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Photography Tips from Professional School Photographers
Basic Photography Tutorial
Welcome to the first part of this multi-part series on the basics of photography. I will introduce these concepts in separate articles so each
part can be studied separately.
Since the invention of the camera there has been debate on whether photography science or art. The reality is, it is a mixture of both. It
takes what I like to call, the “photographer’s eye” to be a really good professional photographer. That being said, when you see the
complex nature of today’s digital cameras, that part is definitely science.
Rather than go into the long history of professional photographers and your average amateur taking family portraits, let’s just nail down the
basics. We will go into a lot of technical terms but I will do my best to make this as easy to understand as possible.
Before I go into this article I would like to point something out. Whether you are a youth sports photographer, a school photographer or
just someone who wants to learn a little but more about how this all works, these rules apply to all of us.
What goes into taking a picture?
Exposure and Composure
Is it really that simple? Well, not really, but it is a good place to start.
•Exposure: Here is a bit of science. Exposure is when you expose the sensor of your camera to light which is what allows the image to
•Composure: This is the overall look of your photograph. Have you filled the frame? More on this later. This is the artistic side of
what your image will look like.
I have these a bit backwards in the way I listed them because you must compose your image before you expose, or take, the photograph.
However, if the exposure isn’t right then it doesn’t matter how it was composed because you won’t be able to see it anyway.
Later, we will look at how to take good photographs from an artistic standpoint, but for now, let’s get the technical mumbo-jumbo out of
the way. We are going to talk about digital cameras here because I don’t know anyone using film anymore. However, when I am talking
about a sensor, you can think of it just like you would film.
Exposure is really simple; it is allowing light to reach your camera sensor. The hard part is knowing how much light you need to reach your
sensor and, more important, how to control the amount of light.
Exposure is controlled by allowing light to pass through the lens, or aperture, for a specific amount of time. The time is controlled by the
shutter speed and the amount is controlled by the aperture. The faster your shutter speed, the less time light has to get through the aperture.
The wider your aperture, the more light can be let in. Getting the two of these to work together properly is the science to photography.
As stated above, aperture is the size of the hole that controls the amount of light that is let into the camera. The f-number is how that is
measured. Here is an example of a standard aperture range:
f 1.4; f 2; f 2.8; f 4; f5.6; f 8; f 11; f 16; f 22; f 32
These numbers are consistent no matter what camera or lens you are using, meaning f-11 will always allow the same amount of light
regardless of equipment. Something that I still have a hard time getting my head around is the way the f-numbers are represented because it
seems a little backwards. Smaller f-numbers actually mean a bigger hole, or more light will pass through to the sensor. .
The shutter is the gate keeper for the sensor, meaning until it opens no light will reach the sensor. Shutters are always closed, where the
aperture, or what I like to call the hole, is always open. The shutter only opens for a predetermined amount of time to allow light through.
Here is a sample of standard shutter speeds;
1sec; 1/2sec; 1/4sec; 1/8th; 1/ 15th; 1/30th; 1/60th; 1/125th;
1/250th; 1/500th; 1/1000th; 1/2000th
As the numbers above aren’t enough, ISO is something that also effects the exposure of an image. ISO refers to light sensitivity. A good
way to think of it is in terms of people. Let’s say a fair skinned person is a high ISO number and a dark skinned person is a low ISO
number. A fair skinned person is more sensitive to light, so they will get burned in the sun faster than a dark skinned person. Therefore, a
high ISO is more sensitive to light, so if you are in a low light situation, you can set your ISO to a higher number. With this comes a trade
off, which is noise, or fuzziness in your photograph.
Here is a sample of standard ISO settings.
25; 50; 100; 200; 400; 800; 1600; 3200
Real quick, an over exposed image is too bright, or what photographers refer to as “blown out”. An underexposed image is too dark.
So there are three things that control the exposure of your image.
ISO-Controls sensitivity to light
Shutter speed-How long light can get through to the sensor
Aperture-How big of hole the light can pass through
In our next article;
In my next article I will discuss how we can make use of different combinations of these items to make some great images, so make sure to
check back here soon to see my next installment.
Basic Photography Tutorial Part II - 11/29/09
The Aperture and the Shutter
Today’s DSLR cameras have more bells and whistles than a Mercedes Benz. What it all boils down to is the shutter and aperture.
These two items control what the final image will look like. Let’s start with an overview of what they are and what effect they have on
each other. We talked about how aperture and shutter speed effect the exposure of an image, but there is more to these items. As
you can imagine, these features can be manipulated depending on what you are looking for in your final image.
At its most basic level, the shutter controls motion, this can be the motion of an athlete running for a touchdown, or the motion of the
camera as you wobble back and forth. Aperture controls how much of the image will be in focus. This is called “depth of field”. I am
sure you have all seen a great portrait where the person is in focus but everything around them is blurry or out of focus. This is
controlled by the aperture. The lower the aperture, or bigger hole (remember from the first article), the lower the depth of field will
be. A can explain these by two different types of photographers we have. For our youth sports photographers, if we are taking a
picture of a football team we would want a large depth of field so everyone is in focus. This would need to be f-11 or higher for a
large football team. If our school photographers are taking a close-up of a child and they want the subject to “pop” out of the picture,
they would want a low depth of field, like f-2.8 if they are really looking to blur the background.
Balancing the two
In the sample above, our wedding photographer wanted a low depth of field, so she would have set the aperture to a lower number.
However, she needs to adjust the shutter speed accordingly while taking the following into consideration;
•Ensure the proper exposure.
•Make sure to freeze movement within the scene.
•Make sure there is no camera motion visible in the image.
Now, let’s say one of our youth sports photographers is shooting action photography. In order to freeze the action, we need a fast
shutter speed. When selecting the aperture, we need to take the following into consideration;
•Ensure the proper exposure.
•Make sure we have the right depth of field.
Before we move on to aperture, let’s take a look at how shutter speeds can negatively impact your images. After all, we all want to be
considered the best photographers, right?
Like I mentioned earlier, there are two different types of motion we are trying to control with shutter speed, subject motion and camera
Motion blurs the image. Camera motion will affect the entire image while subject motion only affects what is actually moving.
Before we look at how to choose shutter speeds we will address what is a common cause of ruined photographs.
Unless you are a photographer in San Diego here in earthquake country who just so happens to be taking a shot during an
earthquake, most camera motion is due to hand holding your camera while shooting. No matter how steady you think you hold your
camera, everyone falls victim to camera motion, everyone! Use shutter speed to combat camera motion to freeze that movement..
A good rule of thumb is to make sure to keep your shutter speed above 1/60 if you are hand holding your camera. If you are using a
longer lens or a heavier lens, then bump it up to 1/125 or 1/250.
There are also lenses with Image Stabilization that help combat camera motion as well, but they are going to be on the expensive side.
In my next article I will get into what is, in my opinion, the fun part of photography, composition.
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