Today I wanted to discuss two aspects of photography that will really help you to improve your photos quickly and add some real visual impact. The two topics are the RULE OF THIRDS and the APERTURE setting on the camera. Both are relatively simple to grasp especially if your camera has the necessary features built in.
Rule of Thirds
This is something I have discussed on a number of occasions online on other websites. This is one of the simplist techniques that can make a large difference for any composition. The rule simply is this:
Just take your image and divide this into 3 equal sections horizontally and vertically with lines. The 4 locations where the lines intersect are the perfect locations for your main subject to be situated in. This helps the viewers eyes to quickly focus in on that subject creating a more dramatic effect with the particular shot. Here are a couple of samples.
To assist you while you are taking the photo, most cameras have a display mode that overlaps these lines onto your LCD display for assistance. The lines will not appear in the final image like I have with the examples. I added the lines later just for your reference. You have complete control on selecting any of the 4 intersections. The RULE OF THIRDS can be applied to any form of image compostion and works very well with portraits and lanscapes.
My added suggestion is you take two pictures with one using the RULE of THIRDS and the other taken based on your usual choice of composition. Later compare the two images and see which one looks more dramatic to you. Once you experiment with a number of images, you will start to gain some appreciation with this simple rule and this built in feature of most digital cameras.
This is one of the least used features by most novice compact digital camera users. Most rely on the automated feature since this allows them the ease of selecting the appropriate SCENE setting on the ”Point and Shoot” camera. This will certainly allow you to take OK pictures but most will lack the punch and dramatic appeal you see with many award winning photographs. The problem with most pictures that are taken in AUTO or SCENE mode is similar to taking a short trip travelling along a major highway. The highway gets you to your destination quickly but you miss all the scenic beauty along the way. By travelling down the small side roads, you experience so much more of the scenic surroundings that truly make up the area being travelled and adds to the trips memories. By spending some additional time before snapping that one image, you can dramatically improve the overall texture of the photo. Auto means basically the same as quick or average. Hope this analogy makes a little bit of sense.
To get more into the details of aperture, the aperture in the camera acts like a second lens (pinhole camera) but mainly controls the level of light entering the camera on a given instance. The aperture of a good camera will range from f1.4 to f16. How the numbers are derived is based on the diameter of the opening and how many times this value divides into the distance between the aperture and the film (Photo chip for a digital camera). Larger and longer lenses attached to a DSLR will dramatically have a wider range of F-stop selections. Example: (F1.2 – F32). Point and shoot camera will have a macro, wide angle, and zoom lens built into one housing with a more narrow f stop range like (f4 – f8).
On my Fuji-Film Finepix S6000fd, I have (F2.9 – f8) therefore I do not have a really wide range to select from but at least I have 10 choices within my narrow range. I am still able to use what is available and create some stunning images with some creative setting choices. As indicated earlier, the aperture mainly controls the amount of light entering the camera on a given instance. This combined with the shutter speed will determine the precise amount of light contacting the photographic chip. It is a fine balance between the aperture opening size and the shutter speed to control the precise amount of light therefore, the larger the aperture the faster the shutter speed must be to get the right amount of light contacting the photographic chip.
I also mentioned earlier that the aperture also acts like a second lens. What this means is the camera always is set to focus on the main subject you choose. The secondary function of the aperture is to provide focus of the surrounding areas of the main subject in focus. This is refered to as the DEPTH OF FIELD. The depth of field is increased by having a smaller aperture size meaning a larger F value. (The distance from the aperture to the imaging chip divided by the diameter of the aparture). Every increase in number means a larger DEPTH OF FIELD but a decrease in the amount of light entering the camera at any given instance. This translates to a slower shutter speed to compensate for the lower amount of light. The more DEPTH OF FIELD you would like in your picture (f8 in my case), the more light I will require. Therefore a really sunny day will allow me to have a good DEPTH OF FIELD using f8 during a scenery shot and compensate this with a flash if necessarywhen taking a close portrait shot.
Now keep in mind that the larger DEPTH OF FIELD is not always a welcome choice. By allowing a very short DEPTH OF FIELD, you can create some dramatic shots by blurring the surrounding images. This is great for portraits, macro shots of flowers and enhancing the subject in a wide angle or scenic shot. This means you use a large aperture opening or a smaller f number like f2.9 in my case.
To acomplish these f stop settings changes easily, what I use is the semi-automatic Aperture Priority mode on the camera. I have a dial on the top of my camera which has an “A” setting, I just select this and manually adjust the f number as required using another button on the back of my camera. The camera in turn will adjust the shutter speed automatically to control the exact amount of light hitting the imaging chip. As long as the combined opening size ( f stop) and the shutter speed can be combined for a perfectly lit image (exposure), the image should turn out fine. The only time an issue can creap in is when the shutter speed is just to slow like 1/150 of a second or slower which will start to instroduce camera shaking and blurring. When the camera says the f stop selected and the shutter speed is not slow enough to have proper exposure, I would not use these settings. I would increase the aperture size (lower f number) to get the proper exposure and reduce my DEPTH OF FIELD.
As with the RULE OF THIRDS, you should take two images for your reference purposes. One with a high f number and one with a low f number and snap some scenic photos. Have one object in a 2 – 4 meter range that you can focus on in the foreground with many more object further away or closer to you in the surrounding image. Use a tripod if at all possible and later you can see the DEPTH OF FIELD clearly in your images. A great DEPTH OF FILED will show additional objects in front and behind the main focused subject.
The aperture is a very powerful feature and not too complicated to utilize on a regular basis. I say 95% to 99% of the time, I would be in Aperture Priority mode with the other times in “M” for manual or “S” for shutter. Once in a blue moon, I will select AUTO for the quick and dirty shots that I take just for reference purposes, image of a passing billboard, a shot in a museum, recording items for inventory purposes. Any image I would take for creative purposes means I will certainly be in “A” mode. Learn how to use your “A” mode and your pictures will eventually have the “A” grade down the road. Enjoy the “A” mode and you will certainly enjoy the improved images you will take.