Sunday, October 12, 2014

Teaching Multimedia class photo critique a teachable moment

   These photos, shot by the Kent State Teaching Multimedia students for an assignment, were chosen not because they are great, but because they aren't.
   One of their first assignments was to shoot at least 100 frames, and then select their 40 best frames from the 100. For some of the students, it was the first time they used a DSLR on manual mode. 
   I definitely expected problems because they aren't experienced photographers. But rather than simply grade their assignments and move on,  I am taking advantage of the opportunity to let them learn from each other's mistakes.
   I chose one photo from each of the students to critique. I also picked the worst photos for examples of what not to do. The following photos deal with bad focusing, wrong ISO choices, backlighting, centered subjects, and distracting elements; all issues that are typical for beginning photographers.
   The critique might seem a bit harsh, but there is no better way to teach than to point out the problems in a direct way.  So, here goes:
Meta Data: ISO 3200 /fstop 2.8 /ss 1/60. The camera settings are near where they should be... for the back wall. So the main lesson here is to properly expose off the subject, which wasn't accomplished because the subject is too dark. To properly expose the girl, the photographer needed to either increase the ISO or slow down the shutter speed even more. Increasing the ISO is the better option, because a slower shutter speed would have made this out-of-focus photo even more blurry. You really don't want to shoot slower than 1/60th when subjects are moving.  Bottom line: Sometimes you just need a flash.
Meta Data: ISO 400 /fstop 5.6 /ss 1/200. This photo is overexposed (too much light). The ISO and f/stop are fine, but the shutter speed should have been made faster, to around 1/1000. By increasing the shutter speed you are taking away the access light. The key to properly metering is expose on an area that's not white or not black, which is referred to as 18% gray. The camera meter exposes light that reflects off your subjects. In this case you want to do an exposure reading off of the area where the people are walking. The green plants could be a good thing to expose off of, or gray tree bark, or preferably a gray card. Gray cards are perfect for beginning photographers who want to expose correctly, and to also compare the gray card metering results with other subjects in the frame. Another problem with this photo: the photographer cut off the feet of the people, which probably happened because the heads were put in the center of the frame. Try not to cut off body parts (feet) or put your subjects in the center of the frame. Employ the Rule of Thirds.
Meta Data: ISO 800 /fstop 5.6 /ss 1/200. Again, this photo is overexposed. When you have bright daylight you don't need a fast ISO. A slower ISO at 200 or 400 is better. Take the comments from the above photo and apply them here: faster shutter speed, slower ISO, etc. Meter off the shaded part of the tree if you primary subject is the scooter, which is in the shade. Again, the main subject is smack in the center. Rule of Thirds! One more thing: This photo is back focused, meaning the main subject, which is in the forefront and center, of out of focus. Make sure you focus on your main subject! Focus manually (except when shooting most sports).
Meta Data: ISO 100 /fstop 5 /ss 1/1000 / lens 135mm. This photo employed the Rule of Thirds correctly, but the main subject (the woman) is out of focus. What's in focus is the water in the background. When shooting with a telephoto lens and a rather wide aperture, focusing is critical. Lenses will auto focus in the center, unless the shooter moves the focusing point in the camera, which I often do when I'm having a hard time focusing manually.
Meta Data: ISO 200 /fstop 5.6 /ss 1/2000 / lens 75mm. The settings are correct for the light source; low ISO, fast shutter speed to stop the action. However, this photo certainly lacks composition and substance. The subjects are in the center of the frame, and they were shot in the shadows. This is when noticing where the light hits the subjects really matters. Beginning photographers don't really SEE where the shadows fall.  It's also common for new photographers to shoot the back of people; there's a comfort zone they have a hard time stepping out of. The background is also distracting. If you are going to shoot a photo, make sure you understand why you shot it; preconceive what the photo will look like once you hit that shutter. Is it a photo you would be proud of, or would you rather drag it into the trash bin? That sounds a little harsh, but now is the time to understand what makes a good photo, and what doesn't.
Meta Data: ISO 1000 /fstop 5.6 /ss 1/2000 / lens 205mm. These settings were very common amongst most of the students for this assignment. For some reason, the average settings were f5.6 @ 1/2000.  In this case the photographer was close to being right, accept the ISO was way too high. But because the camera mode was set on Action and not manually, this could have been fixed by metering off the gray bricks in the background. As you can see, the photo was overexposed. The camera auto metered for the dark dugout and automatically overexposed the photo. A calculated guess for a correct setting would be  ISO 400/ f/4 @ 1/8000.  Another problem is too much space in front of the batter, and not enough space behind him ... the end of the back was cut off. Also, the focusing was on the dugout and not the boy. I'm assuming the photographer auto focused, and let the camera do the thinking. Remember, the camera is pretty good, but not as good as a photographer who knows how to properly meter and focus.
Meta Data: ISO 3200 /fstop 5.6 /ss 1/4000 /Lens 60 mm. The first problem I see in this photo is the tree in the background. It's very distracting, which takes away from the bowling pins. Simply move to the right to get the tree out of the frame. Another problem is the high ISO. Remember, you don't want to shoot above ISO 400 during a bright day. You have too much light. The background is completely blown out, although the subject, which is in the shade, is probably exposed, so this was metered correctly. 

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