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Photo Lessons Learned in Class: Part 1

Photo Lessons Learned in Class: Part 1

Travis Franch, a KSU Political Science graduate, found himself drawn to the field of photography born from a love of travel. It was that spark of interest that led him to sign up for Photo I and later Photo II as he continued to hone his skills. Here, he shares his top two tips for successful photography. For more tips, read the second part in this guest post series.

Not so long ago, I became a fresh graduate of Kennesaw State University. My interest in photography resulted from my time in a university sponsored political study in Europe where I found myself meandering through the streets of Oslo, Cologne, Paris, and Amsterdam without any particular goal except to discover appealing vistas and scenery to photograph. There, I found myself interested in shooting a myriad of things from flowers, monuments and architecture to the aging rust trails from a corroded chain link fence. Currently, I am working toward enrollment in a graduate program in urban planning, design, and architecture — all of which heavily utilize visual elements. With both a personal and professional interest in photography, I enrolled in Photo I and II to develop my skill in the discipline. Shortly thereafter, I found myself on the other side of the Earth in New Zealand and Australia where I was able to put into practice what I had learned!

Composing an Image

One of the earliest lessons in Photo I was the topic of composition or how you arrange, place, and frame the viewed objects in an appealing image. It can’t be understated how much a good composition improves the quality of an image. Looking back, I found myself very focused on composition even when I didn’t study photography, and when formally learning, I increased my efforts on creating good composition. One way to get a good composition is to layer the foreground, midground, and background in an arrangement that adds visual depth to the image and partitions that depth in a pleasing way.

Travis captured this photo of Mt. Ruapehu during his trip to New Zealand where we was able to put some of his newly acquired photo skills into practice.

Travis captured this photo of Mt. Ruapehu during his trip to New Zealand where we was able to put some of his newly acquired photo skills into practice.

Traditionally, this is done by dividing the photo into horizontal thirds, and this method of composition has become so ubiquitous and iconic that it has been dubbed “The Rule of Thirds.” Searching for a different or strange perspective is a useful exercise in looking at something in a new, creative way that may offer some artistic value. If you’re not climbing stuff or getting into the dirt, you might not be using the best possible perspective to compose your photo. I recommend placing the subject off center because it is more appealing when it is staggered or offset to the left or right compared to squared in the middle. Placing your subject between the midground and either the foreground or background creates distance and scale. Another trick is to use geometric lines or shapes that the audience will follow subconsciously toward and away from the subject. Lastly, I search for elements to use as my foreground or background like the horizon, ocean waves, guard rails, grass, mist, or even overhanging leafy branches. As a final failsafe, you can edit the image in post processing software and crop the image to correct any errors in composition.

Exploring Exposure

Any photographer, especially a novice, knows that getting good and proper exposure to light is a complicated matter. Exposure is essentially how much light your camera’s fancy electronics (the image sensor, to be exact) captures during the window of time between pressing the button to shoot and until the shutter closes. Because photography is a highly technical discipline bound to mathematics and science, understanding the relationship between all the variables of exposure is a tricky beast. Personally, since I am still a beginner, I ruined quite a few photos during my trip to overly bright or dark exposure, but there are ways to ensure a more ideal exposure for good photos!

This well-lit photo of a hobbit hole in New Zealand's "Shire" is an example of properly exposed photo where all details are clearly visible to the viewer.

This well-lit photo of a hobbit hole in New Zealand’s “Shire” is an example of a properly exposed photo where all details are clearly visible to the viewer.

The easiest is to use the camera’s auto setting because, generally, the computer in your camera does a decent job of calculating an ideal exposure. However, there are lots of times where this works poorly, like with snow, water reflections, low light or extreme sunlight. Fortunately, there are camera settings which let you manipulate one setting while letting the camera automatically choose the other two.  For example, shutter priority mode lets you select shutter speed while aperture and ISO are automatically calculated, so you can focus on shooting a fast moving object which requires timing and precision.

Another way to get good exposure is to take a picture and check it on the camera screen. Then you can change the settings to let in less light by decreasing exposure, and finally, take a third picture where you increase exposure to let in more light. (With all three pictures, you can consider whether or not to continue increasing exposure, decreasing exposure, or settle on one of your images.) Odds are your camera has highlight alerts integrated into the software that will display any overexposed areas of the image by blinking a certain color.  Finally, you can shoot your images in RAW (a file type) which takes a lot of memory but allows for some correction to exposure in editing software like Photoshop or Lightroom.

Sometimes a color can convey mood. Travis captured this photo on a San Francisco pier before leaving on his Australia and New Zealand trip.

Read on for more photo tips from Travis.

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