Written by guest host: Kyle Wege, Crimson Sun Studios Owner
Hey, everyone, my name is Kyle Wege. I’m a photographer working out of Madison, Wisconsin. Although I specialize in commercial photography creating dynamic imagery for businesses and non-profits, my love and passion for photography developed at a young age shooting nature and landscapes, and they remain my favorite subject matter.
I’m really happy to share these tips as a guest host here on Shoreline Inclusive’s blog, and I want to thank them for having me. My goal is to provide a few key points of focus that, hopefully, will give you a deeper thought process towards your photography, create stronger memories, and a better connection with the moment captured.
1. Tell A Story
Whether you’re taking photos of friends around a campfire or of a serene landscape, focusing on what the story is that you are trying to tell will help convey your message to your viewer. Every story has a main subject of focus, and the same applies in photography. It might be a person, it might be a sunset, it might be a grove of trees. Whatever your subject is, focus your composition to best tell that story. In the photo below, it was my intention to photograph the city on the cliff as my subject, and by placing it in the lower third of my frame, I was able to capture the hill and the cloud all in frame. The positioning of the city and the contrasting dark hill behind create a yin-yang effect that, upon further reflection, actually tells the story of the island itself, and not just the city.
I’ve already alluded to the power and use of composition. Your composition is your whole image. It removes elements, it interlocks elements, it can isolate or envelop your subject. It is your perspective of the scene and the story you want to tell, so it makes sense to approach it with a goal in mind.
There are a few “rules” of composition that you can follow to create visually appealing images. I put rules in quotes because photography is a highly creative medium, rules are just guide lines to general practices. Some of these “rules” are:
- Rule of thirds
Divide your frame into three parts, vertically and horizontally. Using the dividing lines and the space in-between in creative ways, you can build depth and give your viewer a more interesting scene.
Composing your frame so there is vertical or horizontal symmetry, usually revolved around your subject. This could be a photo of a mountain or a tree reflecting in a lake.
- Leading lines
Used to draw attention to a specific part of the image (usually the subject). Maybe it’s a road leading to a mountain, a fence leading to a horse, or trees leading to the stars. Evaluate your landscape and use the natural lines to play a part in your composition.
Use objects or light itself to frame your subject. Examples might be inside a tent looking out, framing the outside scene with the doorway. Another might be framing a portrait between some foreground elements. This is a great way to draw the viewer to your subject.
- Filling the frame / Negative space
These are contrasting ideas. Filling the frame involves cutting out all the extra distracting elements and using a tighter focal length (zooming in) to have your subject fill the vast majority of the frame. Negative space is the area that surrounds your subject, generally being free of details and distracting elements (think a single tree with pure sky all around).
Use these “rules” to help inform a creative and interesting composition, helping to convey the story to your viewer.
3. Exposure Triangle
There are three main components to getting a proper exposure, shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. If you’re using a DSLR, you will have full control over each of these components. If you’re using a point and shoot, you will likely have control over some of these components, but maybe not all of them. Each of these components will increase and decrease your exposure, but they each have their own distinct effect on an image besides controlling exposure.
- Shutter Speed
Measured in seconds and fractions of seconds (1/125 means 125th of a second, 1/4 means a quarter of a second), this literally is the amount of time the shutter stays open to expose the film or sensor in your camera. Shutter speed therefore affects motion in your image. A faster shutter speed will freeze motion and a slower speed with exaggerate motion. This can be used in a multitude of creative ways, but needs to be understood to ensure you don’t have motion blur when you’re trying to create a clean, crisp image.
Aperture is the opening in the lens. It’s a physical ring made of multiple blades that open or close based on the chosen f/stop. F/stops are the measurement of aperture and can be thought of in terms of fractions, just like shutter speed (f/2.8, f/5.6, f/18 are examples of f/stop. put a 1/ in front of the number and you start to get a better idea of what is actually happening). The smaller your f/stop, the larger the opening in the lens, resulting in more light coming through to your sensor. Larger f/stop means less light coming through to your sensor. Aperture also affects your depth of field. I get into more of that below where we break down aperture a little more.
Determines the sensitivity of the sensor to light and how much light will be needed to expose a scene. ISO used to be referred to as ASA in the days of film, and are both acronyms referring to the associations that set standards for film speed (ISO number). The lower your ISO, the more light you will need to expose an image. The higher your ISO, the less light you will need to expose your image. The caveat for ISO is that the higher you push it, the more noise you introduce to your image. Digital cameras have increasingly gotten better results at higher ISO in recent years, but noise is still an issue. The best results will come at the base ISO of your camera, which might be 64, 100, or 200, depending on your camera. At base ISO, you get the most detail and dynamic range your camera can provide. Below is an example of high ISO:
These three components of exposure all play a balancing act to help you achieve proper exposure, and the look and feel you want to portray the story in your image. The beautiful thing about the exposure triangle is that the increments of adjustment (known as stops) are equal through the triangle. If you raise your shutter speed from 1/250 to 1/500 (which is a full stop) to reduce motion blur, you can leave your aperture where it is and raise your ISO by a full stop (200 to 400) to balance the exposure.If you’re shooting a campfire scene at night for example, you’re going to have to push your ISO higher so your sensor can pick up the low light of the scene. You would also need to decide if you want the people around the fire to be sharp or blurry by setting your shutter speed higher or lower, which will affect your exposure triangle. If you want to capture a beautiful landscape, you probably want your ISO at the base number of your camera to capture detail in the brightest spots and the darkest spots (dynamic range). You would also want a high aperture to ensure a long depth of field and a sharp scene throughout your image, which will result in a lower shutter speed and likely the need for a tripod. Hopefully explaining these three components of exposure will give you a better understanding of how to set your camera to get the image you envision.
4. Understanding Aperture
I’ve already given you a basic rundown of what aperture is. You might still be confused on what f/stop numbers mean and how to understand the relation to depth of field. Like I mentioned above, aperture is a little easier to think of if you think of it like a fraction, same as shutter speed. The difference is that aperture refers to the size of the opening of the aperture ring in your lens. f2.8 (1/2.8) is a larger opening of the aperture ring, allowing more light to enter the lens in a short period of time. f22 (1/22) is a much smaller opening of the aperture ring, allowing less light to enter the lens.
The difference between the large opening and the small opening of your aperture ring is what determines your depth of field. Depth of field is the zone of acceptable sharpness in front of and behind the subject on which the lens is focused. Having a greater depth of field means more of your image is in focus, having a shallow depth of field means less of your image is in focus. Clearly, this can be used to your creative advantage. Here are some examples of images taken with different f/stops, resulting in different depths of field:
5. Find the Best Light
The last main component to creating a great image and a great story, along with composition, exposure, and subject matter, is lighting. Lighting is almost everything. Its the reason why one image of a mountain at midday looks and feels different than the same mountain in the evening or during a storm. Mood, color, and dynamic range (difference between the lightest parts and the darkest parts of the scene) are all affected by the lighting of your scene. Understanding where your light will be coming from, its intensity, and how it will play in your scene are all determining factors for how you create your image, and thusly the experience of your viewer. I recommend experimenting with different lighting at different angles and find what you like best. This will work to help you develop your unique style, and you will learn a lot about how your camera reacts to different lighting situations. You will also learn the dynamic range of your camera and how well it retains details in highlights and shadows.
There are two main types of light, soft light and hard light:
- Soft Light
Soft light refers to light that graduates from light to dark very smoothly. Cloudy days and shade give you very soft light, leaving shadows with no hard lines, offering diffused, broad light.
- Hard Light
Hard light refers to light that graduates from light to dark very abruptly. Sunny days give you hard light, with distinct shadow lines, offering high contrast with obvious direction of where the light is coming from.
Catching the right light at the right time is no easy task. Preparing before hand can help ensure you get the photo your looking for. I use satellite view on Google Maps to get an idea of features in an area I will be traveling through, then I use the compass to judge where the sun will be at certain times of the day. There are also apps that track the trajectory of the sun and the moon and show you their path so you can compose your shot before hand.
Just like with so many other things in life, photography is a practice. The more you put yourself outside of your comfort zone, the more you will learn and the more experience you will get. Shoot as often as you can, even if it is just your backyard or a park. Understand your camera and its features, master the exposure triangle, and you will set your self up for success when you’re in a beautiful situation and the light is fleeting.
Hopefully this post has given you some insight to improving your photos. What are some of your favorite places to visit, to camp, and to photograph? Let me know what you think in the comments below!
Crimson Sun Studios is a commercial photography company specializing in portrait, product, event, travel, and time-lapse photography. Owner, Kyle Wege, started taking photos as a young kid, and has been working full time as a photographer for over 5 years. To see more of Kyle’s travel and landscape photography, visit www.CrimsonSunStudios.com/travel