"National Audubon Society Guide To Digital Nature Photography"
Part Two: Essential Skills
Part two of the "National Audubon Society Guide to Digital Nature Photography" by TIm Fitzharris discussed the essential skills needed in order to take quality shots. With these skills, I am able to look at something I want to take a picture of and have to ability to create a shot that is visually appealing to an audience. The main essential skills that are discussed in this chapter are exposure, being able to read the light, depth of field, effects of motion, modifying natural light, and picture composition.
One of the most important skills to have is knowing how to correctly expose your shots so that they are not over- or under-exposed. Using the histogram feature on your digital SLR can prove beneficial in getting an idea of what exposure you will need for each shot. By checking the extremes of bright and dark on the histogram, you are able to see whether the shot has too much or too little light and adjust your exposure accordingly. To do this, there are different exposure modes you can set your camera to: aperture priority, shutter priority, and manual mode. Aperture priority allows you to control the amount of light that enters the camera (by changing the f-stop). Shutter priority allows you to control the amount of time that the shutter is open, while the aperture is chosen by the camera. The shutter speed also controls the effects of motion, by allowing you to either freeze the motion or blur it. This is done by either increasing or decreasing the amount of time the shutter is open. In manual mode, you are able to control both shutter speed and aperture. To further "tinker" with the exposure, you can use exposure compensation, to help compensate for scenes that are too bright or dark.
Another skill that is helpful is being able to identify what type of light setting you're in. When taking shots, you must have an idea of what type of shot you are looking to take and what type of light is required for this. For example, you can photograph something with a front light, back light or side light, depending on what you are trying to capture in your shot. Both the time of day as well as the weather are important things to consider when taking shots. Obviously, if you are taking sunrise or sunset pictures, plan your times accordingly, but Fitzharris points out that in general, overcast or cloudy days are the ideal lighting conditions.
An equally important skill is being to choose the correct depth of field, which again depends on what type of shot you are trying to capture. Depth of field is controlled by the aperture, with a smaller aperture meaning a greater depth of field and vice versus. Depth of field can be helpful if you are trying to capture a specific subject and make it stand out by creating a shallow depth of field that focuses mainly on one item (the subject you are capturing).
Being able to modify the natural light of the scene can be helpful in creating a more appealing shot, especially when certain lighting conditions are not ideal. To aid in this process, there are a variety of filters that can be used, depending on what you are wanting to change. The polarizing filter has the ability to reduce glare and makes colors pop. For example, when I was out taking pictures of subjects that are too bright, the polarizing filter was helpful in creating the shot that I wanted by reducing the glare. There are other filters that can be used to modify the lighting situation, such as the neutral density filter, the split neutral density filter, and the graduated neutral density filter. Other useful items to aid in light modification are the reflectors and flashes (either on the camera or off).
One of the most important skills necessary when setting up and taking shots is being able to design the picture space, or the composition of your photos. There are seven things to remember when composing the elements of your picture: red is more attractive than yellow, large draws more attention than small, difference draws more attention than conformity, jagged lines are more striking than curved ones, diagonal lines are more attractive than vertical ones, sharpness is more attractive than blur, and light is more attractive than dark. Lastly, he talks about the center of interest and where to place it, pointing out that putting the center of interest in the middle of the frame is rarely a desirable place. By using the rule of thirds, you can place your center of interesting in a more appealing place that will be visually pleasing to your audience.