Photographers need to keep size, composition in mind

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Inevitably the first two questions I get asked when teaching the vineyard photography class at Walla Walla Community College are, "how do I reduce my digital photographs and how can I compose my pictures better?"

It was not so long ago that families bought a camera to take pictures of the newborn and summer vacations and then promptly put the camera away until the holidays.

Today the digital camera is not just a luxury but has quickly become a necessity in our daily lives. With the advent of mobile phones with digital cameras, point and shoot and larger format cameras all ages are now photographers.

As I frequently remind the students in my class there are many applications for digital photography in our daily lives, and we need to quickly be able to utilize them just to stay competitive.

How many times have we visited our friends and you hear someone say, "Hey, would you send me a picture of that scene?"

Many students respond to this question with trying to send a 5- to 19-megabyte photo to their friends only to find it's too big or very slow to send via the Internet.

So now I am going to break one of my rules that I teach in photography, which is to always shoot large JPEG or RAW. For this exercise I want the students to shoot a low-resolution picture in the camera and I will ask them to use the cameras JPEG basic setting. This is primarily for those students who are not proficient in Adobe Photoshop or image-reducing software.

Usually the next question is, "How will I use these new low-resolution photographs in my daily life?"

More and more, technology is changing our lives and the way we communicate. When the students set up their Twitter or Facebook page or blog, or create business cards or e-mail accounts, a photograph of the author is a necessity, and will require a low-resolution photo.

An easy way to accomplish this task is to set up the digital camera on a tripod; set the camera to JPEG basic; set the white balance to auto, and set the self timer delay on the camera to 10 seconds to give enough time to sit in a chair in front of the camera and take the picture.

Another reason to know how to do low-resolution photography is to be able to use services like eBay and sell your housewares or business products. The only difference in the photography of a product, from the above camera setup, is to use the macro setting on the camera and place the product to be photographed in front of a white foam core board or sheet.

Learning to frame or compose these photographs over the years has become much easier thanks to the new digital live view preview. This means that the photographer now can see the image to be photographed on the back of the camera with both eyes open and not with only one eye looking through the lens of the camera.

I learned this lesson the hard way a few years ago when I was photographing on assignment in India.

I was near the famous Monument Gateway to India in Bombay (now Mumbai) where many street vendors gather daily to sell their wares to locals and tourists. The goal was to photograph a king cobra snake arching up out of a wicker basket.

After asking permission in sign language of the Indian owner of the snake and paying him in rupees, I set my camera at ISO 100 for a sunny midday setting and with a 70-200mm lens begin focusing on the coiling snake at 15 feet away from striking distance.

As I looked through the lens with one eye closed I suddenly noticed five more cobras in the picture. At least 60 people and five very vocal snake vendors clamoring for money surrounded me as I slowly opened my other eye and stood up. After paying the additional vendors I quickly exited the crowd with my pictures.

If I had the live view preview on my camera I would have had much more control of the situation and even composed the pictures more quickly!

Getting used to the new digital technology and being able to control the image quality and size of the pictures is actually quite easy if the students take it a step at a time.

Don Fleming will be teaching at the upcoming Weekender at Walla Walla Community College on Feb. 20, a special 1-1/2hr. session on Photo Secrets of the Wine Cave. Don can be reached at don512@me.com.

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