Photographing people in motion is challenging on many levels. Whether you are shooting athletes, dancers, cowboys, or workers, the same issues come into play. First, it’s hard to keep them in focus. Even with the sophisticated autofocus systems built into modern cameras, it is tough to hold focus on fast moving subjects. Second, it’s impossible to study a subject in motion and then compose the picture with deliberation and forethought. The composition constantly changes millisecond by millisecond, and that means you have to think and react quickly and hope that you captured something good. Third, exposure can change as your subject moves through areas of shade or highlights. While automatic meters do a good job in most situations, they can be fooled into over or under exposure depending on how much contrast is in the scene and how light or dark the background is relative to the subject.
Photographing small birds is extremely difficult because we can’t get close enough to them to fill a significant part of the frame and they are often so fast that it’s impossible to focus quickly enough. Autofocus is a great tool, and the AI Servo feature works sometimes, but neither can keep up with fast-flying birds.
I photograph natural subjects without manipulation when possible, but there are many instances when it is necessary to control a situation to show a subject in an artistic and beautiful light. Indeed, many times it is necessary to manage a subject specifically to make it look natural in the photo. Technical and practical issues are often present that make it virtually impossible to take the kinds of pictures we really want to take and that we can see with our eyes.
Photographing children is a joy because of their innocence, the honesty in their faces, and their beauty. At different stages of their development, a photographer needs to understand how to interact with them and how to elicit the best expressions, whether they are serious, sweet, joyous, or moody.
Taking pictures of a family and doing it well is challenging. There are many things you have to think about to please both you and the people you are shooting. First, you should have soft and diffused lighting. An overcast sky works great and so does shade. Second, you should avoid on-camera flash if possible. If it is hopelessly dark and you don’t have any other lighting equipment, then on-camera flash will have to do. However, this kind of lighting is the least attractive type of artificial light we use. It is flat and dimensionless. Only if you use on-camera flash as a subtle fill light to open up shadows will it look good.
Photographers are always concerned that their pictures turn out as sharp as possible. Photography has a seemingly endless number of challenges, but sharpness is number one. No matter how incredible your photo opportunity is, if the images are not sharp, nothing else matters. The pictures will be worthless. Too often images are almost sharp, and this is particularly vexing because if only you had paid attention to one tiny detail or two, they would be perfect.
This story is oriented to photographers who are serious about their photography, and who want to learn to use flash creatively. However, I know there are a lot of people who are very happy with their camera and who aren’t interested in buying sophisticated flash units. Admittedly, there is a lot to be said for being able to use one unit for both exposure and illumination. In this section I will address the issue of pop-up flash units and tell you how to get the most out of these small and convenient types of flash.
I learned a long time ago that I couldn’t rely on serendipity to get great shots of people when traveling. Once in a while I’d get lucky, but most of the time the background wasn’t perfect, the lighting wasn’t quite right, or the person wasn’t wearing clothes that told a story about the culture. In addition, I hesitate to point my camera at people without their permission. I can understand that they may feel I’m intruding on their space and their privacy, and I don’t want to do that. Grabbing shots of people without getting their permission also means that the chance of getting a model release is very small.
Photographing subjects with outrageous combinations of colors is a lot of fun. As great as complementary colors are, and as pleasing as subtlety and mood are, there’s nothing quite like color combinations that virtually knock your eyeballs out of their sockets! Combinations like orange and lime green, deep purple and red, and orange and magenta are extremely potent in drawing attention. Sometimes these juxtapositions of color are found in nature (surprisingly enough) but often they can only be found in man-made objects. One of the reasons I love photographing festivals is because the costuming is frequently shocking and outlandish.
One of the more interesting projects I’ve explored in photography is shooting birefringent crystals. Birefringence is the splitting of a light ray by a crystal into two components that are at different velocities and are polarized at right angles to each other. What this means in terms of photography is that when light passes through the crystals, you can see rainbow colors in the unique and beautiful forms that make up the crystal.