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The Process Of Taking A Great Photograph

Mirror vs. Mirror-less Cameras Is Just The Beginning

With today’s advancement in portable digital cameras, from iPhones to mirror-less SLRs, DSLRs have been catching negative buzz from well-known photographer personalities like Trey Ratcliff (see: DSLRS ARE A DYING BREED – 3RD GEN CAMERAS ARE THE FUTURE) and many others. Blog post after blog posts are popping up all over the Internet—some even themed EVIL vs. DSLR. EVIL stands for Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens while DSLR stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex camera, but basically, the war of words is mirror vs. mirror-less digital cameras and only the future trends will decide which blogger is accurate in their predictions.

Digital photo of Eleya at a high ISO, low aperture with DSLR

Digital cameras are so advanced compared to film, I was able to capture this photo of Eleya at ISO 2000 with no large grain effect found in film at this light sensitivity setting.

I’m not going to regurgitate what everyone has already written about, so I’m going to focus more on the process of photography itself, simply because the best camera for a photographer is the camera in their hands at the instant they decide to capture life’s moments. Depressing the shutter-release button is only 5-percent of the equation in capturing a great photograph—it’s knowing the process of putting all the photographic elements together that truly makes a great photographer.

As Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100-percent of the shots you don’t take.“ Photography is no different, hesitate in the execution of the process and you’ll only be able to talk about the moment that you should’ve of captured as a visual storyteller.  Unfortunately many photographers do hesitate because they aren’t comfortable with their subject’s pose or perhaps don’t understand composition and cropping in order to create a great image. Some don’t even know why to choose one lens over the other or the proper ISO for the greatest impact.

I’ve got many photography tips here on LensDiaries.com that outlines the basics, fundamentals and concepts of photography to help you understand how to put all those elements together as your eye approaches the viewfinder. So like the EVIL vs. the DSLR battle, I’m not going to rewrite what I’ve already written, because ultimately a photographer has to understand what makes a great photograph first, before they can begin the process to capture one.

Often people tell me how easy it is to take a photograph and I have to correct them by explaining that releasing the camera shutter is nothing, it’s everything that leads up to physical act, from communication to correct exposure. So here are a few points of the process that hopefully photographers will consider before they depress that shutter-release button on their digital cameras, mirror-less or not:

  • Do you have the correct exposure figured out? If so, do you take into account the correlation of the shutter speed with the aperture setting so you can capture your scene correctly? In other words, do you prefer a shallow depth-of-field in your photo for a nice bokeh affect or are you trying to capture as much depth-of-field as possible? Just switching from a wide-angle lens to a telephone lens can affect the desired effect, it’s not just the aperture setting itself that affects depth-of-field, but it will affect the exposure of the final photo. Is the shutter speed proper for the situation? This is only answered after the photographer determines the value of the action for the final photograph. Understanding those correlations not only determines exposure, but the tone of the photo.
  • Have you composed your image for greater impact? While following the Rule of Thirds can help insure a better photograph overall, learn the compositional rules and know how to break them. For example, it’s a well-known compositional rule in photography not to center your subject, but by using leading lines that direct you to the center, the rule is easily broken. Looking for lines to draw the viewer into your photo can make a difference, lines like inherent, implied, or imaginary or the natural S-curves formed by the body.  Even lines formed by geometric shapes, like when the body forms triangles, are key for creating photos with great impact and this can also help you with directing poses for your subject. (See: Photographic Elements–Lines, Lines, Lines and The Triangles of Photography)

    Subject centered in digital photo captured with DSLR

    Note: The bird feathers used in this photo were from natural molting of non-endangered species, domesticated birds and collected over a three year period. Here is a photo showing how the rule of centering a subject is broken effectively.

  • Are you cropping the main element in the photo for greater impact? Some consider cropping as part of the composition, but I like to look at composition as the exterior window frame of the photo itself and cropping as the framing of the subject within that window. As an example, I’m known for my glamour photography and when photographing glamour models, we have four main crops of the body, full-length, three-quarter, bust-up and the headshot. Whereas in fashion photography, the crop is geared toward the clothing the model sports and the crop of her body is secondary—often fashion photography crops violate the four fundamental cropping points for glamour photography. The model is only a coat-hangar in fashion photography accentuating the garments while the clothing is what accentuates the model in glamour photography. (See: Cropping In Photography—An Element Of Composition)
  • Is the photo properly illuminated, not just properly exposed? For example, a sure sign of an amateur photographer in portrait photography is a shadow on both sides of the nose—there is only one main light, not two! It’s imperative that a photographer lights a scene, subject and other elements within the photograph properly, thought that’s not to say the photographer can’t work solely with ambient, natural light either. Lighting is the lifeblood of the image! Without light the photographer has nothing. (See: Photography Basics—Three And Four Light Set-Ups)
  • Do you fail to communicate properly in photography? What I’m saying here, photographers need proficiency in communication and many fail in this department. Whether you’re photographing landscapes or people, you’ve got to communicate with your audience, not just your subject. As an example, an amateur glamour photographer will at some point photograph a model relaxing in a tub filled with bubbles, the model surrounded by candles and holding a wine glass. All it takes is a second glass of wine placed somewhere in the foreground or background to make the audience feel like they are there with her or that she’s waiting on someone.

    Tell the story, don’t be cliché! Now that’s communication to your intended audience, but when photographing subjects, great communication is imperative to the subject too—photographers must know what, where, when and how to communicate the proper things to their subjects in order to get the perfect harmony between the corners of the eyes and the corners of the mouth for that perfect face.

    Photographers must also realize communication to the subject is both verbal and non-verbal. As an example, chimping the camera then demonstrating with your bodily movements you’re not satisfied with the image because the lighting is wrong, might convey to the subject that you don’t like her photogenic qualities. Body language is just as powerful as voice as subjects normally can’t read your mind.

    Voice inflection is another method of communicating clearly to your subject to create the right mood in a photograph–part of the process of photography to ensure you get the “look” from your subject. Add rapport to the process of photography and you can see how important communication in various forms is to the process of photography. (See: Communication is Essential to Great Photography)

  • Did your Golden Hour sweet-light disappear after depressing that shutter release button? If it did, chances are you forget to set your camera on manual white balance—with digital photography came white balance and that’s something photographers need to grasp—and please don’t say, “I shoot RAW.” I’ll just tell you, “Get it right in the camera first!”

    RAW was originally invented because still photographers didn’t understand white balance when digital photography gained popularity. It basically acted like the idiot lights in a car that replaced gauges only experienced drivers understood. Don’t get caught up on the marketing hype of RAW as there are hundreds of versions of RAW formats, even within the same camera manufacturers. But that’s another blog post and I’m not going to delve into that one here because it’s like the old MAC vs. Windows debate. (See: Photography White Balance Techniques)

Now I’ve only covered six elements out of many that a photographer has to take into account before depressing that shutter release button on their camera. It doesn’t matter if that photographer is carrying an EVIL or DSLR camera as a photographer has to bring all the elements together as part of the process for capturing a great photo—usually in a split-second. So yes, having the right tool for the right job applies here, and let’s face it, the average professional photographer carries at least two cameras, their die-hard camera body they always rely upon, and as a minimum, their smartphone—not to mention, many like myself, are shooting iPhoneography photos alongside our customary camera. It’s all about capturing that moment of time as it happens and you should always reach for what’s easier to grab so you don’t miss that shot.

Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada during winter

Photo taken with my iPhone 4 while visiting Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada.

Are DSLR’s dead as some photography blog posts predict because of the recent entrance of the new, higher-end mirror-less digital cameras? I’m not sure, I’ll leave that to Trey Ratcliff and the other professional photographers to debate, but one thing is for certain, photography continues to evolve, so it’s a great possibility we’re becoming a mirror-less visual society and just like when digital first came online, many shrugged it off and said it would never replace film. Many of those photographers were left behind, including some top professionals. What I do know, it’s not always easy to walk away from the old and adapt to the new, or as Wayne Gretzky once said, “It’s always a tough situation when a great player has to retire.”

Well that’s it for today, but please don’t forget our men and women in uniform that defend our great nation, along with the sacrifices of their friends and family, God Bless them all! Rolando

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2 Comments

  1. Points well made. DSLR isn’t dead, yet. And really, I don’t see what the big deal is. Technology moves–when a full-frame interchangeable lens camera comes out, I will be all OVER that! Especially if it uses my current set of lenses. But, it’s still going to be just a light-recording medium on which lenses project light. Whether there is a mirror or a physical shutter is irrelevant. The principles of exposure and composition certainly aren’t going to change.

    DSLRs dying is certainly not news. Now, a 12-stop native dynamic range in a compact camera, with razor thing depth of field? THAT would be news! :)

    • Thanks! How about a camera that understands the Zone system automatically? ;)

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LensDiaries.com (Lens Diaries™) is a hybrid photoblog composed of a photography blog and a photography social community. The photoblog provides photo tips, photo tutorials and photo diaries by professional photographer, author, writer, speaker and social media consultant, Rolando Gomez. There is even a photography book section.

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