By Andrew Hudson Published: May 25, 2011 Updated: May 3, 2013
“Emphasis on technique is justified only so far as it will simplify and clarify the statement of the Photographer’s concept". — Ansel Adams
1. Use a Narrow Tonal Range
Cameras can’t handle a wide tonal range. When you photograph very bright things and very dark things together (sunlight in water and shadows in trees) the camera will lose all the detail and You’ll end up with stark overexposed white and total underexposed black. Instead, look for mid-tones with little difference between the brightest and darkest highlights. Flowers and trees for example are often best photographed on overcast, drizzly days.
Your eye can handle a difference in brightness (a ‘dynamic range’) of about 2,000:1 (11 camera ’stops’), while some cameras can only handle a range of 8:1 (3 stops). Ansel Adams’ ‘Zone System’ divided light levels into 11 ‘zones’ and advised using a narrow zone (or tonal) range.
2. Work The Subject, Baby!
As movie directors say, film is cheap (although It’s not always their money!). Work the subject and take different shots from different angles. The more you take, the more likely you are to get a good one. Don’t be afraid to take ten shots and edit out nine later.
Find different, unusual viewpoint. Shoot from high and from low. It’s often said that the only difference between a professional photographer and an amateur photographer is that the professional throws more shots away. National Geographic magazine uses only 1 out of every 1,000 shots taken.
A popular ‘pro’ technique is capture great depth by combining a close foreground and deep background. Use a wide angle lens (20-28mm), get a few inches from the foreground (often flowers), put the horizon high in the frame. Using a small aperture (f22) keeps everything in focus (hyperfocal). Use a hyperfocal chart to correspond distance with aperture, or just use the smallest (highest f-number) possible.
4. Expose For Highlights
When a scene has a mixture of very bright and very dark areas the light meter in your camera will have difficulty finding the right exposure. In such high-contrast shots, try to expose for the highlights. To do this, walk up to, zoom in to, or spot meter on the most important bright area (a face, sky, detail) and half-depress the shutter release button to hold the exposure (exposure lock). Then recompose and take the shot. To be on the safe side, take several ‘bracketed’ shots.
Always expose for the most important highlight. When in doubt about the correct exposure, take several ‘bracketed’ shots. You ‘bracket’ around a shot by taking one regular shot, then a second shot slightly darker (-1 stop) and a third shot slightly lighter (+1 stop). Some cameras offer this as an automatic feature.
How To Get Deep Colors
- Use a polarizer filter
- Shoot in the late afternoon
- Use a ’saturated’ camera setting
- Use a narrow tonal range
Copyright 1997–2007 Andrew Hudson for PhotoSecrets / Photo Tour Books, Inc. You may reproduce this article for personal, educational, non-commercial and non-Internet use, such as in a local photo club newsletter or school project. No Internet publishing is permitted. For commercial use, please email me for permission.