30 Ways to Improve Your Photography Page 2
Many universities, community colleges and camera clubs offer evening and weekend photography classes or workshops that provide a great opportunity to expand your knowledge, meet other photo enthusiasts and improve your skills. Most of these classes also provide access to well-equipped studios and darkroom facilities at little or no cost. A photography class will also give you the opportunity to experiment with a wide variety of equipment, and will expose you to many different forms of photography.
One simple way to create some unusual (if unpredictable) results is to "cross-process" your film. This simply means shooting color slide film and having it processed and printed as negative film, or vice versa. Vibrant, well-lit subjects tend to work best. Some experts at this technique recommend opening up an extra stop to compensate for the loss of speed, as well as push-processing the film for added contrast. But the best advice is to just experiment and have fun.
Thanks to filters, sometimes you can fool mother nature, and one of our favorites is the polarizer. Ideal for all forms of outdoor photography, the polarizer enables you to increase contrast, eliminate distracting reflections from non-metallic surfaces like water and glass, darken pale blue skies, penetrate haze, and dramatically increase the color saturation in your images. Despite its often remarkable effects, the polarizing filter is very easy to use. Simply screw it onto the front of your lens, then turn the filter in its rotating mount until you see the effect you want through the viewfinder of your camera.
If you're like most photo enthusiasts, you'll find that you become a bit more careful about your work when shooting images for submission to a panel of contest judges. And what better place to start than the Monthly Contest in PHOTOgraphic? For advance notice of Monthly Contest themes, check the Letters page that appears in almost every issue (this month we've replaced the Letters page with a message from the Editor regarding PHOTOgraphic's 30th Anniversary). Winners receive $25, and will have their photograph published in the magazine.
If you don't already own a digital camera, what are you waiting for? The latest high-resolution models are remarkably affordable, offer plenty of creative control, and enable you to create some effects that would be difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish with your film camera. Think of your digital camera as just another tool in your gadget bag; you don't have to abandon your trusty 35mm SLR. For a comprehensive listing of the latest models available, check out the Digital Camera Buyer's Guide in this issue of Photographic.
Just about every serious photographer owns at least one or two zoom lenses. Many of us buy zooms, instead of fixed focal length lenses, because they enable us to carry a minimum of equipment, yet still be prepared to handle most shooting situations. But there's another reason to take advantage of these versatile photographic tools; namely, the unusual effects you can create by zooming the lens during a long exposure.
Set your tripod-mounted camera for a 1- or 2-second exposure, and smoothly zoom from one end of the focal range to the other during the long exposure. With a bit of experimentation, you'll be able to achieve some interesting and predictable effects.
Your camera is a precision instrument, and it's important to keep it clean if you expect it to function as such. The same is true for your lenses, flash unit and other photo accessories. Get yourself a can of compressed air, an anti-static brush, a good microfibre cloth and some lens cleaner. The rest is pretty obvious: If you see some dust, dirt or a fingerprint, get rid of it carefully. Don't forget to clean the battery contacts of all your electronic gear; a Q-Tip dipped in alcohol works great for this.
Most mid- to high-end SLRs feature built-in spot-metering capabilities. There are even a few point-and-shoot cameras with this versatile feature. They all work on the same principle: By metering a very acute area within the total composition, it's possible to select the precise area of interest and expose for it correctly with a high degree of reliability. Examples include a person's face in a back-lit portrait, the key area in a landscape, or a bird atop a telephone pole against a bright sky. Learn to use your spot meter correctly, and it's hard to go wrong.
Most photographers think of their electronic flash unit as a tool designed exclusively for indoor shooting. But used judiciously outdoors, your flash can add just enough supplemental light to fill in shadows and add sparkle to flat-looking subjects—all without overpowering the ambient light and creating an unnatural-looking image. The trick is to properly mix artificial light with daylight, which used to be a complicated task. But many of today's sophisticated flash units perform the task for you automatically—usually when you're shooting in the aperture-priority autoexposure mode.
Whether you use a digital camera or a scanner to get your photos into your computer, you'll need some software to make the most of your efforts. Photo-editing applications let you use your computer to restore old faded and scratched photos, add special effects with a myriad of custom filters, and turn an OK shot into a great one by optimizing colors, saturation, sharpness and other variables. You can even get rid of that telephone pole growing out of your subject's head (that you were taught to avoid when you bought your first camera).