the technical pinnacle of photography’s 200-year history – and newer, cheaper
technology arrives every year.
at the British Science Festival, he and his colleague Dr Andrew Pye are keen
to explain some of the principles that give top-notch photos that touch of
Perspective: the selfie problem
One key step that is often overlooked, Dr Sporea tells me, is to think about
where you take the photo from.
and moving around are not the same”
Dr Radu Sporea University of Surrey
lens, being up close – say, an arm’s length away – will distort how the subject
appears. That’s because the distance from the lens to the subject isn’t much
bigger than the distance between its features.
bulbous, with a big nose and vanishing ears.
can make a big difference.
away and then zooming in, so that the subject still appears nice and large,
produces a “foreshortening” effect, making everything look closer together and
more similar in size.
Even if your shot is not a portrait, this foreshortening tactic can create
interesting effects, particularly if things in your photo are at different
“The way we move around the subject is important,” says Dr Sporea. “What
people sometimes do is just sit stationary, and zoom – but zooming and moving
around are not the same.”
is a smartphone camera.
photos out of smartphones: “You’re pretty much stuck, because it doesn’t let you
tune anything. It’s completely automatic,” Dr Sporea says.
instructions above, and getting extremely close – which can work for food or
close to get any separation.”
Exposure: timing is
sensor was a strip of film; if there was too much light, or too little, the shot
the correct amount of light onto the electronic sensor – controlling the
exposure – is still crucial.
over- and under-exposed photographs, respectively.
involved: the shutter speed. Digital cameras adjust this automatically, but it
is worth figuring out how to intervene if you see the relevant symptoms.
in a camera’s settings), which can be useful to get an extra boost if the scene
is fairly dark.
happening,” he says. “And that’s not without side effects.”
for example, then the tiny quantities of light hitting the sensor start to get
drowned out by electrical noise within the chip. Amplifying the whole lot
produces speckled images.
“So you want to use ISO as the last resort, basically.”
Aperture: expand your options
Another way to control how much light gets into the camera is by changing how
much of the lens you use. This is done by widening or narrowing the “aperture”.
This has other effects besides changing the brightness of the picture – and
these can be very useful for playing with the look of a photo.
focus within a single shot. Light from any distance can be focussed sharply onto
the sensor, because the distances involved are all much bigger than the extent
of the lens being used.
takes good pictures”
aperture makes it much shallower, so that only the distance you choose will be
in focus and the rest will be blurry.
the subject is in focus,” says Dr Sporea. So in that situation, he recommends
choosing a large aperture (counter-intuitively represented in camera settings by
a smaller number, because the value is the denominator of a fraction).
your scene to be in focus. So you turn the aperture down.”
Lighting: soft is sweet
you have a choice.
avoid back-lit silhouettes), the quality of the light itself can make a big
it appears like a point – the shadows are very harsh. There’s a clear separation
between light and dark,” Dr Sporea explains.
surface, produces a bigger, softer light source – and its shadows are much less
pointing out that even fashion photographers have been known to improvise
with sunlight reflected off street signs.
Experimentation for the win
lenses, though both have been asked for photography favours by friends getting
married – boils down to trying things out.
pictures,” says Dr Sporea. Just experiment with any digital camera that lets you
tweak some of these settings.
but it’s not always reliable.”
which allow you to control shutter speed, or aperture, while everything else is
adjusted for you.
and press the buttons, because otherwise you’ll never know.”