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It's all about the light, baby! (How to take beautiful pic... Part 2)

Posted by siyerwin on Sunday, February 10, 2008 at 11:12 PM

This is the second part of a series which I started with this post.

I mean literally, it's all about the light (I like to repeat things)! Just in case you didn't know, the word "photography" came from two greek words that means "painting with light".

Here's the general idea: what we see with our eyes are actually just light, with all its visible colors, bouncing off things. An orange ball is simply a ball reflecting orange light and absorbing the rest. We use that light to paint a picture of an orange light-reflecting ball on a canvas through a light-tight contraption that captures light (camera)--- the canvas being the light-sensitive film or electronic sensor (digicams).

The process of capturing light with a camera can also be described by another word: Exposure (because we expose the film or the sensor to light). Exposure is mainly controlled by 2 variables: aperture and shutter speed. Remember what a camera is? In its most basic form, it's just a light-tight box with a hole covered by a component we call a shutter. The aperture simply relates to the size of that hole while the shutter speed relates to how long that hole is open during the process of exposure. You point the hole of the light-tight box to the orange ball, you open the shutter of the hole and let the light bouncing off the orange ball into the hole to register onto the film or sensor. Then you close the hole with shutter.

Um, you can further understand the fundamentals of photography by creating your own camera using a Pringles can! Click here to learn how.

There are other variables that are usually considered in taking pictures; like the focal length (or the distance of the hole to the film or the sensor), and the focus (which is just the convergence of a point of light coming from the orange ball into a point of light falling on the film or sensor). But don't worry about these two last two variables for now. They're the most intuitive aspects of taking picture especially with the cameras of today. You control focal length when you zoom in and out of a subject using the appropriate buttons on a camera. And you control focus by pressing the appropriate button, like the shutter release button, halfway and waiting till the orange ball becomes sharp enough before clicking all the way.

How to expose correctly

Let's simply say that for any given scene and lighting condition, there are settings for the aperture and shutter speed that will maximize the detail recorded on film or electronic sensor. An image is said to be overexposed when too much detail is lost in the lighter areas that it contains large whiter or brighter spaces. This is caused by letting too much light into the camera (via the aperture and shutter speed combination) than what is necessary. On the other hand, an image is said to be underexposed when too little detail is recorded in the shadow areas that the image looks murky and contains large portions in black. This is caused by letting too little light into the camera.

Overexposed Prada
Too much detail lost in Prada's fur due to overexposure.

Underexposed Susan, the sleepy cat
Too little detail recorded because of underexposure.

Here's one tip on how to expose correctly: Don't worry too much about it for now! :)

Modern cameras have advanced and been automated enough that they require little to no intervention most of the time. This means you only have to worry about it 10-20% of the time for your everyday snapshots and in most lighting conditions. It's the extreme lighting conditions that you need to watch out for and recognize to increase your hits in terms of correct exposure. More about this topic in my future installments. For now, please know that you can do creative pet photography without worrying too much about the exposure settings.

Why post about something that you don't even need to worry about? It's mainly because of this:

Creative Pet Photography Tip #1: Control aperture and shutter speed for creative effects.

(To be continued)

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