Thursday, July 8, 2010

DIY to Decorate Your Dwelling: Photography Basics

Every week you see my photos, and every Friday you see the art that I create with them. How would you like to learn how to capture a moment in time, and turn it into something you'll cherish forever -- just like I do?

While I'm not a professional photographer by any means, I thought that you guys would enjoy learning a few of my tips and tricks for photography. Photography is essential to capture life's most precious memories and moments forever, to cherish and recall those special times -- and also to create your own easy DIY art for cheap. You don't have to buy professional photos that can costs lots of dough to decorate your walls or shelves, you just need to have a simple camera, some inspiration, and a couple bucks. So if you possess those 3 things, read on for some simple photography tips and tricks for pumping up the life in your photos and then in your casa.

Step 1: Find your inspiration.

Your inspiration can be anything, and many times it can depend on your intent of what your final art should be or where it's going. Family portraits? Scenic vacation scenes? Botanical images? Inspiration is everywhere. One of my favorite things to do are still life's of everyday things that aren't quite as perfect as they seem. I look for anomalies. Cracks in the perfect sidewalk; faded letters on old buildings; odd tree shapes and forms; bold and energetic flowers; closeups of tree bark.

These inspire me. You need to find your own inspiration. So look around - inspiration and beautiful art is everywhere. For this tutorial, my inspiration was a bouquet of flowers that Tom brought home for me.

Step 2: Know your camera.

I don't have a fancy DSLR (digital single-lense reflex) or super-awesome lenses or whatnot - my camera is a simple point-and-shoot Canon Digital Elf (are you surprised?). It's not the best, but I know how to use it - and that knowledge has produced some incredible photographs. And while I don't know everything about photography or my camera, here are some of the settings that I find I use the most.

Manual - I always set my camera to manual, and rarely use flash. Why? It creates large shadows and exposes objects in the foreground too much - the effect is not natural or needed for most things I photograph. Sure, sometimes you have to use flash to get a good shot, but I much prefer natural light.

Color - I always shoot in color. My camera has the ability to shoot in black and white, vibrant (enhanced) color, or even swap out colors in a photograph. While these options are pretty cool, I never use them. Why? Because if you have an image that you shot in black and white, and want it in color - too bad. It's impossible to convert a black and white original photograph to color. But, it is possible to convert a color original to a black and white photograph, or have 1 or 2 pops of color throughout, or do any other kinds of combinations of styles and setting in post-processing with editing programs - as long as the original is in color.
Now - if you don't have any sort of post-processing or image editing software to do this to your photographs, then by all means go for the fun black and white and color switching on your camera. Have fun with it!

Here's an example of my photograph that I took in color, converted to black and white with the red petals converted to yellow, and then finally turned into black and white.

Depth of Field - essentially the focus of the camera. My camera has 3 settings: a Macro setting (symbol of a flower) for closeups, a Normal settting, and a Infinity setting (symbol of mountains). My favorite setting? Macro, which is what I used in this tutorial - it focuses on an object, and throws everything else into a beautiful blur. You can get spectacular closeups of just about anything. Don't be afraid to shove your camera in a flowers' face if that's what it takes (and it often does) to get a good closeup. Below are some demonstrations of the three general types of depth of field settings.

Macro Setting

Normal Setting

Infinity Setting

Step 3: Find a lightsource.

I always try to shoot in natural light, because I believe it produces the best photographs. There's all sorts of natural light, and all kinds of ways to get great photographs in it. I generally shoot for a softer light (cloudy day, light through window, etc) for my subjects. For closeups, I like to shoot photos in our Living Room, on the coffee table with our South-facing window letting in soft light in the afternoon. This is the type of light and room I used for this tutorial. I would recommend finding a room that gets great light and playing around with the different types of light - try taking photos with the light behind the subject, off to the side, in front of the subject, and try all sorts of different angles.

Light source behind subject:

Light source off to the side of subject:

Light source in front of subject:

Step 4: Pay attention to composition.

Pay attention to the view in the viewfinder of your camera when you're taking a photo. Generally, I play by the 1/3 Rule, or the Rule of Thirds - the subject/focus points of the image should be in the left/right and/or top/bottom 1/3 of the photo (of course, it's perfectly acceptable to have your subject in the middle of the photograph, too).

Study the images below and see where the points of interest in the photographs coincide with the outer horizontal and vertical lines:

In the example above, the flower blooms that are out of focus on the left coincide with the left 1/3 line of the photo, while the in-focus flower blooms on the right side fall within the right 1/3 line of the photo.

In the example above, the immediate point of interest - the circular center of the flower, falls around the right and top and bottom 1/3 lines. The secondary point of the interest - the out-of-focus flower petal, stays around the left vertical 1/3 line.

The 1/3 Rule creates interest and movement, and is where the eye is drawn naturally in the photo (this also works for videos, too - pay attention next time you're watching TV and see where the actors/actresses stand within the frame). In general, images that follow this rule are more powerful and captivating to the viewer (such as the photo that I originally chose for the favorite out of the flower grouping).

Step 5: Snap away!

This is the fun part! Now that you've got some basics down, have your inspiration and subject, light source, know your camera, and have a general rule for composition - let loose and have fun with it! Thanks to today's digital camera technology, you can feel free to experiment with all sorts of different settings, angles and lighting to create different forms and interests in your photographs, and then view them all a few seconds later on your camera or computer (don't be afraid to take lots of different shots of the same subject or angle - you can always delete the ones you don't like later).

And that's it! Try to incoporate some of these tips and tricks into your next photography session, and you may be pretty pleased and notice an improvement in the quality of your shots. Stay tuned for the next tutorial where I will walk you through some of my post-processing tips and tricks in Photoshop so you can create amazing pieces of art to spruce up your abode on the cheap!

So what did you guys think of the tutorial? Any more pointers to add? Anything you disagree with? Any favorite shots/photos you've done following these guidelines? Let's share our shooting knowledge!

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  1. Great post Chelsea!!! I have a digital camera similair to yours, and never knew that was the kind of camera you used (although I am trying to figure out the different settings on my camera b/c they are named differently than yours)! Definitely looking forward to the tutorial about the my post-processing tips and tricks!

  2. Great advice, Chels. I learned alot. I know I haven't used 1/2 the things on our camera because I had no idea how or why. You broke it all down in language I could understand.
    Also, some wonderful shots of the flowers and the coral. You are a really good teacher.

  3. I'm so impressed Chelsea! That little camera takes fabulous pix (thanks to your know-how!). I just started using the manual setting on my camera and I still have a lot to learn. This was a great tute!


  4. Thanks for the tutorial! I'm going to try some of those setting when I take photos this weekend. I always mean to sit down and look through my manual but never get around to it. Actually I think this was more helpful than my reading the manual!! :)


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