Beginner Tutorial 10
Looking at four key factors affecting any image: composition, with tips including the ‘Rule of Thirds’; focus, looking at the automatic options available on the modern camera; exposure, with its three controlling factors; and firstly light itself, the element that makes photography possible.
Exploring the elements that make up a picture
This tutorial is an introduction to light, focus, exposure and composition – all things, an understanding of which helps when it comes to taking great photographs.
Photography has been described as ‘drawing with light’; the word itself is loosely derived from Greek words for ‘light’ and ‘drawing’.
So let’s start with the all-important element: light.
It doesn’t take much light to be falling on a subject for a camera to be able to capture some features, but too much can also be disadvantageous. Light reflects off all objects and is focused onto the camera’s image sensor as it passes through the lenses. The sensor requires an amount of time for light photons to be captured and turned into electrical energy. If the light level is good, this is done rapidly; if the level is poor, more time is needed for a viewable image to be created.
Time is also crucial because, if photons are allowed to continually bombard the sensor, the image becomes a complete ‘whiteout’ – the features and detail obliterated. So, it’s all about the right amount of light striking the sensor for the right amount of time, and this balance is called ‘exposure’.
Using light and capturing subtle tones and shadows creatively is often what sets a good picture apart from a really great picture. So, if you have an eye for noticing the way light falls on a subject and you can learn to capture it with your camera, you are on your way to becoming a photographer.
We understand that when something is ‘in focus’ it is clear to see, not blurry. In photography, focus has several parameters that are often referred to and, therefore, you need a basic grasp of these terms:
- Point of focus – a point of sharp focus in a scene (usually the main subject), where the photographer wants to draw the viewer’s eye.
- Focal point – the point inside the lens assembly at which all light rays converge.
- Focal plane – the rear focal plane is sometimes called the image plane or sensor plane, as this is where the focused image is projected on the flat sensor. The front focal plane is the non-visible flat plane in your scene that will be in sharp focus when viewed through the camera.
- Focal length – the distance from the rear focal plane (sensor) to the focal point. This distance determines the angle of view of a lens. In zoom lenses, increasing the focal length narrows the angle of view, enlarging your subject in the frame.
- Depth of field – determines how much of the scene will be in focus by controlling the depth of focus in front of and behind the point of focus.
What is Auto Focus?
In most cases, the camera can focus automatically on your chosen subject by electronically moving its focus lens when you pre-focus using the shutter button; a focus zone indicator – cross-hairs or the corners of a square – is displayed to aid targeting of your subject.
Using Auto Focus
Move the camera until the target area is over your subject and gently half-press the shutter button, a green dot appears in the display to confirm auto focus is possible, normally accompanied by an audible ‘peep’. You can then continue to fully press the button and the focused image will be captured.
Auto focus is the default setting for most cameras, but you can change focus modes in the ‘record setting’ menu.
AFS (Auto Focus Single) is the mode used most of the time, meaning auto focus will only occur once, with a half-press, and is then locked as long as you hold your finger there until you take the shot. AFC (Auto Focus Continuous) continues to re-focus after your shutter half-press, so focus is maintained on a moving subject. MF (Manual Focus) we will look at later.
Letting the camera focus for you is fine (in most cases), but there is also an ‘Auto Focus Mode’ option that, even as a beginner, you should use because it helps the camera more accurately select the area you want to be in focus.
Auto Focus Mode is usually a button option – it allows the camera’s focus detection point to be changed. The LUMIX options are shown on the right.
- Face Detection AF – for photographing people, as focus and contrast will be optimised for faces
- AF Tracking – to lock on a moving subject
- Multi-area AF – for scenery shots, or whenever you want multiple subjects in focus
- One-area AF – for most shooting situations with a single subject
- Pinpoint AF – for precise focusing where the target area is very small
What about Manual Focus?
In some situations auto focus is not possible and this is when you have to switch to manual focus to get the shot you want.
With the camera in MF mode, the focus lens is moved by you turning the focus ring on the lens barrel. Look at the screen image while you do this and you will see the subject gradually come in to sharp focus.
There are more tips on using Manual Focus in our Intermediate module.
Getting the correct exposure is about controlling the light entering the lens to ensure the captured image is not too dark – underexposed, as in the first of these examples, or too light – overexposed, as in the second. The third shot of the same scene displays the correct exposure.
Three camera elements work together to control exposure: lens aperture (f stop), shutter speed and sensor sensitivity (ISO).
All can be controlled manually, and sometimes that will be necessary, but modern cameras, such as a LUMIX with iA (intelligent auto), are very good at getting exposure right in most circumstances.
Using a fully automatic mode like iA takes care of most scenarios and in cases where the exposure may be tricky – a sunset, a sports event – there are presets specific to these which, when selected, will set the camera up automatically.
Once ready, you can progress to the semi-automatic modes – Program Exposure (‘P’ Mode), Aperture Priority (‘A’ Mode) and Shutter Priority (‘S’ Mode), but we’ll save those for another day.
How you compose a shot can make all the difference to what you are trying to convey in the subject matter. Good composition comes with practice, but no advice on the subject would be complete without mentioning the ‘Rule of Thirds’.
Research shows that when we look at an image, our eyes seek points of reference and concentrate on specific areas. By dividing the scene into three strips horizontally and three vertically, nine feature areas are created. Our eyes tend to converge where the lines between these areas cross – so these are good points to place prime subjects in a composition.
In these two pictures above of the same tree, the left-hand composition is more interesting with the trunk placed to the left third and its branches following the line of the top third. This draws your eye through the picture more easily, compared to the 2nd image, where the tree is just placed in the centre and there is nowhere else for you to look.
Likewise, place a visible horizon in the upper third if you want to feature the foreground, as with these ducks, or in the lower third if you want to feature the sky (and always remember to get your horizon level).
Of course, this is just a guideline and rules are always made to be broken!
Don’t be afraid to experiment with your own composition style – the important thing is that anything is acceptable, in the name of art!
The LUMIX Advantage
LUMIX G cameras offer a number of on-screen guideline options to help with composition, especially keeping things level.
These include a nine-area ‘Rule of Thirds’ display, a geometric grid with diagonal cross-hairs, and horizontal and vertical lines that can be moved to any area of the screen via touch and drag.
Why not try out these guide line display options on your camera? Experiment with ‘Rule of Thirds’ compositions.
Not sure what something means? Read our glossary