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Take a Picture, Win an Assignment
by Linda H. Setzer
Have you ever lost an assignment because you
couldn't furnish a picture to go with the article? Or have you ever tried to use
one of those point-and-shoot cameras and been disappointed with the
Not everybody has an array of high-priced
cameras, light meters, lenses, tripods and professional film lying around--nor
the know-how to use them. But almost everybody has a point-and-shoot camera (in
the writing profession they're called PHD cameras, for "push here, dummy") or
can make the small investment in a disposable camera available at most
drugstores and variety stores. We're talking here about the average photo Joe,
like you and I, who barely know one end of the camera from the other.
PHD cameras look and sound simple and mostly
they are. But many a would-be photographer has been disappointed with the output
from them simply because he didn't know a few tricks of the trade. Maybe these
tips will help:
1. FILM: The kind of film you buy makes a big
difference. Most newspaper professionals buy ISO 400 so they can take photos
under natural light conditions whenever possible. It works in almost any
situation. Be sure to read the box to see if you're buying color or black and
white, slide film or print film. The editor will tell you what he needs.
2. BATTERIES: I can't tell you how embarrassing
it is to get to an assignment and be unable to shoot the picture because (a) the
batteries are dead and (b) I don't have a set of spares. If you haven't learned
how to load batteries in a camera yet, learn it NOW!
3. SHOOTING INDOORS: Shooting indoors isn't much
of a challenge. PHD cameras are basically what they're purported to be: point
and shoot. If there's enough light, the flash on the camera will stay put; if
not, it will pop up to give you the light you need.
4. SHOOTING OUTDOORS: If the sun is bright and
leaves shadows on the subject's face, force the flash by covering the viewfinder
with your hand and softly, just barely pressing the shutter button. When you're
shooting, put your finger over the light sensor (you can find it by
experimenting which window it is, or reading the instructions) and forcing the
flash to go off. It's called "fill flash."
5 ARRANGING YOUR SUBJECTS: Depending on what the
picture is for, try not to get no more than three or four people in a picture.
Of course there comes a time when you have to shoot a crowd, such as a family
reunion or business meeting. Try to get them close together, with as little
space as possible between them. Look through the viewfinder with a special eye
toward that one wandering soul who is standing apart from the crowd or who is
hiding behind a colleague because she doesn't like to have her picture taken.
Develop a good sense of humor and get everybody laughing with lines like,
"Debra, you're hiding! Come on out and join the crowd!"
People who are being photographed don't know
what to do with their hands. That's why an arm around the shoulder, hand
gestures, or holding a cup of coffee works most of the time, especially in a
casual setting. Otherwise you get six people lined up against the wall with
their hands crossed in front of their laps. There's a need for the humor again.
Tell them professional photographers call that "the fig leaf position" and urge
them to do something with their hands, even if they only drop them to their
Avoid a line-up type of shot, the kind that
looks like you're placing them against a wall to be executed. Some suggestions:
(a) Turn several sideways with their hands
making a gesture, as if they're telling a story.
(b) Line up all four people with their arms
around each other's shoulders.
(c) Place one person in a chair and have the
others crowded around, their faces close to the sitting person's face (this is
especially good when it's a family picture and there's a parent or two and
several children; the children can also sit on the arms of the chair and put
their arms around the parents).
(d) And hint number one of all hints: never
shoot tall and short people together without making some kind of allowance for
height. The tall person can sit or the short person can stand on the top riser
of a staircase. Your objective here is to eliminate space between people. Get
everybody as close together as possible without cramming them.
5. PHD cameras are built for shooting from six
to 10 feet away. Less than six feet and you're liable to get washout (too much
flash on parts of the subjects and not enough on others) and more than 10 feet
makes it highly likely that you won't get enough flash on anybody. Get closer
than four feet and everything will be a blur, regardless of flash capacity. If
you find you can't get everybody in that 6-10 feet, split them into two groups
or take them outdoors and rely on sun and shade for your lighting.
6. PHD cameras are auto-focus and the focus is
on the object nearest the camera. If you have several people in front of a wall
and you focus between them with the viewfinder on the wall, the wall will be in
perfect focus and everybody else will be blurred.
If you've never used a PHD camera before, buy a
couple rolls of film and practice the above techniques to see what works on your
camera and film and what doesn't. No two cameras are alike; each has its own
peculiarities, minor though they may be.
This exercise will be the cheapest photography
lesson you will ever take.
© Copyright 2001, Linda H. Setzer