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My trash TV confession – sitting through 12 cycles of America’s Next Top Model. But now it appears that all those hours have been time well spent! I’ve absorbed quite a bit of knowledge on photography and light while watching ‘fierce’ Tyra Banks and a bevy of model wannabes.

That’s not to say I didn’t learn an overwhelming amount of new information on my one-day Point & Shoot Camera Basics at the Centre for Adult Education. Photojournalist Debra Plueckhahn from InView Media started off the day with a meet-and-mingle exercise which highlighted the gaps in our knowledge: what are the main elements of a camera? what’s a depth of field? what’s the most essential ingredient in creating a photograph? Umm…..

Then it was onto the nitty-gritty, learning about the technical aspects of a camera and photography –  depth of field, f stops, shutter speeds, exposure and ISO. Some particularly interesting facts and tips:

  • what is snapped on my point and shoot camera and what is seen is slightly different due to the position of the viewfinder;
  • automatic light meters will average out the exposure to 18% middle grey (around skin tone) when setting shutter and aperture combinations, risking over-exposure for shots like forests, dusk and dawn and under-exposure for shots of beach or snow;
  • I can half-press the button to lock in focus and exposure in order to compensate for the automatic light detection, helping with ‘dark face with light background’ shots and off-centre subjects;
  • I only need to be familiar with three automatic camera modes – Portrait for minimising depth of field (sharp foreground, blurry background), Landscape to maximize depth of field (sharp foreground, sharp background) and Sports for freezing motion;
  • don’t use a flash to photograph things at a distance, like trying to capture a game at the MCG at night;
  • ‘forced/fill’ flash illuminates foreground subjects where the background is light and brightens up harsh shadows, useful for shooting a person outdoors on a bright sunny day or sitting in front of a sunny window;
  • ‘slow synch’ flash is useful for low light situations where you needed to balance foreground and background light in order to capture mood and ambience, such as snapping friends in a dark bar; and
  • the different qualities of natural and artificial light and why Automatic White Balance is not always the best, for instance  if you’re trying to capture the colours of dusk on a white building.

The other aspect of the class was learning about composition. The basic error of most amateur photographers is not getting in close and engaging the subject. For interesting photographs it’s important to fill the frame and leave out white space or extraneous detail and not centre objects. Consider where the lines converge, repetition of patterns, whether colours are discordant or harmonising and have a clear, single point of interest.

Now it’s time to get practicing….