I have been giving one tip to people for years. It is so simple, I hesitate to even call it a tip, but alas I don’t have a thesaurus handy, so I have little choice. This applies to every photo, whether it is an image of your latest woodworking project or a prize winning picture of a yeti. The last thing I do, before I press the button, is to slowly force myself to run my eyes around the edge of the image. I know it sounds dumber than Jethro Bodine, but that is because it is so easy. In the words of a thousand commercials for footwear, ‘Just Do It’.
When you start to look at the rest of the image, not just the finely turned bowl, you will notice that there is a corner of a box of diapers sneaking into the image. You will also get better at taking pictures of people. The stop sign that is ‘growing’ out of your girlfriend’s head, or the car with your angry wife driving by the shoot, will suddenly pop out to you, and thus you can make slight adjustments (like making sure you take pictures of your girlfriend only when your wife is visiting her sister in Saginaw). This tip will work with any camera you have, though I still think you should get those lazy six years olds their first job, and get a fancy pants model. But I digress.
Along a similar line, when taking a picture of your work, if you wish to put some extra items in the background, like tools behind a project in process, or a delicious ham behind the aforementioned finely turned bowl, try to use a shallow depth of field. Depth of field is the distance (or depth) in the image, which is in focus. This generally applies to SLRs (Single Lens Reflex…aka…fancy pants cameras), but there are some point and shoots which have this capability. My mom’s camera, the Powershot G10, is able to set the f-stop. So when I say shallow depth of field, I mean a small number on your camera’s lens, or a small f-stop. For example an aperture setting of 3.5 will cause the background to be out of focus, thus causing the subject to stand out, while f22 (f stands for aperture, I could make up a story for why they use f and not a, likely involving a priest, a Rabbi, and an Episcopalian yak farmer, but I have already digressed.), would leave everything in focus. It is also important to understand how aperture works with light.
Shallow depth of field requires less light than a longer depth of field. This is helpful when you are taking pictures in artificial light, because the shutter doesn’t need to stay open as long as it would if you were trying to have everything in focus. If you are getting really excited about photography and are starting to read up on the subject, you might run across the term ‘fast lenses. This confused me for a long time. It is simply a lens that allows for a very shallow depth of field. They are generally much more expensive than a normal lens. For instance a zoom lens that goes to 300 mm, can be picked up for 3-400 dollars, a ‘fast’ lens, the giant lens that the photographers use on the sidelines of football games, those start at about $7000.00. This is not a lens you should need, as it is too ‘long’, for shooting your work, but it brings me to my next and last subject for the day.
This photo shows tilt shift in the table (sort of, it actually just demonstrates perspective, but you get the idea.), an annoying shiny bit from a Jet clamp in the top right corner, and also demonstrates shallow depth of field. This image can be improved substantially by simply removing the clutter in the top right corner. Were I to shoot it again, I would also slide the mortar slightly to the left. It feels slightly out of position where it is.
The amount of zoom you should use when shooting. If you are limited in space, you can use the wide angle portion of your lens, or zoom out. Zooming out, a back up the image, but it also causes something called bowing. Have you ever taken a picture of a tall object, like a dresser, and in the photo it looks warped? That is bowing. If you are taking a picture of a tall building, the building seems to bow out and the edges don’t run parallel with the sides of the image. That is tilt shifting. It can be corrected in Photoshop CS 2, 3, or 4, but that runs you another $1000 and 8 or 9 months of intensive study to master, so fixing it, is not the best solution. It is better to try to take the image of your dresser from a greater distance and then zooming in on it. This will give you much better results. If you can put the dresser in one room, and stand out in the hall and zoom in, you will be much happier with the results. One last note, if you are taking a close up of your girlfriend’s face while your wife is in Michigan, then try to stand further away, such that the zoom is at 135mm. This will be much more flattering. That is all for now. I am off to do some woodworking.
-- Brian Meeks, http://extremelyaverage.com