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Learning to Photograph - Volume 1: Camera, Equipment, and Basic Photographic Techniques

Learning to Photograph - Volume 1: Camera, Equipment, and Basic Photographic Techniques

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Learning to Photograph - Volume 1: Camera, Equipment, and Basic Photographic Techniques

4.5/5 (4 évaluations)
684 pages
5 heures
Aug 27, 2013


The two volumes of the Learning to Photograph series give students and interested amateur photographers essential information about technique and design as well as an understanding of the big concepts of photography.

This first volume brings readers up to speed on the basics of camera technology: optics and exposure. The authors provide an overview of these technical elements before going into detail about how cameras and lenses work and how they influence one another. Building upon this foundation, the authors discuss the practical application of this knowledge, showing readers how to put this information to use to create images and realize ideas effectively.

The numerous example photos and informational graphics not only illustrate the concepts at hand, but also make the lessons visually pleasing and offer inspiring templates for readers to imitate in their own craft.

Topics include:

  • Optics and lenses
  • Exposure metering and control
  • Image sensors, viewfinders, and displays
  • Live view and video functionality
  • Flash units and additional accessories
  • The right camera
  • Photo technology in practice
The subsequent volume in the Learning to Photograph series addresses visual concepts and composition.
Aug 27, 2013

À propos de l'auteur

Born in 1981, Cora has been photographing since 2002. Her craft is unique in that she almost always has the finished, edited image in her mind when she releases the shutter. She opts to shoot infrequently but with great intention and purpose. Cora's visual language is clean and quiet. She likes light, bright images featuring harmonious, subtle, and desaturated colors, and she is a borderline perfectionist when it comes to designing her images. Her award-winning photography has been exhibited in international competitions. Cora's diverse photographic interests include portrait, beauty, fashion, nude, erotic, and floral photography. Top quality color management is a part of her daily craft, which she produces consistently for initial exposures, fine-art prints, and everything in between. Professionally trained in the cultural sciences, she works as a freelance graphic designer and photo editor for exacting photography publications. Together with Georg, she also works as a writer for magazine and book publishers and develops concepts for educational materials about photography. Her contract work ranges from stylish arrangement and ideal lighting for product photography to portraits and aesthetic nude and erotic images. She directs the contract photography curriculum for the artist's workshop at Artepictura. Additional information can be found at artepictura-atelier.de.

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Meilleures citations

  • Automatic methods are simpler and faster, which is why manual exposure control lends itself to targeted photography and to circumstances in which the lighting conditions are constant.

  • A color’s temperature corresponds to the temperature at which an ideal black body would be heated to emit light energy of that specific color.

Aperçu du livre

Learning to Photograph - Volume 1 - Cora Banek



Dear Reader,

We’re delighted that this book piqued your interest and you’ve landed here at the introduction. We’d like to tell you why we wrote this book and why we present it in this format.

This book is a part of a two-volume series about photographic technology and visual design; this first volume focuses on the technology of photography. Our goal is to answer two central questions about photo technology: How do cameras and lenses work? How can I realize my photographic purpose? There’s more to these questions than you might first realize.

The first question concerns knowledge about the individual factors of photography, their relationships, and conflicting influences. Answering this question requires an overview of technical components and how they individually and collectively affect the photographic process. We attempt to answer this question in the first eight chapters by introducing general concepts and exploring individual topics in greater detail. This structure will make it easier for you to understand each element within a larger context, and how one variable can affect and influence the overall result.

The second question pertains to the practical application of knowledge. Knowledge about the photographic process can’t produce successful images on its own. Answering this question requires that you define what you want, which is based primarily on your photographic goal and the subject in front of your camera. Only when you have a photographic goal can you decide which technical settings to use. In the final four chapters we discuss the application of technology in photographic practice. We help you figure out where you are in the world of photography, and how you can continue to develop as a photographer. You must figure out your photographic status and objectives before you can you apply your craft purposefully.

It’s not possible to discuss every technical tool for every photographic situation in one book, and that’s not our objective. Rather, we hope to highlight the technical basics of the entire photographic process and explain, in practical terms, how they interact with one another. This is the only way you’ll be able to understand each element individually and evaluate if it is important and useful for your personal style of taking pictures.

We hope that we can help you launch and further develop your knowledge and skills. The following core beliefs encompass the basis of all of our discussions and explanations in this book:

• There is no one right way to photograph; photography is different for each photographer. There are very few things about images and the different ways of producing them that are absolutely correct or incorrect. Canadian nature photographer Freeman Patterson summed this up in a funny and accurate remark: There’s only one rule in photography—never develop colour film in chicken noodle soup.

• Photographic technology should never be an end in itself; it should always be the means to an end, employed based on the intention of the photographer and the characteristics of the current situation and subject.

If you share these core beliefs and you’re ready to improve your photography in the ways we’ve described, then this book is for you.

We hope you enjoy it!

Cora and Georg Banek


One last note: Everyone makes mistakes. Despite our best efforts in researching and writing this book and the work of our excellent editor, Mr. Krahm (thank you!), it’s possible that a mistake slipped past us or we left out something important. So if we can address any such errors in future editions of this book, please let us know!

With that in mind: Questions? Comments? Corrections? Gladly!

You can reach us at kontakt@artepictura.de. Thanks!


A Bit of Photo Theory

»Pictures, regardless of how they are created and re-created, are intended to be looked at. This brings to the forefront not the technology of imaging, which of course is important, but rather what we might call the eyenology (seeing).« Henri Cartier-Bresson, French photographer

In addition to the three spatial dimensions of reality, there is a fourth dimension of time. Photography gives us a chance to capture specific moments and certain ways of looking at the world and to conserve them permanently. But as soon as you’ve taken your first pictures, a seemingly endless chain of questions starts to arise: Why am I taking pictures? Who am I showing them to? What do they have to say about them? How good are my pictures? What can I do with them? What should I photograph next?

These questions alone make it clear that photography is always targeted toward viewers. Even when you are the only viewer, your images need to satisfy you. In addition to your relationship with viewers—even when they are only potential or hypothetical—there is another constant: photography is purposeful. Its purposes can be as diverse as photographers themselves and the reasons they photograph in the first place. A few examples of purposes include creating art, achieving recognition, expressing feelings, getting to know people, depicting a situation, documentation, promoting a product, using technology, or earning money.

1.1 The Theory of Photography

Regardless of your motivation for taking pictures, there are a few things to keep in mind as you read about and study photography. For example, there are many different approaches to photography. This doesn’t stop some photographers from claiming that their approach is the only way, and defending their opinion vehemently. Also important to remember is that judging a photograph as good or bad is limiting: judgments can be conferred on a photo only with respect to its purpose, never in general. When you know the intentions behind an image, you have a starting point to evaluate whether or not it successfully fulfills its purpose. Most people judge a picture based mostly on whether or not it pleases them; they mistake this one gut response for a universal measure of quality.

This tendency is the foundation of a myriad of fruitless discussions about the right way to photograph or the quality of individual images. It is possible to analyze an image consciously and still find it unappealing on a personal level, even if it is successful with regard to its purpose.

This chapter will hone your perception for these considerations and present a few concepts to help you think and talk about photography with more purpose.

The Photographer

As a photographer you have deep-seated predilections, whether you realize it or not, that influence your images regardless of your specific intentions for individual pictures. It might be important to you that your images are completely in focus and properly exposed, but other photographers might try, above all, to capture strong emotions. Your preferences will be visible in many of your images.

Your short-term intentions affect the images you create. When you consciously attempt to use a different visual language or when you focus on a specific photographic task, your deliberate intentions will influence your results.

There are also external requirements and constraints that influence the way your photographs turn out. If you’re taking pictures for a client, you may be required to fulfill specific objectives. Certain genres of photography have their own intrinsic constraints, such as journalistic, scientific, or catalog photography. If you’re shooting an image that will be used on a billboard along a highway, you’re not going to photograph a small-scale image with low contrast and lots of detail.

Figure 1.1 This illustration depicts the relationships between the photographer, viewer, image editor, and image. It shows the size of their relative influence and the overall process of photography from intention to viewing the final image.

These images rely principally on their emotional content—they are engaging because they tell an emotional story. The finely sculpted figure on the gravestone emotes grief and devotion so honestly it’s as though she’s real. The heart carved in the ice recalls memories of small everyday expressions of love. Both images symbolize human emotions and transport them to the viewer. Left, 35–175mm zoom 1:2.4–3.5 at 70mm, f/8, 1/1000 second, ISO 400, daylight; right, 38–114mm zoom 1:2.8–5.1 at 38mm, f/2.8, 1/200 second, ISO 400, daylight

The shooting circumstances at various locations impose additional constraints. The giraffe house at the zoo might be too large and you forgot to bring your telephoto lens; or you might be photographing a wedding in a church and you’re not allowed to use a flash. Maybe thunderheads are gathering and darkening the sky above a scenic vista. These circumstances limit your ability to create images.

While you are shooting, you will have a specific or general sense of who your viewers will be—perhaps consciously, perhaps not. This sense might be based on your own aesthetic sensibilities or those of your friends and family, your photography colleagues, or, in the case of advertising photography, a clearly defined target audience. The more you know about the tastes of your viewers, the more they will influence your images. Some photographers take pictures with a specific online community in mind and wonder how many comments their photos will earn or what other photographers will think about them.

All these factors influence you and what you prefer to photograph or, rather, what you are able to photograph. The actual activities of photography take place within these constraints—your choice of subject, the visual elements of your design, and how you apply technology.

Content, Form, and Technology

When you take pictures you are always acting on three levels that influence one another: content, form, and technology. Content is the subject you photograph and the message you wish to convey. Form includes all the visual design ideas, decisions, and means that you consciously employ or accidentally discover if you don’t purposefully craft your shot. Technology includes all the factors that make the image possible in a purely practical sense.

Camera settings and photographic equipment enable the use of various design strategies that support—or fail to support—the overall composition, subject, and message of your image. The starting point doesn’t always have to be the same. You might have a specific visual language in mind, choose a corresponding lens and the appropriate camera settings, and set out to find a subject to match your purpose. Or you might start by attaching a lens and inviting a model to your studio to test the lens and the images it produces. Or perhaps you want to document a social outing by shooting from the hip with a small, inconspicuous camera and being surprised at the results. It doesn’t matter if you start with content, form, or technology; they are all inextricably linked and their relationship always exists. This applies to the process of photographing and the finished image, where these three aspects are evident in different proportions.

The Raw Image

The process of photography results in a raw image that is largely determined by the characteristics of the light-sensitive medium and is preserved on the camera’s storage device. In digital photography, the characteristics of the sensor, such as range of contrast, noise performance, and blooming influence the resulting image.

The Image Editor

The image editor is next in line in the process of creating an image. The editor is often the same person who took the photo, but in professional or commercial photography it’s common for someone else to handle this work. Additional factors influence editing. An editor can pursue an intention that is different from what the photographer originally intended, even when the photographer and the editor are the same person. An image may not suit the original intention after the editing is finished, but it may be appropriate for another use. There are also external constraints that can influence the final product, such as a client’s expectations or the limitations of the editor or the editing software.

The visual design dominates these two images. The sophistication of black-and-white and the exiting graphical composition influence the image. People who are familiar with Vienna will recognize that both images are of the Gloriette, but the effect of these pictures would hardly have been different if they featured another building in a different city. Left, 28mm prime 1:2.8 at f/8, 1/400 second, ISO 100, daylight; right, 28mm prime 1:2.8 at f/7.1, 1/160 second, ISO 100, daylight

Neither the plants nor the image composition are particularly interesting here. The technological ruse—a combination of flash and a long exposure time—brings energy and excitement into the picture. 50mm prime 1:2.0 at f/11, 1/15 second, ISO 100, daylight with flash

Even when you don’t edit your images with a purpose, very specific treatment or processing occurs within the camera that impacts how your images look. Assuming you’re not working in RAW mode, processes such as contrast enhancement and color saturation play into the conversion of a visual image to digital data and cause an irrecoverable loss of a large amount of information.

The End Result

Eventually images that have been edited—whether through calculated or automatic means—find their way to a viewer. During this interaction, the presentation medium also influences how the image looks. For example, colors render differently in print, on monitors, and when projected.

Viewing Images

The process of viewing an image includes four factors. To view an image, the viewer must first perceive the image consciously. In other words, the image must attract the viewer’s attention; he or she must actually see the image. Any time an image is perceived, it elicits a subconscious response that can be influenced or purposefully manipulated by the photographer’s selection of content, form, and technology. A photographer can use this subconscious effect as a lever to move the viewer, since the viewer cannot escape an automatic response.

It’s rare for a viewer to consciously engage with an image and analyze the photographer’s intentions, and decide whether he or she succeeded in executing them. This type of analysis is independent from a judgment of liking or disliking an image. Based on our experiences, most discussions about images don’t relate the effectiveness of an image to its intended purpose. It’s much more common for people to express their opinions.

The way an image is presented, including its surroundings, significantly affects all of these factors.

Editing an image on a computer is a creative process that can have a significant effect. Post-processing can support the original intention of the photo or take it in a different—or even opposite—direction. 105mm macro 1:2.8 at f/2.8, 1/160 second, ISO 160, daylight

The Viewer

The viewer of an image is, on one hand, an individual or an independent entity; but on the other hand, the viewer is a member of a larger culture group, which explains why different viewers within the same culture share similar opinions. You can’t say for certain how an image will affect a specific person, but you can predict how most members of a like-minded majority will respond. Common preferences, interests, and social customs establish ways to capture and evaluate images. On a much more basic level, visual norms of specific cultures, such as the direction of reading or associations with particular colors, are common within certain groups.

There are also individual factors about the viewer that dramatically influence how an image works and how that person evaluates it. A person who is deeply interested in or disgusted by a particular image will have a much more positive or negative response than someone who is indifferent to it. The same goes for preferences and aversions to particular design methods, visual languages, camera techniques, and editing practices.

Viewers’ expectations and their understanding, experience, and ability to read pictures affect how an image works. Someone who spends time viewing images every day will evaluate a picture differently than someone who snaps a casual photo from time to time. The more knowledge viewers have about the photographer and his or her intentions—for example, through information displayed at an exhibition—the more it will influence the viewer from perception and initial effect to analysis and, finally, evaluation.

1.2 Applied Theory

The following scenario illustrates that the factors of photo theory have practical relevance. We focus mainly on the role of photo technology within the larger process. We show which factors you can influence, and where you’re limited by external constraints.

In the Field

You are a photographer with a strong technical understanding, and you know your camera like the back of your hand. Your specialty is producing extremely high quality portrait, nude, and erotic images. Today, however, you’re visiting the local zoo with your family and you brought your camera. Since having fun with your family is the focus of the day, you assume that you won’t be taking many pictures, and the ones you do take will be mementos (goal). You brought your full-frame digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera and a slow 28–80mm lens.

In the hall of predatory animals, there is a two-month old tiger that your daughter immediately becomes obsessed with. Suddenly the only thing she wants for her birthday next week is a poster from a photo taken by the coolest dad on earth of this specific adorable tiger cub—please, please, please!

The situation is a tough one: a glass wall separates your camera and the animal, the artificial light in the predatory animals house is dim, and your monopod is at home with your cherished 300mm lens.

Since light and focal length are the two most limiting factors, you consider where to stand so the tiger cub’s cage will be adequately illuminated and it will fill up at least a good portion of your image area. You work your way to a spot right up against the glass enclosure, wipe the window clean, and wait. You take a few test shots to evaluate the exposure, and you see that you’ll need to increase the ISO to 1600 to bring the exposure down to 1/60 second at the maximum aperture of f/5.6 for your 80mm lens (technology). At this sensitivity, you know that a black-and-white image is probably going to be your only option (form). As you think about the quality of a large poster, you try a few different camera positions before you finally decide to place the camera directly against the glass in hopes of eliminating distracting reflections and camera shake (technology). After 20 minutes the tiger cub makes its way to your desired spot, only to turn its back before it finally lumbers to the farthest corner of the cage to fall asleep. You resolve that a perfectly designed picture of a tiger’s backside will have to serve as a birthday present (content).

Right before the end of the day you pass by the tiger cage again and discover a zookeeper walking back to the enclosure with the tiger cub in her arms. You run toward them and get your camera ready—which, out of habit, is in shutter-priority mode with a preset shutter speed of 1/250 second and ISO 100. Without looking through the viewfinder, you hold your camera in the direction of the tiger’s head and hold down the shutter-release button. The partially automatic settings expose the image with the maximum possible aperture of f/4 for the wide-angle position, which results in an underexposure of three stops owing to the dim light. After eight frames your camera finally has to write the images to the memory card because the buffer is full, which disables any further shooting. The zookeeper disappears behind a door with the cub. Everything happened in less than 15 seconds.

This tiger cub simply didn’t want to pose for a picture. Only when it settled itself at the door to the next room did its beautiful back emerge. 105mm macro 1:2.8 at f/3.2, 1/100 second, ISO 320, daylight

Back at Home

You decide to work with one picture of each view on your computer—the face in color, and the backside in black-and-white—and you get everything you can out of each image before you order large posters of each picture from a trusted online vendor. When they arrive, you decide the black-and-white tiger rump looks fantastic and has a sophisticated look. The color image of the face, however, suffered as a result of enlargement and can’t be considered anything other than insufficient in terms of technical and design qualities. Your daughter goes crazy when she sees the color image, though, and she hangs it on her wall in a whirl of happiness. She doesn’t like the black-and-white image because the tiger isn’t even in the picture. You think it deserves another chance, so you take it to your photo club, where everyone agrees that the image is a smashing success. They decide to make it the headliner for the next planned exhibit, which has a theme of unusual perspectives.

Not every photo opportunity offers ideal circumstances. The less light there is, the more limited you are in terms of design options. Spatial obstacles, such as panes of glass, long distances, or busy backgrounds, also complicate things and make even mediocre images impossible to capture. Above left and below right, 105mm macro 1:2.8 at f/3.2, 1/100 second, ISO 500, daylight; above right and below left, 105mm macro 1:2.8 at f/7.1, 1/60 second, ISO 100, daylight

After you examine the sequence of images on your computer at home, you discover a few things. The tiger’s head takes up most of the image area and its facial expression is cute, but you were too close for the minimum distance of your lens, and the focal plane runs through the zookeeper’s hand. You’re pleased that you didn’t use focus priority with autofocus because you wouldn’t have been able to take the images in the first place. At the same time, you’re frustrated about the underexposure that caused the colors of the tiger’s coat to look flat and the central positioning of the tiger, in terms of image design—if you can call it that. The picture of the tiger’s backside, however, is cleanly designed and properly exposed, and the visible noise adds to its appeal.

1.3 Photo Technology as a Means to an End

This example makes it clear that technology plays a central role in photography, but it is always connected to an end purpose. Technology is a means of creating a desired design that depicts the visual content of an image in a suitable and desirable way—it is not an end in itself. At the same time, however, technology sets strict limitations on your ambitions when you determine the content and design of your image.


Photo technology includes all the equipment you can attach to your camera and lens and anything you can adjust to alter the way your photos turn out. Even adjustments caused by the use of accessories, such as a tripod, underwater housing, flash, or other lighting equipment, fall into this category. Adjustments to the shooting circumstances can also have a technical aspect, such as using a ladder to shoot a picture from above. In contrast to image design or image editing, photo technology is relatively easy to classify, describe, and control.


It’s critical for you to know what types of settings are available to you and how you can adjust them to achieve desired results or reduce undesirable results. To use photo technology well, you need to pay attention to the circumstances surrounding your shot. This knowledge won’t necessarily lead to great pictures, but it will lead to technically flawless ones. If you have a solid understanding of photographic technology, your attention will be freed so you can concentrate on your subject and make decisions about your visual design. With each additional technical element you master, you add to your palette of options for image design. Knowing what you want to photograph—and why—is more important than technical know-how.


An Overview of Photography Technology

»The photographer’s triumph is to bring order out of chaos, without betraying the chaos.« Richard Avedon, American photographer

To understand how and why to adjust the many parameters of photography, it’s first important—and logical—to have a sense of the entire image creation process. The overview in this chapter will make it easier for you to handle the variables in the entire photographic process and to understand the implications of making specific changes.

In photography there are a number of variables that you can and must define to create images with purpose. Aperture and shutter speed are the two central variables, but decisions about your camera settings, such as ISO speed, white balance, metering method, and focal length, can have just as much influence on the final product. The same goes for external factors, such as the use of a tripod, flash, or other artificial lighting, as well as the selection of a location, the distance between the camera and subject, and the angle of view.

In this chapter we will give you an overview of the fundamental relationships among the various physical considerations and technical systems that interact in the process of photography, including optics, focusing, exposure metering, and

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