forget, I did promise you two bonuses, as well. So, what makes a photo go from being good to great? Post-production. Namely, Lightroom and Photoshop.
Granted, there are many other photo-editing tools out there, but none are as versatile, industry-wide, or effective as Adobe’s two powerhouses. Any commercial photo you’ve ever seen (I promise you) was run through one or a combination of these two programs.
What exactly do they do?
Import and toggle away. The beautiful thing about Lightroom is its simplicity in toggling the settings until you find something you like. My personal preference? Running a photo through “Punch”, then upping the Sharpness, Clarity and Contrast, accordingly. The best part is, if you just took a series of photos during a session, you can actually copy-and-paste those settings across the board to make all of your photos look both professional and consistent!
This is where things get sneaky. Personally, I used to only use Photoshop until I got introduced to Lightroom some 3-odd years ago. Photoshop lets you remove blemishes, cut people out, add extra fill lighting, add extra shading, insert text… heck, you name it, Photoshop can probably do it! If there’s one program I advocate for you to learn above all else, it’s Photoshop. Not only is it great for photos, but you can use it for drawing, graphic design, or even creating .gifs. Photoshop is such an essential tool, it’s one you just have to add to your repertoire!
There you have it (again)—6 components and 2 bonus pro-tips. These 8 elements are what all photographers (pro and amateur, alike) use when creating those awesome shots that we all ogle over. Now, the truly hard part: practicing. It’s not enough to think you know something, but to truly know it is to do it without thinking and on command. So, practice until your sword is sharp, and then take it out every once in a while to ensure that it always stays ready.
Personally, learning to use a camera has been the biggest asset in my entire career and life in general. As human beings, we’re all looking for a good story, and being able to create and capture amazing visuals is one aspect to being able to tell one yourself. Don’t just listen to other peoples’ version of life, manifest your own. Photography is simply a medium to help get you there.