fatCATfoto by christine nimitz | DPA Composition in the Field Basics

DPA Composition in the Field Basics

September 30, 2014  •  Leave a Comment




COMPOSITION BASICS (note the ways these basics are applied in the above photos)

  • rule of thirds--do NOT put your subject in the very center of the frame (rare exceptions)    ruleTHIRDS
    • position your subjects @ one of the power points instead
    • the rules apply to vertical shots also
    • turn on the gridlines on your camera to help you position your subjects
  • leading lines -- draw your viewer into the photo
    • a path/roadway
    • actual lines
    • parts of a plant
    • clouds, etc
  • color--selective use of color to emphasize or contrast
  • depth of field
    • foreground, midground, background
    • change depth of field by changing the aperture (f-stop)
      • smaller aperture numbers result in less depth of field and more light entering the camera
        • useful for portraits since the background is more blurred
        • the smaller the aperture number, the more blurry the background
      • larger aperture numbers result in greater depth of field and less light entering the camera
        • useful for landscapes since more of the photo from foreground thru background is in-focus
  • cropping in the view finder
    • compose your photo such that you have it cropped mostly the way you intend for it to look in the final viewing
    • look @ the edges of your photo & make sure you’ve cropped out anything inappropriate or unappealing
    • if necessary, get closer/zoom in or change your shooting angle, etc
  • change your position when shooting
    • stand up, bend down, back up, walk around the object & assess different angles
      • look for unique perspectives on common or popular subjects


CAMERA BASICS—try to be familiar w/ all of these settings & in general become familiar w/ every button & knob/icon on the camera body (usually these are quick ways to set commonly used parameters w/o having to scroll thru the full camera menu)

  • white balance (WB)-set to cloudy, sunny or AUTO when outdoors; I typically leave mine on cloudy, as this tends to give a warmer cast to photos
  • AF points-- selective AF vs continuous AF vs MF
    • the center AF point is typically the most accurate/sensitive
    • you can also choose different points, depending on your subject
  • recomposing shot after setting focus point
    • focus on subject
    • hold shutter button half-way down until the focus lock beeps
    • while holding shutter button half-way down to keep focus locked, move the camera so that the subject is on a power point
    • NOTE:  if the depth of field is really shallow, this could put part of your photo out of focus when you move to recompose, ultimately, learn to recompose by using your focus points (move the focus point to the desired spot instead of moving the camera
  • ISO--typically 100-200 is good for sunny days
    • the lower the ISO number, the more light is required to get proper exposure
    • in situations where you cannot use flash or light is limited, increase the ISO number to help you get the proper exposure and prevent camera shake
      • there is a trade-off in photo quality (ie, graininess) the higher the ISO number gets
      • for most point & shoot cameras, ISO 800 is probably your max choice to avoid really grainy/noisy photos
      • for many newer DSLRs, their ISO is excellent up to 1600 or 3200 with minimal noise
  • use gridlines to assist w/ level shots (if no level in camera) & w/ rule of thirds
  • A-mode (aperture priority) vs S-mode (shutter priority) vs AUTO (you can change nothing)  vs PROGRAM (auto with the ability to change certain parameters)
    • Aperture priority— the aperture & resulting depth of field is usually the most important consideration for most photos, hence the reason really fast lenses with really big apertures are really expensive!
      • You pick the aperture & the camera sets the shutter speed; ISO stays as you’ve chosen
        • Lower aperture numbers usually give the best depth of fields for close-ups & portraits as the background is blurred
        • Consider aperture mode a 1/2-way manual mode
    • Shutter priority
      • Useful for action shots to stop motion, using faster shutter speeds
      • You pick the shutter speed & the camera sets the aperture; ISO stays as you’ve chosen
        • Faster shutter speeds stop motion, but require lower apertures to be exposed properly
      • For moving subjects, consider AI servo AF—predictive auto focus—which will refocus on a moving subject as you follow it with the camera
    • AUTO
      • The camera sets EVERYTHING and you can change NOTHING in this mode
        • The camera decides what exposure to use
          • its choice of exposure, while technically correct, is not necessarily the best in terms of artistic choice
        • if you are in a situation which requires a quick shot, AUTO may be your best option vs trying to set manual settings in a hurry
          • get the shot & hope it’s OK vs not getting any shot because you’re messing with your settings
      • Camera sets aperture & shutter speed for you, but you can change certain parameters (WB, ISO, etc)—which vary with your camera
      • With Program Shift, you can change the aperture/shutter speed combo, typically by holding the focus button down halfway & then using the command dial to change the combo
  • image stabilization (in camera vs on lens)
    • this allows you to hand-hold shots that used to require a tripod by preventing camera shake & blur at slower shutter speeds
    • the standard rule for hand-held shots is:
      • if you’re shooting @  150 mm, your shutter speed should be @ least 1/150
      • if you’re shooting @  200 mm, your shutter speed should be @ least 1/200
      • if you’re shooting @  400 mm, your shutter speed should be @ least 1/400
      • IS allows you to override this rule & shoot @  somewhat slower shutter speeds than the rule
  • multishot/servo mode vs single shot--good for moving subjects & may help get in-focus shot if you have long shutter speeds       
    • in multi-shot/burst mode, you may manage to capture an in-focus shot even when you’re technically shooting @ too slow of a shutter speed
    • predictive autofocus will refocus continually on a moving object
  • filters
    • circular polarizer
      • makes skies much bluer
      • decreases glare on water & thru glass
      • decreases the amount of light coming thru the lens, so you will need to have watch for motion blur
    • UV “protective” filter
      • protects your lens & helps cut glare
        • buy a high-quality one
          • if you put a cheesy filter on your expensive lens, you might as well not have paid the money for the lens
          • B+W  & Tiffen are good choices
  • camera manual—bring it with you or download it to your smartphone so that we can adjust settings on your cameras if needed
    • I can’t memorize all camera brand settings :)
    • you should plan on reading the manual to help learn settings
  • tripod—not necessary today, but for HDR work and long exposures where camera shake will cause blur, you will need one
  • photo quality-- always shoot highest quality JPG or RAW (will need to be converted JPG for viewing/uploading); you can always make the photo smaller, but you cannot increase quality if it's not there to start with



  • storage & backup—on computer HDD, on one or more portable HDD’s, RAID system, online (Zenfolio, SmugMug, Flickr, etc)
    • photosharing & viewing sites vs storage & sharing (DropBox)
  • and backup some more (consider having a copy off site)
  • develop a “filing” system to keep track of your photos—don’t just use the camera default filenames
  • never alter/edit your original “negative”
  • watermarking
  • JPG vs RAW
  • delete the crappy ones— blurry, poorly exposed, boring, etc
    • Learn to be ruthless as digital photography has resulted in @ least 10-20x more output than film



  • Photoshop & PS Elements
  • Lightroom
  • ACDSee Pro 
  • Photomatix (HDR)
  • Photomechanic
  • whatever came with your camera


© 2014 fatCATfoto by Christine Nimitz



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