Jan Hudson’s Photography Tips–Class One!

Jan Hudson w BanjoEvery Friday, join Jan right here for some great tips on how to get those band photos looking like you want them before you post them on the web page or upload them to your press kit.  Also, the comment window is open at the bottom of the post so if you have questions you want answered….that’s the place to ask!  Have fun.

Hi, everyone!

We are about to embark on a journey that will not only help you create great band images, but will also give you the knowledge that you will need to be a really good amateur photographer.

In order to do this properly, we have to begin at the beginning. Since I don't know how much you already know about your equipment, I am going to start at the absolute beginning...as if you know nothing about your camera or how to take good pictures.

For those of you who are all ready shooting on a regular basis, this may seem redundant or boring, but bear with us and allow everyone to catch up so that we can all learn together the best ways to photograph your band, both in a "formal" setting and also candid.

Let's begin! (The first class is the most technical because we need to get you familiar with your equipment and photography terms that you'll be using every time you use your camera.)

Go get your camera and we'll take a tour of the typical digital camera.

  • Okay, what's the difference between a digital camera and a DSLR?

Image634946446640453174A DSLR is a Digital Single Lens Reflex. All that means is that your camera is a digital camera (not film) and that the image that you see is the same image that the lens sees. If you change lenses to a telephoto or a wide angle lens, you instantly see the difference in the camera's viewfinder because the new lens sees it.

A digital camera, such as the Canon Powershot and Nikon Coolpix and almost all pocket cameras are also digital, but do not, for the most part, have removable lenses. They do have zoom lenses which bring bring the subject closer to you, but you cannot buy interchangeable lenses.

Because the smaller digital cameras have very few adjustments, this week's photography class is geared toward the mid-range DSLR's such as the Canon Rebel and the Nikon D series and those that have adjustable exposure settings and removable lenses. If you have the smaller digital camera, Auto is going to be the best way to shoot, because in all honesty, the camera is set up to do most of the work for you. As nice as it sounds to let the camera take over the bulk of the work, it has many drawbacks when you are looking for a professional result.

It is at this point that you can make a choice. You can use your camera in the Auto mode and let the camera do the work for you, somewhat like the old instamatic cameras, and you will probably have decent results most of the time. Or, you can stop by next week and I will show you how to use your camera to the best of it's ability.

For everyone, regardless of how involved you want to get with your camera equipment, you should know the following:


Terms that you will need to know:

Exposure: it is a combination of lens opening and shutter speed that gives you the best image. With a point and shoot camera, the camera itself chooses the best combination. With a DSLR, you have the choice to let the camera choose the settings or for you can choose to have total or partial control of the exposure.

Aperture, Lens opening, f-stop: the amount of light allowed to come through the camera lens. F-22, 16, 11, 8, 5.6, 4. 2.8, 2. If you open your lens from f-16 to f11, you will double the light coming through the lens....and on and on down the line.

Shutter Speed: the length of time light is allowed to expose the image. The shutter speed is a fraction of a second: 4= 1/4 second, 30= 1/30, etc. The faster the shutter speed (1000, 500, 250, 125) the more action you will stop. Slower shutter speeds 1, 4, 5, 8, 15, 30), are used in low light situations and cannot stop fast action. You really shouldn't hand hold a camera under a 60th of a second because camera movement is the cause of most photo failures.

ISO: The sensitivity of the camera to light. (International Standards Organization) Dark outside? Use a high ISO like 400 and above. Really bright outside? Use a low ISO like 100. Average day and best quality? 125 or 160 or maybe 250, no higher.


Camera modes: what do those things on my mode dial mean?

A-dep: this mode allows the camera to control the depth of field in the image. Okay, what's depth of field? It's how sharp things look in front of and behind the subject that you focused on. A good example: you know what it looks like when you take pictures of the mountains or scenery and everything is really sharp? That's called extreme depth of field. On the other hand, have you ever taken a close up photo of a flower and only a little bit of the flower is sharp and everything else is fuzzy? Well, that's shallow depth of field. When does depth of field become an issue? Well, let's say you're shooting a photo of the guitar picker and there is nasty looking sign behind him and you really don't want to be able to read it. Well, you use the A-dep mode and that the sign behind him will be so fuzzy that all you'll see is your handsome picker and his guitar...everything else will fuzz out. See? A-dep and SHALLOW depth of field are wonderful things to have in your photographic arsenal!

M: M is for manual. That means that you, the photographer set the shutter speed, lens opening, and ISO all by yourself and use the light meter in the camera to get the best exposure possible. This is my favorite setting...but maybe I'm a control freak? lol.

AV or A: Aperture priority. Okay, what's aperture? It's also known as lens opening or f-stop. It controls the quantity of light that is allow through the lens. The lens is like the iris in your eye. You know how your iris gets big when it's dark? It does that so you can see when it's darker outside. Well, when it's darker outside, you want to let as much light come through your lens that you can get so you are able to take pictures. On the other side, what happens when your taking photos of your band on the beach on a sunny day? Would you want the iris of your eye or the lens of your camera wide open...no, that would be too much light. The iris, like the lens of your camera becomes very small so that the light doesn't overpower or over exposure the photo. So, when you are using the AV setting, you pick the aperture (lens opening) that works best for your situation and the camera's computer will pick the shutter speed that gives you the correct exposure.

TV: Shutter priority. This means that you control the shutter speed. Why would you use this? Okay, let's say you're taking pictures of the band jumping up and down with their instruments (okay that probably isn't going to happen, but bear with me....lol) well, you don't want them to be a blurry mess, so you choose a fast (1000, 500, 250, or 125th of a second) shutter speed and the your photos will look great. On the other hand, it's getting late and dusk is near...you need all of the light you can get...so, slow down the shutter speed (and choose a wide lens opening) and be super steady and tell the guys to play slow dance numbers and all will be good....or use flash. =)

P: Program. Allows the camera to take over and give you the best exposure for your subject.

Full Auto: same as above, including focus, ISO...everything. You just point and shoot.

Fully Automatic MODES: (those little pictures on your camera mode dial)

Face: great for head and shoulder and close up portraits. Uses shallow depth of field so the subject stands out from the background.

Mountain: perfect for scenery and normal outdoor photos. Great for a beautiful sunny day.

Flower: great for extreme close up photos

Runner: great for action shots, sports, and banjo pickers.

Person with star: super for low light situations. I love this for sunset shots of people. It slows down the shutter speed so you can see the sunset, yet flashes so the subject looks great and isn't a silhouette. It would work great for downtown shots of the band, so you would see the downtown lights and have the band perfectly exposed, too.

Lightning bolt with slash: NO flash. Great when you are not allowed to use a flash...like a museum or church.

Compact flash or SD card: this records your images somewhat like film used to do. There are many different storage sizes of memory cards, starting from 512 MB to 64 GB. I prefer 2-4GB cards because the smaller storage forces me to change the cards in the course of a session. Why? Imagine having a card failure or losing it somewhere between the gig and home. I'd rather not have every image I've taken that day on one card, but that's my preference. Remember...for the love of Pete...these things only last a year or so. Yes, I have used cards longer and you can chance that, but they give you absolutely no clue that they have become corrupted or die. The only way you'll find out is when you put them in the computer and there is nothing there or the computer cannot recognize the card. Not a good thing, whether it's band photos or your vacation shots. Once corrupted, there is very little that can be done to save the images. Cards are cheap...memories are important. ________________________________________________________________________________

Now that we have all that technical stuff covered, let's hold the camera. Since the biggest cause of nasty blurry photos is camera movement, let's learn to hold the camera the correct way. First, you take your right hand and firmly grip the right side of the camera. The index (or pointer finger for those of you under 30...lol) is now in position to press the shutter release button and the thumb and other fingers are gripping the camera so it doesn't move. Now for the left hand. We do NOT grip the left side of the camera as we do the right...lordy, that's a prescription for failure, because you will tip the camera each time you take a picture! Instead, you take the left hand, open it with the fingers pointed toward the right and lay the bottom of the camera on top of your open palm. Image634946457343445350This gives the camera a base and allows the thumb and pointer finger to zoom and focus the lens. It also hurts like the dickens if you tip the camera downward when you press the shutter release button! If you hold your camera like this, the odds of camera movement are very low, either that or you have a really high pain tolerance.

Pressing the shutter button seems like an easy thing to do, but remember, be gentle. Press the button half way down so that the lens can focus and then gently press the rest of the way down to take the picture. If you press down hard, you'll move the entire camera forward and ruin the photo because of camera movement. Be aware of how you are holding the camera when you take your photos. It's a horrible feeling when you download your images and see some really great shots ruined because of camera movement. Sometimes the images look great in the camera's monitor but when you get home and see them full size, you realize that they are not sharp and have to be deleted.

Okay, assuming that you aren't asleep, I want you to do a little test for me.

I want you to find a subject and do this: have them either strum quickly on a guitar or twirl their hands in front of them and take two photos. Both will be in the shutter priority (TV) mode. Set the shutter at 8 (1/8 of a second) and take the picture. Now, do it again, but set the shutter speed at 125 (1/125 of a second). Do you see the difference? Hopefully you will see that shooting something moving fast, like the band when they are playing, at a slow shutter speed will not stop the action of their fast moving hands. Maybe the body will be okay, but the hands will be blurry. You should also notice that the faster shutter speed (125th) stops it cold. These are the things that you need to know when you are shooting candids of your group as they are playing. Why waste your time doing it wrong when you can easily do it right the first time?

While you are out there, try having your guitar player stand 12 feet away from a nasty awful background and use the A-dep or AV setting (choose f/4) and see if that blurs out that background. Let me know how your photos turned out.


Okay, I think we've done enough for one blog. Let's come back next week when we will cover more on focusing, composition, lenses, flash units, how to clean your lenses, and quite a few tips that will help you achieve better photos and a quick tutorial for those of you who want to learn to use your camera manually. Once we've mastered our cameras, the next week we will start learning the best lighting and posing for our groups.

To those of you who are using the smaller digital cameras, in future blogs I will teach you how to use the lighting and venue to your advantage in making a great band photo.

Thanks much...I hope that you've learned a bit and hope to see you back here next week.

If you have any questions that you need answered, please let us know.

Talk again soon, Jan


Jan Hudson’s Photography Tips are a regular Friday Feature on The Prescription Bluegrass Blog



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