Use the basics of photography and review camera manual

Making Pictures with John Enman, basics of photography

It was a bright day when Barriere’s Bryan Sabyan and Wayne Ross were photographed during the team-roping event at the Fall Fair and Rodeo.

It was a bright day when Barriere’s Bryan Sabyan and Wayne Ross were photographed during the team-roping event at the Fall Fair and Rodeo.

I was photographing an outdoor event on a hot, bright day a short time ago when another photographer walked up to me complaining that most shots were not turning out as hoped. This happened again at a wedding I was photographing last weekend. The guest had a perfectly good camera, but criticized it, and said he wished he had a better one because the backlighted couple we were photographing were being recorded as silhouettes.

Ending up with faulty photographs from time to time isn’t unusual, although not as much nowadays as when film was used. However, I think most faults occur because photographers haven’t taken the time to learn how their cameras work, and have a poor basic understanding of photography and techniques.

With digital technology it’s easy to determine what is going wrong by checking the camera’s LCD and the histogram. I doubt that either of those complaining photographers I talked to used the LCD for anything but reviewing pictures. They probably hadn’t gone through the camera’s menu and set it for the conditions under which they would shoot. Both had selected the auto, or program mode, and to add light to the bright, backlit environment were only using the camera’s tiny pop-up flash. They would have been much more successful if they had a mounted a hotshoe flash on their cameras and selected the “M” mode. I expect they will be relying on their images being saved by technicians at the local photo lab or hoping for some friend with PhotoShop wizardry.

I continually meet photographers that complain about how various big photo labs are failing to make their prints the way they think they should be. They rely on their camera’s preset programs, and might even be of the belief that if the camera they have been using doesn’t make good pictures then they should change and upgrade to the manufacturer’s latest offering to make it so.

When I arrive at a location to photograph I immediately start making tests. I keep my camera in the manual exposure mode so I can quickly change the ISO, shutter, or the aperture to suit my shooting.  I continue to do that throughout the entire session, checking the histogram frequently, and leaving nothing to chance by lazily relying on the camera’s pre-programmed modes.

I begin by contemplating about the subject and its environment.  What is the background and how will that affect the subject? What is in the foreground that will interfere with that subject?   If one considers depth of field a decision must be made about how much will be “in focus”.  Sometimes in a portrait that includes a landscape, I’ll want everything from the foreground to the far-off distance to be crystal clear, and at other times I’ll want the background to be “out of focus”; whichever I select requires its own aperture setting.

What is the lighting like and will its direction be flattering on the subject? The sun and its direction are always very important when photographing people. I prefer to have it coming from behind my subject and like to use a flash for “fill” lighting to remove shadows and silhouettes.

I do all this because I have taken the time to learn the basics of photography, and I have also taken the time to learn how my camera works. I don’t think either of those photographers that complained to me had done that. I expect they just got themselves ready for the event, grabbed their camera on the way out the door without reviewing their manual beforehand, recalled that the digital camera has a “P”, or auto mode, and believed the camera would make everything they photographed perfect.

Photographers using film used to say that it was all in the negative; that a properly exposed and developed negative gave the best possibilities of a fine quality print.  I still agree with that principle, only now it isn’t an image about to be developed on the negative, but an image about to be processed on the sensor.

These are my thoughts this week. Contact me at or Stop by Enman’s Camera at 423 Tranquille Road in Kamloops.  And if you want an experienced photographer please call me at 250-371-3069. I also sell an interesting selection of used photographic equipment.