A Digital Photography Primer

Here Are Some Tips For Creating Professional Looking Images.

By Thomas J. Roach

In the past a quarry operation only needed photos for things like the employee newspaper, press releases and marketing collateral. But digital communication has created opportunities to share photos on websites, in blogs, social media, Zoom meetings, emails and text messages too. Everyone is potentially a company photographer. Here are some tips for creating professional looking images.

Photography is about capturing light, not things. We control the light capture with the shutter, the aperture and the ISO setting. The shutter can be slow or fast. Since our bodies are never completely at rest, the faster the shutter speed, the sharper the image. Even a resting object will be blurred by your own subtle body movements if the camera shoots at a speed slower than 125th of a second. So, fast shutter speeds are most desirable.

The aperture, the opening in the camera lens that lets light through to the shutter, is similar to the pupil in the human eye; a small aperture opening lets in less light than a large aperture opening. Aperture size also affects sharpness. The smaller the aperture opening, the sharper the photograph, so in most cases small aperture openings are desirable.

The ISO setting determines the camera’s sensitivity to light. If it is set overly sensitive, the photo will be all white; if it is set inadequately sensitive, the photo will be all black. 

Most cameras and smartphones make these adjustments for you, so you don’t need to memorize the ideal shutter speed, aperture setting and ISO for a sunny summer’s day. However, there are creative drawbacks to the decisions cameras make for us. 

When your camera shoots at a fast shutter speed with a small aperture to acquire the sharpest possible image, it must boost the ISO sensitivity to compensate for the shutter and aperture both letting in less light. But increased ISO sensitivity degrades the overall quality of the image – colors may be less true and the image may have blotches of visible pixels. 

Another creative issue is depth of field. A small aperture opening brings everything from front to back in focus. A wide-open aperture has a short focal length which is highly desirable for portrait photographs because it softens the background and makes the subject stand out. 

Two Final Points
First, all cameras are set to use the flash automatically in less than ideal lighting conditions. This makes for more technically perfect images because flash allows the camera to speed up the shutter and make the aperture smaller. The problem is life isn’t perfectly lit with flash, so flash pictures all look alike, and they fail to capture the ambiance of the scene. 

Second, cameras are set to Auto White Balance, which makes every scene look like it was shot in bright sunshine. Ironically, if you reset the camera from White Balance to Sunlight, it leaves the colors alone: sunsets will be red and birthday candles will be yellow.

Here are my recommendations for managing these choices. 

1. Turn off Auto Flash and switch from Auto White Balance adjustment to Sunlight.
2. Turn off Auto ISO and set ISO at a low number like 100 or 200.
3. Set your camera on Aperture Priority – that lets you manually adjust the aperture for creative purposes; the camera will automatically adjust the shutter to get enough light. This option is available on most cameras and may be available through third party apps.
4. Use a tripod or set the camera on a table or ledge, or lean against a wall so you can steady your arm. When the ISO is low and the flash is off, the camera needs to slow down the shutter to let in more light for a proper exposure. 

Essentially my recommendations defeat mechanisms that are designed to compensate for human error, so remember you are operating without a net. But if you use a tripod or take care to steady your shot, you can get by without the mechanical crutches and take control of your photographs. 

Thomas J. Roach Ph.D., has 30 years experience in communication as a journalist, media coordinator, communication director and consultant. He has taught at Purdue University Northwest since 1987, and is the author of “An Interviewing Rhetoric.” He can be reached at [email protected].

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