Lessons in photo basics

Lighting. Exposure. Brightness. Contrast. Leading lines. Layers. Composition. Rule of thirds.

This sort of photography jargon has been hurled around the classroom/lecture hall of my multimedia journalism class for a solid week. Yes, I’m learning the basics of photography…again. Yes I know these words by heart. Yes I can define them each and write volumes about how each element is important to the outcome of a photo. Only in the last week, though, have I been given the chance, as a journalist, to apply them.

I’ve been sent out into the community with a much-too-expensive-for-my-skillset camera and told to take pictures. Not just any pictures though, these pictures need to be good. The ought to include every element in the proper dosage and tell a story to boot.

It turns out this sort of baptism by fire is useful. I’ve come to recognize the characteristics of a good photo not only in my own work, but in that of others.

Take, for example, the slideshow accompanying CNN’s article on the construction of the 9/11 memorial. Numerous shots were included, but the one that really caught my eye was this:


Even before learning the finer points of photography this photo would have elicited a powerful emotional reaction. Now, though, I have the tools to analyze how the reaction is evoked–what tools the photographer used to make his audience feel a certain way.

I could bore everyone to death with a discussion of the perfect lighting (the photographer took advantage of the “soft light” as the sun rose to create dramatic shadows and a sense of depth), the division of the photo into thirds (the flag fills the middle, bottom third and the memorial line runs in perfect concordance with the grid) and the attention-grabbing focus (the flag, with its swatch of red, immediately draws the viewer’s eye).

In the end, though, the tools have to work for the photographer. Having them is handy, but great photographs come instinctively.

Here’s hoping my shutter finger carries the magic touch.

Lessons in photo basics

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