11 December 2011

Sunday School

This morning I took a photography class aimed at learning how to take full advantage of the settings on a digital point-and-shoot camera. I usually use it in 100% automatic mode (with the exception that I try to avoid using the flash whenever possible), but I know that it has other settings that can improve my pictures.

The class was good, but the most useful part for me was the homework they assigned beforehand, which I am reprinting here because just discovering that my camera had various manual settings was probably 80% of the learning for me:

Before coming to the class, please find the following features on your camera. You don't need to learn them, just find out how to get to them:
1. Your flash button
2. Your exposure compensation scale (the +/- feature)
3. Your continuous shooting mode (looks like a little stack of boxes)
4. Your ISO feature
5. Your white balance modes (sunny, shade, tungsten, etc.)
6. Your metering mode -- evaluative (Canon) or matrix (Nikon) or multi (Sony), center weighted, spot

The class was divided into two parts. In the first half, we sat in a coffee shop and talked about these (and a few other) settings.

That's the instructor, a professional photographer who mostly does weddings but also did a great job explaining the basics.

Then we went outside, walking around the quirky neighborhood and practicing what we learned. We started with a set of train tracks, with instructions to focus on using the lines to lead the eye through the shot:

Then I took the exposure compensation settings for a spin (number 2 in the list above). This picture is with zero exposure compensation:

Here it is with +1 exposure:

And here's a +2 (clearly too much):

The exposure compensation settings are actually in 1/3 increments, from -2 to +2, so there's a lot more room for minor tweaks in the exposure than I've shown here. Apparently this setting is really useful on sunny days when you can't necessarily get a good look at the picture on the screen after you've taken it, and he suggested taking three pictures -- regular, +1/3, and -1/3 -- to be sure you're covered if the exposure is slighty off. (He said that this setting isn't usually necessary on cloudy days like today, when the light is lower but more consistent.)

While we were inside, I had set the white balance (number 5 on the list) to "tungsten" to compensate for the coffee shop's incandescent lights, and I forgot to change it back when we went outside, so my first several pictures were too blue until I realized my error...which was while I was taking pictures of this mural on a food trailer:

Once I changed the white balance setting to "cloudy," things got much brighter:

What, you've never seen a mural of a mustachioed octopus riding a bicycle above a galvanized planter with a pink mini Christmas tree and onion bulbs?

(By the way, I took all those pictures of the train tracks with the white balance set to "tungsten" as well -- d'oh! -- but I was able to fix my error using picnik.com's free photo editing tools.)

While the class was mostly about maximizing point-and-shoot camera settings, there was some discussion of composition. In addition to the "leading lines" of the train track, we spent some time trying to get interesting shots of this ugly old fire hydrant:

Ooh, artsy.

And I took this picture of some Christmas lights strung along a fence because, although the class didn't get into aperture/shutter speed issues, I always love experimenting with depth of field:

Now if only the sun would come out so we can get a good picture for our Christmas card....


  1. I had to google that. I thought you were just being folksy. Now I know that "bokeh" is a real thing.