Friday 30 April 2010

Photography at Conventions

This post is in response to several requests both here on my blog and on the TMP forum for info on how I took my pictures at this years Salute. I'm not an accomplished photographer by any means, and my head hurts when people start talking about f-stops and apertures, but I have learned how to take a half decent image by following some simple rules. I've always taken the view that achieving a good picture isn't and shouldn't be some mystical zen skill only mastered by professionals. If you take pictures based on sound techniques then even a grunt like me can get some good shots.

I used a Cannon EOS 500D with a 18-55mm Lens for my pictures but the same techniques can help you when taking pictures with compact cameras. Most of the pictures I took were taken with the camera on the 'P' Setting. This is like full Auto but with more control. So for instance I was able to adjust the exposure of the pictures without going near the AV (Aperture) controls. Similarly I could adjust the speed or ISO setting when desired, not that I did that much. One of the reasons I choose the P settings rather than the Full Auto (green square) mode was the ability to turn off the flash and shoot with available light.

Lighting : Most cameras have a built in flash and my 500D is no exception. However I found the pictures I took with flash were too harshly lit. Flash lit pictures are also not suitable for scenes that require large Depth of Field. I chose to shoot most of my pictures with the flash off because the lighting at salute was very good compared to some shows I have attended.

Composition : The Rule of Thirds is a principle of composition that helps you keep your images dynamic. It gives you eight elements to work with -four lines of intersection and four power points. Placing points of interest along the lines or at the power points tends to create a more interesting composition.

Stability : I decided not to bring a Monopod or tripod to Salute, partly because I didn't want to get in other peoples way but also because I knew I would be mixing photography with shopping and didn't want to be weighed down with equipment. I compensated by adopting bracing my arms and legs in a ridged frame (arms tight in and locked against the body) to minimise camera shake. I also took advantage of any available object (a chair back, a display stand or a table edge) as improvised tripods. Finally I briefly exhale and hold my breath when I press the shutter to keep myself as stable as possible.

Innovation : Having said "here are the rules of composition" you need to break them occasionally. Try something different instead of having all your pictures from head height try some high shots, low shots and weird (angled) shots.

Get snap happy : Take lots of pictures. My camera has an 8gb memory card and at maximum resolution I can shoot over 1200 photo's. So I shot loads of pictures knowing I could edit out the rubbish later. I also looked for the picture within a picture. Many of my photo's are cropped from larger pictures that didn't work compositionally but held within them a good image.

Depth of Field : I like to take advantage of Depth of Field (DoF) to emphasis one part of a picture over another. I wanted to focus on the Aircraft in this picture but still be able to see some of the background. So I zoomed in - which shortened the DoF - and manually focused on the plane separating both elements without loosing all detail.

Technical Stuff : When I got home I downloaded all my pictures and started the first edit of pictures, discarding obviously blurred or pointless shots. I then looked for the pictures within my pictures and cropped those pictures that would benefit compositionally from a trim. I then adjusted the brightness on some pictures and I also slightly adjusted the colour temperature of the finished pictures to compensate for the halogen light inside the exhibition centre. Other than that the finished pictures are as they were taken without any complex digital darkroom wizardry involved.

I must stress again I'm not a pro and I have no aspirations or allusions to being one. The tips I have listed here are the things I keep in my mind when taking a picture and, on the whole, they seem work for me.


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