What makes a good photo? Good lighting. Light light light and plenty of it! I am a big fan of natural light photography. Being a hobbyist I practice much of it more than using external and artificial lighting. The reason for this approach is because I find natural light more effective in conveying the natural emotion behind a photograph. To me external lighting must only be used for artistic purposes to enhance a photo but not necessarily to be the main source to create it. Some people prefer flash while some prefer natural light and I definitely belong in the latter category!
I go by a few basic lighting and composition rules when shooting and here they are:
- Golden Hour – shoot at the time of day when light is softer and less harsh, which is basically that period right after sunrise or right before sunset. Now you will have to apply some common sense here and know that you don’t have to necessarily shoot ONLY at these times during the day! Of course you can take photos at ANY TIME of day as you please! This rule only applies when the sun is out. When Mr. Sun is hiding and it’s cloudy you have to go by a different rule called The Sunny 16 rule.
- Rule of Thirds – basic composition rule where you divide your image into 9 equal parts by drawing two imaginary vertical lines and two imaginary horizontal lines, creating 4 intersections and putting your subject along these lines or intersections creates a more balanced photograph than by simply placing them in the center. Again common sense will tell you that you don’t always have to follow this rule. You can always break it and be creative to compose your image any way you want!
- Sunny 16 Rule – this is for people like me who shoot manual, which means I get to choose how I want to expose my photo and a good guide to follow is the Sunny 16 rule. Basically all we have to do is set our aperture to f/16 on bright sunny days, and only worry about shutter speed and ISO while shooting. Your shutter speed will depend on whether you’re shooting still subjects or moving subjects. Simply keep in mind the general rule of thumb is to use 1/125 for stills and 1/160 for mobile. For ISO, also keep in mind the general rule of thumb is to use the reciprocal of your shutter speed. For 1/125, ISO should be 125 and for 1/160 ISO should be 160.
- Backlight – this is where you are shooting into the sun (against the sun) and position it behind your subject instead of having the light directly hit your subject. This is my favorite. It produces the most beautiful lens flares. I love the dreamy, airy effect of shooting into the sun.
- Fast Lenses – I prefer lenses that are fast due to its superb lowlight capabilities. This can be determined by the f/ value found around the lens barrel. The inverse analogy should be kept in mind when reading aperture or depth of field (DOF) values on lenses. A bigger f/ number corresponds to a deep depth of field and a smaller f/ number corresponds to a shallow depth of field. A lens with shallow DOF capabilities are known as ‘fast lenses.’
- White Balance – aside from correct exposure this is another element where I get very particular. I shoot with a manual white balance setting. Not preset white balance settings but actual manual Kelvin temperature selection. I change this setting throughout the day as I shoot, just as I do with the each of the elements within the Exposure Triangle (Shutter Speed, Aperture, ISO). Fortunately us ‘Canonians’ have the luxury of changing the K value manually. A feature that is unique to Canon DSLR’s only.
Overall, I think photography is a skill that can be acquired via constant practice. I think there are two types of photographers. Those that shoot semi-manual i.e., the ones that shoot using one of the modes in the shooting mode dial, and those that shoot full-manual. This entry is for those who intend to conquer their own equipment in order to exploit its full potential. It is VERY important to grasp the basic concept of Exposure, at the least, before you can dream of buying the most expensive gear believing it will create beautiful images on its own!
My advise for beginners would be to understand all the elements in the Exposure Triangle -Shutter, Aperture and ISO. These three always go hand in hand in full-manual shooting. A properly exposed photo can go a long way even with lackluster composition. Of course, it is our own prerogative to make anything into art with any amount of knowledge that we have!