Category Archives: Theory

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Taking Better Photographs With Rule of Thirds

Creativity never depends on any kind of rules. It’s a free bird that only looks good when not bound by any kind of rules. However, the rule of thirds is one of the oldest and best known principles of photography. Applying it to your composition can dramatically improve your photography. But what exactly this rule is all about?

Wikipedia explains the rule of thirds as:

“… a compositional rule of thumb in photography …The rule states that an image can be divided into nine equal parts by two equally-spaced horizontal lines and two equally-spaced vertical lines. The four points formed by the intersections of these lines can be used to align features in the photograph . Proponents of this technique claim that aligning a photograph with these points creates more tension, energy and interest in the photo than simply centering the feature would.”

First, how exactly does the rule work?

The basic principle behind the rule of thirds is to imagine breaking an image down into thirds (both horizontally and vertically) so that you have 9 parts. While photographing a subject, you have two ways of doing this. One is with your LCD viewfinder and other is internally within your mind. With this grid in mind the ‘rule of thirds’ now identifies four important parts of the image that you should consider placing points of interest in as you frame your image.

Breaking the so called rule in simple language, it’s just an extension of human vision psychology (if you can put it that way). Our eyes tend to go to the edges first and then to the center of the frame. This rule exploits the same theory by giving a thumb rule of not placing the subject in the dead centre of frame but rather on the intersection point of the grid lines, ideally.

How to Apply the Rule

There are 2 basic principles to the Rule of Thirds.

1) Place points of interest where the grid intersects. Please note that I’ve used the term “point of interest” here and not “subject”. The reason for that is, the point of interest can be more specific than the subject itself (like subject’s eyes, etc.). You can place the point of interest on any of the many intersection points you have in the grid system.

2) Line up the natural lines in your photos to match the lines on the grid. When shooting images with natural lines (like horizons, buildings, etc) try to match the natural lines in your photo to the lines on the grid pattern in the rule of thirds. When shooting a portrait, try to place the eyes (a natural line in the photo) along one of the lines in the grid. Again, this will add emphasis to the aspect of the photo along the line.

Learning By Examples

Now I’ll tell you how I Implied this rule in my real life. Here’s a photograph of one of my friend Anurag which I shot one fine day. As you can see, in the following photograph, I have ignored Rule of Thirds and placed his face in the dead centre of the frame.

anurag_rlt

Now let’s reframe the shot by following the Rule Of Thirds

rlt_edit

Spotted the difference? The second photograph looks more awesome. Isn’t it? Here’s yet another example of another friend of mine

aman_rlt

Conclusion

The Rule of Thirds is just a theoretical form of how our eyes perceive and process the images. It’s more of a mind game rather than a photography trick. Use this rule wisely to make your photographs even better. And yes,as they say, rules are made to be broken 😉

iso

Understanding ISO Settings in Digital Camera

I’ve seen many people scratching their head over one setting in their digital camera, the ISO Settings. For many, it’s a complete alien terminology and they fail to use this setting to the hilt to take photographs. If you also have never been able to decode the ISO Settings, keep reading…

What is ISO ?

The term ISO dates back to the era when cameras with light sensitive films were used. According to wikipedia, the definition of ISO in relation to the light sensitive film is:

Film speed is the measure of a photographic film’s sensitivity to light, determined by sensitometry and measured on various numerical scales, the most recent being the ISO system.

Since we no longer use those cameras, ISO now refers to the sensitivity of your digital camera’s sensor. ISO is measured in following sequence of numbers in your digital camera:

80, 100, 200, 400, 800, etc..

This measuring is directly proportional to how sensitive the image capturing sensor of the digital camera is at that particular instance of time. Obviously, low ISO numbers (80, 100) correspond to less sensitive camera sensor and the higher ones (400, 800) corresponds to high sensitive camera sensor.

How does it affect the picture quality ?

Interestingly, ISO has a direct effect on the quality of the photographs you take. At lower ISO numbers, photographs come out to be clean and crisp (owing to the fact that the camera sensor is less sensitive) and at higher ISO numbers, photographs come out to be grainy (because we have a very high sensitive camera sensor)

However, you have to use the ISO settings in accordance with your Aperture and Shutter Speed settings. A lower ISO (which gives better and clear photographs) require Shutter Speeds and wider Aperture. A high ISO (which gives grainy photographs) gives you freedom to use a high Shutter Speed and a low Aperture value.

When does it matter the most ?

If you mostly shoot in outdoors in bright light, you don’t have to worry about your ISO settings. In fact, you can leave your digital camera in auto mode and let it select the best ISO for the scene. However, if you don’t have plenty of light, you have to tweak your ISO settings.

Let’s take a scenario. You are in a music concert and there is not much lights among the spectators and all the lights are on stage. Now, if you want to take a photograph of your friend standing at some distance from you in the audience, you have to rely upon the ISO settings a lot. Here is what will be happening:

  • You choose a slow (or normal) Shutter Speed and Aperture value and your camera gives a warning that your photograph will come out to be blurred (mostly, a red signal will flash on the LCD screen). That’s indeed true because there isn’t ample amount of light that should fall on the camera sensor.
  • If you increase your Shutter Speed without increasing the ISO, you will have underexposed photographs since the Aperture value is already to it’s maximum (that means, the lens is open as wide as it can to allow maximum possible light).
  • You’re stuck with everything and you can’t take a photograph without tweaking your ISO. That’s when the importance of ISO creeps in. Since you can’t do pretty much with your Shutter Speed and Aperture values, it’s time to levitate your ISO Settings. Remember, by increasing the ISO, we are making the camera sensor more sensitive to the available light. It’s also logical since we don’t have ample amount of light and we have to take the photograph anyhow. But, we have to compromise slightly on the image quality as there will be a small amount of grains involved due to high sensitive camera sensor. But, a grainy photograph is better than no photograph at all. Isn’t it?

What value of ISO is acceptable ?

That really depends on what type of camera sensor you got. If you have a high end DSLR camera, even the 1600 ISO shots will be perfect. But if you have an average level point-and-soot camera, you can only expect nice photographs in a range of 80 to 200 ISO. So, you have to take test shots with every ISO settings to ensure that you decide an optimum level of acceptable ISO with respect to your camera.

Where to use what ISO ?

Situations where you should use a low ISO;

  • If you are outside and there’s plenty of sunlight
  • A room which is brightly lit.
  • Any area having ample amount of light falling on the subject.

Situations where you have to have a high ISO

  • Music concerts
  • Birthday Parties
  • Hotel Interiors
  • Any place having inadequate amount of light

Conclusion

ISO wasn’t so tough to understand. Was it? Well, I’m sure by now you must have a fair idea of what ISO is and what it does. You have to really experiment yourself with your camera for the ISO levels because as stated above, it all depends on the type of camera you have.

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How Important are Megapixels in Your Digital Camera

Lately, everyone has been talking and boasting about how many megapixel he has got on his camera. Recently, one of my friend compared my Canon SX 110 camera (which is of 9MP) to his Sony Cybershot (which was of 12 MP) and he was ruffled to notice that my cam actually was able to take better photographs than his camera in any given condition

I wasn’t remotely surprised to see that he was also in the same bandwagon of “Look, I got more megapixels than you, I RULE” bandwagon. I don’t know from where have people made Megapixels as a de-facto benchmark of judging a digital camera’s ability to take better photographs. So in this article, I’ll try to break all the Megapixel myths prevailing out there.

What exactly are megapixels?

First and foremost thing that I would really shout out loudly is, “Megapixels are not everything”. And if you got more megapixels than me, it doesn’t mean that you are better (you might be, but that’s not the only thing to be considered). You may ask why? Let me elaborate:

Getting to the point, tell me one thing, when you decide to purchase an entry level point-and-shoot digital camera (the Sony Cybershot kinds of), what do you really want to do with it? I’m sure, most of you will say “Just take family and holiday pics and view them on my computer/mobile” and very few of you may actually print them out as well. Now, you’ll surprised to know that if you only want to do these things with any digital camera of this universe, the maximum megapixels you need is FOUR. Yes, a 4 megapixel digital camera is really sufficient for all your daily needs and you won’t even notice that it’s a 4 megapixel camera if I scratch the label out and write 12 megapixels on the lens. Trust me, you’ll never find out

alive

The reason behind that is, many people don’t really understand what megapixel is. Theoretically, Megapixel means Million Pixels. And it’s a unit to signify how many million pixels per inch can your digital camera capture. All digital cameras have tiny sensors built inside them which act exactly like the retina of out eyes. The light photons fell upon them and the photons gets trapped on the sensor and the image is produced.

What does that mean to me ?

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Now let’s take a look how much megapixels would you be actually using (regardless of how many you got in your digital camera). As stated above, I’m assuming that you will only view your photographs on your computer or mobile and have no intensions to print them as large as bill boards. Let’s see how many megapixles your computer screen got.

For calculating megapixels, there is a simple formula where you multiply your screen resolution. So, if you got a 1600 x 1200 resolution screen (which is greater than the standard ones found), it will have a megapixel count of 1600*1200 = 1,920,000 pixels (~2 Megapixels). And If I consider an above average monitor with a resoultion of 2048×1536, you have 3,145,728 pixels (~3 Megapixels). By the way, did you notice that in both cases, the megapixel count is still less than four which I told you would be more than enough? So, this proves that for viewing photographs on your big ass monitor in full size, you don’t even need a megapixel count of more than three !!

What about the photo prints ?

print

Now, coming to the other point, the main domain that is affected by the megapixel count is photo printing. The quality of photo prints is largely determined by the megapixel count on which the photograph is taken. That been said, it’s the only thing that is affected by megapixels directly. Assuming that you will print your family and holiday photographs in a fairly standard size (which you can fit in a frame at your desk), you still don’t need a camera with more than 4 megapixels in it! The following table should make it clear:

Minimum Megapixels Maximum Print Size Resolution
2 megapixels 4 x 6” 1600 x 1200
3 megapixels 5 x 7” 2048 x 1536
5 megapixels 8 x 10” 2560 x 1920
6 megapixels 11 x 14” 2816 x 2112
8+ megapixels 16 x 20” 3264 x 2468

Normally, printing is done at 240 or 300 DPI (Dots Per Inch) which determines the best quality possible according to the print size to megapixel ratio. If we apply some mathematics, for a 8 x 10” photograph to be printed at 240DP, we need

8*240*10*240 = 4,608,000 pixels (or 4 megapixels), which is still less than the count mentioned in the above table.

The Mobile Camera

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Mobile and cell phone companies keep luring their customers by adding megapixels to their already crappy mobile phone cameras. I’ll again say it loud and clear, getting more megapixels wont get you better photographs from a mobile. Keep on adding megapixels and you’ll keep getting crappy photographs because all that matter is how powerful is the sensor behind that actually captures light. When Steve Jobs introduced iPhone 4 in the World Wide Developer Conference of Apple, he put this point forward loud and clear that megapixels doesn’t mean anything. It’s the engineering behind the camera, it’s the sensor, it’s the ability of the device to capture light photons. And it’s indeed evident, how the 5 megapixel camera of iPhone 4 takes far better photographs than even the 8-12 megapixel cameras of other mobile companies.

Conclusion

final

You don’t need a camera more having more than 4 or 5 megapixels for the things that you would be doing with it. Definitely, megapixel count is not the only important thing that defines the image quality which is also evident that many high end cameras with lesser megapixel counts and a more powerful CCD sensor take far better photographs from their low end, higher megapixel counterparts. I’m not saying that having higher and megapixel is bad. But only having that, indeed is. So, next time someone boasts about higher megapixels and still fails to take better photographs, direct him to shutterskills

You can also visit Minneapolis Wedding Photographers – Staja Studios to learn more about photography via their great blog

Decoding The File Types in Photography

In past times, photographs would be captured onto light sensitive film. Then, after development in the darkroom, a negative would be produced. With digital photography, images are stored as a digital file. For viewing, the file is decoded – and there are 3 main types of file used – JPEG, TIFF and RAW.

Before we look at these file types, it is pertinent to explain the difference between “lossy” and “lossless” files. When a picture is taken, the camera records the data onto the memory card as a file. If all of the data is stored, this is known as a lossless file. These files are large in size. RAW files are lossless. To reduce file size, the camera can discard part of the data not easily perceptible to the human eye. A JPEG is a lossy file. A TIFF file is, in principle, a flexible format that can be lossless or lossy.

JPEG

JPEG the most common file format used by amateur photographers, mainly because so many pictures can be recorded on one card. Whilst the actual number will vary depending on the camera used, it is possible to take over 1500 images using just one 2GB memory card.Because this is a lossy file, the images are compressed.

This results in a greater amount of pictures possible when compared to lossless files. The camera will allow you to set the level of compression, so more, or less, photos can be taken. Just bear in mind that the overall quality will be affected the more compressed the file. So, if you were looking to print images above standard sizes, you would need to choose less compression.

RAW

These files take data straight from the camera’s sensor. This means they are not processed by the camera at all and represent the purest image, as taken. They are sometimes referred to as a “digital negative”. Using the optimum (i.e. least) compression level, you could expect to record just 100 images, or less, on a 2GB card, using a 15megapixel camera. The major plus here is that you will be able to produce high quality prints of A3 size and over. Professionals and serious amateurs use RAW files.
Unlike JPEGs, RAW files are not universal across different manufacturers. For example, Canon uses the term RAW, whilst Nikon’s equivalent are known as NEF files. These are not compatible with each other. However, each manufacturer will supply software with the camera to enable you to process and print the images. RAW files are excellent for post production image manipulation, because all of the original data is still intact, and can therefore be worked with.

TIFF

In practice, TIFF is generally used as a lossless file format that uses no compression. Consequently, file sizes can be large, but retain their data, and subsequent quality. However, the file size is huge when compared to the identical JPEG file. A common use of TIFF is as a working format for editing digital images in Photoshop, or equivalent. With JPEG editing, slight degradation occurs with each new file save. TIFF is lossless, if no compression is selected, so there is no loss of quality each time a file is amended and saved.
TIFF should not be used for displaying images on the web, because of file size. Most web browsers will not display a TIFF image.

Conclusion

Hopefully this beginner photography article has helped to clarify the difference between the file formats. In summary, if ultimate quality and large printing is not required, JPEG files will more than suffice, and can also be used on the internet. RAW files are excellent for serious photographers who want the maximum quality, and ability to make detailed changes in post production. These files can be amended to TIFF or JPEG when ready. TIFF files do not lose quality (if uncompressed) so are good for working on in post production, before final saving as a JPEG.

Understanding Aperture In Photography

In Simple Terms – “Aperture is ‘the size of the opening in the lens when a picture is taken.”

The main function of a camera lens is to collect light. The aperture of a lens is the diameter of the lens opening and is usually controlled by an iris. The larger the diameter of the aperture, the more light reaches the film / image sensor.

Aperture is expressed as F-stop, e.g. F2.8 or f/2.8. The smaller the F-stop number (or f/value), the larger the lens opening (aperture).

[Note: Many camera user manuals today will refer to the aperture in terms of “aperture value” instead of f/value. I’m not sure when this trend started but don’t get confused between “aperture” and “aperture value.” Aperture value” is simply another way of saying f/value.]

Lenses with larger apertures are faster because, for a given ISO speed, the shutter speed can be made faster for the same exposure. A smaller aperture means that objects can be in focus over a wider range of distance (depth of field).

Portrait and indoor (sports and theater also) photography often requires lenses with large maximum apertures in order to be capable of faster shutter speeds (and narrower depth of fields) in order to combat the low light problems with no camera shake.
The narrow depth of field in a portrait, as well as in macro photography, helps isolate the subject from the background.

Maximum Aperture Typical Lens Types
f/1.0 Fastest Available Prime Lenses
(for Consumer Use)
f/1.4 Fast Prime Lenses
f/2.0 Fast Prime Lenses
f/2.8 Fastest Zoom Lenses
(for Constant Aperture)
f/4.0 Light Weight Zoom Lenses
f/5.6 Extreme Telephoto Primes

In More General Terms

As you know from general experience, the bigger a hole, the more can go through it. Think about turning on a tap (water faucet): open it a little and the flow is only a trickle, open it up and more water flows through.

It’s the same with lens aperture: the larger the aperture, the more light gets through to the sensor. Obviously this affects the exposure of your image.

Now, giving the film or sensor the proper exposure is like filling a cup of water: if the water flow is slow (from a small aperture), it takes longer to fill (the exposure time is longer).

And obviously, if the flow is faster (we turn the tap on to make the aperture larger), it takes less time to fill the cup (exposure time is shorter).

Lens Focal Length
(35mm equiv)
Lens Type Use in Photography
Less than 21 mm Extreme Wide Angle Architecture
21-35 mm Wide Angle Landscape
35-70mm Normal Street & Documentary
70-135 mm Medium Telephoto Portraiture
135-300 mm Telephoto Sports, Bird and Wildlife

The Science Behind

Suppose we have a 50mm focal length lens. If we have a big size hole – a big aperture, it might measure 25mm. So 50 divided by 25 gives us 2: the f/number is 2, which we write as f/2.

If the aperture is smaller, say, 3mm in diameter, 50 divided by 3 gives us about 16: the f/number reads f/16. As the hole is smaller, less light gets through. So f/16 is said to be a small aperture or small f/number.

That’s why you could get confused if you read about an aperture of 16 being smaller than 2: that does not make sense and is, in fact, wrong. A photographic aperture is written as ‘f/number’: it means the focal length divided by the aperture diameter. So f/16 is indeed smaller than f/2. (Microscopists talk about numerical aperture, but that’s a different thing.)

Wait, What are STOPS ?

Here’s another source of confusion. The word ’stops’ is used in two senses. One goes back to the days when lens aperture was changed by dropping in a metal plate with a hole cut in it. You changed aperture by taking out one plate and dropping in another one with a different sized hole. These were called stops (actually Waterhouse stops, after the inventor). From that we get the term ’stopping down’.

Now, these stops were arranged so that each smaller hole halved the exposure (and conversely, each larger hold doubled exposure). From that we get the term ‘f/stops’. From this you still hear photographers talk about ‘one stop’ meaning a halving or doubling of exposure. Goes all the way back to late nineteenth century!

Carting sets of metal plates with holes in them is a bore, not to mention really slow to use and before long the aperture diaphragm was invented. This was a set of leaves which were pivoted on the rim so that they fanned across the gap – the more they overlapped, the smaller the central hole. And that’s what we still use now.

The Cheat Sheet

This is for all those, who face trouble, reading all those cryptic aperture values on lenses. This is what it really means-